Leaders Are Always Growing

You are a leader, but leading is more than administering a program. Leaders work consciously and continually to improve their leadership. Education is going through what might be a revolutionary period and while different areas grow and others shrink, you want to be an area that grows.

From Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education, to your own school district, the conversation happening is about implementing the lessons learned from this pandemic. How do you ride the tide to become one of the leaders, integral to the success of new approaches?  You seize the opportunity to expand your leadership. You’ll probably need to move out of your comfort zone. It’s worth it. Risk brings its own rewards.

Art Petty explains how to do it in “Here Are the Habits of Employees Who Lead Without a Title.” These five habits are as helpful in business – which is his focus – as they are for us.

  1. Trust Building – Trust is the foundation of relationships, and we are in a relationship business. It is built by showing interest in the other person. It grows when you help them make them feel empowered, not foolish. As Petty says, “Trust building is not a tactic. It’s a way of life.” You don’t learn the techniques for building trust to manipulate people. You build them because you care and want to have a bond with the people you are working with. You hold the confidences of others. Their trust allows you to collaborate and build programs that support students and the goals of administrators.
  • Reciprocity Management –When you do a favor for someone, they are inclined to do the same for you. The expression, “I owe you one,” is true. Because you have integrity, you don’t do favors in order to have someone indebted to you. You do it because you want to help. However, it does give you an opportunity to ask for support in return. Don’t build your trust bank too big. If you are always doing favors and never asking or accepting any help in return, people become uncomfortable. This may cause them to avoid you or not let you know when they need help. The trust starts eking out of the relationship.
  • Boundary Spanning – As a librarian your network encompasses teachers on different grade levels and subjects. You are also more likely to have a connection with other librarians in your district or across the state if you’ve been involved in local organizations. Leaders without titles know how to build these networks wherever possible. You may reach out to your public librarian counterpart. You connect to librarians across the country – and world—through social media. These connections increase your knowledge, confidence, and ability to recommend approaches and resources that have proved successful elsewhere.
  • Coalition Building – With the first three habits in place, you can form a coalition allowing you to get more done. Do you have a great idea? You have a cadre willing to join you. The glue that binds these people together is you and the relationships you have built. They aren’t working on the project because they were told to do it. They are doing it, because you asked, and they trust you and the vision you have for the library and the students. They have experience with you and respect you.
  • Gray-zone Leadership – Because you are not in the classroom, not responsible for test results or specific benchmarks, you have a unique perspective allowing you to see opportunities or challenges others may not. You “live between the lines of the organizational chart”. By creating programs to address gaps, you build on the other habits (trust, boundaries, coalitions) to strengthen not only your program but the school. By doing this, you are seen as a vital part of the success of students, teachers and administrators. You become a force for moving your school or district, and thereby your library, forward into where today’s education is heading.

Keep your leadership growing. Developing these habits will not only get you a seat at the table, but it might also give you a seat at the head of the table.

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What Do You Expect?

We go through life expecting that things will go a certain way – and then they don’t. It’s frustrating, disappointing, and irritating. Sometimes it’s because conditions changed, but very often the problem is due to the expectations themselves. Being aware of and able to manage expectations makes our jobs easier and our relationships stronger.

Expectations are based on who we are, how we perceive the world, and how we act. In our communications and interchanges, we make the unconscious assumption that other people are like us. We know this is not true, and when we know someone well, we recognize the differences. When it’s a teacher, parent, or administrator with whom we don’t have that higher level of familiarity, we unwittingly assume things that aren’t true.

John R. Stoker asks Can Managing Your Expectations Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? and gives twelve ways to do so.

