Leading a Great Meeting

Did the title confuse you? Are you thinking, “Why do I need to know this? I don’t lead meetings. I go to them?” That might seem true, but you may be leading more meetings than you are aware of. Or are you thinking, “There’s no such thing as a great meeting?” That, sadly, is true all too often, but you can set a different tone.

The first thing to keep in mind is not every meeting is called a “meeting.” Do you have a training session for library volunteers? Perhaps you do a 10-minute talk for a grade level when they come into your library or a subject area review. In many aspects, these are meetings and how your deliver them is important. The more focused you are, the more impact you will have, and the more you will be seen as a leader in your community.

Even if you don’t do any of the above, you attend meetings. Are you aware that there’s a way of leading from the middle? I do it all the time. It is also a great way to get your feet wet as a leader on a larger stage.

Lolly Daskal proposes 5 “P’s” in explaining How to Lead More Effective Meetings and Get Better Results. When you are leading from the middle, these P’s will help you recognize why a meeting goes well or poorly. You can also use them to quietly steer that meeting in a more productive direction.

Here are the 5 P’s to keep in mind:

Purpose – What’s the agenda? How many faculty meetings have you attended where the agenda is “This is our time for a faculty meeting”? Remember Purpose = Mission. In other words, it is what drives what is to happen. Everyone should know this in advance. If you are leading the faculty meeting from the middle, restate what seems to be the purpose. Be succinct. Ask it as a clarifying question.

When actually leading a meeting, be sure to inform all attendees of the purpose and do your best to send the agenda well in advance. Ask for any additions. When the meeting starts everyone will be prepared, but you should also restate the purpose as you begin.

Preparation –When leading from the middle, take time to review the agenda in advance . If one isn’t sent, try to anticipate the topics most likely to be raised. What do you have to contribute? Do remember that at most faculty meetings, the dominating purpose of attendees is to get out fast, so be succinct and don’t talk too often.

You would never be unprepared for a meeting you lead, but knowing the content of what you want to present is not enough. Think of why it is important for those coming. What should they do as a result? Also, where might you expect pushback? If so, how will you manage it? Knowing how people feel about meetings, consider Daskal’s question, “Is this meeting necessary?” You might be able to handle it another way.

People – Who is coming? Are they the ones who should be there? Obviously, in a faculty meeting, the principal wants everyone there, but is that why people tune out during parts (or all) of it?

Knowing who to invite is particularly important if you are setting up a library advisory board. In this climate, having one is an important source of strength and builds advocates. You want a broad cross-section but not an unwieldy board. Community members, business owners, parents, teachers, and students are all potential members, but which ones will best serve your purpose?

Process – Daskal advises thinking of the “specifics of how things will get done.” In the faculty meeting you are attending, does the principal make clear what is to follow as a result of the meeting? Are there any tasks to get done? Is there a date when they are do? When appropriate, ask for clarity to help you and the rest of the faculty.

When you are leading, follow Daskal’s advice about keeping track of what is discussed. Send it to all attendees afterwards. Be clear who has taken on what task. Where will they report on it? If you are using Google Docs or some other format, be sure all attendees know how to access and use the technology. Not everyone does.

Progress – All too often, there is no connection from one faculty meeting to the next. If there were any accomplishments or changes, they are not presented. Whatever the original purpose, if there was one has been totally lost. Completion needs celebration.

For your meetings, find ways to celebrate and acknowledge what was achieved. Give credit to participants – and don’t take credit for yourself. Your work will be recognized by others, and those who get credit will be willing to work with you in the future.

Although not a “P,” Daskal says in conclusion, “Lead from Within.”  I completely agree. Trust yourself and your knowledge.

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Giving Effective Feedback

Two weeks ago, I blogged on When Feedback Hurts. We have all experienced those painful moments (they can be the hardest to forget, unfortunately). As a leader, we recognize that receiving feedback is important if we are to grow, but we also need to consider how we give feedback to others.

We may not always be aware of all the instances we give feedback. It is worthwhile to notice the comments and criticism we offer. A teacher is late bringing in his class. You note the lateness, and unbeknown to you, he is thinking you don’t understand what is involved in getting this group organized and ready to go to the library. With this negative feedback, will he be as willing to schedule his class in the future? Will he be open to collaboration?

