ON LIBRARIES: The Price of Perfection

You want your colleagues to see you as vital and hopefully indispensable which means you work very hard to get things right.  But are you working towards excellence or perfection?

Excellence means something stands out because it is well done.  It achieves its goals. This is true of projects and people. Perfection is an unachievable standard that sets you and those around you up for failure because it cannot, by definition, be reached. Seeking the elusive and impossible is not a good use of your resources – personal or professional. Those who want perfection tend to struggle with accepting help or delegating because they are concerned that the work of others is never up to their standards.  Frequently, perfectionists don’t even believe their own work meets their standards, making them work even harder, never feeling success.

Sometimes, we can’t help but measure ourselves against a mythical Perfect – what we believe others are doing easily and flawlessly – and when we do, we have to fall short. Missing that mark leads to feelings of self-doubt which was the topic of last week’s blog, as well as losing self-confidence.  All of which adds stress and keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone and being a leader.

Jane Perdue says Perfection = an Overrated Waste of Effort.  She observes that it’s boring.  Of course, it is. Imperfections make life interesting. To counter your pursuit of perfection, she propounds nine ways it is overrated.

  1. Most people don’t recognize perfection when they see it. Others won’t recognize that something you created is perfect in your eyes. Of course, the opposite is true as well.  You see the flaws in your creation, but others don’t. Although it sounds counter-intuitive – perfect should be perfect—there isn’t one standard of perfection.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is perfection. Excellence is easy to recognize because a goal has been reached.
  2. Lost opportunity cost. How much time did you lose fixing that display? Working hard to line the books up perfectly? Walking away and going back just to move one part of it a hairline differently? Think about what you didn’t get to as a result of spending time on something that was already excellent and you’ll start to see the cost of perfectionism. It can keep us from having the time we need for the other goals on our plan.
  3. Miss out on simple joys. Those seeking perfection have less time to do the things that matter –like enjoy life. Life is messy and definitely not perfect. Perdue notes it’s “hard to look perfect eating an ice cream cone outside on a hot summer day.” But it’s fun. Having fun makes you light-hearted – and accessible. It gives you a happy mindset that makes other people want to be with you and that is important if you are building and maintaining relationships. Being messy can bring people closer to you.
  4. Present as narrow-minded. If you are looking for perfection, there is only one right way in your mind. Which means what other people do/say is wrong. You may not realize it, but that’s the message perfectionists send.  It’s intimidating and isolating, and it will work against you when trying to collaborate.
  5. Perfectionism feeds sex and gender stereotypes. We know from mass media what a “perfect” woman’s body is like. We know that not only is there “no crying in baseball,” but real men don’t cry either. Perfectionism is limiting and narrow   Embracing the diversity in others and accepting our imperfections creates better relationships which make the library a safe, welcoming space for all.
  6. Being perfect doesn’t automatically provide approval and affirmation. As you can see from the first things on the list, it is more likely to put people off which is ironic since usually people strive for perfection the hopes of gaining approval or positive notice. Your being perfect will not make others like you or create the willingness to work with you. It’s providing others with what they need, being open to them and their challenges which will bring support and cooperation.
  7. Perfectionism will make you sick. In striving hard to be perfect, you wear yourself out. Perfectionism dramatically increases stress, and the worst part is most of it is self-imposed. Depression is a potential result (due in part to the isolationism that goes with perfectionism) as is high blood pressure and poor eating habits.
  8. Fuel negative emotions. What happens when you can’t and don’t measure up to your standards? Self-doubt takes over. The negative noise in your head gets louder and your confidence plummets. In comes the Imposter Syndrome telling you others will see you aren’t worthy. It’s a deadly spiral that can only end once you step away from the lure of perfectionism.
  9. Consumed and paralyzed by fear. When perfect is your goal, you are more likely to fear trying something new because you worry you won’t be able to do it perfectly. You read of what others are doing in their libraries, but you prefer to stick with the tried-and-true because you know how to do that.  If you’re not growing, your program will lag behind and stand a greater chance of being eliminated.

Hopefully, some of the things on this list will help you notice if you’ve made perfect your goal.  When you hold yourself to some imaginary standard of perfectionism, you are more likely to hold yourself back from becoming a leader because taking risks and trying new things become nearly impossible. We are imperfect beings.  In striving for improvement and excellence we learn and grow. We accept our faults and failures as steps along our journey, and by doing so serve as a model for our students.

