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Book review: Photojournalist offers lessons in leadership

By Bill Kuykendall

"Vision, Courage & Heart." By Bob Lynn. 212 pages. $22.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bob Lynn is many things: an explorer and inventor, a teacher and counselor, a catalyst and facilitator -- in short, an articulate, visionary and courageous leader who, throughout his rich and productive career, has put doing the right thing above everything else. Indeed, Bob's life embodies the concept of change agent in all the best aspects of the term.

In "Vision, Courage & Heart," his essays on photojournalism department management compose much more than a handbook for running a newspaper picture operation. At their most fundamental level, they are lessons in morality. In fact, with some interpolations and transpositions, these could serve as a blueprint for how to live as a constructive, collaborative member of any human society.

Bob's message is direct and simple, but never simplistic. Every principle is stated clearly and illustrated with illuminating examples that clarify and contextualize his thoughts. Moreover, his credibility could not be greater, because his text is drawn from and illustrated by hundreds of success stories at the two newspapers where he and his crews of exceptional photojournalists led a national wave of innovation in photographic reporting and storytelling in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

A book about newspaper photo management may seem highly specialized and of limited use outside the journalistic profession. Not so. It is just as relevant to general audiences as Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Soul of A New Machine," which detailed the creative process in computer programming years ago. Students of participatory decision-making should take heed too. Herein is proof that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it is indeed possible to empower frontline workers to perform at the highest levels of creativity and professionalism under tight deadlines in diverse and far-flung circumstances with or without immediate supervision.

And think about it: Isn't this what great athletic coaches must do so that excellence can happen whenever their team takes the field or court? "Vision, Courage & Heart" is all about nurturing individuals, defining culture and articulating a vision that can inspire independent decision-making by every team member whatever the circumstances. Everyone who aspires to play a constructive role within an innovative organization, regardless of discipline, should read this book.

Bill Kuykendall, a native of Romney, is a former Shott Professor of Journalism at West Virginia University. He is now senior lecturer for New Media at the University of Maine.


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