The IT department has not responded to your request to address an issue. You are justifiably frustrated and send an email, copying the principal, saying the delay is affecting student learning. Do you think the IT department will be more or less responsive to your next request?

You give feedback to students all the time. Perhaps a group is supposed to be working on a project and is obviously more interested in socializing. You tell them it’s time they settled down and got back to work. Are they now more or less engaged?

It’s not that these issues shouldn’t or can’t be addressed, but words count and so does the delivery. Consider these alternate approaches:

  • If you said to the teacher, “Let me get them started. You can probably use a breather after getting the kids here today,” the teacher will feel taken care of, not criticized. You’ve let him know you’re aware of the challenges he faces. And he’s more likely to start the process of getting his class organized earlier so they’re not late in the future.
  • If you sent the IT department a message (not including the principal) and said, “Help! I really need you. I appreciate how very busy you are, but I hope you can make this a priority,” their response is likely to be far different from that annoyed email where they were embarrassed in front of a superior. And you’ve shown you understand their workload.
  • If you said to the students, “Now that you have completed the preliminaries, where are you planning to go next?” Because they need to respond, they are more likely to focus on the task and start working.

While it’s important to let people know you’ve noticed them doing something that doesn’t work, there are ways to move from that information toward something that is helpful to you, them, and the relationship you want to have with them going forward.

Be SpecificThis allows people to be focused. You can tell the teacher in advance what the class will be doing, which can support them all to arrive prepared. The IT department will appreciate as much specificity as possible. Telling them it’s important to you, doesn’t make it important to them. Let them know how their work will have an impact. Your next question with students should direct them on how to start.

Be Timely –The more immediacy you bring to giving the feedback the better it will be. The teacher knows he is late. The IT department is buried in requests for tickets and doesn’t usually think yours is special. The kids are going to have fun until you show them there is fun in the task. Once you’ve pointed out the situation, move on.

Be Prescriptive – What can they do to improve and how can you help? Once the class is going, ask the teacher if he could use a brief reminder early in the day about the impending visit. Ask the IT department how they determine priorities and if there’s anything they need from you in the future, since your request affects so many students. Tell the students you are looking forward to seeing whatever it is they are to do next (a reminder here to be specific).

Be Encouraging – Let the teacher know you recognize the challenge of getting kids to the library as scheduled and are glad to help. Assure the IT department you are aware of their workload and appreciate all they do. Tell students the project is challenging, and you are looking forward to seeing their creative solutions. And the second part of this is to recognize changes. When the teacher arrives on time, say you appreciate what it took to get this done. Thank the IT Department every time they are responsive. (This is the time to copy the principal.) And, if possible, make a positive specific comment to the students when you see what they have accomplished at the end of the period.

So often (maybe even more often) it’s the little things that count. Leadership is not just huge projects with big outcomes. It’s what you do every day to encourage, support and work with the people around you.

Fielding Tough Questions

We live in a confrontational, polarized world. Tough questions—and charges—are a part of it. If you are a leader, chances are someone is going to challenge you. It happens to every president, CEO, director and head coach. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a leader, people know you lead the library. If someone has an issue related to the library, you are going to be challenged. What you do next defines you as a leader.

A story I have told before occurred when I took a new position in a school and a teacher came storming into the library and started haranguing my clerk. I came over immediately, indicating if there was a problem, the responsibility was mine, not the clerk’s. It was in the early days of automation, and the practice had been to use teachers’ social security numbers for their barcodes. The teacher was opposed to this. I listened to what she said and apologized for not being aware of the policy. It was my library, and I was responsible. I told her would return all her books, issue a new barcode for her, and re-check out the books to her. At the end of the school year, we changed all teacher barcodes.

What worked when I was challenged? I listened without getting defensive or arguing that I wasn’t the one who put the practice in place. I came up with a satisfactory solution. The result – she became one of my strongest library advocates.

The tough questions are getting tougher, the challenges louder and more fierce. To help us be prepared, Allison Shapira has some answers for you When a Tough Question Puts You on the Spot. Here are her four points.