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ON LIBRARIES: Managing Self Doubt

Leaders need to exude confidence regardless of the occasional and perfectly normal feelings of self-doubt.  Fear plays a big role in self-doubt.  Whenever you step out of your comfort zone, you are in risky territory.  As William Jennings Bryan said, “The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you.” When you keep taking risks, based on your knowledge and passions, you will have some failures, but you will have so many successes people will quickly forget the ones that didn’t work.

Sometimes the doubt comes in the form of Imposter Syndrome. It’s when you begin second-guessing yourself and the voices inside your head say you are not up to a particular challenge. Or you are not that good.  Even very successful people suffer from this on occasion.

We have a tendency to see what others do that we cannot.  Maybe you are using Twitter in a limited away, but you see so many librarians leading Twitter chats and showing all they accomplish. How can you think you are a tech integrator when you don’t know how to do these things? We don’t see the things we do that others cannot.  We assume everyone is doing that. You know, the other thing that we can’t do and what we can do is nothing special.

Recognition is key when you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Once you notice it, you can have a good talk with yourself and work to redirect your thoughts. Make sure you remind yourself of what you have achieved so far which is a good indicator that you can take this new path as well.

Even if you have done something before, the new iteration will bring a challenge which can cause a flare-up of self-doubt. I’m experiencing it myself. I just signed a contract with ALA Editions for a book entitled Classroom Management for School Librarians. The manuscript is due mid-February, and it needs to be about 60,000 words.  I look at the task before me and wonder if I can get this done. I know what I am covering in each chapter, but do I have enough to say about the topic to meet the targeted number of words?  Sure, I have written many books and met both deadlines and word counts, but at the beginning of the project, looking at the road ahead, I can feel the self-doubt creeping in.

I handle it by recognizing its presence and plunge ahead.  One step at a time. I set internal targets for completing the chapters and the word count for each. I know I will never hit them exactly, but this gives me a framework and keeps me from being paralyzed by the size of the task.

Lolly Daskal provides her own solution for dealing with self-doubt in What to Do When You Doubt Yourself as a Leader.  Her eight suggestions are:

Know you’re not alone – When you are mired in self-doubt, it’s easy to believe no one has ever felt that way.  I guarantee just about everyone with whom you come in contact has those moments, days, weeks.  I doubt there’s a single leader who hasn’t experienced it.

Remember that breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs – If you focus on how to get through this time, you may discover you have come up with an alternative that is better than your initial plan. Daskal notes the breakdown may “mean you’re on the edge of a terrific period of growth and discovery.”  It may not feel that way in the moment, but if you keep moving forward you’ll get to that breakthrough.

Ride the wave – It’s what I am doing now. Focus on why you want to tackle the project.  What is the reason you are allowing self-doubt to creep in?  I find beginnings are hard.  There is such a long road ahead.  But I am working on reminding myself, the journey has its own rewards.  I will be learning as I go—and that’s a good thing.

Treat your struggle as the beginning of a success story – If you are a regular reader of my blog and/or have been to my presentations, you know I draw on my personal experiences.  I include failures and successes because that’s life. Everything you do adds to the richness of it.  As a Chinese proverb states, “Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.”

 Don’t try to go through it alone – A very wise suggestion.  We tend to hide our self-doubts as though it were a shameful secret. Who are the people who always believe in you? If you have a mentor, that’s great.  If not, this may be a good time to get one. These are the people who can give you the positive self-talk you can’t seem to give yourself.

If you can’t change the situation, you have to change yourself – Realistically, do you need to learn something to accomplish the task?  If so, take the time to build the needed skill. At the same time, focus on your strengths to build your self-confidence. Together the learning and the knowing will help propel you forward.

Get outside help – This is much like “don’t try to go through it alone.” When you need someone to talk you “off the ledge” go to your PLNs whether this is your local AASL chapter, on Facebook or other places.  You will find the support you need.

Lead from within – Regain your faith in yourself by being a quiet leader. Support others on their journey.  Be the one to help someone else with self-doubt.  You will be amazed at how this will help cure your own.

Confidence is not a permanent condition.  Life will always bring challenges to chip away at it. Be prepared to deal with it.  You are a leader, a confidence-builder in others. Remember to do this for yourself as well.

ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.

ON LIBRARIES: A Safe Welcoming Environment – For All

The library must be a safe, welcoming environment.  We all say this and mean it.  But how is that translating into reality? Having furniture appropriate in size for students?  Featuring student work? Rules that are positively stated? Do you have students who choose to stay in the library during lunch because they feel different or unaccepted by their classmates?  All this is important, but there is more to creating a safe, welcoming environment for all. Those last two words are the key and to create it we need equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Creating a welcoming environment is behind the call for more diversity in our collections. A great website for this is We Need Diverse Books. Under the Resources tab, in addition to a downloadable Booktalking Kit, there is “Where to Find Diverse Books” which gives links for sources for African, African American, Disabilities (only one). American Indian, Islam, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+.

