Being Human

What does it mean to be a human? The biological definition doesn’t come close to the contextual meaning and the layers the word means to us. Over the years I have discussed many qualities of leadership, but human wasn’t one of them. A post by Kerry Azar, Great Leadership is Radically Human, has me thinking that I had missed an important quality. It encompasses much of what constitutes Emotional Intelligence, but goes beyond that to a new level.

Our first thoughts of what a leader is tends to focus on their dynamism and vision. Someone who gets things done. This is true, but it’s only about the “doing.”  We are human “beings.” How we act and behave is more important. In our dealings with others, we need to be human. Being that way is how great leaders behave.

In her post, Ms. Azar writes of being “radically human.” She defines it as, “showing up (in) more transparent, authentic, vulnerable, empathetic, passionate, and compassionate ways.” When you are human, you behave as such wherever you go. Others respond on a deep emotional level to that kind of leadership. Think of the administrators you have had who you admired and loved working for. They were undoubtedly human beings. They cared. They pitched in when needed. They were supportive. You felt safe in going to them with a problem, knowing they would help.

We all know humans make mistakes. Being transparent and vulnerable about these mistakes makes you real. You don’t hide your doubts. You welcome input from others. We are never perfect. Accepting that in yourself and others creates that safe, welcoming environment we strive for in our libraries.

Being passionate shows our values and core beliefs. Anyone who meets me knows I am passionate about school librarians being leaders and intellectual freedom. Letting your passion show lets people know what matters to you as a person. It also gives them the freedom to share who they are. This is how relationships are built. And we are in the relationship business, so being human is good for our work.

Azar also talks about “kintsugi,” a Japanese art form which repairs broken items by putting them back together using precious metals. The restored item doesn’t look like the original but it “maintains the integrity of the original creation while creating something even more beautiful and enduring. Kintsugi is a suitable metaphor for how a great leader deals with our pandemic-challenged world. When we view it as creating something new amidst the broken and perhaps something better, we help ourselves find the direction forward. This allows us to lead the way, helping others do so as well.

Being radically human isn’t easy. Azar suggests we take time to ask, “how am I getting in my way”, not to look for where we’re making mistakes, but rather to look for how to be more transparent, authentic, vulnerable, empathic, passion and compassionate. When we do that, we will find our way forward and be able to grow through what life brings us.

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Imposter Syndrome Redux

Now you’ve done it. You’ve taken a step out of your comfort zone. It’s not even a big step, and suddenly the Imposter Syndrome has returned. You know better than to listen to it, but somehow you can’t shut it out. Imposter Syndrome is widespread no matter our gender, field, or level of expertise. It shows up at all point in your career, and it continues to appear as you become increasingly successful. Many of the most powerful people face it in their lives.

As a reminder, Imposter Syndrome is that voice in your head that questions if you’re good enough. It suggests you are out of your league, everyone is going to realize you are a fraud, and you are going to fail. It’s the voice that always knowns the right things to say to shred your confidence. It appears when others are going to see something you have or are going to do. People are going to be judging you. Are you going to measure up? Or are you going to be found out?

So how do you deal with it. Alaina Love’s post, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, offers 4 steps to take to overcome it. Maybe some of these tools will help you when you’re faced with it:

  1. Examine Your Inner Demons – What happened in your past that continues to haunt you? What project didn’t go as planned? What are you expecting or fearing will go wrong? Love recommends writing some of these down and reviewing them. By examining your concerns head on, you will likely see the places where you’re being unrealistic as well as where you’ve succeeded in the past (even when things didn’t go exactly as planed). We can take away from Imposter Syndrome’s hold on us when we see where it is bringing up old fears not valid concerns.
  • Create a New Narrative – Now that you know where your thoughts are creating issues that aren’t there, we can take the time to envision true success, something that actively stills the negative voices. Love points to athletes who mentally go through an upcoming game and rehearse their moves. Envision yourself as succeeding in your challenges, picture the successful end result, and think about how you will feel to see this through as a way to override the message from the Imposter Syndrome.
  • Rein in Your Quest for Perfection – The need to do it perfectly is almost inherent in why Imposter Syndrome shows up. Excellence, not perfection, is the goal. The bigger the project, the more room there is for making some errors. You will never get it all right, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t a success. After the project/presentation/etc., instead of focusing on what went wrong (because that’s what we always notice first), reflect on and write down what went well and where you’re pleased. If there were problems, take time to learn from them and see what you could have done differently, but keep your focus – and inner voice – on the positive.
  • Make a List of Your Successes – Keep a record of your small and large successes. Create an e-portfolio or some other record if that helps. It is amazing the achievements we can forget as we move on with our lives. As I said in last week’s blog, You Are Successful Now. Keep track of that success and reduce the Syndrome’s appearances and how long it stays. Love refers to this record as a “highlight reel” of your accomplishments. It is something to review as you take the next step out of your comfort zone – and for when your Imposter Syndrome starts squawking. Use it whenever your mind begins that negative talk, possibly doing it every day.

