Yes, we’re back to one of my favorite focuses (advocacy being the other): What does it take to be a leader? Sometimes the list of qualities and abilities seems endless. And although countless books and articles are written on the topic, most of the time they end up repeating each other. When I discuss leadership qualities and skills at a workshop, the responses I get show me librarians are aware of what it takes and when leadership is absent.
Given the repetition and the awareness, why aren’t there more good leaders? I have discussed the barriers, most recently in last week’s blog, When in Doubt, but beyond the fears and negative self-talk, there is also a lack of specific directions on how to be a leader. It’s like being given a list of ingredients for a recipe but no instruction on how to assemble the meal.
Lolly Daskal offers ten steps in This Is What You Need to Learn to Become A Successful CEO. If it works for CEOs, it can help you too. As the head of the library, you are its CEO. The school library reflects the personality, mindset, and philosophy of the librarian. As such, you have more control than you think, and by being aware of Daskal’s ten steps, you can more easily step into being an active, positive leader.
- Define your character – I think this is a great start. It includes many of the qualities of a leader such as integrity, visionary, and “empowerer.” Your philosophy of what a school library should be, also affects your character.
- Act as the brand and ambassador – You are the face of the library program. A teacher doesn’t represent the entire subject or grade, but you represent the library. If you live in the town where you work, you meet your students and their parents in the supermarket and local restaurants. And they see it as meeting the library. You must carry your character and your belief about the library program into the world. It brings great returns.
- Create a thriving organizational culture – At first, this would seem to be out of your realm, but remember the library reflects who you are. Is it a safe, welcoming place? Does it promote collaboration and discovery? If you get this right, the library can become students’ favorite place in the building — and for teachers as well.
- Communicate consistently and with candor – You need to use all your tech expertise and your emotional intelligence to reach all your audiences. This includes the design and content of your website as well as your social media accounts and how you interact face-to-face with all who come into the library and those who primarily visit it digitally (parents, some administrators, school board members, etc.). You need to find the most effective ways to reach all of them. For the library program to be successful, all stakeholders need to know what the program provides them.
- Under promise and over deliver – For those of you who are afraid to take risks, this is a no-brainer, but don’t under promise so much that your project/idea seems unimportant. When you do deliver (or over deliver), praise all those who helped. You take responsibility for mistakes and share successes.
- Stay curious – Another no-brainer for librarians. We are endlessly curious. We have to be to
keep up with the latest in resources, apps, technology—and books. Build relationships with those who have different interests so you can learn new things from them. You will gain new knowledge, and they will be flattered they can help. This includes learning from students.
- Embrace change – We do this continually. I do hope you are embracing the new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. I have met a number of librarians who have not yet bought their copy and begun to dig into them. You need to do this or risk being left behind. We don’t teach with yesterday’s technology or yesterday’s standards. Change feels hardest at the beginning. Like an exercise routine, consistency will make it second nature – and maybe even fun.
- Implement diversity – In the business world, this refers to those you hire. In our world, it means our collections. Students need to see themselves in the books they read. And students need to develop understanding and tolerance by reading about those whose lives are different from theirs. Don’t limit diversity to ethnicity, sexuality or gender issues. Think of students who have a parent in the military who is serving in Afghanistan, or those who are homeless. We don’t always see what is happening in our students’ lives. Books are an important window as well as a mirror.
- Manage relationships – We are in the relationship business. Even after you have built relationships with teachers, students, and the administration, you must continue to look for places to build more. With parents. With the community. The more people you reach, the more successful your advocacy will be.
- Lead by example – We are role models for lifelong learning. Let students and teachers know about what you have learned recently, the book you are currently reading or even the YouTube creator you discovered. By giving respect to all students, you not only get respect back but also encourage tolerance and respect in your students. It’s not what you say that counts. It’s what you do.
Look over the list. Which of these come easily to you? Which are difficult? Become aware of how you are implementing all of them and observe how your leadership abilities grow because of them.