  1. The expectation that you have been understood – Communication has three parts: the sender, the message, and thereceiver. When something is amiss with any part, the receiver will not get the message that was sent. Did you tailor the message to the receiver? Did you give too much information?  Did you use library jargon which made things unclear to the receiver? Be certain the message was received.
  2. The expectation that people will know what you want – If you’re not clear about what you want, chances are you won’t communicate your needs well. Get clarity before you speak so you know what you want to say. Lead off with your main point and be careful of being either too specific or too vague which leads to a loss of clarity.
  3. The expectation that people will perform the way you would perform – We all manage projects differently. People perform based on their expectations, not yours. In addition, where a project is your priority, it may not be someone else’s. Be aware of differences.
  4. The expectation that people should know what to expect from you – Even if teachers and administrators have expectations about the library, they may not know what they can expect from you. Let them know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. The more they know, the more they will be aware of your contributions.
  5. The expectation that those who are disengaged will take responsibility for their disengagement. For us, this means expecting a busy teacher or principal will eventually get back to you – and even apologize for the delay. Again, you likely have different priorities so cannot expect this. If necessary, create a reminder for yourself to re-send messages, follow up, and make your needs clear.
  6. The expectation that you won’t violate someone else’s expectations – If we don’t know the other person’s expectations, when we haven’t gotten clarity, mistakes are more likely. We don’t like to think we missed the mark, but it happens. As soon as you notice, apologize and then make a plan for going forward.
  7. The expectation that someone will tell you what’s going well and what isn’t – A leader’s job is to “inspire and inspect.”  People tend not to say anything if something isn’t going as planned. Plan to check in every so often to ask how things are going and if they need help. People are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they are struggling.
  8. The expectation that people will know how what they do contributes to the organization’s success. Sometimes it’s hard to see how small projects contribute to bigger successes. It’s important to be aware of this within your program. Then you can let teachers and students know when they’ve made a difference and pass this information along to administrators. This is a great opportunity to acknowledge a teacher or administrator who has made a difference. Specific compliments make a person’s day and will strengthen your relationship with the receiver.
  9. The expectation that priorities are understood by everyone – Even when they overlap, our goals differ from those of teachers and administrators. If your principal doesn’t understand how a program is contributing to the success of students, s/he may ask you to take on something new. When starting a new initiative, be clear with those participating what the priorities are.  Don’t assume. And take time to review as the project continues to be sure you are all on the same page.
  10. The expectation that people will give you personal feedback – You don’t always want to hear praise – you need to know where to improve. People don’t like giving negative feedback almost as much as they dislike receiving it. In discussions with teachers, make sure to ask, “What could I have done to make this project better?” rather than, “Did it go OK?”
  11. The expectation that you know what people need – This is why the “inspect” discussed in #7 is important. We are different. We work differently. And we are different in what we do well and what challenges us. What do people need when it comes to resources, time, support and assistance. When you check in, with feedback not criticism, it allows both of you to be more successful.
  12. The expectation that people who are driving slower in the fast lane will move over – This is about giving and receiving respect. No matter how a project is going, whether communication and priorities are clear, it is important to treat everyone involved with respect. Listen for what’s working and where things are challenging then move forward accordingly.

When you start a project, think about your inherent expectations. Are they true?  If not, make the necessary adjustments. You will minimize disappointments and lower your frustration levels. As Stoker says in his conclusion, Part of becoming more emotionally intelligent and a more effective leader is about identifying our expectations and clearly sharing them with others. Doing so will not only eliminate unneeded and potentially damaging emotional reactions but will also greatly improve your results.”

Email With Impact

In our work world, email is a major communication tool, and we use it frequently. Even before the pandemic, we didn’t see our colleagues and administrators every day. We find other ways to connect. Because we are usually in a rush, we write and send emails without thinking too much about their composition. What we aren’t thinking about is what will happen at the other end of our message.

Communication consists of a sender, a message, and a receiver. The job of the sender is to craft a message appropriate to the receiver and choose the method or communication platform that makes it easy for the receiver to understand it. If you don’t get this right, your message is less likely to be grasped.

Communications is a core skill of leadership. You can’t do much if you are unable to communicate clearly and successfully. Most of you do a good job, but all of us have room for improvement.

Steve Strauss wrote an article on email for small businesses for USA Today. His six rules work well for our communications as well. Here are his recommendations – with my comments on how they translate into the education world.

