My Imperfect Self

I am not perfect. We know humans are imperfect creatures. So why do I spend so much time worrying about the things I should do better or be better at, not to mention all the imperfections in my body? “If only I…” is too often a part of my inner conversations with myself, and I know I am not alone in this.

In my forthcoming book, The Art of Communication: A Librarian’s Guide for Successful Leadership and Advocacy, I cite an article claiming we “speak” over 4,000 words to ourselves each day. Too many are self-critical. It is time to recognize that these flaws are often an integral part of who we are. While self-improvement is a worthy goal, reality says somethings won’t change. For example, I am a talker. I have learned to not be the first to rush in with an answer- most of the time. But I will always be a talker.

How can we learn to accept and love who we are, who we are not, and who we will never be? Mike Robbins offers five ways to Love Your “Flaws”. Even seeing the word flaws in quotes is a good reminder of where we are judging ourselves—possibly incorrectly. To make a change, he suggests:

  1. Acknowledge What’s True for You—Honestly identify your flaws. There’s no need to run from or ignore these aspects of ourselves. If we want to make a change, we have to be clear about what needs changing.
  2. Admit and Express the Underlying Emotion- What do you feel about these flaws? Robbins says, “If a specific aspect of your personality, body, or career bothers you and you find yourself feeling ashamed—as uncomfortable or negative as it may seem, the best thing you can do is acknowledge and express your shame.”  It’s normal to feel shame or embarrassment about these flaws that you think are keeping you from being your best.
  3. Forgive Yourself—We always judge ourselves more harshly than we do other people. Flaws are a part of all of us. As a friend of mine once said, “Don’t judge your inside by someone else’s outside.”  You notice only that the other person doesn’t have your flaw, but they see the flaws and struggles in themselves.
  4. Appreciate—Robbins asks us to value what we have learned about ourselves and life by recognizing our flaws. Knowing and acknowledging our flaws has given us opportunities for learning and doing better. Instead of focusing on the negative, we can be grateful for these lessons and how we’ve grown.
  5. Love—As you don’t withhold love and caring from others, no matter their flaws, you deserve to love yourself as well. You are a whole package. Think of the friends you have. We expect and accept imperfections in others. We need to do that for ourselves as well.

Celebrate yourself. You do much and mean much to so many people. You would never put a friend down. Be a friend to yourself and offer yourself compassion and support when all you’re seeing is your flaws.

Building Trust

Earning and keeping the trust of others – students, teachers and administrators – is key to your success. More than trusting your expertise, they need to know you will be able to deliver on your promises and be there for them when needed. Trust takes time to build, but it can be quickly lost.

Building trust is rooted in integrity. Keeping your word, honoring confidentiality, and other elements of honesty are vital. But trust is an emotional state, which means other more subtle factor contribute to its growth. In The Leadership Trust Crisis, David Livermore discusses the fact that trust in leaders (political, corporate and others) is at an all-time low. This means that relationships are shaky. He identifies five factors that affect the development of trust. Applying these can help you deepen the connections with the people in your building.

  1. Likeability – You get to know people you like. In the process, trust is developed. But what makes someone likeable? It often begins with a smile that goes beyond the superficial. It continues when you show you are interested in who the other person is. Sharing who you are extends the connection. Give people a chance to know and like being with you. It takes time, but it pays off.
  2. Competency – Livermore poses three questions on this: Do you have the skills to lead us? Can you communicate effectively? Do you know what you are doing?  As a librarian, this is where you excel. When we are aware of trends, new learning opportunities and the most recent tech resource or even teaching approaches (think inquiry-based learning), teachers see us as leaders and feel confident in coming to us with questions or concerns.
  3. Intensions – Are you in it for your success or do you care about mine?  What is your overarching purpose in putting this project together? Your everyday behavior sends messages to other about your character and integrity. We (usually unconsciously) make judgements of others based on their actions. Teachers and administrators are doing the same about you. Make certain you are treating others right and demonstrate that you care about the collective success. For example, when a project is complete put the teacher and their students’ outcomes front and center. Give credit to them. The library’s role and yours will be obvious. Their trust in your intentions builds.
  4. Reliability – Do you follow through on what you promise?  Can others see your commitment to living your Mission for the library? This relates to your integrity but is also about delivering in a “timely and consistent manner.” What did you tell your principal were your goals for the year. How did you hit them? In building trust – and the relationships that go with it, they need to know you can be counted on to do what you said and get it done on time.
  5. Reputation – This is the sum of all the others. How are you seen and thought of?  The stronger your reputation, the more others will trust you. The more they trust you, the more willing they are to work with you – and hopefully seek you out. And each time they do you grow as a leader.

