In these continually uncertain times, I’ve decided we need a new word: Pro-reacting. What does it mean? It’s when you can be proactive and further your library’s mission even when you have to be reactive to the changes coming at you from teachers, administrators and situations you can’t control. It’s important to be responsive, but it’s equally important to be a leader. Pro-reacting is a way to do both.
When you are asked to change directions, take time to think about how you will carry them out. You may discover that what you need to do fits with your goals, even if it’s not the way you originally planned. When you are given non-library tasks and responsibilities, consider how to tie them to the library. How can you demonstrate the connection in what you are now doing? Be flexible – pro-reactive – and use lateral thinking.
Lateral thinking is defined as taking a creative approach to solving a problem or facing a challenge. It requires not only thinking out of the box, but a growth mindset to discover alternative paths to a goal. You can find techniques (and a very fun video) for breaking out of the box with Success as School’s post Examples of Lateral Thinking Skills. Lateral thinking is a mental version of a physical exercise. You stretch. You bend sideways. Stretch some more and now you’re able to reach further. Lead the same way and you become more flexible.
Jon Lokhorst suggests another way of being flexible in Take Your Leadership to the Next level: Lead Well in All Directions. Like a compass, he gives four directions where you should lead:
- Lead Yourself – You are the first person you lead, but first you must know who you are. What are your core values? What is your Vision? Your Mission? What are your passions? Your strengths? What do you see as your weaknesses? Know what motivates you – and what stops you.
How do you deal with success? How do you deal with failure? When and how do you get sidetracked, and what do you to get back on track? How do other people see you? Is it a fair judgement? If not, what about you is giving them this perception?
- Lead Up – Stretch your leadership arms straight up. Continue your flexible leadership by leading with your principal. Successful library leaders have strong relationships with their principals and other administrators. In too many schools, principal began with little or no idea of the benefits a school librarian could bring to them and the school community. You have to lead them to this knowledge.
First, find ways to make the principal look good. They make reports to the Superintendent. By knowing what is being looked for on the district level, you can supply your principal with information showing her/him to the best advantage. Then move on to the Superintendent who reports to the Board. Be sure your principal knows what you are doing when sending things further up with leadership.
- Lead Across – Collaboration is vital to the library program. How can you lead already stressed teachers to work with you? The answer is by first building a relationship with them. Make it as personal as possible to develop trust which is the foundation of relationship. We all generally extend ourselves for those we care about.
The second step is to ensure the teachers you have targeted recognize you will do the heavy lifting. It won’t involve extra work for them. Finally, promote them in the collaborative project when you communicate with your principal. This combines leading across with leading up.
- Lead Down – How do you lead those for whom you are responsible? The most common situation is with your students. Having them become engaged, critical thinkers requires you to lead in a way that guides but does not direct them.
Making those you lead feel valued, worthy, and successful is the best way to lead. Make them feel welcome, heard, and understood. You become a role model to them for leadership. If you understand how you do it with students, you will be more able to do the same when you are leading across and up.
In addition, think about how you lead parents. This group is either across or up, depending on the situation. With the pandemic, you are likely to have more opportunities to reach out to them. Lead them in discovering how they can help their children, and they will become advocates for the library.
To stay in shape as a leader, flexibility is a requirement. Start stretching. We need the library in all parts of our lives. Find the opportunity when you’re asked to make a change, be pro-reactive, and you can advance the library program no matter what situations you face.