Just as you continue to increase your knowledge of technology, you also need to increase your understanding of what makes a leader successful. And when this knowledge becomes integrated into your practice, you’re a better leader. Leaders stand out. When you are a leader, you stand out. Others watch you. To continue to be viewed as a leader, you need to up your game. As you well know, if you are standing still, you are likely are falling behind.
In past blogs, in my books, and at presentations and workshops, I have discussed leadership qualities including leading with integrity, being a team player, having a sense of humor, and being a visionary/risk taker. No doubt these are basic as are some others. Working on these qualities do help you become a better leader, but there are behaviors that are also essential.
One aspect of leadership that is rarely discussed is how leaders continue to learn and grow. Lolly Deskoll whose posts I have discussed before explains How the Best Leaders Invest in Themselves. She offers seven ways for you to do that.
- They’re open to feedback – As much as we want to know the truth, egos are sensitive things. We don’t like hearing negative comments even when they are objective and helpful. Sure, we ask for feedback, but how do ask for it? For example, if you say, “Did you like the way the class went?” chances are you’ll only get one-word answers. It might have gone well, but that is not necessarily the whole story, and if you want to improve, you need to get legitimate feedback. Instead, say, “What did you think I could have done better?” or “What do you think was helpful and what wasn’t?” And remember – some feedback will be positive.
- They’re always reading – This is easy for us, but it depends on what you are reading. Deskoll notes that Bill Gates regularly goes on retreats and reads 20 books. I get several “SmartBriefs” in my Gmail. While some are educational, many are business and tech related. It is from the business ones that I get a new perspective on development (including today’s topic). I also am a member of ASCD. Not only do I get e-newsletters, I also get their magazine Educational Learning.It’s how I keep up with what supervisors and administrators are interested in. Find new things to read that will inspire you from a new perspective.
- They learn from their mistakes – Although we teach our students the importance of failure, it doesn’t feel the same when it happens to us. But you never grow without risks and there’s always a chance a risk won’t pan out. You also can learn from the mistakes of others. I even observe this with corporate America. The ones who try to cover up their mistakes end up in worse shape than if they hadn’t tried to hide it. Those who own up to what went wrong and have a plan of action to make changes gain the confidence of their customers and come back from the failure stronger than ever.
- They grow their network – No one understands what goes into being a school librarian the way other librarians do. The more librarians you have in your PLN, the better able you are to deal with new challenges – and bounce back from setbacks. There are many Facebook groups for librarians. Join them. If you are not a member of your state library association, you are cheating yourself and your students from a valuable source of help. And if at all possible, you need to belong to a national association. As you know, I am very active in ALA/AASL and I continue to learn from it. I know I wouldn’t have become the leader I am without my participation. I’ve chosen to belong to ISTE as well. I’m not active, but their journal keeps me informed.
- They know how to ask questions – In general, leaders are big picture people. It’s a necessary part of being visionary. That means they sometimes overlook details, and, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Asking the people you work with to look over your ideas and critique them is not a sign of weakness or even insecurity. It is recognizing their value and showing you know that no one has all the answers. Good leaders know their strengths – and also know their weaknesses. They look to others to fill in the spaces where they aren’t strong. It also creates places for collaboration.
- They make time for reflection – I admit this has always been hard for me. Fortunately, I discovered walking. When you are so busy, it seems like a waste of time to step away from the tasks at hand, but in actuality it is the pause in the day that rejuvenates and can inspire you. Deepak Chopra once said people who don’t have time to meditate once a day should meditate twice a day. Find a way that works for you such as keeping a journal, coloring or knitting.
- They have a coach – A coach or mentor is an invaluable resource. I have had a few over the years, although I never put a name to the relationship. I don’t have a specific person now, but I do have a number of “go-to” people I reach out to when I have a question. Who is a leader you admire? Is there someone in your PLN who seems to be very knowledgeable in an area that concerns you? Consider asking that person to be your coach/mentor. It might surprise you to discover that some of the major leaders in the field are willing to help you.
Strong leaders are lifelong learners – something we librarians do naturally. These behaviors aren’t new tasks – they are new places to learn. And always make time for yourself. Remember you are a human being—not a human doing.