After reading Linda Spalla's book and
interviewing her, I have this image of Scarlett O'Hara standing in the field
with her fist raised to Heaven saying, "With God as my witness, I shall
never go hungry again." Linda did not let the blocks that life put in
her path stop her; but she worked to succeed, was kind to those around her,
and helped those following her. Linda Spalla went from divorced,
single mother and school teacher to the first female general manager for The New
York Times Broadcast Group.
Spalla was a native of Anniston, Alabama and graduated Magna Cum Laude in
1969 from Jacksonville State University where she majored in English,
minored in piano and earned a B.S. degree in Secondary Education. Right out
of college she married a Methodist preacher and taught high school English
for the Atlanta Public School System. Three years later, she was
living alone with her son in Huntsville, Alabama.
Spalla's entry into broadcasting was as a
secretary at WHNT-TV, the CBS affiliate station in Huntsville. During
the next 25 years, she was an Account Executive, Local Sales Manager,
Director of Marketing and finally President and CEO for nine years.
Spalla retired in October of 2000 and began her writing and motivational
While on her lifepath, Linda Spalla
probably didn't take time to see how unique her journey has been, but
those who spoke at her retirement party pointed out what made Linda an
excellent leader. She was one of the first female television general
managers in the Deep South; one of the first women to serve on the board of
Alabama Broadcasters; and the first female general manager for The New York
Times Broadcast Group. That evening caused Linda Spalla to write her
30 Tips for Dynamic Female Leaders; and today, she shares these
lessons with management and women's groups.
- In the 1970’s, women were told they
had to dress and act live their male counterparts to succeed up the
ladder. How is femininity an asset?
- Women must find
their natural leadership style in order to soar. Otherwise, it's like
walking around in a pair of high-heeled shoes, which kill your feet.
- Think about it. We
talk about the male/female dynamic everywhere but in the workplace! It's
discussed on the golf course, at church, at cocktail parties, on
television, in support groups. Why in the world do we not acknowledge
these differences in the workplace? Why are there no courses taught in
business schools on the differences in male and female leadership? I'm
writing a second book on that right now which will be research-based.
- Women are not men;
they don't think like men; they don't process data like men; they
certainly don't process feelings as men do; most don't communicate like
men. No one can function at maximum capacity trying to be someone else.
I promote the idea that women have some "natural" talents which if used in
the workplace turn into dynamic leadership skills. The most obvious from
the book are communication, intuition, and doing the personal stuff.
- I believe men hate
women who act like men! But I'll either prove or disprove that theory
with my forthcoming research and book, which by the way will be called HOW
LEADING LADIES LEAD MEN.
- How does one
discover their authentic self?
- The journey to an
authentic self is a life-long process, which unfortunately seems to hit
our self-awareness after age 40. I can't say that I gave much thought to
authenticity while I was fighting to be a wife, mother, and worker bee in
my 20's and 30's. I was just trying to keep my head above water. As I
have aged, I have embraced some basic principles of good mental health,
which I think is another name for authenticity.
- -- Happiness is
inside us, not outside us.
- -- There is evil in
this world and we must learn to recognize it and shun it.
- -- There is a
spiritual force, which never leaves us alone.
- -- Gratitude is the
key to a balanced life.
- -- Giving back is
the ultimate mission before we die.
- -- Enjoy being
- -- Loving what we
do and feeling no guilt for what we say no to
- -- Being unafraid
to die knowing that life has been a treat
- The journey is a
marathon, not a sprint and requires a lot of bandages, supportive friends
and a daily glass of wine!
- Huntsville, Alabama has two
organizations – Women’s Economic Development Council and Girls, Inc. -- to
mentor adult and young women. Why did you get involved in mentoring?
- I'm retired and have
precious time. I have a compulsion to share because I had no role models
coming up and no mentoring. Television was totally a man's world when I
started and even when I became a CEO in 1991. It would have been
wonderful to have had a listening ear and a guiding force. Young women
often do not have strong family ties these days and are left to flounder.
I figure I can share my story which most can relate to because I started
at the low end and worked my way up.
- At age 28, you found yourself a single
parent trying to manage career and home. Through WEDC, you recently
mentored Heather Farrell, a 21 year-old single parent of twins. How was
that experience like coming full circle? Was there someone who offered
guidance to you in the early years?
- Mentoring Heather
has been a wonderful experience. In her, I absolutely see myself. She
has grit, spunk, whatever you wish to call it. I think with my
encouragement and her hard work, she can become a dynamic leader. The best
gift I give her is the gift of believing in herself.
