Courage Sees You Through

The Wizard of Oz was on television over the Thanksgiving weekend, and every time I watch, I learn something new or am reminded of ideas that have gotten buried. This time I was struck by the triumvirate who were Dorothy’s companions and support on her journey. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion represent three qualities necessary for leadership: brain, heart, and courage. You need Brains to plan. Your Heart guides you and brings you the relationships that strengthen you. And then there is Courage. Courage makes it possible for you to take the risks to change what is and go forward into unknown territory.

As the avatar for Courage, the Cowardly Lion is frightened most of the time. He often wants to retreat, but the Scarecrow and Tin Man haul him back. In the end, his true courage comes through because his commitment to Dorothy is so strong.  Like the Cowardly Lion, you need to be courageous in the face of fear and your commitment to your Mission will be what helps pull you forward into leadership, change and whatever risks may be necessary for both.

Summoning that courage is not always easy, even when you have the brains and heart to know you must leave your comfort zone. In her post, “Why Courage Is Essential If You Want Power Over Your Life,” LaRay Que notes we all fear the unknown.  Fear can paralyze us, keeping us huddled safely within the walls of our library. But in the long run, the walls won’t keep you safe. Staying hidden is the behavior of prey. While I am not suggesting you be a predator, you do need to soar.

How do you soar? How do you get past the grip of fear? Que says you begin doing it by acknowledging your emotions. Trying to pretend they are not there doesn’t work. Fear is a strong emotion that brings out our bodies response to threat. Our cerebral cortex, the logical processing part of the brain, cuts out. Our lower-level brain (commonly referred to as our lizard brain) takes over, and we go into flight/fight/freeze. Professionally, freeze means we stay quietly where we are.Que says, “Courage begins by examining your emotions.”  She recommends making a two-column list of pros and cons. As you see where the gains are and what might hold you back, you can begin to make a reasoned decision about what you should do. She recommends these three ways to make this work for you:

  1. Identify the call or challenge that is in front of you – What is the “why” for doing this? What will it give you as a result? How will you grow as a leader? As a person? What might you lose or miss out on if you don’t do it? One example might be stepping up for a leadership position in your state school library association. Or moving up to a national association for librarians. You could gain experience, connections, confidence – or miss out on all of this if you freeze.
  2. Pinpoint when emotional courage is needed – Where is fear rooted? What will you need to do that is creating your high-level anxiety? Consider where or to whom you can go to talk this out. Plan how you might handle it if and when it occurs. With a plan or support in place, your mind becomes calmer about the possible situations, and your fears diminish. They won’t go away entirely, but like the Cowardly Lion (and Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch), you will push through it.
  3. Claim power over your own life I love this idea. We do what we can to not to let others control us (professional and personal responsibilities we cannot avoid not withstanding). The same should be true of fear. Don’t let it decide for you. You can control your reactions and behaviors when fear comes up. There will always be something to fear. Don’t let that stop you from doing what you know you should do or from the results you are looking to have.

Part of the magic obvious to the viewer in The Wizard of Oz, is that all of Dorothy’s friends already have what it is they think they want – brains, heart and courage – and she needs all three to get what she needs. This is true for you as well. You’ve got big goals. Your head and your heart know the way forward. Embrace your courage – it’s definitely in there – and if necessary, give yourself a medal.


The Centrality of Trust

image from Wavetop via Canva

Trust is the foundation of relationships. And we are in the relationship business. It is through relationship we build the collaboration with teachers – and administrators – which engages students in meaningful learning. Building trust requires trusting yourself and the willingness to trust others.

We have had many successful experiences that began with us not knowing everything necessary to do a task. In those cases we either get the information through our research or from the knowledge of our colleagues either locally or in social media. We may not know the answer – but we can find it. This builds our trust in ourselves

Trusting others is somewhat more difficult, but relationships are a two-way street. Most people have had an occasion where someone violated their trust. To build a relationship, you have to give trust even before it is accepted. This is not about sharing your deepest, darkest secrets. It’s letting people know who you are as a person and following through on what you say, which makes it safe for them to share themselves with you.