I once had a teacher tell me she wouldn’t schedule a class with my co-librarian because she felt my co-librarian didn’t like the kids. That doesn’t work. Students learn more when teachers and librarians work together. The collaboration is formed on relationships, and relationships are built on trust. Look for ways to promote other’s trust in you and you’ll find your relationships and program getting stronger.

Are You Being Defensive?

Last week I wrote about the importance of listening. Somtimes listening is most significant when what’s being said is not something you want to hear.

Whether it’s intended as criticism or feedback, how do you respond when someone says something negative about you? Most of us immediately rise to the defensive, although some go on the offensive. Neither is the best course of action. The word “immediately” is the cue. Anytime we react without thinking, we are apt to make a mistake. Responding from our emotional first reaction is in gear is likely to produce a damaging result.

Whether it’s an administrator, teacher, student, or parent who made the comment, as a leader you want to be seen as someone who respects what others say. It doesn’t mean you agree with them, but you also don’t want to attack them. A defensive response is an attack, as its purpose is to invalidate what the other party said. And a relationship damaged by defensiveness can be hard to repair.

Lolly Daskol shares How the Best Leaders Overcome Their Own Defense Mechanisms. These five ideas, coupled with my comments, can keep you from reacting in the moment,

  • Cultivate self-awareness–Use your Emotional Intelligence (EI) to prepare you for these situations. No one likes to be criticized, but it happens to us all. Daskol suggests you recognize what your triggers are and how you are likely to react. Whether the comments came in a one-on-one or where others were present, your response will affect how people see you as a leader.
  • Make room for acceptance–One of the best tools a leader can have is the ability to pause. Settle yourself mentally. Take stock of your feelings. Daskol says to accept them without judgement in order to respond in a way that will move you forward with this person and continue to build on your relationship.
  • Hold yourself accountable–You may not have liked what you heard, but was it true? It may have been presented in a way that was hard to hear but listen for the message. While the method of delivery may have caused your trigger response, there is likely a kernel of truth in what is being said. Leaders take responsibility for their actions and learn from their successes as well as their setbacks.

Thank the party for calling your attention to a potential problem. Your open way of handling the criticism may even lead to developing or deepening a relationship. After, Daskol recommends you reflect on how you handled the situation. Did you respond reasonably? Remember, you can’t control how others think or behave, but you can control yourself.

  • Break the code–Rising to your own defense is natural. It’s a survival skill that animals as well as humans have learned. However, we are not fighting for our lives here, and the ingrained behavior doesn’t serve us in this instance. It takes work to change an automatic response, but it can be done. Starting with becoming more self-aware of how you react in these situations will help in resisting that immediate response and allow you to behave in a productive way.
  • Lead from within–Every time you avoid a deep-rooted response and substitute a thoughtful one, you grow as a leader. In addition to self-awareness, EI requires self-management. Leaders need to continually build their EI. It makes others see them as trustworthy and empathetic to their needs.

None of us will never like being criticized, and a voice in our heads will always rise to our defense. The object is not to let the criticism derail you. By moderating your response, hearing what the other person is saying, and responding appropriately, you will continue to be seen as the leader you are and want to be.

Listening is Leading

When we ask someone “Are you listening to me”, we’re typically expressing our exasperation. We don’t feel as though what we’re saying is being heard, and that’s frustrating. But what about the reverse? Are we really listening to what others are saying? And are we listening to ourselves?

Active listening, like emotional intelligence, is an important skill to master. So many messages come at us, verbal and unspoken, it can be hard to focus during a conversation. However, the skill is too valuable for our leadership and for our lives in general not to work at getting better at it.

Learning to listen opens the door to expanding relationships, which is key to our ongoing success. In Nine Practices All Leaders Share, Dr. Alan Patterson shows what can be built by improving your ability to listen. Some of his advice is more of a reminder, but reinforcing the basics helps you reach the next level in your leadership. Here are Patterson’s recommended practices, annotated:

  1. Listen with Intent—Focus on what is being said, not the answer you plan on giving. It’s about respect. If you can, use restating to keep you on track and let the other party know that you think what they said matters. It’s an early step in relationship building.
  2. Ask Probing Questions—After listening, go deeper to increase connection and understanding. “Could you explain?” and “Why?’ take you past restating and opens the discussion. A good leader needs to know the concerns and issues of those they work with, whether it’s teachers or students.
  3. Study People—Listening includes reading body language and other non-verbal cues. Be careful about the implicit biases and judgements we all make. You need to see and listen to what the person inside is telling you. It’s not easy, but it is a skill worth developing. Patterson adds that as you get to know a person, you learn what is important to them.
  4. Share observations about the broader horizon with your team, colleagues, and senior leaders—Share your Vision and how you think it can become a reality with teachers and administrators. Contact teacher friends who you think would be open to trying something new and collaborate. School vacation is also the best time of year to have a meeting with your principal and outline your path for going forward. Listen for their responses so that you can see how your work will support them as well.
  5. Look for opportunities to engage in a dialogue—Have conversations that are not only about work problems or situations. Patterson recommends asking “how” and “why” questions to better understand what people need and want. Relationships, connection, and advocacy grow when your colleagues see you are aware of and responsive to their needs. Knowing who your colleagues really are–including as people outside of school–develops the relationships critical to your success. And when they answer–listen with intent and ask probing question.
  6. Practice translating a project or concept into the language of the audience—We do this all the time when we are teaching students. Use the same thinking process when making a presentation to a group, whether it’s parents or a grade/subject meeting. This is not the time for “library language.” What do they already know? What do they need to know? Why? What do you want them to do as a result? Using language that everyone understands makes people feel included and allows them to listen to you better.
  7. Translate vision into individualized responsibilities for your team members—Whether it’s students or teachers with whom you are collaborating (or cooperating) with on a project, be sure all concerned know who is doing what. This will show that you’re listening to what they need and that you’re available if they need help. And be sure to acknowledge their work to the principal.
  8. Trust that your success is based on your ability to create the conditions for other to succeed—You need feedback. That is an important part of listening. Ask in such a way as to get an accurate response. “What did you think of the project?” is not likely to get any helpful feedback. “What could I have done better?” or “Was anything missing?” will get the discussion started in a meaningful way. And listen to the responses you are getting. Receiving feedback builds trust.
  9. Focus on impact and meaning—Reflect on your week. Where did you make a difference? Where do you want to go next? Go an extra step. Ask others where they saw themselves making a difference–and listen to their answer.

Listening is at the heart these leadership skills. It’s also at the center of building the relationships you need to be successful as a leader in a school. Take the time to listen to others and yourself and you will find yourself making a greater impact.

Get Your Motivation Back

Finally, it’s summer break. Time to recover and rejuvenate. And to get your motivation back. You need the time to recover, but summer will slip away before you know it. First, take the time to relax, and then set a date to get yourself ready for the fall so you can bring your passion back to your job.

Need some ideas to spark your motivation? Eric Barker gives some great advice in his article How to Stop Being Lazy and Get More Done – 5 Expert Secrets. While being stressed and exhausted is more our issue than being lazy, his tips will work to help us get on track for a successful school year. Here are his 5 with my usual comments:

  1. Define Goals Properly – Barker recommends four steps to get clear on your goals.

Frame goals as an “end” not a means –By identifying what we want to get, we don’t focus on the boring, “don’t feel like it” steps. We want our goals to excite us, not feel like an added burden.

Keep goals abstract – Rather than focusing on the “How” something is going to get done (more inline with SMART goals), think about your “Why” as you write them.

Set “approach” goals, not “avoidance goals – Keep it positive. Don’t focus on the negatives, such as not doing something. Be aware of the outcome you’re working towards. Bonus points for being clear about how this aligns with your Mission and Vision.

Make goals intrinsic, not extrinsic – Don’t make this about what you think you should be doing. What is it you want to be doing? What excites your passion? Creating a goal from this adds to your ongoing motivation.

2. Set a Target – This is where you can be specific. By when will you start? When do you want to finish? What are some of your target numbers – students reached, modules completed, teacher collaborations. Be clear on the steps you wish to accomplish. And as an additional recommendation, make the steps small so you get lots of wins along the way. The goal and a target together support your motivation.

3. Monitor Your Progress – Keep track of all the targets you achieve. It spurs you on. This is why I keep a Success Journal next to my computer. You can create a spreadsheet, keep a log, reward yourself. Whatever works, so you see the steps you’re taking.

4. Beware the Long Middle – Life is a marathon and so are goals for the school year. As the days go by, it can get harder to keep pushing through, and this is where you can lose that motivation. Every so often, pause and note how much you have accomplished. Barker recommends you “shorten the middle.” If you’ve been tracking progress monthly, switch to weekly. If weekly, switch to daily. The extra boost will help. When you are past the midpoint, look ahead and note how close you are to your goal.

5. Think about Your Future Self – This is an important shift that allows you to look at the bigger picture. Baker writes that thinking about our future results allows us to make better choices in the present. Reflect on the difference between how you’ll feel about yourself if you keep putting off the hard work rather than going for something you are passionate about.

Wherever you are on your summer break, this is a short reminder that you can have fun and still be productive. And when the school year does begin again, these five tips can keep you going. Recovery is important. But set a date to get motivated for fall. Put it on your calendar. Set an alarm. The important thing is get started.