- One of the first initiatives you took as
General Manager at WHNT-TV was to write your superiors at The New York
Times Company requesting funds to purchase a Doppler radar. Later, that
Doppler with the successful forecasting of meteorologist Dan Satterfield
put the station at odds with the National Weather Service and north
Alabama emergency management officials. Why is weather important to your
region? How did you manage the fallout?
- Huntsville is one of
the most tornado-prone areas in the country. Severe weather is a huge
part of the service the local television stations provide. People who
have lived here and moved elsewhere often comment that their new tv
stations don't know how to “do” severe weather coverage. It creates a
definite tie with viewers. Our research indicated that 95% of people
watch local television news for weather coverage. We made a commitment to
make that our mantra.
- I managed the
fall-out with frustration but determined commitment. We took a lot of
heat from the local EMA through negative press. However, we believed our
decision was the right thing to do. Negative response didn't mean we
could abandon our decision. Eventually, the negative PR subsided and
the reliance on WHNT for severe weather coverage grew into a following
that still exists today. The station remains a dominant number one.
- How do you feel that your training as
an educator prepared your for management?
- I would say that
being a good communicator, an avid reader, a good writer, a meticulous
grammarian all helped immensely in the world of corporate management.
- What do you feel is the most important
trait for a woman in management to develop?
- Learning to teach
others how good they can be; raising the bar so high that employees don't
want to disappoint you.
- What can a leader do to inspire a
- Set the ultimate
example, run fast so everyone is trying to stay up, insisting on the
details, candid feedback, sense of humor, impeccable character
- How are men and women different when it
comes to communication and presence?
- These are
generalizations. When it comes to communication, I think men want bottom
line with little convoluted frills and details. Women want more
concerning the process and how the process will be carried out. Maybe
this is because women so often are the ones who make it happen. I also
believe men think that too much communication with employees can be a bad
thing; most women think the opposite.
- A man's presence is
often removed and impersonal, staying behind a closed door. However,
that is a very individual phenomenon. I have worked for a woman in my
career who was the coldest, most adversarial, most threatening type
personality I'd ever met. There was NOTHING warm and personal about her.
But guess what, she left the NYTimes and a huge salary to adopt a child!
So maybe her femininity was just carefully hidden in the work world. I
found that amazing.
- Women tend to take care of everyone
before themselves. Why is it important to set a priority to take care of
- I think the obvious
is that if you don't have your health, you have nothing! This is one of
those realizations that hits us later in life. Women can also have a dose
of low self-esteem and feel that their nurturing of others should be at
the expense of their own well-being. Some women truly feel guilty doing
nice things for themselves. I have never understood that. I like myself
a great deal and will go to the extreme to take care of myself. I do the
spa experience a lot...massage, pedicure, nails, hair. I don't think this
is ego; I think it's leadership. I treasure my body and good health.
Setting that example for other women is essential.
- Is there still a glass ceiling for
women in the corporate world? Do you find many women and men choosing
quality of life goals over corporate title/power goals?
- Unfortunately, I
have to say yes to the first question. It didn't happen with me but as I
read articles and listen to women, I hear the restrictions still. I'm
speaking to a group this Friday at a major corporation here in Huntsville
which has just now with new leadership (male) started trying to develop
their female employees. For my new book, I did an extensive search of
business schools only to find almost no female deans. I was appalled.
- I think many people
are choosing to find their joy outside of work. As Jill Connor Brown
(Sweet Potato Queens) says, "We have to find what makes our heart sing."
If it can't be found at work, I salute people who find it elsewhere. In
the long run, they will be better employees if they have happiness in
other areas of their lives.
- What is the best way to leave a
- Clean, quickly and
without a bitter heart. Also hopefully you've left a legacy that is
positive. Mine was a commitment to excellence.
- If your departure
was a retirement, make sure you stay away! Going back creates problems
for new management.
- In your new career as an author and
motivational speaker, what has been the most rewarding experience?
- The support of my
community, friends and contacts. The surprise has been how much men like
- On what topics do
- Leadership Tips
from LEADING LADIES as a package for women's groups
- General Leadership
tips for mixed groups
- Motivating a Team
- Stress Management
- How to Write and
Publish a Book
Linda Spalla web site
- Leading Ladies: 30 Tips for Dynamic
- by Linda Spalla
- Over the Transom Publishing Company,
- Trade paper, $15.95 (63 pages)
Southern Scribe Review
Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved