This blog is often about the importance of being a leader, but I know that for some (maybe many) of you, taking that first step and then building on it can be the biggest part of the challenge. Moving out of your comfort zone might feel like too great a risk. Perhaps you haven’t gotten tenure yet. Or for any number of reasons, your job may not be secure. In all of these cases, this is when being seen as a leader is the most important. So, how can you be ready to make that initial move? Try “managing up”.
Managing up is a term often used in the business world. For me, it’s similar to being a team player. I also think of it as leading from the middle. Leaders are a presence in the building. They are recognized for being able to get exciting things done. You can become a presence – at least to the administration – and help get exciting things done if you learn to manage up.
When you manage up, your aim is to further the goals of your administrator. The concept is core to any strategic planning for your program. If your principal (or superintendent) recognizes that the library program helps achieve his/her aims, he/she is more likely to support that program.
In my last school district, the superintendent and the principal wanted to move to a 4×4 block schedule. This meant that class periods would be twice as long, and students would complete a year’s work for each course in one semester. For example, they might take English 10, World History, and Chemistry in one semester and Spanish II, Algebra II, and Creative Writing the second semester. Although there were numerous objections from teachers, it was clear from the beginning the plan would go through. It was what the administration wanted.
Once it was clear this was happening I proposed that I be given $500 extra in my budget to buy supplemental materials to help teachers use a block schedule in their subject area. My principal quickly complied. I made certain the teachers were aware of the resources I had for them. The teachers weren’t thrilled about the change but felt, at least from the library, they were getting needed support. The administration was grateful I aided in calming down the negative emotions. The $500 stayed in my budget the next year. And that’s how managing up works.
When you manage up you are less “exposed,” and it’s not that difficult to incorporate it into your work life. Joel Garfinkle offers business people 5 Tips for Managing Up. The advice, with very little tweaking, works equally as well for school librarians. Here are his five – with my modifications:
- Know What Matters – This is the first step and is probably the most difficult and important. What does your administrator really wants to accomplish? What does he/she focus on at faculty meetings? What does he/she look for when doing observations? Knowing this is critical for the success of your program since you want to show how the library can help make it happen. In the process getting to the core of their goals, you will develop a “big picture” view. Your principal keeps an eye on district targets and sometimes larger ones as well. By figuring these out, you gain a broader awareness of how to position your program.
- Connect Broadly – Your big picture view will help you tune into what administrators are focused on. In the middle and high school, it can mean department chairs and subject coordinators. If it does, make certain you are working with the people in charge of those areas, showing how the library is a resource for them.
- Garner Support – You want to have people in your corner. In one school where the new library was one of the additions planned for the building, the cost of air conditioning became a concern. Because I supported him over the years, the Athletic Director said he was willing to forgo a new weight room if that meant the library was air-conditioned. The bottom line is, be ready to help others. You do this naturally for students and teachers. Now do it for administrators.
- Keep Stakeholders Informed – Never blindside an administrator. Don’t try to hide bad news or cover it up. It always gets discovered, and you have left the administrator unprepared. I once had a School Board member who was retired and liked to drop into my library. As soon as he left, I would contact my superintendent and let her know what he said and what I said. If it came up at the Board meeting, she was prepared.
- Build Personal Relationships – You find out teachers’ personal interests as part of building relationships with them, Do the same with administrators. Knowing their likes and perhaps their hobbies and outside interests gives you new ways to connect them with your program and occasionally reasons to reach out.
- Do not become a “brown-noser” – That will destroy your relationships with teachers. It’s important that you don’t carry tales or go along with everything even though you know it’s wrong. You don’t sell out your principles.
- Do not manipulate senior management. – Be open and above board in your interactions. If there is something you want, figure out a way to propose it so it gets heard. This is no place to be passive-aggressive.
- Do – Promote teacher activities with administrators. Use your connection to be a voice for teachers. That will strengthen your connection with them.
When you get to be proficient at Managing Up, and start to notice the benefits, hopefully, you will find it has become easier to step into full-fledged leadership.