Take the time to look at your current collection.  Do most of your diverse books fall within Sonia Nieto’s description of foods, festivals, fashion, folklore, and famous people?  For students of these diverse backgrounds, this is merely the tip of the iceberg in capturing who they are.  Is your African American collection heavily tilted toward slave days and the civil rights movement?  Certainly, there is much more to present.

As mentioned on the website We Are Teachers, we need to provide Mirrors and Windows.  Mirrors allow students to see themselves in the books in our collections. The same titles provide Windows for other students to see the bigger picture, helping them become the global citizens necessary in our world.  Hopefully, these Windows become Sliding Glass Doors, creating comfort and ease with others who are different from us.

It’s important to see diversity in a somewhat larger setting.  The phrase used in business, education, and especially for our libraries is Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or EDI.  The three words are obviously related, but there are substantive differences among them.

ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee just completed the process for further defining the Library Bill of Rights.  The document, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights is one you need to be familiar with.  Among other explanations, it presents definitions of these three key areas.

Equity, according to the document is: “{Takes} difference into account to ensure a fair process and, ultimately, a fair outcome. Equity recognizes that some groups were (and are) disadvantaged in accessing educational and employment opportunities and are, therefore, underrepresented or marginalized in many organizations and institutions. Equity, therefore, means increasing diversity by ameliorating conditions of disadvantaged groups.”

Equity should not be confused with equality. Equality means everyone gets the same.  Divide the pie into equal portions.  But should the toddler get the same size piece as the teenager?  Obviously not.  Equity is about giving more to those who need more.  A graphic, attributed to the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette (left), shows 3 children of different heights behind a fence watching a baseball game. Equality is giving all three a box of the same height to see over the fence.  Equity is giving them boxes of different sizes.

My favorite version goes beyond even equity. When the planks covering the fence are removed, nobody needs assistance.  The assistance can make students feel different which is not what we want.  For example, if you charge fines for overdues and forgive those who can’t afford them or let them work off their fines in some ways, you are making the situation equitable, but differences are still felt. Eliminating fines eliminates differences.

Diversity according to the ALA document, “can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. When we recognize, value, and embrace diversity, we are recognizing, valuing, and embracing the uniqueness of each individual.” The words “valuing” and “embracing” are what contribute to making the library a safe and welcoming space.

Diversity shows up throughout the National School Library Standards. The standard for C. SHARE III. Collaborate states: “Learners work productively with others to solve problems by: involving diverse perspectives in their own learning process.”  It’s not just your book collection that should be diverse. Integrating diversity within research projects makes it a part of students’ lives.

Inclusion, as stated in the document, “means an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully; are valued for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; have equal access to resources and opportunities; and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”  To me, this is the welcoming statement.  All belong, all contribute.

The National School Library Standards identifies Include as the second of the Shared Foundations, stating that it “Demonstrates an understanding of and commitment to inclusiveness and respect for diversity in the learning community.”  As part of what we do as school librarians, we need to recognize the diverse range of our student population.  In addition to ethnicity, gender identification, and disabilities, we need to be aware of those who are homeless, have an incarcerated family member, a parent serving abroad, or other ways their lives may make them feel different.

It’s not easy. It won’t happen overnight.  It’s an ongoing process of learning for us as well as the communities we serve, but the bottom line is the library must be a safe, welcoming environment for ALL. The work we do with this has a far-reaching – even unlimited – impact.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Trust and Integrity

Of the many qualities of leadership, trust and integrity are within the grasp of all. And from these two you can build the rest. Best of all, you probably exhibit them most of the time. However, you may not recognize the ways they manifest and what effect they have on your leadership. In a way, trust is an exterior quality while integrity is an interior one. Trust is about your interactions with others. Integrity is about who you are as a person.

Although they are interlocked, let’s deal with them separately.  Trust is intrinsic to a relationship. You cannot have a connected relationship with anyone you don’t trust or who doesn’t trust you. To build a relationship you begin by showing interest in the other person, follow up with evidence of your interest, display empathy, and then ultimately trust becomes the glue that holds the relationship together.

Trust is needed when reaching out to collaborate with teachers.  I once had a co-librarian the teachers did not trust.  They sensed she didn’t like their students.  Invariably, they would schedule their projects with me. Had she been the sole librarian, there would have been little or no collaboration.

