Success

Nothing feels like success. And the only thing better than one – is more. To bring more successes into your life, there are two things to do. First, celebrate your success. Second, set yourself up for future successes.

You probably celebrate big successes. What you likely haven’t taken the time to acknowledge are your smaller, daily successes. By noticing these achievements, you build your confidence and enthusiasm. You can set yourself up for future success by incorporating Casey Imafidon’s 10 Little Things Successful People Do Differently into your life.

  1. They Strive for Consistency – Imafidon says having a schedule allows successful people to focus on their goals. Routine may sound boring, but it’s what gets most things done smoothly. Although most of our routines are imposed, we still make choices about when we check email and when we do lesson plans. To the extent possible, choose tasks that work with your body cycle. Are you more alert in the mornings or evenings? Use your lower energy times for the activities that need less focus.
  2. They Set Daily Goals – It’s not just having a to-do list. It’s knowing what the high priority tasks are. Imafidon refers to Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, who identifies three goals for the day. When you know what you want to achieve for the day, you feel success as each is completed.
  3. They Nurture the Right Relationships – We are supposed to get along with every staff member as part of making the library a safe, welcoming place for all, but it’s important to ensure we have strong relationships with key stakeholders. According to Imafidon, “successful people look for support and find people they can connect with….” This builds advocates and helps make you and your program successful.
  4. They Display High Emotional Intelligence – You need a high EI to forge those “right relationships.” You also need it to understand what can help others and therefore result in them recognizing how important you and your program are to their success. I have often said, “I am a connector. I connect people to ideas and information. I connect people to people who can then help each other. And I connect ideas to ideas, seeing how they link to form new ideas.”
  5. They Take Action – Simply put, successful people are willing to leave their comfort zone to get things done. The bigger your comfort zone, the more opportunities for success.
  6. They Practice Positive Self-talk – Beating yourself up for a perceived or past failure will not contribute to your success. It will only make you less willing to try something else. It’s almost impossible to get something positive done with a negative mindset. Imafidon recommends having an affirmation-like phrase like “today is going to be a great day” when you need to make a shift.
  7. They Stay Healthy – When you don’t feel well, you don’t do well. What is your daily diet like? Healthy or harmful? We all know the positive results of eating healthy, being active, and getting enough sleep.
  8. They Meditate – Imafidon says Meditation increases focus and productiveness. Our brains need downtime. Putting in more hours does not translate into more getting done. If you have trouble meditating, try a walk or a few minutes listening to quiet music. Remove yourself from your workspace.
  9. They Act on Small Improvements to Their Goals – As the old riddle goes- “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” A big goal usually seems almost impossible to achieve. Break it down into small bites. Achieving success one bite at a time motivates you to continue until you finally reach that big goal.
  10. They Wake up Early–It’s not only the “early bird catches the worm,” it’s also using what, for most us, is the most productive part of our day. You can get so much done before the usual distractions begin. See if you can get to your library before anyone knows you’re there (consider not turning on the room lights) so you have time to get yourself prepared. Then you can turn them on to connect with the early-bird teachers who also want to get a head start.

Every success matters – and the daily ones may matter more because without them, it’s hard to keep moving forward on the bigger projects. Celebrate yourself when you can and notice your achievements. Wishing you all much success.

Doing What Works

Managing stressful interactions – even without a worldwide pandemic – is a challenging and important skill for librarians looking to lead. We are in a relationship business which means different personalities, perspectives on education, and personal issues, all contribute to volatile moments. To maintain and build the relationships vital to our success, we need to be able de-escalate these situations quickly, possibly even before they begin. And that starts with seeking to do what works rather than worrying about being right.

When someone comes to us, whether a teacher, a student, or an administrator, we tend to make a decision and predict what is forthcoming. It is often unconscious, but we note facial expression, body language and other visual cues to determine if that person is about to say something critical or supportive. Our own body language then telegraphs a response. If it looks like something pleasant will be said, we stay relaxed and open. If, however, we anticipate a negative comment, our bodies stiffen. Our arms may cross tightly, our shoulders pull together. We are ready and with nothing being said, the conflict has begun. We need to shut down this reaction before it takes control of the situation.

