As one year ends and another begins (can I get a cheer?) it’s a good time to look honestly at where you are on your leadership journey and think about where you want to go next. The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu supposedly said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even if it’s only a small step, what matters is that you have begun, and that you continue. Where it will end you cannot foresee, but the farther you go the more lives you will impact and the richer your own experiences will be.
Thinking of the leadership journey takes me back to my August 24. 2020 blog Follow the Yellow Brick Road. The Wizard of Oz has a lot to teach us about growing and learning in a time of stress and ambiguity. You might want to watch it through the perspective of a leadership journey. Much like you in your initial foray into leadership, Dorothy places a tentative first step onto the road. With encouragement, she moves forward. (NOTE: If you’re starting out – I hope you have a mentor and if you’re further along, I hope you’ll look to be a mentor to those early in their journey.) Her path begins as a spiral, coming back on itself but getting larger and more distant from the center each time. So it is with leadership. You take on small things. Slowly you move out of your comfort zone, even if it is still close by.
Eventually the path widens and there is a large vista in front of you. Your old comfort zone is behind you, but now the risk of everyone seeing your performance and potentially judging it can inhibit you from continuing the journey. Every leader deals with this, and to bring Lao -Tzu back, you won’t reach the thousand-mile mark unless you keep going forward. The good news is, the steps you’ve already taken will support your success.
As you move onto this larger road, you need to hone the skills you have developed and use them in a focused way. In a post for SmartBrief, Jonathan Dapra offers advice for Navigating the Road from Doer to Leader. The article speaks to the balance of being a manager (doer) while also being a leader.
Dapra proposes these five steps.
- Create a Vision and Share It –Managers work to drive their Mission; Leaders move forward to realize a Vision. I hope you have created a big Vision of how you want your library program to be and be perceived. The second half of Dapra’s advice is equally important – share it. Post it on a wall in your library. Have it on your website. Put it in the signature of your work emails.
- Build Mutually Beneficial Relationships – Relationships are our business, and we need to develop them. This takes the concept to a new level. As a manager, you have undoubtedly included collaboration as part of your Mission. As a leader, you want to be more strategic. Who are the influencers in your building? There are always teachers who are more respected. Is your principal a genuine leader or does s/he only have the title? Is the secretary the real power? These are the people with whom you must build relationships. Note the term “mutually beneficial.” What do they need? How can you give it to them?
- Be a Master of Feedback – Leaders create more leaders. They do so by empowering others and helping them grow. Feedback is an important element of that, but to master feedback you might want to review last week’s blog. Criticism vs. Feedback. Ensure that what you think is a supportive comment is not taken in as criticism. Although Deprak doesn’t mention it, you also should seek honest feedback about yourself and use it. Leaders put what they learn into action.
- Know Your Business – Our profession has long been about rapid changes, which has been accelerating as part of our response to the pandemic. Staying current is challenging, but professional journals such as AASL’s Knowledge Quest and ASCD’s Educational Learning along with the library-related social media will keep you on top of new tech and important issues. You want to be the one people turn to when they need to know something, secure in the knowledge that you can help them or find the help they need.
- Walk the Talk – No matter where you are on your leadership journey, be a model of what a great leader is. Be trustworthy and empathetic. Give help and be strong enough to ask for help. Dorothy did and look where it led her.
I urge you to look for ways to reach the wider road on your leadership journey. Get involved in your state school library association. Become active on the national level. Start conversations on library social media sites to contribute to and learn from your peers. When you continuously take one step at a time, you can make that journey of a thousand miles.