In How Successful Leaders Build Trust with Their People Lolly Daskal discusses “trust-inducing behaviors” which build relationships.  You probably exhibit many if not most, of these, but it is helpful to be aware of what you are creating. Work on any you find challenging. Many of them weave together. Here is her list of eleven behaviors:

  1. Being accessible – Of course you are… except for when you are feeling rushed and harried. You can’t always just drop everything, but you can ask when you can get back to someone. Being honest about where you are, combined with being available when you say you will be, builds trust.
  2. Being confident – It’s not arrogance. It’s being efficacious. When you are confident, teachers and students know they can count on you to help them. People come to you for what you know or what you can do to support them. Be willing to show them they’re right to trust you for this.
  3. Being credible – We build credibility when we are willing to share both our mistakes and our successes. Acknowledging our goofs, large and small, along with our wins lets people see we are human. Admitting we are wrong doesn’t make us less in the eyes of others. It makes usmore worthy of trust.
  4. Being honest – There are times when we might want to skirt an unpleasant truth but telling hard truths builds trust. People know when you’re avoiding saying something. Instead, pause to choose your words and give honest feedback.
  5. Being supportive – Others make mistakes, too. If theirs has a direct effect on you, it might be hard not to jump on them for it. Go for “being honest,” and acknowledge it happens to us all (“being credible”). Look for the lesson you both get. If they are sharing something that doesn’t have to do with you, be prepared to listen (“being accessible”). If they ask, you can help them find a solution or fix. Your support will build trust.
  6. Being dependable – Keep your word. When you make a commitment, see it through. You build trust when you can be counted on to do what you say.
  7. Being consistent –We are known by our actions. Our actions must match our words. Students – and teachers – need to know how you will react. If you allow them to behave one way on a given day and then rebuke them for it on another, they will not trust you.
  8. Being open – Listen to others. Show by your actions that you see and care about them. Give them the space to give you honest feedback. When people know you listen, their trust will grow.
  9. Being empathetic – Everyone is dealing with something. We try to put it aside when we get to school, but it is there, and sometimes it is significant. Despite what they are showing on the surface, be attuned to the body language and behavior of others. It will help in your dealings with them, and when you’re “being open” and “being supportive”, they will share as needed, further building trust.
  10. Being appreciative – Acknowledge the success of others. In collaborative projects, give them the limelight. Emails or, even better, hand-written notes brighten someone’s day. They also realize you see them.
  11. Lead from within – Take trust very seriously. When you display the previous ten behaviors, people feel safe in having a relationship with you because you are trustworthy. This allows you to be an effective leader.

Good leadership begins with trust. Leadership is not something you take on when you want to get a project done. Leading is how you interact with people every day. By acting in the ways listed, people recognize you are a leader and someone they can trust.

Communication Not Information

Our days are filled with conversations, text messages, social media, and the myriad of other ways we send and receive messages. When we talk about communication, we are usually thinking of these. And while we occasionally make missteps in haste (and hit “Reply All” when we want to send to one person) mostly we are aware of what we are sending and receiving. But what about the silent messages we send. Those are often the most important ones. They are constant in any face-to-face interactions, and can be present in phone calls. If we are not attuned to them, we may make blunders far more serious than “Reply All.”

In What My Time in Theater Taught Me About Corporate Communication, Monique Maley referred to the conversations we are aware of as Information not Communication. It was a novel way for me to look at what is happening during our silent communications. So much can be gained or lost without our being conscious of it occurring.

To add depth to their performances, actors are highly aware of the importance of silent communication. They portray emotions beyond their words. With the right skills, they can tell us, without a word, that they cannot be trusted. I can remember seeing Alan Rickman in Dangerous Liaisons. In one scene his body was absolutely still, and then he moved one finger. The audience knew he was lying and about to do something abhorrent.

Maley offers the following thoughts and advice to those of us who aren’t actors:

  • We are perpetually in dialogue – Anytime we come in contact with others the conversation begins. Although you are both sender and receiver of information, most frequently it’s your role as receiver that is most important. The speaker/sender is using many parts of their body, and you need to be attuned to them.

Maley talks about noting their energy level. I’ve recognized that most often in students. They are like a shaken can of soda and any one thing can cause it to pop open. You can spot it in their finger and eye movements. Does the other person seem distracted or impatient? Does their smile reach their eyes?

When you read the silent communication, you are able to tailor your response so it’s more likely to be received. While doing so, consider the message you are silently sending. The receiver may not be aware of the signals, but they will respond to it.

  • We must be fully present – When you allow something to distract you, you break the communication. That break may cause you to miss a turn the conversation has taken and picking up the thread can be difficult. This can give the other person the impression that you are not interested, or they are not important.

Maley recalls playing Cordelia in King Lear when the lead actor suddenly spoke lines from Hamlet. Being fully present allowed her to bring him back. If the person speaking to you is distracted, they might go off on another topic. The sooner you can detect that shift, the quicker you can return the conversation to its initial direction. It also gives you the ability to see if they are present to your words or if your message isn’t landing. Maley states, “Being full present isn’t just a skill; it’s a muscle that needs to be built up and practiced.”