A guiding question is, “Do I want to be right, or do I want it to work?”  Because if you want to be right, it won’t work. Your ego gets invested, and you aren’t listening and aren’t open to other possibilities. Taking an offensive or defensive position is almost a guarantee it won’t work. If you respond offensively, the other person will rise to either defend themselves or shut you down. If you defend yourself, all you get are further examples of your perceived errors.

The solution is to listen. Don’t confuse feedback with criticism,. It’s hard to hear anything negative about our work but focus on the heart of what is being said. Take in what is actually being said not what you fear is wrong. It is related to the axiom: Seek first to understand, then be understood.

I have told the story of when I had started in a new school, and a teacher came into the library storming because her privacy had been violated. In my head I heard, “I have only been here a few months, I barely know you. How could I have violated your privacy?”  Fortunately, I thought to move her to my office, and the intervening moments gave me time to think. Instead of jumping in with my perspective, I heard the specifics of what she was complaining about. Her concerns were clear and valid. I came up with a solution. She was pleased and became a huge library supporter.

If she had been incorrect, a different approach would be needed, but that still wouldn’t include telling her why she was wrong. That would only lead to more arguments. Instead, a better response would be, “I recognize you are upset. How can I make this better for you?”  This gives her time to think, gives her agency in the problem, and the conflict starts deflating like air leaving a balloon.

Another technique to deescalate a situation is to paraphrase what the other person said as accurately as you can –not coloring it with your judgement. This gives both of you time to pause and reflect on the issue. It keeps you from making assumptions, allows you to be clear about the other person’s concerns, and helps you get to the true point of the problem.

When dealing with students, similar tactics work. If you get into an argument – or worse a shouting match – you have already lost. Keeping the library a safe, welcoming space for all, means you treat even argumentative or hostile students with respect even as you deal with their issue. Listen, paraphrase, and as soon as possible move to a more private place to discuss the issue. The same approach works when an administrator comes to your library or you meet in their office. Focus on listening before responding. And then respond, not react.

Listening to the other person, remembering it is important for the situation to be resolved in a way that supports both sides, and not worrying about who’s right, allows you to manage stressful situations and stay a supportive, astute, leader.

Reviewing Leadership Skills

No matter how well you know a subject, it never hurts to review and sharpen your skills. This is true with leadership as well. And like re-reading a favorite book, when you go back, you’ll probably find something you didn’t notice the first time and you may even find something new to enjoy.

An unexpected source of leadership information comes from American physicist Richard Feynman who was also a popular teacher at the California Institute of Technology. There he taught eight classes which have become well known and play a strong role in the tenets of leadership.  In Richard Feynman’s Lessons for Life (And Leaders) John Baldoni calls out the core of these classes and adds his own comments. I’ve added applications to librarians.