In addition, trust is needed in building relationships with students. To make the library a safe and welcoming space, students need you to be a trustworthy adult. Then they are more likely to confide in you about their hopes, fears, and needs.  Among other things, this means you never discuss their reading preferences with anyone. You do have to let them know where the line is, in advance if possible.  If they should tell you something that suggests they are at risk for self-harm or harm by others, you need to report it. Sometimes knowing about that line is the reason they confide in you, expecting you will report what they don’t have the courage to.

A Forbes article entitled You Can’t Be a Great Leader Without Trust – Here’s How You Build it, suggests eight “c’s” for doing building trust. Although they are all important, and I have discussed many of them, the last one – Consistency—is one I have not mentioned.  In order to trust, people need to count on how you will behave. If your reactions and behavior are based solely on your mood of the day, your colleagues and your students won’t be able to trust you.

One more caution about trust.  It’s a precious commodity.  It takes time to build and can be lost in an instant. Once it’s gone, it takes far longer to restore than it did to build it.

Integrity, by contrast, is your inner compass. Merriam Webster defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.”  For me, integrity is doing right when no one is watching.

In a post, The 3 I’s of effective leadership, Naphtali Hoff says integrity “helps us become the best versions of ourselves and communicates what we stand for.”  It shows with others when we make promises and commitments and keep them and when we are honest in our words.  Clearly, this builds trust, which is the link between the two qualities.

Hoff writes, “To be in integrity also means being honest and having strong moral principles, to think and act in a manner that is consistent with one’s values and intentions.”  A person who has integrity will present the same “face” no matter where you meet them because they have a unifying core that defines them. This gives a leader strength.

The philosophy of many school librarians comes from their integrity.  It is helpful if this integrity is connected to and consistent with the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. These two documents speak to the essence of what libraries are, but they come with challenges for librarians depending on our situations.

Two of the statements in the ALA Code of Ethics state:

II. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

III. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.

These two from the Library Bill of Rights do the same:

You can order this poster from the ALA store
  1. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  2. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

While we are working hard to bring more diversity to our collections, there are times when some of us pause, recognizing that purchasing a book may very well bring a “Request for Reconsideration.”  There are places in the United States and the world where presenting materials which include “all points of view” is not only difficult but can put your job at risk. It’s scary when this happens, when you are faced with these dilemmas.  So, what do you do?  It is a decision you may have to come to before choosing to purchase or not purchase certain material. No one will ever have to know what you decide and why. It will not be an easy decision and hopefully, when you do make it, you will be able to stay in integrity.

Making hard decisions.  Knowing what you stand for.  The trust others have in you. The consistency in your actions.  All these combine and make you a leader others recognize.

ON LIBRARIES – Move Past Your Barriers

I was talking with someone recently and said my Vision is that every librarian is living as a leader or working to be a bigger leader.  We won’t be successful until we are all successful.  Yes, I know that’s a tall order.  Like any Vision, it may never fully happen, but by working toward it, I will get closer than I would without it. To that end, today’s blog, like several in the past few weeks, is intended to help you notice where you may be holding yourself back. When we notice what’s getting in our way, we are more likely and able to make a change. Because there is no option. You must become a leader.

Back in 2015 I first wrote about  The Stories We Tell Ourselves as being a barrier we have put in our way.  I followed it up last year with More Stories – we are very creative in finding ways to avoid being a leader. Two weeks ago, I asked Are You the Problem? to show how we get in our way by our habits and attitudes. Barriers, whether big or small, don’t get erected overnight. It will take time to dismantle many of these, but my hope is that on a deep level, you recognize the truth about being a leader. You realize that you are likely the one that has stopped you and now you must be willing to learn how to get out of your own way.

Your situation is not unique.  Many people find ways to avoid becoming leaders.  But in any profession, that avoidance keeps you from being as successful as you can and need to be. , Today I am referencing Lolly Daskins who offers six ways How You Can Break Through Your Own Leadership Limits.

Change the lens through which you view yourself – For most people our self-image is rooted in our past.  Before I went to Weight Watchers, I would be surprised and unhappy when I caught my reflection in a window.  I thought I was thinner than that. For several years after I lost fifty pounds, I was startled when I saw my reflection. I thought I was heavier than that.

A long time ago, a well-know library colleague of mine was despondent.  He lost a job he had held for a quarter of a century and was moving to a new state.  I told him he would be very much appreciated in his new position. When I saw him six months later, he was beaming. I had been right.  Not only had his former employer took him for granted, but he had also taken himself for granted, not seeing how much he had grown and learned on the job until he had a better one.

