A Librarian and a Leader

If you’ve read my books, my blog or my Facebook posts or seen me speak at a conference you know my most passionate belief: Leadership is not an option for librarians. It’s part of the job description. The National Standards School Library Standards (2018) lists Leader as one of our roles. However, our job description as defined and understood by our districts rarely if ever makes mention of this.

It’s easier to be a leader when your title and description grant you that right. Instead librarians need to create that “mantle” on their own. And we need to make it an ongoing priority. When you are identified as a leader, you are viewed as indispensable. In a world where librarians and libraries are threatened, being seen as indispensable is a worthwhile goal.

What does this mean? It means that when you institute new programs, collaborate with teachers and students on curriculum and tech issues, you look for ways to make certain that the administration and teachers are aware of your role in the process. This way when they think of the building leaders they think of you. Reaching that stage is not simple, but it’s important to work towards it.

Dan Rockwell, “The Leadership Freak”, suggests a possible means of achieving this goal in an internet post on How to Act Like a CEO When You’re Not. This is how I interpret his seven recommendations:

  1. Own your realm: This is about mindset. Of course, you have taken charge of your library and have established your guidelines and decorated to represent your values as a school librarian, but you need to take it a step further. Own the library and the decisions you make as a physical manifestation of how you view the values and worth of the library and you. It is more than a sense of pride. It’s how you present yourself as a leader through the look, feel, and activities of the library.
  2. Set your goals: While you want your program aligned with the school’s goals, it is vital that the goals are significant to you and the library program. Your goal, tied to your Mission, Vision, and Core Values should put your role and the value of the library front and center. Leaders must be visible — even more so when the title doesn’t indicate it.
  3. Don’t threaten higher ups: Never blindside your administrators. When you update them, be brief but keep them informed of what you are doing and why. If they have a problem with what you are doing, it’s best to discover the matter right away. That also gives you the opportunity to discuss it and make adaptations as needed. It also encourages them to reach out to you when and if their priorities change because you are seen as someone they can trust.
  4. Serve six constituencies: Believe it or not librarians do have this many – or at least five. They are: (1) Administrators (You always need to keep them in mind.) (2) Students (Your primary purpose) (3) Teachers (Gateway to students) (4) Parents (So they know what their children are accomplishing because of the library) (5) Yourself (Never forget to “serve” yourself), and (6) And possibly, the outside community- such as the public library—so that more people are aware of the values of libraries and school libraries in particular.
  5. Think big, act small: Your end game needs to be large. Hold as big a Vision as you can for your program. Then map out the small baby steps that will start you on your journey. And then think what’s next after that. And after that.
  6. Spend time with medium-performers: This doesn’t easily translate into our work world. Instead, consider who are your natural allies. Who are the people who like working with you? How can you build on this relationship to develop more allies and get people seeing how vital the library is to their success?
  7. Lead yourself: The oft-repeated reminder to take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Your “constituencies” can’t afford to lose you. Make sure you are on your own to-do list.

Next time when you are in workshop and you are asked “Who are you?” I hope you will confidently say, “I am a Leader and a Librarian.”

Time and Task Management

Being able to manage available time is a critical skill. There’s always more to do, so there’s always more to learn about how to find and use new techniques. Two weeks ago, I blogged about Diffusing Pressure and discussed knowing the difference between urgent and important. Another time management skill is knowing how take into account the time to complete a task and when it’s best to do it. This combines time management with task management.. Some tasks require a great deal of time. If you are creating a presentation, you need to stay focused on what you are doing.  You can’t jump in and out of doing it without wasting time reviewing it each time you return to the task. On the other hand, sending overdue notices while being careful not to violate student privacy, takes somewhat less focus but a sizeable block of time. 

The key point is to be aware of the amount of time it takes to do the tasks on your to-do lists. This must be looked at in connection with whether a task can be interrupted and restarted without losing much time in getting back to where you were. Going through email or regular mail is one of the best illustrations of this.

Knowing the differences between these projects and when you can do them are the mortar that hold the bricks of you time management together and help you become more productive. For example, you have finished that big report and have nothing on your schedule for the next half hour.  You could just let your brain breathe, especially if your creative juices are dry.  Or you could use those few minutes to clear through some email or junk mail. Those tasks are neither urgent nor important (unless there is something in email), but still need to get done.

About that drain of creative juices. That’s something else you need to think about. What is your best time of day to do creative tasks?  For me it’s in the morning.  If I tackle it later in the day, it takes me longer to complete.