  1. Work hard – Baldoni says, “discipline is essential to mastering your craft.” I would add to remember to work smarter rather than harder. Know what is important. Before diving into a project, ask will it advance your Mission? What return are you going to get for your investment of time?  Does it need to be done now?  Can/should you get help? Answering these questions will enable you to work hard and smarter.
  2. What others think of you is none of your business – Don’t let opinion and hearsay distract you. Instead, keep in mind it is vital that others see you as important to their success. They must value the help and resources you provide. Don’t become preoccupied by those who steadfastly resist every attempt you make to collaborate with them. Focus on strengthening the connections you already have. 
  3. It’s OK not to have all the answersLeaders don’t know it all. But as the saying goes, “the librarian knows where to find it.”  It is more important how you bring the answer.  Make sure you empower those who want to answer questions, especially since most people feel foolish for not knowing. If you make the teacher feel like a co-discoverer for raising the question, you pave the way for improved relationships and collaboration.
  4. Experiment, fail, learn and repeat No one is successful all the time. We can’t let the fear of failure makes us hesitant to experiment.   We have an opportunity to model this for teachers and students and offer others a valuable lesson. They will become more confident in their own process when they see ours.  
  5. Knowledge comes from experience Lessons come from success and failure. How you react to and learn from a failure is a measure of your leadership and future success. You will show others the kind of leader you are when you accept that your project/experiment didn’t work and, rather than hiding from it, take the lessons you learned and use them to go forward. 
  6. Imagination is importantGood leaders create a safe place for others to think big. Creating a climate of “wondering” is essential to what the library provides to all its users and makes it safe for them to consider the possibilities. Allowing your imagination loose is necessary in creating a Vision for your library. This is your chance to think big!  Think outside the box – or imagine that there isn’t any box at all.
  7. Do what interests you the most – In this Baldoni is urging us to set goals that inspire us. Although you need to do your job, you can play to your interests. We are fortunate in that our job requires many skills and roles.  Where is the heart of your passion? Are you a techie? Is reading where your heart is? While you won’t ignore the range of responsibilities you have, you can put emphasis on what you care about and enlist others in the aspects of the job you like less. Volunteers are hard to come by, but if you are specific about your needs, you might find some.
  8. Stay curious – Curiosity keeps our imagination engaged. This is a place where libraries and librarians excel. We are role models for lifelong learning and what is curiosity but the beginning of learning something new. Being curious is good advice when it  comes to building the relationships which are necessary for our success.  Be curious about others.  Letting them know you are interested in them as people gets communication going.  Collaboration can then follow.

These eight life lessons may all be things you knew but are they things you’ve practiced? If there is one that inspires you today or if one is feels new and exciting, then I hope you’ll put it into practice to strengthen your leadership skills. The best lessons never get old and always deserve a good re-read.

Being Hospitable

I had to go to the bank recently. Not the ATM. I needed to talk to a live person, and it was more challenging than I expected. The first branch was closed, and the second had a line out the door. Fortunately, there was a greeter who asked what service I needed, then immediately took me to her desk. She listened attentively and let me know this could be handled expeditiously. Even when my business was complete, she continued our conversation, not rushing me out the door. When I left the bank, I was feeling extremely positive about the bank and the person I spoke with. She saw me, not just my concern. That’s hospitality. She had invited me into her “house” and made me feel welcome.

The library is your place. How do you welcome people into it? Hospitality is the ultimate in reaching out to others and making them feel comfortable, safe, and welcomed. It’s hard to measure which can cause it to be overlooked as a factor. Surveys help, but don’t reveal all the emotions, which is what the best hospitality generates. As school librarians, we work at creating a safe, welcoming place. Incorporating hospitality skills will add to that atmosphere.

It’s a concern for business as well, and Disney, an expert at delivering it, offers training sessions. I have commented on Disney’s Four Keys to a Great Guest Experience, which is written with employees in mind, and offer examples relating to our environment. The second and fourth are particularly important.

 Safety

  • I practice safe behaviors in everything I do. By following safe behaviors for COVID and other school safety issues, we model it for others.
  • I take action to always put safety first. We are often in a better position than classroom teachers to spot the bullying of students and make certain they feel safe in the library. We can also find ways to alert teachers and learn the needs of both students in a bullying dynamic.
  • I speak up to ensure the safety of Others. We step in when students use hateful speech, teaching about diversity and inclusion.  

Courtesy

  • I project a positive image and energy. Consciously projecting a positive image, especially in difficult times, improves our mindset and resilience.
  • I am courteous and respectful to Guests of all ages. We don’t cut off a conversation with a student when a teacher or administrator comes into the library. We practice active listening.
  • I go above and beyond to exceed Guest expectations. We don’t just help kids find the answers they were searching for. We guide them to go deeper and find the best answer, teaching them new technologies and making them aware of additional resources.