Look to your accomplishments and successes. Let go of outdated reflections. See yourself through a new lens.

Know what you need to changeNo, the answer is not “everything.”  Do a self-analysis using SOAR.  What are your Strengths? What Opportunities exist for demonstrating those strengths? What are your Aspirations?  In other words, what are you most passionate about? What would want to achieve? What Results are you looking for?  Look at your answers and made some decisions. When you get specific you get better results.

Be willing to do the work – Now that you know what you want to achieve, commit to working towards getting your aims. Put in start dates for what you are going to do and end dates (remembering to be flexible because the unexpected will happen).  This will keep you honest. Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always had. Be ready to do something different.

Identify and remove any obstacles standing in your waySome of these obstacles are real.  Time, budgets, resources. Others are the familiar barriers – the stories you have told yourself.  Look at them realistically.  Are they really true? Sure, there are truthful aspects to them, but if they are important –and they are – you know you can figure a way around them. The same is probably true about stretching your budget, finding new resources, and better allocating your time.

Leverage your limits – This means taking a hard look at your weaknesses.  How can they be used?  Get yourself a mentor. Working on a weakness will strengthen you and give you confidence. It will make you better understand yourself as a person.  You are a combination of your strengths and weaknesses. Too often you focus only on the weaknesses but focusing only on strengths can be equally unhelpful. It blinds you to what might trip you up. You can also consider this a good place for collaboration. Is there a teacher who is great with detail and you’re a big picture person?  Working together will use both your strengths.

Lead from within Daskin says this is about leading from your potential rather than your limits.  I also believe it means building your self-confidence and leading from the middle.  It’s amazing what you can do to lead as a member of a committee.  You don’t have to be the chair to lead.  If you have a clear vision of where a group wants/needs to go or if you understand the vision set out by the committee head, you can help ease the path, simplify choices, and make everyone’s job easier.

Leadership shows up in many ways.  Be alert to the possibilities and notice the noise in your head that may be holding you back. Put new, positive voices in its place and then you will always be prepared to lead.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: LEAP into Leadership – And Beyond

I recently returned from ALA Annual where, as the delegate from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, I attended Affiliate Assembly.  Everyone there was a leader. Some early in their journey, others who have been active in both state and national level for some time.  As I worked with my colleagues on ways to promote school librarianship, I thought of those who weren’t in attendance but were leaders in their own right.

The bottom line is you are all leaders. Leadership is built into what we do each day.  Whether it’s being a technology integrator or managing the library, we are leaders.  What some of us are not doing is recognizing our strengths and finding ways to promote it.  It’s time to see and show how terrific you and your program are.

Dr. Cathi Fuhrman

LEAP is an acronym created by Dr. Cathi Fuhrman, president-elect of the Pennsylvania School Library Association. She shared it with the delegates and gave me permission to share it here:

L – Listen with your mind and your heart. What are others trying to tell you that your mind NEEDS to comprehend, and you can act on – but also what are they saying that your heart needs to hear? Being a leader isn’t just about being logical – our lives and our work are wrapped up with our heart.

E – Energy and Empathy. Energy for the work that needs to be done and empathy for all those that you’re leading.

A – Accountability– As a leader you’re accountable to the work that you’ve agreed to do. The buck stops here.

P – Passion. You have to be passionate about the work you’re doing as a leader. And you have to share that passion with who you are leading. They have to see and feel your passion – because the passion we have for this profession – the passion we have for students and how we impact them – it’s everything!

I think the one most of us struggle with is Listen because we don’t trust ourselves enough. Cathi is so right that the best leadership is tied to heart. Leaders without heart are not really followed – they are obeyed.  She also points out that it is also important to listen for the things we gloss over. Is there encouragement, and support being offered that you didn’t notice?  Take them in.  We’re so ready to hear the complaints and concerns we don’t hear the compliments.

Our job requires enormous Energy for the day to day requirements, but to build and maintain the relationships, Empathy is required. When those two work together, the library becomes a safe space, sometimes the first safe place a student finds.

You have full responsibility for the library from the budget to the collection and to the teaching you do formally and informally.  For all this, you hold yourself AccountaBLE. Take time to notice what you’ve accomplished because you’ve owned the success of your program.

And as for Passion, I know you have it. I can’t improve on Cathi’s words describing it.

