ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Leader or a Manager

I apologize.  The title is a trick question.  You must be both, but you need to be aware which hat you have on and why. My guess is you have been too busy to think about the question or notice the distinction, and as a result, you may not be using your time and energy efficiently. To understand the difference between the two, it helps to know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Strategy is a big picture concept. It represents a large goal.  Strategy is tied to your Vision.  Ultimately, it is what you seek to accomplish.

Tactics is how you get to that goal.  It is what you do day in and day out.  While Strategy is tied to your Vision, Tactics are aligned with your Mission.  Focusing only on tactics is like building a house when you have no idea what it should look like when done.

What does this have to do with being a leader or a manager?  Leaders hold the Vision.  Managers carry out the Mission.  If you still don’t have a Mission and Vision you are likely to work very hard and not have a sense of accomplishment.

With your Mission and Vision as a guide, you are both a manager and a leader—but not simultaneously.  When you organize your day, teach your classes, collaborate with teachers, or do your book order, you are being a manager.  When you develop a budget, organize a school-wide project, plan to genre-fy your collection, you are being a leader.

The business world recognizes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as the leader, and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) is the manager.  But even corporate America is becoming aware that some blending happens and, in some businesses as with school librarians, one person does both.

An often-cited brief distinction between the two roles is that leaders have people follow them and managers have people work for them.  At first glance, it would seem you have neither.  But when you plan a project, you enroll people to join in and follow your vision for it.  Having people “follow’ you is at the heart of advocacy.  If you are fortunate to have clerical help or volunteers, they obviously work for you.  In a more limited way, as you direct/guide students on their tasks they are doing the work you have given them.

ResourcefulManagement.com has an infographic comparing 17 traits distinguishing leaders from managers.  I’ve talked about several of them in earlier blogs but there are others I think it is helpful to consider such as:

Tells vs. Sells The manager says, “This is what I want you to do, and this is how to do it. The leader says, “I have this great idea and I know it will work if I can get you to be part of it.” You are leading when this is how you approach a new project.

Minimizes Risks vs. Takes Risks – Managers follow the status quo.  Leaders take the program in a larger direction.  I remind you frequently that you need to take risks.  Small ones at first and larger ones as you prove your worth.

Sees a Problem vs. Sees an Opportunity – It’s easy to see (and complain) about obstacles and problems.  A leader recognizes problems are an opening into new territory. It’s called a “choppertunity” – a challenge that presents an opportunity.  How creative can you be?  What risk will be needed?

Follows the Map vs. Carves New Roads –This is similar to which one takes risks, but the reminder is you won’t get far if you keep doing only what you have been doing before.  You are either growing or dying. First, understand the map, then look to find the places to create new roads.

Establishes Rules vs. Breaks Rules – Once again, there is an element of risk in the difference between the two roles.  How many of you will allow food in the library?  Allow kids to borrow books even if they have overdues? And those are the most common rules.  Where are rules keeping your program from growing? Where are rules keeping your program running smoothly? Shine a bright light on these rules and see which ones are serving and which are holding you back.

Assigns Duties vs. Fosters Ideas – As a librarian, you strive to foster ideas from students doing assignments, but have you looked at ways you can foster ideas from teachers about improving your program? The end users often have ideas of what they want, what they like, and what they don’t like.  Involve them in taking your program to the next step.

Does Things Right vs. Does the Right Thing – Obviously you need to do both.  Just know when to do what.  Purchasing books you fear might be challenged is doing the right thing.  Showing you are a team player is doing things right. 

For most of your day, you need to be a manager.  But to manage well, you need to know where you, the leader, is going.  And remember this quote by that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Launching – and Completing – A Successful Project

43895764 – web start up flat style. rocket flight, promotion seo, laptop and launch, vector illustration

No matter where you are on your professional journey, starting out or established leader, there are times and opportunities where you need to take risks and move out of your comfort zone. Frequently this means creating and tackling a project.  Smaller projects, which tend to be shorter term, could include a “one book, one school,” a book club, or starting a Makerspace. A big project might be genre-fying your fiction (and possibly your nonfiction) collection, turning your library into a Learning Commons, or building a new library wing. How do you manage these long-term projects while you are still doing your regular job?  Planning is the key.