Show

  • I stay in character and perform my role in the show. Remember, you bring a unique view to your students, teachers, and administrators. Your role plays an important part in their success.
  • I ensure my area is show-ready at all times. This doesn’t mean neat and tidy. Libraries that are overly tidy tend to be libraries that aren’t used. It means that you have displays and materials that send their message of welcome and inclusion. Student work is present and celebrated.

Efficiency

  • I perform my role efficiently so Guests get the most out of their visit. In addition to doing your job efficiently, you bring your passion for it and your “guests” in your interactions. This allows them to get the most out of their time in the library.
  • I use my time and resources wisely. Plan, budget and develop programs with an eye to the future and a focus on your mission and vision. This brings the best of the library to those who have entered your “home”.

Not surprisingly, the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit segments of the economy in the pandemic. It relies on us being face-to-face. Even as we fumble our way to a new normal, we haven’t come close to pre-COVID levels of personal interactions that were a part of our daily lives. By bringing hospitality into our libraries, we can improve everyone’s experience. The more welcoming we are, the more our students and teachers will enjoy being there and come to understand how we are there for them.

Leaders Must Be Strong Communicators

Communication is as natural as breathing and just as constant in our lives. Unlike breathing, however, there is so much room for error, it needs our focus and attention. Leaders need to be clear in their communication. When people receive a clear message, they are more likely to support, trust, and follow you. Taking time to improve your communication skills makes you a more successful leader.

In a post on SmartBrief, Want Real Leadership Growth? Focus on Strengthening as a Communicator,  Al Petty writes “too often, we ignore the centrality of communication effectiveness to effective leadership”. He goes on to say, “everything important in our careers and working lives takes place in one or more challenging conversations, and every communication encounter is critical if you lead.” There is a direct correlation between your success as a leader and your effectiveness as a communicator.

Petty notes that every failed professional situation in his career was proceeded by problems in communication. Poor communication inevitably has a negative effect on desired outcomes. For example, when a plan isn’t working, before changing the plan, check to see if everyone is clear on what to do, who’s to do it and why it’s being done. On the flip side, good communication produces even greater positive results than expected.

According to Petty you need to put these three tactics into operation to improve your communication skills and avoid the fumbles that detract from your leadership:

Listen Harder – There is almost nothing more powerful you can do to benefit your communication than to be a great listener. Unfortunately, in our eagerness to respond to what someone is saying or to get our point across, we stop listening. Our brain is busy constructing what to say as soon as the other person stops talking. We may think we are paying attention, but in this situation, we are, at best, hearing only the surface information which means we are more likely to miss the core of the message. Petty states, by “focusing intently on the person in front of you, you are projecting empathy, showing respect and gaining critical verbal and nonverbal insights necessary to truly communicate”. All of these increase your ability to be an effective leader.

Slow Down and Respect the Persuasion Cycle – Being eager to get to the end goal, it is easy to keep pushing for a response. When we do, we are apt to be faced with the other personal stonewalling and resisting what we’re suggesting. A good maxim to remember is, “No one wants to be sold. Everyone wants to buy.” The challenge is to make someone want to buy.

Petty explains the “Persuasion Cycle” as moving a person from

  • Resisting to Listening,
  • Listening to Considering,
  • Considering to Doing,
  • Doing to Being Glad They Did.

Knowing what the other person wants and needs helps you frame your message, so they move from resisting to listening. When you actively listen to their response you can elicit their willingness to consider your message. They now are interested in doing.

The final step in the cycle is the important piece. When the person is “Glad They Did” you have a supporter and advocate. The next time you approach them, your conversation is more likely to start at Considering or Doing portion of the cycle.

Design Your Critical Communication Messages – When the message is important, it is worth time and effort to get it exactly right. You don’t want to have any words that detract from it. Each word counts and has weight. Writing, rewriting, and testing it with a mentor or trusted colleagues will help you get it clear.