To strengthen the qualities in LEAP, it helps to add in the soft skills of Emotional Intelligence which is widely recognized as vital for true leadership.  Joel Garfinkle lists 5 Qualities of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders (one of which duplicates Cathi). Garfinkle recommends that we be:

  1. Empathetic – Both Fuhrman and Garfinkle note the importance of this quality. It’s the process of putting yourself in another’s shoes before responding.
  2. Self-Aware – You probably are well aware of your weaknesses, but do you know your strengths? Focus on developing projects that require them.  What types of situations cause you to stress, feel panic, or get you angry?  Plan how to handle these before they arise.
  3. Positive – As I have often noted, people don’t like to be around those who have a negative attitude. Being positive is about mindset.  It’s how you reframe adverse situations, which will happen. It can be anything from the Internet going down to being given additional responsibilities.  How you handle it will define how you are as a leader.
  4. Considerate – In some ways this ties to empathy. We sometimes get so wound up in believing we are not valued, we forget the teachers feel the same way. By listening (back to the L in LEAP) we make the library a safe, welcoming environment.  And that is often the route to collaboration.  Don’t forget your administrator in this. Principals are drowning in details. They often feel assailed on all sides.  Look for ways you can help them out.
  5. Authentic – None of this works if it’s not real. You can’t use Emotional Intelligence to manipulate people.  It will eventually be recognized.  A leader has integrity.  There needs to be an honest caring for the people you work with.

The librarians I know have most these qualities.  They may not always be positive (it’s hard to do every day) and aren’t as aware of their strengths as they should be, but they all have everything necessary to be a leader.  Make your own LEAP and you’ll soon make your mark in your school – and your state – as a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You The Problem?

I have recently blogged about Dealing with Failure and Dealing with Criticism but I have steered away from discussing behaviors we have that may be contributing to the problem. However, since we can’t fix what we don’t know, let’s uncover ways we may have inadvertently added to our problems.  The good news is, you can change.

There are librarians who still focus solely on the tasks needed to run your library. No matter what you hear, you feel too overworked to proactively promote your library program and yourself.  It’s no wonder no one knows what you do or believes you have anything to contribute. Others have gotten sucked into the negativity that pervades schools today.  The problems (challenges) are easy to see.  Rather than tackling them, they endlessly discuss them with like-minded teachers.  This contributes nothing to your program, and, as I’ve written, it’s the opposite of how a leader behaves.

Leaders inspire. By holding a bigger picture, they find alternatives and new directions. No one enjoys being with someone who only complains and sees what’s not working.  This is the time to launch a new program. It could be small, but it needs to be new.  Something to bring a positive focus on the library—and in some ways to offer hope to teachers who, just like you, are feeling undervalued and overworked.

I was inspired by Bryan Robinson’s article identifying 10 Reliable Career Killers: How Many Do You Practice on a Daily Basis?  Most of us do some of these things. Fortunately, there are ways to combat the behaviors.

  1. Multitask – You know it. I know it.  Studies have proven it.  Multitasking doesn’t work.  Yet we continue to think by doing several things at once we will get through faster.  Remember the old adage, “Haste Makes Waste.”  This is how you send an email to the wrong person.  Or put something in a place you can’t remember later.  The errors happen because your mind wasn’t fully on what you were doing.  This is a tough habit to break.  Work on catching yourself and pulling your mind back to focus on the priority at hand.
  2. Play It Safe – This especially happens after you have had a project fail. You crawl into your shell and hope nobody sees you.  But that will do nothing for your program, and you certainly won’t be seen as a leader. Stay “safe” for too long and you will be viewed as expendable.  Leaders need to be out there.
  3. Work More Hours – Your job is huge. There aren’t enough hours in the school day to get it done.  So, you come in early.  You stay late.  You are always somewhat behind, but that doesn’t stop you from getting on the hamster wheel each day. Stop! That behavior leads to burnout (and multitasking!). Prioritize.  What must be done? What is less necessary?  (And don’t forget family and friends time in the priorities.)  Once your list is done, schedule a meeting with your principal and discuss those priorities. Does s/he agree?  What suggestions does s/he have?  And come with your own suggestions.
  4. Focus on Problems –If all you can see are problems, you become a negative person. It’s hard to build relationships when all you are giving off are negative thoughts and/or in a bad mood. You are likely to attract equally negative people. Leaders seek solutions and often do so in collaboration with others.
  5. Put Yourself Down – When we are feeling low, we can resort to self-deprecation, believing we are saying what others are thinking about us. It is rarely true, but by repeating such comments often enough, we convince others we are failures. Try positive self-talk, internally and aloud, for a change.  If this is one of your typical behaviors, find a good friend and ask him/her to help talk you out of that negative mindset. If your friend suffers from the same syndrome, you can be partners.
  6. Practice Self-Neglect – There’s a host of ways you can neglect yourself. Not getting enough sleep.  Not taking downtime. Not exercising. Unhealthy eating.  Airplane safety says to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.  It’s the only way to survive. When you neglect yourself, you invariably neglect others whether it’s your family, students or program.  If you are drained, you can’t be your best self.
  7. Harbor Self-Doubt –You are better than you know you are, but you won’t find out unless you give yourself a chance. Every leader has doubts, but they act despite those niggling thoughts. Focus on the places you have succeeded.  Use that to power you rather than rehashing any failures.  I have been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers for years and have seen how those who look at the week they gained weight as a failure are more apt to quit—and then they really fail.  Those who succeed point to the progress they are making, knowing it won’t be a straight line.
  8. Fear Failure – No one succeeds all the time. You are trying to teach your students to see failure as part of the learning process.  You need to embrace that as well. You don’t have to love failure, but there’s no need to fear it.
  9. Set Unreasonable Deadlines – This leads back to multitasking and working more hours, which leads to other defeating habits. Recognize life happens and the best-laid plans don’t always work. Be realistic in your deadline.  Build in a “cushion” for things going wrong.  And set short-term deadlines on large projects so you know if you are on target or need to adjust the final deadline.
  10. Eschew an Idle Mind – Believe it or not, we need more idle mental time. This is the pause for reflection and rejuvenation. I walk. Some of you meditate, color, or do yoga.  All good ways to have an idle mind. Look for SEL activities that work for you.