Make a spreadsheet to help you see how to organize your time; In the first column put the task. Then have three columns for (1) approximate time it will take, (2) urgent/important, (3) creative (yes/no). Use this for several days and see what you learn and how you are able to manage your time. If it works, in a few weeks, you will probably be able to allocate your time without it.

Another thing that helps with task management is knowing your very quick items and getting them done at the right time. Crossing items off your to-do list always feels good. Naphtali Hoff offers his approach on How to Productively Knock out Those 2-Minute Tasks.  He quotes David Allen’s Two Minute Rule: “If it takes less than 2-minutes, do it now.” We all get these thoughts of some quick thing that needs doing and can lose the idea quickly if we’re enmeshed in a bigger task. If it’s an interruptible task, handle the quick one immediately, and get it off your plate. You’ll get the added boost of a sense of accomplishment which energizes us when we get back to what we were working on. 

The downside is dealing with 2-minute tasks can get you off-track if you’re working on something that you shouldn’t be distracted from. To determine whether you should address the 2-minute task, Naphtali offers these three methods to aid your decision:

  1. Only work on two-minute tasks that relate to the larger assignment that you’re working on Is there someone who you need to call about an item in your report?  Did you wonder if there was a quote that could capture an idea in your presentation?  Search for these now.
  2. Set aside a larger time block for your two-minute tasks – Note those brief tasks on one list and deal with all of them at once.  This accomplishes two things.  You get them done, and because there are so many of them, you can relish seeing all those items disappear from your to-list.
  3. Immediately decide your next stepsNow what?  You are feeling great about your accomplishment. Use your positive mindset to power you onwards. What is your next priority? Get back to a bigger project or more on to another item on your list? Note the items in your Urgent/Important list with a “yes” and see where those fit next.

As best you can, keep distractions away from your uninterruptible tasks so that you use that time well and learn which items on your to-do list are doable when there are interruptions. Plan those tasks when you’re more likely to be disturbed. As an added bonus, look to use this with your personal tasks as well.

Time is a precious and limited commodity. The clearer you are about what you need to do and how you need to do it, the more effectively and efficiently you can manage.

Are You Listening?

We have so much on our plates and too many distractions. We’ve got a huge to-do list and not enough time. People check their phones during meetings – live or virtual. We’re focused elsewhere during Zoom calls without the other participants noticing, and, sadly they’re likely doing the same. Unfortunately, it damages our abilities and interferes with being a leader.

All too often if I am in a rush, when a person on my Zoom meeting is restating what they or others have said, or because I have something I want to say and am waiting for the right moment to jump in I discover I haven’t been listening. Being aware of my tendencies, I can usually stop myself before my tuning out to the speaker lasts more than a minute, but it’s a challenge.

When someone says, “You are not listening to me,” they are probably right. Whether it’s an adult or student we are being disrespectful. In Effective Listening as a Key Skill for a Better Leader, Emma Coffine writes about the importance of this skill for those leading teams in the business world, but their tips are equally important in education. Here are her 7 ways to improve your listening and why they are important.

  1. Get to Know Them – To build relationships, you need to know the person, student or colleague, beyond the superficial that is often our norm. When you know them, you see them as whole people, not just their job persona. That knowledge aids you in paying attention to what they are saying and making sure you are understanding it. When starting a collaborative project, look for ways to put relationship before the task. Checking in to see how the other person or persons are feeling may sound like wasting time, but it smooths the way for what follows. It shows you care and value them.
  •  Make This a Priority – Knowing something is essential and making it a priority are different things. Improving your listening skills is not something to fit in when you have time. It affects all your interactions. Each encounter is a way to build a connection. Coffine notes that making it a priority affects your mindset. As you recognize the importance of truly listening, you see the other person in a larger context. You enter the conversation focused on what is being said, not on your own plans.
  • Keep Distractions Away – Our phones are almost another appendage. Think about your reaction if you are speaking and see one or more people looking at their phones. Your reaction is likely to believe they aren’t interested in what you are saying—which may not be true. Make a point of removing as many distractions as possible when you are talking with someone. The distractions will be there later – the person may not.
  • Care – Remember that saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care?” We need human connection. Our experiences with the pandemic prove it. Listening and focusing on the other person is a simple way to show you care about them, what they are saying and what they are experiencing. This connection goes a long way in the moment – and in future interactions. It also gives you an opportunity to learn more about who they are and not only what they might want.
  • Be Empathetic – As much as we wish we could, it’s nearly impossible to always leave your problems at home. That’s not a problem. Whether you have staff to manage, teachers to collaborate with, or students to teach, we are there to support each other, and we can’t do it unless we know how they are doing. Some days you’ll be the one who needs help. Sometimes it will be someone else. By being empathetic, you can give and receive support and relieve some of their burden on those bad days.
  • Body Language – Not everyone is comfortable sharing personal matters. This is where it becomes important to observe people’s body language. This includes your students. Conversely, people are also reading your body language. You may think they are unaware that you have tuned out, but they can see it in your eyes and how your body is reacting – or not – to what they are saying.
  • No Judging – When we judge, we aren’t listening. We’ve jumped to a conclusion and are holding that belief rather than connecting with the other person. People come from so many different experiences and perspectives that it’s important to stay open to who they are without our own filters interfering as much as possible. As Coffine writes, ‘if you want to listen effectively, you need to stop judging and be more compassionate.’