According to Petty, you need to have “three or four core drivers behind your core message.” The drivers are the foundation for why the message is so important. In the library world, one core driver is the students. They are the emotional tie that brings the most response. Test results are another driver. School and district goals are powerful drivers if you connect to them. Budget can be another.

Illustrate your core drivers so your audience understands them as clearly as possible. Pictures, graphics, and videos are more quickly internalized than text. Use the language your receivers understand. If you are talking with administrators in schools, they know the educational terms but not library terminology. If necessary, change from the terms you use to the ones they do.

If you review your past success and challenges, chances are you will see a correlation with the strength or weakness in communication. Taking the time to work on your communication skills – listening, persuading, designing your message – will exponentially increase your success. The better your ability to communicate, the better your ability to lead.

Beyond EDI

There’s one more step we need to take.

An important and ongoing issue in our schools is the importance of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). It is something we must address in how we run our libraries. We recognize all three must be integrated into our daily practices to ensure that the library is a safe, welcoming place for all. But is there more that we can do, and, if so, what is it?

Before looking ahead, it’s important to review how this process has changed. An early understanding was realizing the difference between equality and equity. Equality means everyone gets the same thing, for example, all students get Chrome Books. Equity takes into account that not everyone is starting at the same point and resources are allocated to minimize or, even better, eliminate the difference so all have the same opportunity. It means that not only does every student have a Chrome book, but access to wi-fi so they can be used whenever needed.

Diversity addresses the need for everyone to be represented. Your collection should have materials that show a broad understanding of the many cultures, ethnics, genders, and physical distinctions that make up our communities. Even if our communities appear monochrome, the country and the world aren’t. Your collection must represent this. It’s not a diverse collection if all it has are the five “F’s”(food, festivals, folklore, fashion, and famous people). Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop first talked of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors in 1990 (you can read the full article here). She stated:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (1990, p. ix)

We now look for #ownvoices and other sources to build a wider, more authentic collection.

Inclusion shows up in who is in the top classes and who is in the bottom. We can see it in the members of student government and in academic competitions. It is also visible in the cafeteria and on the bus. To create an inclusive environment where there wasn’t one takes planning, communication and patience, getting different groups to collaborate with each other.

We certainly have become better at creating a safe, welcoming place for all, but there is one more step to take. Belonging goes beyond EDI. Belonging is about emotions. It tells you how people feel about your library. Sometimes EDI feels like you are just following a set of the newest directions set down from administrators. While important, it doesn’t have that added sense of a welcoming embrace.

LaFawn Davis explains to the business world How Belonging Differs from Diversity and Inclusion — and Why It Matters. She quotes Verna Myers who said, “diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Davis then adds, “belonging is knowing all the songs.” You can feel the difference.

Davis recommends surveys to get some answers about belonging, giving this example:

We asked respondents to consider five statements regarding inclusion and belonging and select an answer ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Two of the statements were specifically related to psychological safety, the underpinning of belonging:

  • When I speak up, my opinion is valued.
  • I feel comfortable coming forward with concerns or complaints, without the fear of retaliation.

Do all your students feel their opinion is valued? Do they worry a concern or fear of theirs will be bring retaliation or just be brushed off?  Can you have conversations with students to get answers, or does that already suggest the answer?

She also suggests creating “opportunities for connections” based on interests. As you launch a research project, how can you frame it so that you get diverse members working in collaborative groups. Do formative assessments as they go along to see that all voices are being heard and welcomed.

Your Mission, as Davis says, can promote belonging. Review your Mission and make any tweaks necessary to include belonging. Keep checking to gauge how well this part of your Mission is unfolding and being lived by your audience.

Diversity is having a seat at the table; inclusion being having a voice. Belonging is the support you get for that voice. The school library has been a haven for so many over the years. It’s where countless students have felt safe. Take it one step beyond and make it the place where they feel they belong – and belong with others.

Talk (Kindly) To Me

Do you talk to yourself? Of course you do. But what are you saying? Of all the ways you communicate with people, how are you talking to yourself? For most of us, far too often, the words we say to ourselves are self-criticism. We would never think or say these things to anyone else, but we are fair targets for all our negative thoughts.