Life is hard enough.  We shouldn’t be making it harder. Notice which of these behaviors might be holding you back.  If you can overcome these habits, you will make your life easier – and you will make it easier for others.  It’s what leaders do.

The Forest, the Trees, and Sometimes the Leaves

In last week’s blog, Should You Be a Leader or a Manager?, I didn’t specifically mention one big distinction: Leaders hold the big picture. Managers focus on the here and now.  While you can’t only look at the big picture, you also will miss the forest if you are only seeing the trees.  And some of you have gotten so caught up in the day-to-day details, you are only seeing the leaves.

Our world changes fast, and, as we have learned, the library program needs to constantly prove its value to the educational program.  In a few short years, for example, we have incorporated (and sometimes moved beyond) Makerspaces, Genius Hour, Hours of Code, and any number of other variations you may have experienced into the library program.

Those who hold the big picture were among the first adopters of these changes.  By doing so, they solidified the position of the library and proved its importance.  Those who weren’t focused on the big picture missed the opportunity. Sometimes, by the time they got to it, they discovered other departments had taken the lead, and the library was left out.

Today early adopters are looking at to incorporate “soft skills.” The business world is talking about them and so are some schools. How will you be incorporating communication, teamwork, and problem-solving into your library program? You are probably are doing it, but have you communicated to teachers and administrators that you are building students’ critical soft skills?  Maybe not, because you are too busy with the everyday needs of your program.

So, what keeps you from seeing the big picture?  You aren’t alone in dealing with this challenge. The business world is also concerned with and focused on what’s next, knowing that in order to be responsive to change they can’t just deal with what’s new. Those who want to get ahead discover what is holding them back from taking the larger view and getting past it.

A post by Joel Garfinkle looks at The Importance of Big Picture Thinking. He identifies five habits that may be preventing you from seeing the big picture and offers ways to combat them.

Overanalyzing – This is what happens when you closely examine every possibility.  Then you relook at them. General Colin Powell once said he made military decisions with only 60% of the information because if he waited for all the information to be in, it would be too late.  He referred to the practice of over-gathering information as “analysis paralysis.” It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re too worried about not being right or the danger of taking a risk.

Fixating on Results – Stop being on the hamster wheel. Trying to do it better and faster is draining.  If you are leading, you are not the one who should be doing all the work.  This is when you empower others to become a part of what you are doing.  Big jigsaw puzzles get done faster when you know how the finished picture should look – and when many hands help.

Managing Reactively – When you are focused on the little tasks, every bump in the road becomes a mountain. It’s why Vision and Mission Statements are so important.  When you know where you are going and why you get past these minor setbacks.  I have said that librarians who don’t have a Mission or a Vision Statement spend their day with a fire extinguisher and duct tape.  They are either putting out blazes or patching things up. By the end of the school year, they are exhausted and don’t know what they accomplished.