Leaders succeed by building relationships which builds support. Listening attentively is how you build both. Look for new ways you can pay attention.

Diffusing Pressure

We are all under pressure. The bad news is, it’s not going to get better. The worse news is, if you don’t do something about it, the pressure will (and undoubtedly has) affected you physically and emotionally. The good news is you can learn to manage pressure. You can develop strategies that reduce its hold on you. Mostly, it’s about how to reframe and change your mindset.

When we’re under pressure, we feel an adrenaline surge. This surge gives you the energy to stretch your physical, creative, and/or emotional drive. Unfortunately, the crash that follows depletes you, and you still have more on your plate.

Strategies for developing the right mindset can help you from escalating pressure and lowers the anxieties you are feeling. Theodore Kinni in Leading Under Pressure offers Dane Jensen’s four-step technique for diffusing pressure. It applies to the business world, the world of athletes, as well as your professional and personal life.  

  1. Ask yourself what’s not at stake – When you focus on a big project, a deadline, a chosen or imposed job change, remember to pause. Take the time to identify what in your life is not hinging on this one thing. Intense focus may be needed, but it also blocks out everything that’s not in our face. We cannot see the complete picture. Stop and took for what is good in your life, personally or at work. This hasn’t changed. These things will to be there however this one big thing plays out. The perspective can help you breathe easier.
  • Avoid the anxiety spiral – We have overactive brains which usually jump to the negative. We tend to escalate things. It’s a form of catastrophizing. A simple example might be when your principal asks to speak with you. Immediately, your brain goes to, “What did I do wrong?” “Are they going to eliminate my position?” “Did a parent complain?” You haven’t learned the purpose of the meeting, yet you assume something is wrong. It could be something positive, but you are already in a panic about what might be coming. The energy wasted is enormous. Your stress is high for no reason. This is another time to pause and remind yourself that until you know, you don’t know. You can’t deal with an issue that is still unknown. Wait for further information.
  • Let go of ego-driven stakes – This usually applies when we’re leading or initiating a big project. Maybe you launched a “One book, One School” event. Perhaps you are planning to genre-fy your collection. You’re out on a limb and everyone is looking at you. Besides the anxiety spiral of “what if it doesn’t work?”, you may also find the Imposter Syndrome has taken hold. “Why did I try this?” “What was I thinking?” With support from your PLN and others who have done this, you will get through it. Plan to get help and share credit. Leadership involves risk. The more risks you take, the more successes you have as compared with projects that didn’t meet your expectations. What did you learn from it that you can use next time? Whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world – or your career.
  • Gauge what is truly urgent – Too often we expend time and energy on what is immediately in front of us. Using Jensen as a guide to deal with this, ask yourself, “What might happen if I rush to get this done?” Then ask yourself, “What will happen if I delay for a while?” Not everything that lands on your plate is urgent. How does it relate to your Mission and Goals? What/who is the source of this task/request? Is there a due date on it? If it is immediate, does it make sense to request a delay? Focusing on the high priority items in your to-do list, however you keep track of your tasks, reminds you of what needs doing first. I use a star and sometimes multiple stars.

We don’t need to eliminate pressure. Pressure is not the problem. It can, in fact, be useful. It powers us to go beyond ourselves and do better than we knew we could. However, the anxiety pressure causes drains us. By developing the strategies to reduce the anxiety, we gain the benefits of pressure with fewer negative effects of accompanying anxiety.