We are our worst critic, and we tend to believe every negative we say about ourselves. This barrage is a subtext for our day. Rarely are we conscious of how constantly we put ourselves down. In over emphasizing our weakness, we detract from our leadership.  It fuels our resistance to step out of our comfort zone. How can you move forward when you see so many places where you are inadequate?

This negative self-talk is often the basis for the Imposter Syndrome which convinces even successful people that they are not good enough for a particular task or opportunity. While you may not experience the worst examples of the syndrome, you are likely to find many of its typical thoughts are part of your self-talk.

Art Petty says Success as a Leader Demands Positive Self-Talk and explains what needs to be done. According to his post, we have about 6,000 thoughts a day. As the Pareto Principle anticipates, 80% of these thoughts are negative. That means we have nearly 50,000 self-criticizing thoughts every day. That’s a heavy load for anyone to carry. Petty proposes a 5-step process for “Active Reset:”

  1. Stop and acknowledge: You can’t change anything until you recognize its presence. The number of times you stop may come as a surprise, and you are likely to miss many. But, as James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Take the time to notice what you’ve been saying to yourself.
  2. Question: Now ask yourself, “Why am I thinking this way?” There’s usually a trigger that started the negative spiral. is that true? Chances are fear is the underlying factor. Was it fear of failure? Fear of the unknown? Maybe it’s fear of success – success can bring challenges that will take us out of our comfort zone, and that’s another fear. Once you’ve asked that, ask yourself, “What evidence to I have that supports the negative?” There’s probably not as much as you think – and there may be none.   
  3. Reframe:  Now that you have recognized the underlying cause, you can look at the situation more logically.  Have you succeeded at this or something similar in the past?  Is this related to another person? Petty suggests asking, “How can I reposition this situation and look for the opportunity?” It’s an empowering question.
  4. Act: Action is a positive response to negative self-talk. Having reframed the situation, you can do something about it. The action and result will become part of your toolbox – and stretch your comfort zone. When the issue arises again, it will less likely cause the negative self-talk, and you will take action more quickly.
  5. Reflect: Pause and consider what you have learned. Recognize the exercise as an opportunity for growth. Not only will you be more willing to analyze and change your negative thoughts, but it can help you be more empathetic with colleagues and students when their own negative self-talk is a barrier to their success.

Work on positive self-talk to balance the negatives. Cheer and celebrate your successes. Recognize your negative self-talk for what it is – a thought that can be changed. Leaders don’t only have positive self-talk, but they know how to deal with it. Once you hear your thoughts, you’ll hopefully be willing to be kinder to yourself.

Exhausted

Bone tired. Drained. Weary. Drooping. Pick a word. It all comes down to the same thing – we are beyond tired.

We have been working crazy hours in stressful conditions. We have been flexible. We have pivoted. We have learned resilience. And it’s still not over. Uncertainty about your future as well as the future in general has raised your stress levels. Even if you are a planner, it is hard to determine which approach will best meet what is an ambiguous tomorrow. What can you do to overcome the constant exhaustion?

If you, your program, and your life outside the library are to survive – and thrive – you need tools to deal with it. In a blog post from the Eblin Group, the author explains What to Do When You Are Feeling Exhausted, offering six steps to take. These are all an important form of self-care to help you get through this next stage.

