Amid all the obituaries of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as the greatest editor since the invention of moveable type, one point I haven't seen mentioned is this: he was not Katharine Graham's top choice for the job of top editor of the Post.
That story is told in God and the Editor: My Search for Meaning at The New York Times, a memoir by Robert H. Phelps that was published in 2009 by Syracuse University Press. Mr. Phelps, who was the Washington news editor for the New York Times from 1965 to 1974, writes:
I have sometimes wondered whether the Post would have covered Watergate as vigorously as it did if Scotty Reston had accepted an offer in 1964 to be its editor. In that year the recently widowed Katharine Graham made a personal appeal to Scotty and his wife Sally:
"I have thought hard about our talks. They have been indefinite only because I wanted to work out what was best for you, since what is best for us is to have you here advising me and advising us, and being part of the Washington Post...I am arguing hard that you can be with us; that we have always wanted you and want you even more now that we are without Phil."
Philip Graham had tried a number of times to lure Reston to the Post. In fact, the Grahams were so close to the Restons that they had "willed" their children to them in case of death. The widow-in-distress's plea touched Scotty.
Moreover, Scotty's role model, Walter Lippmann, had urged him to join the Post. Lippmann argued that the Times had long been recognized as the country's best newspaper. All Reston could do was carry on the tradition. He could make a larger contribution, Lippmann said, by going to the Post, which was just on its way to becoming a great newspaper.
After much anguish, Reston's affection for the Times and the Sulzberger family won out. "I just can't do it," he wrote Graham.
She then appointed Bradlee to the job.
It seems to me that this is noteworthy not simply as a matter of newspaper trivia, but as a broader lesson in business management.
From the perspective of the person doing the hiring, the takeaway is not to get excessively fixated on a particular top candidate. Sometimes the person you really want for the job turns the job down, just the way Scotty Reston turned down Katharine Graham. And somehow things can work out pretty well anyway, maybe even better than if the top candidate had taken the job.
The second lesson is from the perspective of the person who ends up being hired. Don't spend too much time dwelling on the fact that you weren't the first choice for the job. You might turn out to be as successful as Ben Bradlee was at his.