Professional musicians and athletes practice regularly to keep and raise their skills to the highest level. But all professions and crafts require practice. This means being attentive to what you are doing and repeatedly assessing your performance. You probably do this as a librarian, but you may be not reflecting on how you are practicing – and improving – as a leader. Making regular checks on your leadership practices will increase your skills and make you more successful.
The needs of your program keep you very busy but you cannot overlook how you are doing as a leader. As I have often written, you are either growing or dying. There is no stasis. And school librarians must be leaders – there is no other option.
Are you content to lead only in small ways? Anything is better than nothing, but you need to keep growing. What plan do you have to do so? Do you go to your state (and hopefully national) conferences? Have you taken webinars? It’s easy to complain about time, but that is a story you tell yourself. Remember none of us have time. We make time. When it’s a priority in your life, you find a way to do it. And leadership must be a priority.
As a quick check, think of how many times in the course of the day were you a leader? With teachers? Administrators? If you can’t come up with instances, you need to do more to focus on your leadership practice. John R. Stoker’s post Are You Working on You? Questions for Improving the Quality of Your Leadership is a good way to take stock and expand on how you lead and how you are perceived. He puts forth ten questions that build on each other. If you’re struggling with the first few, you’ll be challenged with later questions as well.
- Are people motivated to follow you? – You can’t be a leader if no one is following you. When you propose a program—big or small—how is it greeted? If you can’t enroll the necessary stakeholders to go along with it, you are doing everything alone. Not only are you not leading, but you are also more likely to become overwhelmed. If this sounds like you, think of how to reframe your ideas so it appeals to the needs of the people you want to join with you.
- Do people seek your perspective or insights? You should be known as someone who knows a lot about technology and how to incorporate it into teaching. People should recognize you as an expert in literature for your students. If your advice isn’t being sought, why do you think that is? Perhaps you give the impression you are too busy. Being approachable is an important part of being a leader.
- How open am I to different perspectives about tough issues? Now more than ever, we need to be models of civil discourse. Teachers and administrators may have different views on what you add to the collection. While you must be true to your philosophy and professional ethics, how you hear their feelings and react to them will affect their perception of you as a leader.
- What situations or feedback cause me to get defensive? When we get defensive, the other person tends to react badly as well, and we are certainly not behaving like a leader. Listen for the message rather than focusing on the delivery method. Respond calmly, once again showing how well you can engage in civil discourse.
- Why do I take certain situations personally? This is an excellent self-analysis question. We usually react personally when it touches on old feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Even if you never stop the internal reactions, being aware of why it is a trigger will help you put it in a proper perspective and move forward positively.
- How does my communication style affect others? This is big. In talking with others, there is what we actually said, what we intended to say, and what the listener heard. Ideally, they are all the same, but they may be three different things. Tune into the body language of the person with whom you are speaking and ask for feedback to ensure your communication was clear. If you are communicating by email, re-read before sending it. You may not realize how your words will be received. If it’s very important, ask someone you trust to read it and tell you what they got from the message.
- How does my mood or state of mind influence the decision-making of others? Your mood affects your body language. If you are tense, angry, or frustrated when asking for support, those negative feelings will be communicated (making the answers to Questions #1 and #2 more likely to be no). In that case, you will probably not get what you seek. Breathe and check your mindset before initiating the conversation.
- Do people view me as negative and cynical or positive and passionate? This is basic to being a leader. No one wants to be around someone who exudes negative emotions and is always finding fault and complaining. If people don’t want to be around you, how can you be a leader?
- What personal characteristics of others bother me the most? This is an interesting question. Sometimes it’s people who exhibit traits you are sensitive about in yourself such as being overly talkative (this is one of mine). Other times it’s those negative attitudes of the previous question. When you are a leader, you need to be able to get along with everyone at some level. They don’t need to be your best friends but look for other qualities they have and speak to those.
- Do I make negative assumptions or judgments of others, or do I give others the benefit of the doubt? Although similar to the previous question, there are differences. When I was an elementary librarian, I had a volunteer mother who struck me as being somewhat slow mentally. Over time I got to realize that although she wasn’t well educated, she had a keen analytic mind and could often spot things in my plans that I had overlooked. I had to get past my judgments.
At the end of each month, reflect back on your accomplishments and challenges. What did you do well as a leader? Where can you improve? Practice may not make perfect, nothing does, but it does make you better. And remember to speak as kindly to yourself while you’re learning as you would to your students