  1. Prepare in Advance–You can expect to have questions and accusations directed at you for books in your collection and displays in your library. Don’t be caught off guard. Be familiar with the Library Bill of Rights and be able to quote key sections. (You might keep a copy on hand). Have a Selection and Reconsideration Policy in place. This ALA toolkit will get you started if you don’t have one yet.
  2. Pause and Breathe–Being confronted is scary. Your body goes into fight, freeze, flight response. While it is trying to protect you, the process shuts off your cerebral cortex–the part of you that thinks. Allow yourself a moment to respond and get your (hopefully) pre-planned response into action.
  3. Express Sympathy and Honesty–This is what I did with that teacher. When a parent comes to you with a challenge, acknowledge their awareness and their concern. Explain how you don’t seek to override their decisions for their child. Once things have stopped escalating, explain that other parents have the right for their children to have access to those subjects.
  4. Acknowledge the Uncertainty–This is often at the root of challenges and frustrations, rather than true animosity. A teacher is angry and wants to know why the material they requested for inclusion in the library last year is still unavailable. A principal wants more data on the impact of your Makerspace and you hadn’t thought of that before. Be honest about your lack of knowledge, assure them you will look into the matter when possible, and give them a date by which you’ll have an answer.

In some of these confrontations, you need to take a stand and that can be difficult. Shapira recommends you use this PREP framework:

  • Point: State one main point.
  • Reason: Provide a reason behind it.
  • Example: Give an example that supports your point.
  • Point: Before you start rambling, re-state your main point.

You will have to face tough questions and never know when. As with any other aspect of leadership, planning is key. Knowing what you will say when it happens will put you in the best position to handle the challenge and help you trust yourself in difficult, emotional situations.

Leadership Power

Making your Vision for your library a reality requires two things: leadership and power. Power has many faces. Some comes from a person’s title, like principal or superintendent, but at its core (and by definition), power is having or making people do what you want them to do. The best kind of power happens when the person with power inspires – rather than forces – people to follow.

The strongest and most effective leaders don’t only have power, they are visionaries. Your Vision Statement is just a dream unless you keep it in mind and work toward it, however slowly. In addition, you can’t accomplish your vision on your own. You must make connections with others who help bring it with you to fruition.

As an example, look at this Vision Statement, “The Blank School Library Program is the center of collaborative learning, producing creative students who have an appreciation of literature, critical thinking skills, and a respect for others and self, and who are prepared to make a contribution to the world.” It is uplifting, as all Vision Statements need to be. At the same time, the importance of others being a part of it to make it a reality is embedded in the statement with phrases including: “collaborative learning,” “appreciation of literature” and “critical thinking skills.”

Bringing your vision to life requires you to work with teachers at all levels and in all subjects, as well as creating the safe environment that welcomes all, allowing them to produce their best work. To achieve that, you need to be clear on where you are going and have a positive mindset about getting there. Alaina Love in her post, Do You Have the Kind of Power That Really Matters? guides you with these five questions to ask yourself.

  1. What is the over-arching purpose I am here to achieve? The word “purpose” provides the answer. It is your Mission Statement. Your Mission Statement is what grounds you and keeps you focused on what is truly important so that you don’t get distracted –or not for long—by tasks that don’t further your purpose.
  2. What are the outcomes I am hoping to manifest today? A prioritized to-do list has you working towards that over-arching purpose in manageable steps. The pleasure we feel at being able to cross off these tasks keeps us motivated to continue in our always busy world. Love recommends keeping track of your successes as a reminder of what you are achieving. Seeing progress is an incredible motivator.
  3. How do I need to show up for others to get these results? For librarians, this means listening to the people in our community and learning what teachers are doing – and struggling with. When your library is a safe welcoming environment, they are more likely to share their worries and stresses. Offering your help and doing the heavy lifting brings them back. They will see you and the library as a vital resource toward their success.
  4. What needs to shift in the environment I create to allow others to be more successful? Your first thought may be to look at the physical arrangement of furniture in your library. That’s one place but go further. You can invite teachers to put their student projects on display highlighting the success of many. You might also assess if you can make it easier for teachers to talk with you and/or schedule their classes into the library. Is there a place in your library where you can talk privately? Environment is about more than how a place looks. It’s about how it feels when you’re there.
  5. Where do I need to demonstrate more authenticity in my interactions and communications? Establish yourself as someone who can be trusted. Be comfortable sharing what you know – and what you don’t. In addition, be open to feedback, valuable part of leadership. is tough but necessary. After a project is completed, be willing to seek the truth from the people you worked with. Ask, “What do you think worked best?” “Where did you feel most supported?” “What could I have done better?” “How could I have helped you more?” “What changes would you like to see if we repeat this project?”  Asking may make your feel vulnerable, but you will have built trust. And trust is the foundation of relationships.