Knowing how to manage Imposter Syndrome is an important tool. I have written about Imposter Syndrome in my blogs, discussed it in some of my books, and included it in several presentations, and still there are times when it has power over me. If you’re going to be a leader and stretch out of your comfort zone, Imposter Syndrome is going to come back. Love’s recommendations can help you manage it when it appears. (It wouldn’t surprise me to learn she had to face down her own Imposter Syndrome when writing it.) Find ways to own, remember, and build on your successes, and that pesky voice won’t get in the way of your next steps.

You are Successful Now

Do you see yourself as successful, or do you consider success something off in the distance? Unless you have recently completed a major project, you are more likely to think you are doing well, but nothing special. It’s not negative thinking exactly, but it certainly isn’t positive.

We tend to see and find what we are looking for, and we train our brain to confirm our thoughts. If you believe what you do is ordinary but find other librarians’ creativity and knowledge remarkable, you won’t see your ongoing achievements. As a result, you won’t feel like a leader or present yourself to others as a leader.

The truth is, you are successful. I can prove it. You are successful when you teach, and when you find that perfect book. You are successful when you help a teacher out. You are successful when you see a student stop and look at a display or bulletin board you created. When you make a difference, no matter how small, you have been successful. There may be many successes you’re missing. When you take the time to notice, you find what you’re looking for – this includes success. One thing I do to help me notice these moments is writing daily in a Success Journal. Every success is a step in the right direction and seeing it written out can help you own it.

In his post, Tracking Your Accomplishments: Why to Do It, What to Document And How to Follow Through, Joel Garfinkle echoes my recommendation about recording your successes. He has even more reasons for doing so. Among them are:

  • You will forget – Of course you will especially when you don’t even notice many of them – and when the next problem/crisis/need is grabbing your focus.
  • Everyone else forgets – When you keep track, you’ll be able to share the specifies of your success when it’s time for your annual evaluation or when someone asks why you think a project will work..
  • You will be interview ready – No position is 100% secure, and even if you’re tenured, a change in administration could have you wanting to move on. Having a record of your successes allows you to be prepared – and remember the reasons you’re valuable to the schools you work for.

He suggests tracking the following:

  • Comments from your boss, clients or other stakeholders – For you this includes students, teachers, parents and perhaps other librarians as well. Take note of how they see your work and contribution.
  • Successful projects – In addition to writing the details of what happened, take pictures for your record (or portfolio). Add any comments you received (was there media coverage or postings of an event?).
  • Positive results from your efforts – Be clear about what goal(s) was achieved – intentional and unintentional, expected and unexpected. Make notes on the impact that you and your work made.
  • Regular responsibilities you have fulfilled – It isn’t only the big things that demonstrate your successes It’s also the successful day-to-day functioning of your library. Getting through that routine is definite accomplishment. And, back to the earlier comment, your principal is not likely to be aware of all you are doing unless you tell or show them.

Yes, tracking your successes might feel like one more thing for the to-do list, but as you see your successes add up, you might look forward to doing it. Find a time of day or location that works best for you. I keep it by my computer and track as I achieve something positive. This has the added benefit of giving me a boost of joy and motivation to tackle the next thing on the list.

Take the time to discover how successful you are. It will change your mindset. And that will change how people see you. Me? I’m going to put “wrote my blog post” on today’s success list. What’s going on yours?