Leadership Must Be a Habit

When you are asked to identify your professional roles, in what order do you list them? Is leader the first? Is it second after librarian? Does it make your list at all? Being a leader is something you need to be each day. And yes, most of the time you are managing your program, but even as you are doing that, it’s important to keep the leader perspective present. In other words, you must make leadership a habit.

In the National School Library Standards (NSLS) (2018) the American Association for School Librarians (AASL) identifies the five roles of a school librarian (p.14). The first is leader. The AASL Vision is: Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian. If you are not thinking of yourself as a leader, first and foremost, you are likely to miss opportunities to grow your library program and the recognition by the educational community of the vital role you play.

The good news is, you can make leadership a habit. In her blog post, Five Habits that Separate Good Leaders from Great Leaders Maile Timon explains what needs to be done. She begins with observation that “Most leaders are built, not born.” If you’d seem me at the beginning of my library career, you’d know it was true. No matter where you are, you can grow in to a leader – or a stronger leader.

Here are Timon’s Five Habits all great leaders have – with my comments on them:

1. Leaders motivate and inspire – If people don’t follow you, you are not leading. You are walking alone. It starts by having a clear and focused Vision. Keep yours in front of you and others by having it on a wall in your library for all to see and to remind yourself.

    “Inspiring” isn’t telling others what to do. It’s listening to them and helping them to see their own value and how what they are doing supports both your vision and likely that of the school. It supports them to become leaders, too, as they see you learn from them as much as they learn from you.

    2. Leaders develop focused, forward-thinking visions – Having your vision in front of you is important, but is it an inspirational Vision? Too often we short-change our vision by not allowing it go beyond what we think is attainable. What would your library be like if money or other factors weren’t an obstacle? The AASL Vision statement is a perfect example.

    As Timon suggests, start with your Mission. It’s your purpose, based on your core values. It’s what you do every day. Here’s one from my list of examples: The mission of the School Library Media Program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users and producers of ideas and information, promote literacy, and develop students’ competencies to be ethical participants in a global society. A sample Vision is: The School Library Media Program is a user-centered environment where up-to-date resources and technology and a responsive staff empower students and teachers to achieve their academic and personal goas.

    3. Leaders create relationships This works well for us as we are in the relationship business. Every day is an opportunity to create new relationships and/or to build on existing ones. It’s through these relationships that you develop collaborative learning opportunities that benefit your community and lead to the attainment of your Mission.

    4. Leaders promote a culture of coaching – We don’t usually think of it as coaching, but it’s what we do whether we are working one-on-one with a teacher or present a lesson at a grade or subject level meeting. We share our knowledge with them, helping them become more confident in applying a technique or learning a new resource. It’s being an Instructional Partner, our second role in National School Library Standards (NSLS).

    5. Leaders never stop learning – This is intrinsic to who we are. We are always role models of lifelong learning. We couldn’t be an Information Specialist, our fourth role in NSLS. It’s why our Professional Learning Networks and our membership in our state and national organizations are so important to us.

    We also learn as we help others find the information they need. As the saying goes, we may not know the answer, but we know where to find it. And in finding it, we add to our ever-growing knowledge. We learn every day.

    As you go through your day, be aware of when you are being a leader. Look for opportunities to do one or more of these leadership indicators so they are increasingly incorporated into your daily interactions. Make leadership a habit and you will lead your library with Vision.


    The Pursuit of Emotional Wellbeing

    I sometimes think the founding fathers of the United States set the country on the wrong track by including in the Declaration of Independence the words, “the pursuit of happiness.” Pursuing happiness can be problematic because not only are we often not clear on what makes us happy, but it isn’t a permanent state. To my mind, happiness is not a goal. Instead, it is the result of recognizing what the good is in your life most of the time.

    In her article on Smart Brief, LaRae Quy, author of Secrets of a Strong Mind, gives 3 Scientific Reasons Why Emotional Wellbeing Equals Success, and how to make each of them work for you. In the opening, Quy states that pursuing happiness didn’t help her. However, when she focused on her emotional wellbeing, she was able to avoid burnout.  In the process, she recognized what happiness truly is.