  1. Admit to yourself that you are feeling exhausted – Sometimes pushing through is not the right choice. Yes, you say you’re tired, but you keep on going. You are avoiding acknowledging how much the exhaustion is affecting you. Find a friend to whom you can vent. Have a short pity party. Journal. Take a short nap. Do something that admits the exhaustion. It will help alleviate it and maybe help you find the key triggers.
  2. Get things off your list – Not everything is a priority. What can be postponed, ignored or cancelled? Know what must be done and what must be done now. When you admitted your exhaustion and looked at your life, were there tasks that could be done by someone else – or could be dropped entirely without have a serious effect?
  3. Change up your input – Sometimes the brain needs different input. There is a monotony that comes with his pandemic life and to break that cycle you need to do something different. Changing input changes thinking which in turn changes action. If you read, try an audio book. If you listen to music, try a podcast. Watch a TED Talk instead of a rerun. And now that spring has come to the Northern Hemisphere, don’t forget the benefits of getting outside.
  4. Do things that are fun and bring you joy – From the look of social media feeds, people have turned to cooking and baking, either attempting new things or recipes they haven’t made in ages. Others find joy in craft projects. Make sure you’re taking time for the things that make you happy. This could be solitary, like a snuggly blanket, tea and a book or time to call or Zoom with family and friends. Think about what brings you joy and make sure it’s part of your week.
  5. Pick something that is fast and easy to finish – You’re doing important work, but if your time is all about the work – the work is going to suffer. To balance this, try to find something fun that’s also fast and can be completely quickly. Binge watch a season of The Crown or Schitts Creek. Print some pictures and put them in an album. Find a game to play – solo or in a group – that doesn’t take long to finish. One of the current challenges is that the external stress is never ending. Completing something is energizing.  
  6. Eat, Move, Sleep – Make sure you are maintaining your healthy routines. Watch out for grabbing high sugar snacks for the unhealthy and limited energy boost. With the distruption of routines, you may be sitting more (you don’t even get to walk to a meeting – just a few clicks at the computer and you’re there). Sitting too long is dangerous to your health. Find ways to add movement to your day. And, of course, one of the reasons we’re exhausted is that stress has impacted our ability to get a good night sleep. Just as you did or do with children, develop a bedtime routine that allows you so slowly unwind and be ready to sink into sleep.

I’ve included the graphic from the article to help you remember. Copy it to your phone gallery if you think it will help.

Exhaustion is quickly becoming a secondary health crisis. Ignoring exhaustion only makes it worse. Acknowledge what happening and how you’re feeling, and then do what you can to take steps to help yourself so you won’t feel as though you are slogging through mud. Following this advice won’t stave off exhaustion completely, but it will lessen it and give you some steps to take when it creeps up.

What Communication Is – And Isn’t

My blog last week, Let’s Talk Meaningfully, focused on how to make your conversations produce more positive outcomes. It addressed becoming a Social and Emotional Leader through communication. There is no question that successful communication draws on your Emotional Intelligence. You need to be aware of your emotions and that of others as you guide and respond. The better you become at bringing your understanding of what is going on under the surface, the more skillful you are. Realizing the obvious as well as the subtle nuances of communication is a core skill we need to develop as leaders.  

But what is “communications?” Although we may never pin down an exact definition, Merriam-Webster says Communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior,” and it is also “personal rapport.”  Looking at what communication is and isn’t, is one way to describe communication more fully. In What Communicators Know, and What They Must Teach, David Murray shares what he learned from his former boss, Dr. Larry Regan. CEO and Founder of Ragan Education, and reinforced by his experiences. There is an important mind shift to become a true “communicator.” 

A communicator knows that words are not communication – We’ve heard the expression ‘actions speak louder than words”. This is what Murray wants us to remember. Factors such as body language, voice, and our appearance are part of “speaking,” often before we open our mouth. Also, if we’re not careful, these things can influence our analysis and sometimes the judgements we make of the other person which have nothing to do with what is being said. Be aware of what is being communicated without words.

A communicator knows that communication doesn’t simply mean persuading other people to our point of view When that is your aim, you are not listening and the other person will be aware of that. We need to be willing to listen before we try to make our point. This is essential to good communication. Only when you truly hear with the other person says can you even begin to respond.

A communicator often helps in humble, unseen ways – When carrying a message, unless you were charged with repeating it exactly, you can rephrase it if there are trigger words while keeping the meaning. If you see there’s a possibility for communication to be unclear, do what you can to correct that. It is also what you do when you bring a teacher’s success to the attention of the principal or a student’s success to a teacher.