Whether the project is big or small you will likely have moments (maybe many of them) of trepidation, concern and even a few occasions of “What was I thinking?!” In a new blog I have been following, Belinda Wasser of RocketGirl Solutions presented seven ideas on How to Launch a Big Project.  These steps work for small projects as well as large ones and are a great way to keep you on track or help you return if you get off course.

no elephants were sacrificed for any of the projects mentioned!

Here are the seven—along with my comments:

  1. Set the end date before you begin. Wasser says it motivates you. I believe it keeps you on track.  Keep in mind the places where you don’t have control over all the parts when it comes to a large project.  For example, contractors don’t/can’t always adhere to the original schedule, and things do go wrong.
  • For small projects, if you don’t have an end date, you are likely to let daily tasks get in the way and the project will not only never be completed, it will start to feel overwhelming and tedious. You won’t meet your goal if you don’t schedule the time to keep moving your project forward.
  1. Break the project down into its parts and create a plan. I have written about my technique of telescoping, microscoping, and periscoping when doing a big project. In telescoping you look down the road to the conclusion of the project as Wasser says for the first step. I also recommend you set additional internal dates for the different parts of the project.  On a day-to-day basis you use microscoping to focus on the current step. Every so often you go to periscoping, popping up the periscope to see what’s next to see if everything is on schedule and what you will need to do next.
  • For small projects, you still need to know the parts but periscoping will be less of a necessity. If you are relying on others for components of your project, such as getting approval for something, be sure to stay on top of it, nicely reminding that person of the “deadline” and the important part their role plays.

3. Schedule regular meetings. I’ve found librarians rarely do this even for a large project, but if you think it can help your progress, do it. This may be especially important if your project is outside of your library, such as for your state association (Zoom anyone?). Regardless of whether meetings will help, keeping people up to date on the state of the project is important and you should send reports to whomever is involved, particularly the administration.

  • In meetings and in reports, focus on the positives.  Report on any problems that are surfacing and how you plan to deal with them, including who will be helping you to take care of it.

4. Be decisive. At some point (or several) during a large project, you will have to make decisions. It often is about making some changes to the original plan. It’s challenging enough to take on a big project.  When confronted by the need to alter it in some way, the tendency is to try to get the perfect solution, and you can spend time getting a lot of advice.  That is what General Colin Powell calls “analysis paralysis.”  You don’t have time to waste.  Give yourself a short deadline for coming to a decision and go with it. Small projects (fortunately) rarely have these decisions.

  • You might change a vendor or product for your starter makerspace or decide to have a theme book club requiring you to have books for participants to choose from. But the decisions shouldn’t take much time.
  1. Be prepared to spend extra time. You already have a full schedule, and there isn’t much you can do when this happens. You will have to fit in extra time for the project. This doesn’t mean you stay late every day or bring home an inordinate amount of work. An idea can be to create a list of responsibilities you can delegate temporarily so that when this happens, you have a plan. Also, remember to allow for downtime with friends and family during the process or you will be drained and exhausted when it’s complete.

    The person turns hourglass isolated on white
  • Small projects need little extra time, but since it can come up be mindful of them.
  1. Don’t forget the budget. Vendor sites and vendors themselves can give you a good idea of some of the costs. Use social media to ask those who have tackled this type of project to tell you how they budgeted, what were some unexpected costs, and how they handled writing RFPs (Request for Proposal).
  • With a small project, many of you will be spending money out of your own pocket. You might buy makerspace supplies or treats for the book club.  While this may be unavoidable, look for other funding sources such as your home school association or small grants.
  1. Visualizing the end. Just as the Vision for your library program serves as an inspiration, visualizing what you will have when you are done will keep you going on the tough days. It will become easier to hold the picture as you come closer to the end. Share the steps with others.  Take pictures of the progress and create a display and/or post on your website.

And one more step from me. Celebrate. Be proud of your achievement, large or small.  You have expanded the library presence and improved student learning through your vision and courage.  It’s what leadership is about.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Understanding and Using Culture

What is your school’s culture?  What is your library’s culture? Both affect how you do your job, how you present yourself, and whether you are regarded as a leader. I blogged on this topic back in January, but a recent article made me want to revisit the topic.

