Thanks for all your ideas, Qs and blunt thoughts during Week 1 of Finish Line. We'll be back Monday. Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 599 words ... 2 minutes.

💡 Situational awareness: Each Thursday, Jim will tee up lessons learned — often the hard way — from founding, running and scaling two media companies, Politico and Axios, in these wild times.

  • The idea is to share insights we can apply to all aspects of life. Hit him at [email protected] with your own tales and lessons ...

1 big thing: The rise of soft power

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

My first crack at leadership, in the garage-band days of starting Politico, was often a disaster: I had two speeds — fast and faster — and it drove others nuts, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei writes.

  • No wonder we soon had a reputation as a sweatshop with a high burnout rate.

Why it matters: Since then, a revolution has unfolded, with soft power replacing hard power, EQ trumping IQ, purpose rivaling profit. It is upending how everyone leads — including me.

You simply cannot be a leader at any level for very long if you don't adapt to these new realities with a soft-power mentality.

My backstory: I was a political reporter — self-absorbed, as reporters are — when I quit The Washington Post in 2006 to start a media company with two friends. My wife, Autumn, named it Politico, and I became the CEO. We turned an on-the-fly idea into a valuable company with 500 people, including reporters around the world.

  • My "business school" was screwing up. The first time I had to let someone go, I totally botched it. But using journalistic tools, I became a student of what works, what motivates people, and how to get the best from them.
  • Ten years after launching Politico, we started Axios. Five years later, our team is 400+. I took everything I'd learned by doing it wrong — and turned it toward building a company that has tons of ambition and insists on excellence, but with humanity cooked in.

🧠 Here are my 3 biggest discoveries that will help you think about deploying soft power in life and leadership:

  1. Be a killer with humility: There's no substitute for talent. But you'll hit a low ceiling fast if you're not humble enough to put others before yourself.
  2. Ditch jerks fast: This is true in life and business: Self-centered, egotistical asses are cancerous. Cut 'em out before their badness spreads — and infects you.
  3. Candor rules: Quit being indirect. So many people dance around hard discussions out of fear or insecurity. It's time wasted. There's magic in polite, direct, transparent conversations. Try it.

The bottom line: If you try to lead today with a "Mad Men" mentality, or work at a company run like that ... stop.

🗞️ Healthy news tips

💭 "How can we as readers help to contribute to a healthier news ecosystem?" — Finish Line reader Maria Agustina Sclarandi, a program manager in Menlo Park, Calif.

3 quick ideas:

  1. Stop sharing stories you haven't read. It’s shocking how often we simply see a word or headline, get a dopamine jolt and share the story. Sometimes it actually makes the opposite point we think it does. D'oh!
  2. Stop doom-scrolling. Social media is the world's largest buffet: Some of the content is good; lots of it is total garbage.
  3. Go straight to sources you trust. Find reporters and outlets with a track record for getting to the closest approximation of the truth — not just what you wish were the truth. Then stick with them.

😃 We recommend Axios!

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