  1. Think of the subject line as the headline of your story – Like us, our receivers get far too many emails. They quickly scan their inbox to see who sent messages and what they are about. If they can’t figure out from the subject line what you want to tell them, they are less likely to focus on it when they do open it. Sending a teacher an email about a resource with the subject “great link for you,” doesn’t say much. “Resource for upcoming unit” lets them know what they will gain by opening your email. “Outstanding Student Products” will get your email opened quicker than “Library News.”
  2. Short is sweet – Long emails are often not fully read. I have missed important information because they buried it four or five paragraphs down. Keep things short and to the point. If possible, your paragraphs need to be short as well, no more than four sentences is preferable. Remember, your email may be read on a phone or tablet. Large blocks of texts don’t get the focus.
  3. Emojis are Ok – This one surprised me. It turns out they are helpful because we lose so much information when we don’t hear someone and their tone of voice. But use them sparingly. As Strauss cautions, you need to be careful with them. One emoji in an email is probably the maximum to use. And choose that one with some thought. Is it needed? Does it clarify what you wrote or help with the tone? You don’t want your email to sound like a text from a teen. Also keep in mind the relationship you already have with the recipient. Are you friendly? Then the emoji might help. Your principal or superintendent? Not so much.
  4. Use the correct tone – Emojis notwithstanding, the downside of email is the challenge of conveying your tone which would be clear in a face-to-face interaction. You can be casual, but, as Strauss notes, sarcasm and facetious jokes aren’t always received as sent. Many have gotten into trouble for saying something in an email that was taken out of context. Consider the audience for the tone you are using.  This is also true for using formal or more casual language.
  5. Writing is rewriting – We do this for many things we write, but often skip it for emails, especially if we’re in a rush. If the email is important, take the time to review it. To be absolutely sure, copy and paste it into a Word document and note the grammatical corrections. Also, reread the email for flow. You may have gotten subject line correct, but did you begin with the most important part of your communication? Make sure it says what you want, the way you want.
  6. Nothing is private – Unless you are praising, avoid putting someone’s name within an email. You don’t know to whom it may be forwarded. Strauss also warns about the potential for problems with the ever dangerous “reply all.”  This isn’t new information, but it’s important to remember because when we move too fast, we make mistakes. Emails are forever. Even the biggest names in tech have been caught by surprise when old emails have surfaced. Pay attention before hitting send.

Emails that are written well and get read get acted on. In our rush to get the message sent, we may be losing the opportunity to communicate clearly. Think before you write. Ensure that the emails you send connect with their recipients.

Take Time to Get Outside

We live in an almost constant state of stress, and this was true before the pandemic added a new layer and level. In the words of the late comedienne Gilda Radnor, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” There is nothing new in our need to deal with too much pushing in on us. One of the best methods of managing stress is taking time out of usual environments and, if possible, into nature.

The Romantic poet. William Wordsworth wrote this sonnet around 1802.

The World Is Too Much with Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Apparently even back then, “getting and spending” was a preoccupation,” and we were already out of touch with nature. “We are out of tune” – then and now.

Getting out is about moving at the pace of your choice.  It’s taking the time to see the world around you. It’s about greeting people as you go. And it’s about thinking– literally — outside the box that is the place you work.

We need to make getting out a priority in our lives. No matter our work and life schedule, we benefit from choosing a way to destress. The caveat is the choosing because what we mostly see is where there is too much to complete, too many errands to run – and doing errands is not getting out.

So, with all you have to and need to do, how can you get out? Ryan Tahmaseb proposes 7 Ways to Get Outside More Often. Hopefully, one or more of these will work for you, and the benefits are enormous.

  1. Schedule a walk – Until this becomes a habit, you need to put it on your to-do list. Plan the time.  Will you do it at lunch?  If so, you will come back energized and are likely not to experience the afternoon slump. Does the timing of your free period work better?  Or maybe it’s after you get home and before starting dinner – or even after dinner. Whatever works, schedule it. Tahmaseb suggests, consider going with a friend.  You will hold each other accountable. Think about what best fits you and your life.  Set yourself up for success.
  2. Take Phone Calls Outside – This can be a great addition to any personal calls you make.  It’s not my favorite idea since your mind is preoccupied with whatever is happening on the phone, which may be stressful, but you are breathing outside air and that helps. It may encourage you to get off the phone faster and since you’re already outside – stay a little longer.
  3. Move Small Meetings Outside – This may not be an available option but is worth considering to see if it’s an option.  The meeting is likely to go better. Suggest it to your principal or a committee chair. 
  4. Eat Outside – You can eat your lunch, and then go for a walk.  Burn off the calories.  You may enroll any lunch companions to join you. Before long you might have a cadre of walkers. Even just sitting in the sun for that time with a book will lighten your stress.
  5. Try Walking Meetings – If it’s no more than 3 or 4 people, this may be a possibility. You can record your notes as you go.  It is worth trying and it may stimulate creative approaches to the discussion. Or make meetings go faster!
  6. Bring Your Work Outside – If you can’t afford to give up the work you do during your free period, do it outside. The work will feel easier.  You will breathe better.  And you may find, as I do, the creative juices flow when you are outside.
  7. Just Take a Short Break – Step outside for a few minutes.  If you are attuned to it, you will be aware of the change in your mindset.  If you can’t eat outside, try to finish lunch a little early and take those minutes to yourself.