Readers may recall I worked in two districts with dramatically different cultures. The first voted down twenty budgets in the twenty-two years I was there. The second district passed every budget in the nine years I was there.  This district prided itself on its history and its ability and willingness to support the school system. They viewed themselves as a lighthouse district.  Indeed, pride along with diversity are still present on the district’s home page, mission, and superintendent’s vision.

Knowing the culture of the two districts affected how I proposed my annual budget requests and projects. At the first school, everything was couched in terms of how my request(s) would be cost-saving. (Every dollar spent in the library affects all students.)  I overheard a business teacher speaking to her department chair saying, “We don’t need new textbooks as long as Hilda’s library is up-to-date.” In the second school, I promoted my requests and ideas as a means of moving the school forward. In preparatory discussions with administrators, I would compare what I was seeking with what was happening in other leading school districts and libraries. I could be asking for the same thing in each school, but I framed it differently to fit the culture.

So if you’re (still) struggling with working within your school’s culture, you may appreciate the idea s from an article in Harvard Business Review where John Coleman discusses the Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture. Although he is addressing the business world much of what he says relates or is adaptable to education and the school library.

Coleman starts with Vision. He states, “A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement.” I have been promoting this for years. Your Vision and/or Mission must guide every decision you make. It sets the tone for everything.  Don’t have one yet?  Get started.  You won’t be able to successfully advocate for your program without it. Also, make sure you know the vision for your school or school district. The more in line you can be, the easier your advocacy.

Next is Values.  According to Coleman, “A company’s values are the core of its culture.” This ties into your Philosophy which probably includes a statement that the library “is a safe, welcoming environment for all.”.  We also have our Common Beliefs as given in the National School Library Standards. As librarians, we have our ALA Bill of Rights and the ALA Code of Ethics.  To enhance your understanding, you might also reflect on your school’s and district’s values – both stated and unstated

Third is Practices. “Values are of little importance unless they are enshrined in a company’s practices.” How many times have we heard administrators say, “The library is the heart of the school,” only to see them eliminate the budget, close the library for numerous occasions, and in other ways indicate the statement is a platitude, not a reality. (This speaks to those unstated values). You can support this by truly doing all you can to carry out your Vision/Mission and Values. If this is something you are struggling with, how can you change this or get help?

People is (are?) fourth. As Coleman says, “No company can build a coherent culture without people who either share its core values or possess the willingness and ability to embrace those values.” These “people” are your advocates.  Are there teachers who share your values and value the library? What about your administrator? Any outside volunteers? This is why you need to communicate your Vision – and your Values.  And are you showing you value the contributions of those around you? If you need support on this, go to the National School Library Standards portal, clicking on Administrators or Educators to get the appropriate resources.

The fifth contributor to an institution’s culture is Narrative. This is where the power of emotions comes in.  You need to tell your library’s story and embed it in the awareness of your stakeholders. Use emotional content and visuals to reach your audience. Where have you seen your program making a noticeable difference in the lives of students? Why is it not only valuable but indispensable? Have students worked on college applications at the library? Try to get pictures when they’re accepted. Have students put something they’ve learned in the library into action (such as a community garden)? Make sure to show the connection – and the excitement. Do quarterly reports highlighting student learning using various tech resources such as Canva, Piktochart or your favorite site. Get your narrative out into the community with social media.

Finally, there is Place.  The look of your facility is the first thing greeting all who enter.  What message is it sending? Is it aligned with your Vision and Values or is there a disconnect? I’ve written about a list of rules being the first thing people see and how that can be a barrier. Where is the visual excitement of your space?

You create the culture for your library.  By taking stock of how yours measures up to these six components, you can make it a strong statement of who, what, and why you are.  Also, match these six to identify your school culture.  How well is the library culture aligned with the school culture? Again, is there a disconnect?  If so, develop a strategic advocacy plan to make inroads on the school culture so that it will embrace the value of the school library and make certain you are using your awareness of the culture to support your initiatives.  A challenging culture doesn’t mean you won’t get what you need. It means you’ll have to look for or develop new ways to success.