How do leaders get so much accomplished? Whatever they do works out. It sometimes seems as though they are luckier than other people. Attributing their success to luck, however, gives you a way out.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
A well-known phrase comes to mind, “Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.” (Sometimes an earthy adverb is included to modify “poor,” which you can check on Google.) The fact is leaders are always planning. Last September I blogged about Strategic Planning in “Always Have a Plan.” Although I focused the planning on creating a strategic plan, I said then that leaders are always planning, always have a plan because “You never know when an opportunity will arise and you have a chance to do something but have to move quickly. I have known of librarians who are informed there is suddenly a specified amount of money available but it must be spent within a short time frame.”
During my career, part of my ongoing planning involved my practice of seeing m Superintendent of Schools over the summer, although you might be better off doing this with your principal. “In that quiet time of the year, I would discuss where I wanted to take the library next and how it might affect the budget. We would negotiate for the funds I wanted for a given project. I would agree to take money from one part of my budget and she would acquiesce in getting me additional funds to make it happen.”
In addition to making one of my plans happen, I was also sending an important message. I was letting my Superintendent know I had a vision for the library program and had mapped out a plan to achieve it. I displayed my expertise as a librarian and was letting her know any monies spent on the library program would bring a maximum return.
As I reported in the blog she once said to me, “I have the feeling that if I go one step with you, you have nine others waiting.” She was right. I needed those other possibilities. In case my first idea was shot down, I would bring up the next.
That same Superintendent told me on another occasion “She learned the easiest way to deal with requests was to say no. Almost everyone would take that for an answer and go away. But those like me, who came back with an alternative, were listened to. She could see we were committed to getting something done.”
What others saw was that my proposals always seemed to go through. A guidance counselor remarked I was lucky as I always got what I wanted. Not true. But like the swan paddling furiously under the water, my behind-the-scenes preparation and my persistence were not usually seen.
In another district, my library was attractive mainly because the windows looked out on a very pleasant view and that’s what most people saw. But we had huge clunky library tables and heavy chairs. This was in the late 90’s and our computers sat on top of the no-longer-used card catalog. There were too many study carrels and not enough seating to accommodate more than two classes at a time in a school of over 1,200 students.
I had been in this position for only a few years, but I wanted to make changes. At the ALA Annual Conference, I focused on furniture and shelving when I went through the exhibits and knew the names of the vendors I thought had the right idea.
One day as I was heading to lunch, I saw my new Superintendent, my principal, and the vice principal looking in my library through the hall windows. He was commenting on the computers and the card catalog. I immediately changed my lunch plans and went back inside. When they entered, I was ready.
The Superintendent commented on how old-fashioned the library looked and how cramped it was. We knew because of environmental issues we couldn’t physically expand it. I explained we could make some furniture changes to maximize the use of the existing space and suggested we use moveable book stacks. I told him I knew of a vendor who installed them. He was hooked.
I made the call, first to the vendor of the book stacks who also could help me with the furniture. By the end of the week, I had the proposal for a complete renovation which I presented to the Superintendent. He was concerned about the total cost, but I had anticipated that and outlined how it could be managed over three years. And that was what we did.
My standing with this Superintendent immediately improved. He added to my proposal by suggesting a circulation desk more in line with an automated system (which we had). And when the circulation clerk resigned (we had 5 people including two librarians staffing the library), he proposed a “media clerk.” She proved invaluable in taking care of system updates not only at the high school but also with the other schools in the district.
Because I was willing to plan, look at my current situation and make decisions for what would best serve the program and my vision, I could present what I needed it when opportunities present themselves and when I created opportunities. I wasn’t lucky. I had plans.
So what plans—and that’s plural—do you have in mind for your library program. How can they be modified? What can you give up in a negotiation to get one or more of them implemented? Do you have a conversation with your principal in this quiet time over the summer? This is how you construct a foundation for your future plans and demonstrate how the library program can be a showcase for the school.