Going Solo – This is a bad approach on so many levels. You don’t build advocacy when you are going alone.  Ideas are fleshed out better when there is more than one mind working on them.  And it’s great when you have a big picture person working with someone who is more detail oriented.  They complement each other.  The big picture person may miss details, while the detailed thinker may lose sight of what the ultimate goal is.  Together, everything gets covered. We teach our students the importance of collaboration. We need to practice it.

Overfilling the Calendar – We all have a tendency to do this.  It is vital to have the opportunity to step away from the tasks at hand.  Make time for reflection. This is when you can strategize and plan.  For me, it happens on my walks.  I am regularly amazed at the ideas that I get during these times, and I’m not always trying.  I might be looking at work being done on a house I’m passing, and suddenly I get a thought about a future blog post or a way to better explain a concept to my grad students. Or sometimes it’s about nothing more substantial than dinner.  But the constant swirling of my brain when I am at the computer is now at rest and open.  We all need that.

So, as I said last week, scan the larger environment to identify innovations and ideas that will potentially impact the library program.  And take a walk in the forest.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Should You Be A Leader or A Manager?

The title is a trick question.

The answer is as a school librarian you need to be both. However, too many are almost always managers and the role of leader is sacrificed to the demands of managing. For your program to be successful, you need to employ the characteristics of both and know which role is necessary in the moment.

In the corporate world, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the manager, while the Chief Executive Officer is the leader.  As a librarian, you are both the COO and the CEO of your library program (minus the double salary).  It’s up to you to decide which hat to wear, and the decision is not always easy.

To recognize when you need to be one or the other, you must know what the differences are. In an article for Forbes, William Arruda defines 9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager. Much that he says applies to the unique job you have as a school librarian.

Here is his list- with my translations into the education environment:

  1. Leaders create a vision; managers create goals. Having a Vision is a required attribute of leaders. You need to know where you are going. Hopefully, you all have Vision and Mission Statements. It’s the leader part of you that created the Vision. As a manager, you develop the goals to execute your Mission, which is your path to your Vision.
  2. Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo. Leaders hold the big picture. They look to see what is likely to be the “next thing.” Their external scan of the environment goes beyond the library and even education. They are aware of developments in technology, psychology, and politics. Don’t panic.  It’s a scan.  Not an in-depth study.  The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less time it takes.  The manager in you will want to focus on getting today’s job done.  While that is necessary, you can’t let it be the sole focus of what you do.
  3. Leaders are unique; managers copy. Leaders don’t try to reproduce the past even when it was successful. When I left one job where my library program was highly regarded, my successor, who had worked with me, tried to do everything the way I did it. But she wasn’t me, and it didn’t fit. Slowly the library program was reduced. When I retired from another school system, the librarian who took over had also worked with me, but she drew on her own strengths and expertise to move the library in another direction while keeping the values which she also embraced.  The program grew.
  4. Leaders take risks; managers control risk. Those of you who read this blog, read my books, or seen my presentations, know I am always encouraging librarians to step out of their comfort zones. Your Vision requires it. Managers fear failure, but as I said in my blog Dealing with Failure, it’s part of the process that gets you to success.
  5. Leaders are in it for the long haul; managers think short-term. You won’t attain your Vision in a year. You may never reach it. But those who know that is where they want their program to go will keep getting closer to it.  Some librarians may write their Vision because it’s what they are supposed to do, but they regard it as unattainable.  Then they don’t create strategic plans to achieve it—which guarantees it will never happen.
  6. Leaders grow personally; managers rely on existing, proven skills. If you aren’t growing, you are dying. We are role models for lifelong learning. What have you learned today? How can you use it in your program? Reflect on how many skills you have that you didn’t when you first became a librarian. Where would you be if you hadn’t learned them?
  7. Leaders build relationships; managers build systems and processes. Relationships are the key to our success. It’s through relationships that we build collaboration and create advocates for our program. No matter how busy you are, you cannot limit your attention to managing the library.  It won’t work without the relationships.
  8. Leaders coach; managers direct. This is about trusting that others have good ideas about the library program. Be open to suggestions from others and discuss whether or these can be integrated into the program. The more you recognize others, the stronger your program will become.
  9. Leaders create fans; managers have employees. I love this one. Your job is to empower others to be their best. As the saying goes, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create new leaders.” You not only need to empower your students; you also need to empower your teachers – and everyone else in the school community. Even, and sometimes especially, your administrators. The library has a huge reach. Use that to your program’s advantage.

Going from leading to managing and back to leading is a juggling act.  It’s easier when you are aware of the differences and know when it’s time to switch roles. One is not better than the other, but one to the exclusion of the other will not give you the success you want.