You want to be the kind of leader who stays in your power and impacts others positively. With your Mission Statement and Vision to guide you, you can work continuously and successfully to make your Vision a reality because others will want to be a part of what you’re creating.

Creating an Advisory Council

In this day of libraries receiving regular disputes about books in their collection (and ALA has some great resources should this happen to you), it’s important to have advocates for the library who can support you through this process and any other challenges your program may face. One of the best ways to do this is to create and develop an Advisory Council.

When you’re planning, try to make your council as diverse as possible without becoming unwieldy by limiting your board to between 5 and 8 members. First, consider other librarians. You can invite the local public librarian and a college librarian, if there is one in your area, are other potential members. If you are at the elementary level invite a middle school librarian. Middle school librarians should look to high school, and high school librarians invite the middle school librarian.

Next, consider inviting one or two teachers from different subject areas, STEM teachers especially. If you are at the high school level, consider adding a student representative. Reach out to the community as well. Invite parents and local business owners. Inform your administrators, inviting them if they are interested. (And keep administrators in the loop no matter what).

As you develop your plan, start by creating your ask. What will be the purpose of the Advisory Council? How do you see the potential contribution of the members?  What will the commitment entail? Before or after school? Evening? Zoom or in-person? Know what you are asking people to do.

Also consider what members will need to know about the library to be effective. This includes an explanation of the Code of Ethics and the 6 Common Beliefs in the National School Library Standards. Add whatever else you believe necessary, depending on the members, and be sure to have these resources available to the members.

At the first meeting, welcome and thank the members for volunteering their time. After brief introductions, review the purpose of the council. Ask what they know and think about the school library. As succinctly as possible, review what you determined members need to know and encourage questions to ensure their understanding.

As a group, develop what the goals of the Council should be. You might want to focus on the diversity of the collection, reviewing the collection development policy, or what changes are needed to ensure the library is welcoming to all. Although you are leading what the possibilities are, be open to their suggestions.

Alaina Love’s post How to Lead a New Team to Success offers a direction for how to continue.

  1. Listen before leading – Don’t plunge into the tasks. While you want something to show for the first meeting, allow time to hear from the members. You asked them to be on the Council for a reason, but they may have more to offer than you knew. Be open to discovery.
  2. Share – Set up a Google doc or other method where Council members can report so every one can keep up with what is being done. After the first meeting, for example, you may have them comment on any goals that were discussed. Also, the doc can have a place to post any questions they have that have arisen since the meeting. Be sure they know everyone can respond to someone else’s posts.
  3. Seek insight –Discover what drives your members. Why did they agree to be a part of the Council?  What do they hope to give? What do they hope to gain? What have libraries meant to them. Knowing them as people, beyond their titles, will make them more connected to the team.
  4. Evaluate and align – The more you learn about the members the better you are at assigning tasks. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You do as well, and the Council is meant to help you do better at leading the library program. By knowing what members like to do and are good at, you not only get the best results but also increase their commitment to it.
  5. Review – Leaders inspire and inspect. Over time, notice how things are going and assess whether members have been offered the opportunity to give their best. Should you make changes in who is responsible for different tasks, be sure to frame it in the context of feeling they could give more in the new assignment.
  6. Query, acknowledge, celebrate – Get their input as to how they feel things are going. Instead of asking “how are we doing?” ask, “What can we be doing better?” And celebrate Council’s achievements and those of individual members. Even if you meet virtually, try for an in-person celebration. People stay more invested and active when they are acknowledged.
  7. Look outward – Council members don’t stay forever and new blood will always be needed to keep the council strong. Encourage outgoing members to recommend their replacement. Be sure to welcome new members and get them up to speed.

Creating and sustaining an Advisory Council takes work, but the benefits to your program and how you are perceived make it worth it. Bringing in diverse perspectives will give you the direction you need to ensure the library is a safe, welcoming space to all and continues to be an invaluable asset to the school.

Moments in Leadership

Leadership is a journey. You start small and grow as you go. And, no matter how much you grow, the journey doesn’t end. It’s a lifelong pursuit. For librarians, leadership is not an option. AASL’s Vision puts it succinctly, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.” 

