Leaders need to know how to be team players.  They can’t succeed in a vacuum.  And for those of you who are still leery of stepping into leadership, learning to be a valued team player is a good entry into leading. Being part of a team means you listen carefully, evaluate critically, and offer suggestions and alternatives. When you contribute in this way you are showing leadership while you build your confidence to propose plans and ideas of your own.

When you are a team player, you lead from the middle which means, according to Hildy Gotleib in her article Leading from the Middle: Bringing out the Best in Everyone: “bringing out the best in others, so that they can realize and step into their own potential to create change.” This is an important and results oriented form of leadership that allows you to have a voice in what is working as well as what is not working for your program and students.

I faced a situation that called for being a team player when administrators suggested changing to a block schedule for our high school. By doubling the length of classes, students would take one year of a course in a single semester.  The lab science teachers loved it. The world language and English teachers hated it. Others had mixed views but generally were opposed. I liked it because it increased time to do research.

But it didn’t matter – I knew it was a done deal even though the administrators presented it as though it was a possibility.

The challenge was how to respond. Since, the decision was already made, there was nothing to be gained by presenting alternatives.  On the other hand, outright support for block scheduling would pit me against many teachers.

My solution was to suggest I be given a one-time budget supplement to purchase materials to support the teachers as they learned to prepare lessons that lasted 90 minutes. The funds were immediately approved.  I bought the material and set up a special section in the library for the teachers to work there or they could make arragments to take the information home.

The teachers were grateful for the help I got them making this a win-win for the school library.  Even better, when I got my budget for the next school year the money that had been added remained there for me to do with as needed.

As usual, the business world offer suggestions we can use to learn to lead from the middle. In her blog post, 5 Ways to Build a Leadership PathwayMarlene Chism writes that you can “build your own pathway to leadership by becoming the best possible employee.”  Some of thewse you already do. See which ones you still might need to put into practice.

Ask for clarification – This has two parts.  When you learn of a change or new situation, don’t assume you understand exactly what your principal wants. Try to recognize the intended purpose of the plan and if you don’t know – find out. (My administrators wanted to change the method of instructional delivery.) After you know the what and the way, do some negotiating. If too much is being put on your plate, ask for advice on what has priority.

Using this particular approach shows that you are an active listener and aware that decisions have many parts and reasons.  Your administrator will recognize you are focused on achieving positive results. In the process, you might save yourself some work.

Master the skills – On the one hand, this is a reminder to keep current with technology, standards (including the AASL National School Library Standards), and the latest approaches in education which would interest your administrator and support new initiatives. Chism also talks about mastering soft skills as well.  You want to hone your relationship building skills and be aware of how you are being perceived.  If you detect negatives, do your best to change them. Consider getting a mentor to help you.

Become resourceful – Propose solutions to challenges you see whether it’s about the school library or other areas.  Never bring a problem to an administrator without having a potential solution to offer. They don’t appreciate being put on the spot and might very well come up with a method that doesn’t work for you.  By being pro-active you make it more likely your approach will be the one used, although there are likely to be tweaks.  Administrators want to let you know they can think on their feet, but you have already paved the way.

Take ownership – This is about your commitment to what you do. Your school library reflects your values. You take responsibility when something isn’t working and seek to fix it.  Leading from the middle (or the top) also means that you spotlight and acknowledge others who worked with you on a program or unit.

Seek accountability – Chism says ownership is about mindset and commitment while accountability is about measurement. Always assess. Whether you do a formal one for a large project or informally evaluate a lesson, always take time to review, reflect, and assess. By doing this you will also come to notice that your successes outweigh by far the ones that didn’t go as planned.

Actively and consciously being a team player means that your work strengthens the whole team. This can be an important way for the library program to be viewed as vital to the success of the school as a whole. Your input, support and knowledge will be an asset and you will be known for being a leader.

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