    Here are the reasons and Quy’s advice on making them work:

    1. Rethink HappinessAccording to a report she cites, America’s Happiness Index has been falling since 2008, noting that we tend to think of happiness as an uninterrupted state. Neuroscientists and psychologists believe emotional wellbeing is a better definition than happiness for our mental state. She states, “moments of happiness are necessary, but it should never be your goal in life. We also have to be prepared to handle adverse events and negative emotions.

    To make it work for you recognize that happiness is:

    • Temporary – Nothing lasts forever. Whatever is in the current moment will inevitably change.
    • Involves pleasing yourself – You are the one who defines your own happiness.
    • Lacks depth – Again, it is in the moment.
    • Feels good – And isn’t that wonderful. Savor it.
    • Something you chase after – Not because you are pursuing happiness, but because you are passionate and care about it.
    • Full of momentary connections with others – Those moments can create cherished memories, but they happen in moments.
    • 2. Embrace negative emotionsStop trying to put a good face on your feelings. They are signals to you to identify the source. When you are stressed or angry, attempt to recognize what is causing it. This not only minimizes the impact of the negative emotions, but it allows you to move forward.

    To make it work for you:

    • Recognize negative emotions as normal and an important barometer of what you’re experiencing in life – We all have them, and there are many good reasons for it.
    • Identify and name your emotions rather than trying to avoid them – Be honest about what you are dealing with. It’s easier to confront them that way.
    • Talk to people you trust about your emotions. Better yet, talk to yourself and write it down in a journal – Venting is healthy. Journaling is a great outlet for many.
    • 3. Practice awareness – Quy notes that when you are aware of the emotions you are feeling, you are less likely to make a decision based on them. You are then more likely to react with less bias and improve relationships – which are the heart of our business.

    To make it work for you the suggestions require self-reflection. Taking this pause will help you get to the reality of what is happening. Do this for both positive and negative emotions.

    • What event happened that made me feel this way? Or what person?
    • Where does the emotion show up in my body? Does this emotion express itself in my body language?
    • What was my first response to the emotion? Then, if I had to do it over again, would I repeat myself?
    • Is this an emotion I want to reinforce? If not, when could I have nipped it in the bud? If so, how can I repeat the experience?

    The better you become at doing this, the more you will recognize and enjoy the happiness in your life. You, and you alone, define what happiness is to you. And it’s you who recognize it and welcome it into your life. Pursuing emotional wellbeing will allow you to be more resilient and go after the goals that will lead to increased happiness both personally and professionally.

    Analysis Paralysis

    Leaders are decision-makers, which means they are risk-takers. Risk implies the possibility of failure. And therein lies the fear that stops many from taking action.

    When you leave your comfort zone, you are faced with potential positive and negative results. The fear of failure can have you focusing on all the negative possibilities and not taking action. And the longer you wait to get started, the more ways you will come up with as to why it won’t work or you’ll find things to do to delay putting your idea into operation until you get more information. You are not alone in this. Business leaders form focus group after focus group trying to get confirmation that a decision would be totally correct or totally wrong.

    The late General Colin Powell referred to this continuous waiting on sufficient information as “Analysis Paralysis.” He said,

    “Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds “analysis paralysis.” Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.” (Lesson 15 https://ung.edu/institute-leadership-strategic-studies/_uploads/files/colin-powell-leadership.pdf )

    His 40/70 rule makes sense when you are involved in a war, but is probably too conservative in our work world. A more realistic rule for us is 50/80. If it’s under a 50% chance of success, don’t do it. If there’s at least an 80% chance of success, go with your gut.

    Lison Mage in Why Overthinking Costs Us Our Best Decisions? is writing for the business world, but, as usual, his advice is applicable to us as well. Using the analogy of basketball, Mage asks us to imagine playing the game with a teammate who froze every time you passed them the ball. There they are on the court unable to decide whether they should shoot, dribble to get closer to the basket, or pass the ball to someone else.