We cannot forget that until every librarian is a leader, not every learner will have a school librarian. Too many non-leader librarians have seen their positions and libraries disappear. Yes, leaders have been eliminated, but it’s those who haven’t stepped out lead who have been the most likely to have lost their jobs.

We do face a challenge, because librarians don’t have a title, such as principal or superintendent, that implies leadership. We are the ones who define and develop what our leadership is and what it means. Fortunately, we have colleagues who have marked the path. Develop your PLN. Use social media to connect to library leaders. Observe how leaders in your state association assert their leadership and take the profession (and their library) forward. Seek out someone you admire and ask if they would be your mentor.

Mark your own leadership path. Art Petty delineates 3 Big Moments That Can Define Your Leadership Career.

The Moment You Decide to Lead – Making this active decision is key. You must decide, then pursue. Petty recommends some self-reflection questions including, “Am I motivated to help others?”  He follows that with “Am I willing to put their needs ahead of mine?” Think about the ways in which your work supports the goals of students, teachers, and administrators and make that your priority as you craft your goals. By becoming and being a leader, you are positioned to give students and teachers the information and resources they need for success.

The Moment You Decide the Type of Leader You Aspire to Become – Petty writes: Deciding to invest yourself in the work of leadership is essential. Defining the leader you aspire to become is priceless. There are many models of leadership and not all of them work for school librarians. A style known as “servant leadership” works best for librarians. This style focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belon is the style most frequently showed by library leaders. They are empathetic and active listeners; leaders who empower others.

A variation is collaborative leadership. Here the leader enrolls others and works with them. They value the skills and expertise of their colleagues as they take their library program and students forward. Servant and/or collaborative leaders in our state and national associations make our profession and value known to an increasingly larger audience.

The Moment(s) When You Make a Stand – In the current book-banning climate, there have been several school library leaders who have taken public stands in the face of hostility and even personal danger. It takes courage to stand up for your core values and professional ethics. While there are reasons some are afraid or have reasons for not doing so, these Warrior Librarians are to be admired. Hopefully, their courage will encourage others to do the same.

Making a stand is not always as earth-shaking as those situations. Sometimes, it’s showing up at a Board of Education meeting and talking about the importance to students and teachers of school libraries. It could be making an argument to your principal about the use of your time.

Your leadership journey will have many “moments.”  No matter when, you need to become more active in our profession. The first step will require you to get out of your comfort zone. Subsequent steps will hopefully be a little easier (although stretching yourself will always be part of the process). First, step up to leadership at your state level. From there look to serve on the national level. If you serve on an AASL Committee, look for a leadership position. Be ready to be part of ALA. The same is true for other professional associations/

What type of leader are you or do you want to be? How are you making that happen? The journey never ends.

The Core of Librarianship – Ethics, Courage, and Planning

In the United States, you can’t escape news of the nation-wide movement to ban library books. Almost daily, social media, television, and newspapers have stories about books being removed from library shelves and legislation that could mean jail time for librarians. You want the library to be a safe place for all, and now it doesn’t even feel safe for you. All this is happening and you’ve barely had time to get your library program going in the new school year.

How do you manage within this turmoil?  What choices should you be making? 

My recommendation is to anchor yourself and use the resources available from the American Library Association (ALA) as well as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). Start by reviewing ALA’s Code of Ethics. Number 7 and the newly added number 9 are of particular importance at this time.

Number 7 reads: “We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”

Number 9 states: “We affirm the inherent dignity and rights of every person. We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces.”

Those are powerful and often difficult principles to maintain. Number 7 is the basis for the idea that a library should have something in it to offend everyone, including the librarian who purchased it. Number 9 flies in the face of the restrictions and bannings centered on LGBTQ+ themes and the history of racial injustice in the United States.

The Library Bill of Rights adds another dimension by listing eight statements that should be part of library policies. It defines what libraries must do – and not do – to provide equitable services to all. They further delineate what is in the Code of Ethics.

Additionally, school librarians can also look to our Common Beliefs as given in the AASL Standards Framework for Learners. The fifth Common Belief is “Intellectual Freedom is every learner’s right.” The explanatory sentence states: “Learners have the freedom to speak and hear what others have to say rather than allowing others to control their access to ideas and information….” These statements represent the core purpose of librarianship. They are what guide what we purchase, how we arrange our facility and resources, and the displays we create. It is who we are.

