I first met Jim in 1996 when he interviewed me for a Human Resources Manager position at the Associated Press, a job I desperately wanted. To work in Rockefeller Center, for the world's oldest and largest news-gathering organization would be a dream come true. As head of the HR department, Jim was the final interview in what had been a long process. I knew if I hit it off with Jim, the job would be mine. Luckily, I did.
That was the beginning of a decades-long professional bond and friendship that I have treasured every day. After I left the AP in 2000, we stayed in touch and Jim eventually hired me back for a year-long project that helped sustain MadhuCoach in its infancy. He then helped my business blossom with many generous coaching referrals and words of wisdom.
Jim helped me and many, many others grow professionally. My colleague Robert Naylor wrote after Jim's death, "Jim Donna was a mentor who approached me with the far-fetched idea that I should be an Associated Press bureau chief. He was a diversity champion. It was he who appointed me chairman of the AP Diversity Council. Above all else, he was a very decent man."
Jim often said, "I've got a lot of little boy in me." He showed us his playful side every day.
One project I worked on was a management training program for AP's domestic bureau chiefs. My colleagues and I came up with the idea for a "baseball game" to capture the learning of the two-day seminar. We'd have the managers take turns "at bat" while one of us workshop leaders would "pitch" them questions. Easy questions were singles and harder ones were doubles, triples or home runs.
We weren't sure how such a game would go over with a skeptical crowd, but Jim had no doubts. He cheered us on to great success in the program and set us up to become trusted partners to the bureau chiefs, some of whom remain my friends to this very day.
Shine from the Sidelines
Jim didn't need the spotlight; he knew how to make things happen from behind the scenes. He was a master influencer who used his keen intellect, winning smile and practicality to solve everyday problems while reshaping the entire AP.
Jim was the reason there was an HR job for me to interview for in the first place. He saw that AP needed to build its HR capacity and made the case to hire "outsiders", people who were trained in HR, to bring the department and the whole AP forward. Before Jim, HR was called "Humans" and was mostly staffed by journalists who had risen through the ranks. He helped us "outsiders" acclimate to AP's unique culture and paved the way for us to do our jobs well.
From Jim I learned that leadership doesn't mean being the loudest voice or having the highest title. He showed me how to shine from the sidelines.
In these three ways and many others, Jim redefined my ideas about leadership and power. He showed me that leading should be full of fun and in service of others. I learned that no matter what my role, I can and should make a difference.