A communicator knows that there has never been a universally shared truth – While there are facts, truth can feel “elusive.” We see the world, and our truth, from individual lenses, and a communicator/leader must be attuned to how others perceive it. Eyewitness accounts of the same event vary. The difficulties this causes have been increasing obvious. To be a communicator, you need to draw people out so they can recognize how they came to their conclusions and to see where shared truths can be used.

And a communicator knows the limitations of communicationSome things can’t be talked through – some things need to be “worked out.” Sometimes you need to stop talking and get to work. Focus on the product. For a library, this can mean instead of sending well written advocacy-based messages, look for ways to be necessary to others. Let your actions speak for you – and then create a well worded follow up.

Communications has its limits and its strengths. When you think of yourself as a communicator you will find more ways to make connections with those around you, and, in the process, you will be a stronger, more reliable leader.

Let’s Talk Meaningfully

I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, we need to talk with one another – and do it well. Conversations are integral to how we connect. We are social organisms, and talking with one another is necessary for our survival. No matter that there is text, email, Zoom and phones. For relationship connections to be made, we need to see each other and communicate face to face.

We cannot overlook the importance of meaningful conversation. A great conversation helps build relationships and can make an audience of one or more recognize your value and become an advocate. By contrast, a mismanaged conversation can alienate the person or persons you are speaking with and result in a negative impact on you and your program. When we are tired and stressed, we are obviously not at our best. Those are the times when mishaps – and “misheards” – are most likely to occur. How can we manage conversations that support us and those we are talking to when we are not feeling our best?

From his book Making Conversation: Seven Essential Elements of Meaningful Conversation Fred Dust offers five ways to engage in talks that produce positive outcomes, large and small. They are valuable to incorporate into your daily interactions.

The history of humanity is one long conversation – It’s important to remember how basic conversation is. Conversation is natural to us, and we can conduct aspects of it without words. Hand gestures are part of them. We even have them with those who don’t have words (I’m looking at you, pet owners). It’s how we reach out to others. Think of the first phrases you learned when studying a new language: “Hello.”  “How are you?”   In conversing with others, you may not speak those words, but be sure you are communicating them. They open up possibility.

Silence is an essential component to conversation – Consider those Zoom meetings when people start speaking over each other. Those not competing for airtime, tune out. When you are talking, you are not listening. The pause, the moment of silence, gives you time to digest what has been said and respond to whole idea, not just the piece that captured your initial attention. It also shows you were listening to the speaker which creates additional connection.

Get good at naming – As someone who has always struggled with remembering names, I recognize how important it is to remember as many names as possible of the people you connect with. It tells people that you see them – and are ready to hear them. In a large school, even learning all the teachers’ names can be a challenge since you may not see many of them outside of faculty meeting. It helps if you can “name” something about them. For example, “Janet Quilter” or “Fred Gardner.”  (Interestingly, that’s how many last names were created – and why there are so many Smiths).

Notice change – There’s an ebb and flow to conversations. Be aware of the shifts. Is it moving to the heart of the matter or beginning to fade out?  Is the other person becoming angry or calming down?  If you are using “silence,” you will be more able to tell when this is occurring. It will keep you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It may alert you to the best moment to say something important or that it’s time to wrap up.

When in doubt, make – Instead of “having” a conversation, “make” one. As in your makerspaces this implies you are building something that matters. And you are. You are building a relationship and when you have the conversation in connection to something that is being done, more is created. Ultimately you are adding substance to a relationship and that’s valuable. When we have meaningful conversations we are the creator and maintainer of that relationship.

We are stressed and tired, but we need to ensure that we use conversations to both strengthen us and bolster the ones with whom we are conversing. Sometimes a meaningful conversation with a student or teacher is exactly what we need to feel energized and more productive. As a leader you never want to lose sight of what conversation can do for you and those you support.