No matter how well you know a subject, it never hurts to review and sharpen your skills. This is true with leadership as well. And like re-reading a favorite book, when you go back, you’ll probably find something you didn’t notice the first time and you may even find something new to enjoy.

An unexpected source of leadership information comes from American physicist Richard Feynman who was also a popular teacher at the California Institute of Technology. There he taught eight classes which have become well known and play a strong role in the tenets of leadership.  In Richard Feynman’s Lessons for Life (And Leaders) John Baldoni calls out the core of these classes and adds his own comments. I’ve added applications to librarians.

  1. Work hard – Baldoni says, “discipline is essential to mastering your craft.” I would add to remember to work smarter rather than harder. Know what is important. Before diving into a project, ask will it advance your Mission? What return are you going to get for your investment of time?  Does it need to be done now?  Can/should you get help? Answering these questions will enable you to work hard and smarter.
  2. What others think of you is none of your business – Don’t let opinion and hearsay distract you. Instead, keep in mind it is vital that others see you as important to their success. They must value the help and resources you provide. Don’t become preoccupied by those who steadfastly resist every attempt you make to collaborate with them. Focus on strengthening the connections you already have. 
  3. It’s OK not to have all the answersLeaders don’t know it all. But as the saying goes, “the librarian knows where to find it.”  It is more important how you bring the answer.  Make sure you empower those who want to answer questions, especially since most people feel foolish for not knowing. If you make the teacher feel like a co-discoverer for raising the question, you pave the way for improved relationships and collaboration.
  4. Experiment, fail, learn and repeat No one is successful all the time. We can’t let the fear of failure makes us hesitant to experiment.   We have an opportunity to model this for teachers and students and offer others a valuable lesson. They will become more confident in their own process when they see ours.  
  5. Knowledge comes from experience Lessons come from success and failure. How you react to and learn from a failure is a measure of your leadership and future success. You will show others the kind of leader you are when you accept that your project/experiment didn’t work and, rather than hiding from it, take the lessons you learned and use them to go forward. 
  6. Imagination is importantGood leaders create a safe place for others to think big. Creating a climate of “wondering” is essential to what the library provides to all its users and makes it safe for them to consider the possibilities. Allowing your imagination loose is necessary in creating a Vision for your library. This is your chance to think big!  Think outside the box – or imagine that there isn’t any box at all.
  7. Do what interests you the most – In this Baldoni is urging us to set goals that inspire us. Although you need to do your job, you can play to your interests. We are fortunate in that our job requires many skills and roles.  Where is the heart of your passion? Are you a techie? Is reading where your heart is? While you won’t ignore the range of responsibilities you have, you can put emphasis on what you care about and enlist others in the aspects of the job you like less. Volunteers are hard to come by, but if you are specific about your needs, you might find some.
  8. Stay curious – Curiosity keeps our imagination engaged. This is a place where libraries and librarians excel. We are role models for lifelong learning and what is curiosity but the beginning of learning something new. Being curious is good advice when it  comes to building the relationships which are necessary for our success.  Be curious about others.  Letting them know you are interested in them as people gets communication going.  Collaboration can then follow.

These eight life lessons may all be things you knew but are they things you’ve practiced? If there is one that inspires you today or if one is feels new and exciting, then I hope you’ll put it into practice to strengthen your leadership skills. The best lessons never get old and always deserve a good re-read.

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