There is no doubt that changing your environment can change your outlook and being outside can almost instantly change your mood. Watch for the birds, notice the clouds. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Do what you can to get into the habit of going outside now.  It will be easier to continue it when winter comes. You will be healthier and less stressed if you do.

Taking Charge of Your Life

“You’re not the boss of me,” is what kids say when they don’t like being told what to do. While it may not be something we’d say as an adult, it is important to be aware of when we are allowing too many people to tell us what to do and direct our lives.

To make others happy, we often say yes to things we don’t have time for, or which don’t support our priorities. Then when we’re asked to do something for an administrator or which we want to do, we’re stressed because there’s already too much on our plates. How often do we say yes because we’re worried about what others will think if we say no – and what’s the cost to us when we do it?

Why do we worry so much about what other people think of us?  If we are living our lives based on our values and principles, our actions and choices speak for themselves. Those who judge us should not matter. But somehow, they do. It can make us compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. Or keeps us from setting boundaries because the opinion people have of us matter more than our wants and needs.

In The Trap of Caring Too Much about What Other People ThinkGregg Vanourek says, “Life is too precious and short to let others determine our path.”  People pleasing is a trap many of us fall into. He offers eight tips to prevent what he refers to as “the downward spiral.”

  1. Acquire more self-awarenessWhat is your heart and mind telling you to do? Your inner voice when you are not letting it criticize you, knows the truth. When you hear your thoughts say “no, I can’t” don’t say “sure, no problem.”
  2. Develop clear and compelling personal purposes, values, and vision – You have them for your library. You need them for your life. Who are you? What do you want to accomplish in your life and be remembered for? Write these down if it helps and refer to them before taking on anything new – in or out of work.
  3. Cultivate self-acceptance – Talk to yourself the way you would speak to a good friend who is dealing with whatever is happening in your life. You certainly wouldn’t criticize or only point out what they’re doing wrong. Self-compassion goes a long way when setting healthy boundaries.
  4. Take time before saying yes – New tasks always take more time than predicted. Before saying yes, go through tips one and two. Be aware of what you can do and if the new requet first with your purpose, values, and vision. If it doesn’t, say no. (For help with this – you can read my blog post on this topic.)
  5. Gain perspective – How important is their opinion in the overall scheme of things? In the long run, will it matter? In the moment, it can feel very important, but when you stop and think (see point #4), you’ll likely realize you’re reacting out habit and not out of an active choice to do something that works for you.
  6. Experiment with experiencing disapproval – Vanourek suggests mentally picturing what would happen if others disapproved of your choice or action. Does it feel less right because of them?  Or do you see how the choice represented who you are? It’s important to separate feelings about others from the feelings we want to have about our decisions.
  7. Notice how people may respect us for setting boundaries – A favorite phrase of mine is, “If you act like a doormat, people step on you.” It goes well with, “We teach people how to treat us.”  When you are clear about what you will and won’t do, your communication carries that message and is invariably respected. And people are less likely to comeback and step on your again in the future.
  8. Imagine and pursue the freedom on the other side of this mental block – In the moment, it’s hard to keep a boundary, but think about how you will feel after. It will likely feel as though a weight has been lifted. There is a huge difference between what we do for others because it’s who we are and what we believe in, and what we do because we fear the criticism or judgement of others.

It’s important that we take responsibility for our choices and not let the responses of others be our primary motivation for making those choices. Setting and keeping boundaries allows you to have more of the life and career you want. You’ll be known for saying yes with clarity and you’ll be doing more of what you want. There will be mistakes and successes, but they will be truly yours.