It is obvious that leaders are strategic, but most librarians are tactical which is not the same. I can hear several questions being raised:  “What’s the difference?” “Why is it important?” And also, “You aren’t describing me. I have a strategic plan.”

The reason we tend to be tactical is the daily need for getting things done, showing progress, and meeting the goals we or our administrators set. We create systems and programs that allow, hopefully, for the achievements we are striving for. But that’s not the full scope of leadership – and it’s not strategic.

For years – and on many of these blog posts – I have discussed the importance of Mission and Vision Statements.  I have found most librarians have become very good at crafting their Mission but not as good at creating their Visions, so they skip it. Although you might write your Mission first since it’s easier, a strategic plan needs to include both a Vision and Mission. (And yes, I know ALA’s strategic plan only states its Mission, but in developing that plan, – at least in the past— it identified the BHAG i.e. the Big Hairy Audacious Goal which in essence is a Vision).

In order to create both of these statements, it’s important to understand the difference and the different importance between them. Many Visions I have seen are really Mission Statements. The blurring of the two is widespread and not just among librarians.  As usual, the business world recognizes it.

An online column in Forbes by Liz Ryan points out the confusion and helps to clarify the difference.  She notes that many think what they are doing is strategic when in reality it’s tactical. She quotes an old boss as explaining strategy is how to get out of the woods, or how are you going to achieve your goals. Tactics are what you’ll use to implement the how.

Therein lies the major distinction. Your goal is not your Mission. Your goal is your Vision. I recently came across a humorous distinction between the two. Frank Muir said, “Strategy is buying a bottle of wine when taking a lady out to dinner.  Tactics is getting her to drink it.” Mission – is why you asked her out in the first place.

In other words, your strategy is a long-range plan to achieve a desired end, your Big Hairy Audacious Goal—your Vision. Tactics are an assortment of steps you take – and change as needed – to get you to that goal, your Mission.  In one of my presentations, I talk about the difference between leading and managing.  One difference is that leaders are strategic while managers are tactical.

As a school librarian you need to be both a leader and a manager, but it’s important to be aware which hat you are wearing when. Most of the time you are managing. Your well-written Mission keeps you focused as you go about your day. While events might pull you off track, by knowing your Mission you more easily return to it. Another term for Mission is purpose.  It’s what you do every day and is why I have characterized it as your perspiration.

Lynn Parker in Startup Strategies says, “Tactics are the what. Strategy is the why.  Tactics are the actions. Strategy is the planning. Tactics may achieve goals. Strategy is all about setting the right goals.”

This is why those of you who have a strategic plan but don’t have a true Vision, have attained goals.  The question is, are they the right goals?  Do they really get you to your envisioned end?  If your Mission is your perspiration, then your Vision is your inspiration and aspiration.

Here are some sample Vision Statements:

  • The School Library Media Program is a collaborative and instructional partnership between students, teachers, school library media specialists, administrators, and the community with the freedom to explore personal and intellectual interests through informational sources.
  • The School Library Media Program is the heart of the educational community. Love of the written word and the research skills for intellectual and personal achievement are grown and nurtured here.
  • The School Library Media Program is a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goals.

These Visions picture a desired goal for a school library. I don’t think many (or any) libraries have fully achieved this. But it is what you would like to have. Therefore, it is your aspiration and it can and should inspire you to work towards that end.

By contrast, these are some Mission Statements:

  • The Blank District Library Media Program cultivates independent, lifelong readers fosters critical thinking skills, teaches the effective and ethical use of information sources, and promotes equitable access to all forms of information media.
  • The Mission of the Blank School Media Center Program is to promote lifelong learning, develop critical thinking skills and gain an appreciation of literature by providing opportunities for all students to gain the self-confidence necessary to successfully learn in an information-rich world.
  • The Blank School Library Media Program provides a positive environment that encourages students to love reading and assists them in becoming critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective users and producers of ideas with the ultimate goal of creating life-long learners.

The Mission Statements are all about the “doing.”  The Vision Statements are the place the library program holds in the educational community.

Sun Tsu, the famed ancient Chines military strategist said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”  You need both in order to attain your goals.

What is your Mission?  Your Vision?  Do see and understand the distinction between the two?

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