This is where courage comes into the picture. You don’t have to do any of it. If you choose not to buy a book because you don’t approve of the author’s viewpoint, you won’t be drummed out of the profession. These documents carry no legal weight. No one even needs to know how you made your choices. It is up to you to decide how deeply you are committed to the ethics of our profession. You are the one who must make choices based on what could be the personal cost of that decision.

 Everyone has different things at stake. I, and other librarians, won’t fault you even as we hope you are willing to hold these ethics. Sometimes you figure out ways to bend them in order to do the best you can. Holding them can be impossible in some situations, but the workarounds are better than nothing.

No matter where you live, whether it’s a liberal or conservative community, challenges are now almost inevitable. You need to be prepared for them, or you will not be able to respond in a way to get the best possible results for your students, teachers, and yourself. As always, planning is required.

Build your plan around your resources and your allies What resources do you have on hand? You should have a board approved selection and reconsideration policy. If not board approved, the one you have been using is a good start. Even better, work with the ALA Selection and Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries.

Be familiar with the ALA Challenge Support page. It gives you all the go-to information you need as soon as soon as you hear about a challenge. Also know what help your state association provides.

Look for allies among your teachers, administration, and community. Well before a challenge arrives, let people know how you make your book selections. Share the Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. Discuss the library as being a safe place for all. If – and probably when—you are faced with a challenge, these are the ones who will show up for you and come to Board meetings as needed.

It has never been easy to uphold the ethics of our profession, but it has become much harder in the past year. The issue is not going away. Understand our ethics, be as courageous as you can, reach out for help and support when you need it, and plan so you are prepared.

Are You Being Defensive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listening is Leading

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

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

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

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

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

Always Leading

Leadership should not be something you turn on and off and it’s more than something you do. It’s a mindset and a way of being. When you see yourself as a leader, you carry your leadership qualities and skill set into all situations and regardless of the type of administrator you work for.

By being aware of what your administrator(s) want and need, and responding as a leader, you sharpen your leadership skills. Other people respond to your actions by seeing you as a leader. The more naturally you assume the role, the more you own this identification. Your colleagues and administrators come to view you as one of the building leaders and respond positively to your suggestions and proposals.

Managing or leading up can be critical in a building or school district where administrators change frequently or the one in place is inept. Jenn David-Lang and Donna Spangler explain why and “How to Manage Up in a School Setting.”  They identify six different administrators and what skills you want to employ:

  • Brand new – Get in early and be regarded as a helper as the administrator becoming acclimated. Learn their goals and show how your work supports this.
  • Hands-off or distracted – Take the reins and run. They won’t notice it, but the teachers will, and many will be grateful.
  • Micromanager – Sending detailed reports shows you know how to do your job – and how they like to do theirs.
  • Inexperienced with teaching and learning – Infographics are a good source of help. You want to present information as succinctly as possible so they can absorb it and see the connection.
  • Know-it-all – Show that you’re aware of their knowledge. Introduce ideas with phrases like, “As you know…”
  • Indecisive – Present options (but not too many) and offer rankings along with reasons or evidence for choices.

David-Lang and Spangler expand on dealing with these six types of administrators with their “AAHH” strategy.

Ask – You need information to prevent missteps. Ask questions to learn their vision, what they see as success, and gain a sense of who they are. You also want to know what issues the administrator is focused on and any background information on it.

Adjust – Change tactics depending on which of the type of supervisor you are dealing with. What worked for a previous administrator, might not work for your new one. For example, if you were a micromanager, presenting a plan of action and having a written agreement on who will do what (and probably by when) works well. With a hands-off administrator, you can be more general in your plan and stay focused on presenting the successful end result.

Head or Heart – Some administrators want just the facts. They love data. Others respond better to the emotion behind a project. Micromanagers and Know-it-alls tend to be the former. The others can fall into either category, so it helps to identify early how they react to information and present it in a way that facilitates their hearing you.

Hands – When you make a proposal, you need to support it with an action plan. All types of administrators need to know they can count on you to deliver—and make them look good.

Get to know your administrators and their style. Present yourself and your work in the best light by giving them what they need, the way they can you it best. When you do, you are better able to lead everywhere.