    Too often, we are like that basketball player. Mage says, overthinking comes from a learned trait dating back to the days when we were searching for cues that would lead us to water, food, and shelter while avoiding predators. The skill worked for us then as it helped us survive. Keeping the habit in a world with information overload works against us.

    Even skilled researchers that we are, we cannot gather every bit of data on every decision we are considering. Mage says when we can’t be sure we have all the information, we become anxious and have a paralyzing fear of not knowing what we should do. In our world we need to recognize “More Is Not Better. More Will Not Make It Perfect.”

    Back to the basketball analogy, Mage asks, “What is best? Attempting a shot and missing it, or not shooting and handing the ball over to the adversary after the 23-second shot clock has elapsed? He quotes the French national lottery slogan, “100% of the winners did buy a ticket.”

    According to Mage, the problem lies in focusing on clear success as the only favorable outcome. The focus needs to be on the process, looking at the success in achieving the small steps to getting the job done. No matter the outcome, there are things to be gained whether that’s from the collaborations you created, the learning that occurred, and maybe discovering that something doesn’t work.

    One more quote from Colin Powell, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” Overthinking may ensure that you won’t experience failure. It also guarantees you and your program won’t grow. You will never have a 100% success rate, no one does. We learn from failure. It’s part of life, and part of being a leader. Take the shot. It’s worth it.

    Time – It’s Irreplaceable

    Nothing is more valuable than our time. Once it’s gone, we can’t get it back. Each day, someone or some task claims another piece of it. At the end of a very long day, you are often left wondering where the time all went. When you look closely at a typical (if there is such a thing) day, there are precious few hours to complete all your tasks. How do you manage the available time to get the best results?

    It takes organization and focus. Be mindful of what you are doing – and why. Create a system that works for you. Know where you are and what you will do next. For example, as I head into my office to begin my day, I always know what my first task will be. When I was working in a school library, I did a mental review of my schedule while on the drive to work. On my way home, I would shift gears, plan my route if I needed to do an errand or recall what I had to do to get dinner started.

    What do you need to do to get a handle on time management? In How to Use Your Time Effectively and Efficiently, Paul B. Thornton recommends for effective time management to “Separate the ‘vital few’ from the ‘trivial many.’ Don’t waste your time solving the wrong problems or pursuing the wrong goals.”

    Effectiveness is about using your time for the right things. He lists these five effective techniques:

    1. Writing down priorities and making them visible – Whenever possible, tie these to your Mission and/or Vision statements. It will keep you focused on what really needs to get done.
    2. Periodically reviewing and revising your priorities – Change happens. Are your priorities adjusting and changing with them? And when was the last time you reviewed your Mission/Vision statements? Be sure they are current. I recently read one from a library whose mission dates from 1987.
    3. Learning to say “No.” -Two letters, but a very important word. If the request doesn’t fit your priorities, consider if it’s possible to say no. If it’s not, look for alternatives. (I did a blog post on this a few weeks ago).
    4. Checking for alignment – Again, review your list to see if there are tasks that don’t fit with your priorities. Thornton advises you to see where you can make changes. Also, look for ways to delegate to others.
    5. Schedule uninterrupted time – Officially scheduling this time is incredibly challenging during the school day. If you have a period of time where no one is with you in the library, I recommend shutting off the lights, so people think the doors were closed. Commuting time can also be used this way.

    Efficiency means you what you can to not waste time. Thornton’s top five efficiency techniques (he lists ten) are:

    1. Create a “to-do” list – Connect this with your effective techniques (above) by reviewing your priorities when making this list. It’s also important to choose a listing method that works best for you. Do you number the highest ones or star them? Do you prefer a daily or weekly list?
    2. Periodically identify what you can stop doing Just because something was a priority, doesn’t mean it still is or is as high a priority as it was. Thornton recommends looking for ways to eliminate what doesn’t provide value.
    3. Get organized – More than the “to-do” list, this is your calendar allowing you to keep track of meetings and deadlines. What works best for you – digital or paper? How do you ensure you don’t overlook what you have recorded? Do you have a reminder system in place?
    4. Remove the clutter – Looking for things wastes time. If you don’t need it, get rid of it.
    5. Deal with paper and electronic documents only once – A follow-up to the previous one. Thornton reminds you there are only three things to do with them: file it, toss (or delete), or take action. It can be hard to make an immediate decision, but doing this whenever you can will make you more efficient.