  • Our verbal and non-verbal communication must match – When our words say one thing, but our body language says another, we are perceived as insincere. The receiver may not know why they feel you are not giving them the truth, but they will sense it. Maley writes, “Mastering this skill helps ensure that you don’t unintentionally make people defensive, destroy your credibility or harm their perception of you.”

Your mindset is critical in keeping your body language aligned with your words. For example, it’s not enough to meet the kids in your toughest class with a smile and cheery greeting.” You can prepare yourself with the thoughts of, “We are going to have some fun together” and then show them that belief.

Putting these together allows your communication to focus on engagement. Being conscious of the silent communication of others will ensure that the message you want to send gets through. And perhaps, the next time you watch television or a movie, notice the non-verbal language of the actors to learn from them how you’re communicating at all times.

You Are Not Lazy

photo from Canva

It’s been another tough year (okay, is there ever not one?). There’s more to do than ever, and everybody seems to be doing more than we are. Any time we take away from getting things done if it’s not we studiously scheduled for self-care is considered wasted. We think it’s “proof” we are lazy.

A piece of advice, which I sometimes need to remind myself, is “Don’t judge your inside by someone else’s outside.” We see what others are doing, but we don’t see what they are not doing. Their lives and task may have some similarities to yours, but are actually very different. We judge ourselves when we compare, and our judgements are usually harsh.

Give yourself the same generous support you would give others. Doing nothing for an entire evening or taking off a whole day, even when that’s not what you originally planned doesn’t mean you are lazy. Could be that you are very tired. Or overwhelmed. Or haven’t truly given your body and mind time off. In these cases, allowing yourself to not do what you planned is probably the best thing you can do to be productive and effective. If you don’t let yourself have down/away time, you will burn out.

You don’t want your exhaustion to cause you to take more and more time off. That’s usually a sign you’re heading for burnout. Albert Costill explains How You Can Become Productive – Even If You Are Lazy. He presents the following ten tips for doing it:

  1. Arrest Your Laziness Culprit – Identify what is causing your need to take time off. Is there a task you hate doing? Maybe you can delegate part of it. My best method is to get it done first so it doesn’t wear on me all day – or distract me as I do other things. Remember, your inner critic isn’t helping. Talk to yourself like a friend.
  2. Find Meaningful Work – Or make your work meaningful. Sometimes we approach tasks like robots. Do this. Then do that. Ask yourself why you are doing it. Why does it matter? Connect your tasks to your Mission and Vision so you see their purpose.
  3. Surround Yourself with Success – Costill suggests listening to a motivating TedTalk. Find the things that work for you. Stay away from colleagues who spend time complaining. I like keeping a success journal to remind me of what I accomplished in a day.
  4. Play to Your Strengths – You know what you are good at. Costill suggests drawing on them to help you accomplish a task. Your strengths make you confident in what you are doing and allow you to be more productive.
  5. Make It Difficult to Get Distracted – Okay, during school hours this might be nearly impossible, but even if it is only for a half hour, have or create a space where you can stay focused. Have everything you need before you start and minimize your distractions. Turn off your phone or put it on vibrate.
  6. Procrastinate – Yes, there is a time and place for this. You can’t go from one intense task to another one. Do whatever works for you to clear your mind. Meditate. Go for a walk or run. Read a few pages in a book. The space you gave yourself will often allow new creative thoughts in and have you more ready to take on what’s next.
  7. Do a Victory Dance – You don’t need to do this literally but find a way to congratulate yourself for your accomplishment. This connects to #3 and surrounding yourself with success. Teachers used to give students gold stars. How many did you earn today? This week? Notice your forward momentum and celebrate it.
  8. Try Gamification – Big tasks take a long time to complete. Sometimes the end seems so distant it is hard to believe it will get done. Break it into its parts and give yourself “points” for achieving each “level.” If a job took you an hour last week – see if you can do it faster this week. Find ways to have fun with the progress as well as the goal.
  9. Relax and Do the Things You Enjoy – This is a reminder to give yourself time to the things that give you pleasure. As with Procrastinate, it will allow your creative energy to emerge. Positive feelings bring positive results.
  10. Recruit Support – Is there someone who can work with you on part of the task? Remember, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” If that is not an option, draw on your ever-available PLN. They are always there for advice and support.

There is so much to do – chances are you doing much more than you realize and only noticing when you’re not working. Be kind to yourself. Try a reverse of the Golden Rule and treat yourself as you would treat others.