    And don’t forget about your time outside of work. Be sure you are giving you and your family the time they deserve. You also need personal time to refresh and rejuvenate. It may not be every day, but if you aren’t doing something at least weekly, you are wearing yourself out. Time is your most valuable commodity. Don’t waste opportunities for joy.

    Be Bold

    Being a leader requires risk-taking. How did reading that make you feel? Did your stomach drop? Did your mouth get dry? There is no question about it. By definition, taking a risk is scary. But you won’t ever get where you want to go unless you take some big risks along the way. And that’s going to mean leaving your comfort zone.

    Here are some big risks I have taken in my career:

    • Planning a new library wing.
    • Automating my library in the very early years of library automation.
    • Leaving a job (and tenure) after more than two decades to take another.

    Some risks you might be considering are:

    • Genrefying your library.
    • Giving a presentation at your state library association or at the national level.
    • Running for president of your state association.
    • Speaking at a Board of Education meeting.
    • Creating an Advisory Council of parents and teachers for your library.

    Taking a risk means you might fail. Depending on where you are in your career, any one of those possibilities could cause you to change your mind several times before coming to a decision. How do you get unstuck and take a bold action?

    Remind yourself of your Vision and Mission Statements. Then ask if the risk supports one or both of them. How would Genrefying your library support your goals? Would giving a presentation or running for president improve the position of your program? Would speaking at a Board meeting highlight the roles you play and the values you hold as a librarian? Can an Advisory Council give you the support you need for challenges to your collection?

    Before taking the leap, Cheryl Strauss Einhorn recommends these five steps to help you Become More Comfortable Making Bold Decisions:

    1. Identify the decision you need to make. – Get as clear as you can on the decision you really need to make, risks aside. What is the reason you are doing this? How does it connect to your Mission and Vision? What will happen if you don’t do it? Once you’re clear, lean on your Professional Learning Community. Ask who has done this before or attempted it. What do they wish they had known before they started? Are they glad they did it? What do they recommend you do or not do?
    2. Examine your past bold decisions. – Take time to notice your previous successes. What made them successful? Identify the leadership qualities that helped you achieve your goals. What did you achieve as a result of taking the risk? Would you have done it the same way if you were making that decision now? We often don’t recognize we have grown on the job. Looking to the past will reveal your growth as a leader.
    3. Ask yourself what attributes or similarities are shared between the bold decision you are considering and your prior decisions. – This new step may feel risky, but it probably isn’t entirely new ground. For example, if you are considering genrefying your collection, notice that you’ve already created a section for professional reading or graphic novels. It is reassuring to recognize that not only have you been successful in the past, but also that you can draw on how you accomplished that success. You are not really starting from scratch. The bold decision you are considering may be bigger than what you have done before, but you have some past experiences to guide and support you.
    4. Consider whether there are attributes of your past bold decisions that might impede your ability to get to a good outcome for your current decision. What happened with past decisions (bold or not) that you wish you could have done differently? This is your chance to make that change. Where there things that kept you from being as successful as you hoped? What did you learn from missteps?
    5. Apply the lessons from your past data to your current decision. — Take what you know worked with what didn’t and apply it to the new success you’re looking to have. Don’t let those mistakes stop you because that is how we learn. (Don’t you tell your students this all the time? Apply it to yourself!) And remember – don’t only look at the negatives. You deserve the praise for what worked.

    You need to be a leader. Leaders are visionaries who take risks and try new things. If it’s time for you to be bold, take time to be smart about how you do it.