ON LIBRARIES: Being a Leader Takes Practice

Professional musicians and athletes practice regularly to keep and raise their skills to the highest level. But all professions and crafts require practice.  This means being attentive to what you are doing and repeatedly assessing your performance. You probably do this as a librarian, but you may be not reflecting on how you are practicing – and improving – as a leader.  Making regular checks on your leadership practices will increase your skills and make you more successful.

The needs of your program keep you very busy but you cannot overlook how you are doing as a leader. As I have often written, you are either growing or dying.  There is no stasis.  And school librarians must be leaders – there is no other option.

Are you content to lead only in small ways? Anything is better than nothing, but you need to keep growing.  What plan do you have to do so? Do you go to your state (and hopefully national) conferences?  Have you taken webinars? It’s easy to complain about time, but that is a story you tell yourself.  Remember none of us have time.  We make time. When it’s a priority in your life, you find a way to do it. And leadership must be a priority.

As a quick check, think of how many times in the course of the day were you a leader? With teachers?  Administrators? If you can’t come up with instances, you need to do more to focus on your leadership practice. John R. Stoker’s post Are You Working on You? Questions for Improving the Quality of Your Leadership is a good way to take stock and expand on how you lead and how you are perceived. He puts forth ten questions that build on each other. If you’re struggling with the first few, you’ll be challenged with later questions as well.

  1. Are people motivated to follow you? – You can’t be a leader if no one is following you. When you propose a program—big or small—how is it greeted?  If you can’t enroll the necessary stakeholders to go along with it, you are doing everything alone.  Not only are you not leading, but you are also more likely to become overwhelmed.  If this sounds like you, think of how to reframe your ideas so it appeals to the needs of the people you want to join with you.
  2. Do people seek your perspective or insights? You should be known as someone who knows a lot about technology and how to incorporate it into teaching. People should recognize you as an expert in literature for your students.  If your advice isn’t being sought, why do you think that is?  Perhaps you give the impression you are too busy. Being approachable is an important part of being a leader.
  3. How open am I to different perspectives about tough issues? Now more than ever, we need to be models of civil discourse. Teachers and administrators may have different views on what you add to the collection. While you must be true to your philosophy and professional ethics, how you hear their feelings and react to them will affect their perception of you as a leader.
  4. What situations or feedback cause me to get defensive? When we get defensive, the other person tends to react badly as well, and we are certainly not behaving like a leader. Listen for the message rather than focusing on the delivery method. Respond calmly, once again showing how well you can engage in civil discourse.
  5. Why do I take certain situations personally? This is an excellent self-analysis question. We usually react personally when it touches on old feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Even if you never stop the internal reactions, being aware of why it is a trigger will help you put it in a proper perspective and move forward positively.
  6. How does my communication style affect others? This is big. In talking with others, there is what we actually said, what we intended to say, and what the listener heard. Ideally, they are all the same, but they may be three different things.  Tune into the body language of the person with whom you are speaking and ask for feedback to ensure your communication was clear.  If you are communicating by email, re-read before sending it.  You may not realize how your words will be received.  If it’s very important, ask someone you trust to read it and tell you what they got from the message.
  7. How does my mood or state of mind influence the decision-making of others? Your mood affects your body language. If you are tense, angry, or frustrated when asking for support, those negative feelings will be communicated (making the answers to Questions #1 and #2 more likely to be no).   In that case, you will probably not get what you seek. Breathe and check your mindset before initiating the conversation.
  8. Do people view me as negative and cynical or positive and passionate? This is basic to being a leader. No one wants to be around someone who exudes negative emotions and is always finding fault and complaining.  If people don’t want to be around you, how can you be a leader?
  9. What personal characteristics of others bother me the most? This is an interesting question. Sometimes it’s people who exhibit traits you are sensitive about in yourself such as being overly talkative (this is one of mine). Other times it’s those negative attitudes of the previous question. When you are a leader, you need to be able to get along with everyone at some level. They don’t need to be your best friends but look for other qualities they have and speak to those.
  10. Do I make negative assumptions or judgments of others, or do I give others the benefit of the doubt? Although similar to the previous question, there are differences. When I was an elementary librarian, I had a volunteer mother who struck me as being somewhat slow mentally. Over time I got to realize that although she wasn’t well educated, she had a keen analytic mind and could often spot things in my plans that I had overlooked. I had to get past my judgments.

At the end of each month, reflect back on your accomplishments and challenges.  What did you do well as a leader?  Where can you improve?  Practice may not make perfect, nothing does, but it does make you better.  And remember to speak as kindly to yourself while you’re learning as you would to your students

ON LIBRARIES: The Leader in You

If you saw the title and thought “Hilda’s writing about being a leader again” my response is – absolutely. I will likely never stop. I honestly believe every one of you is a leader.  You just may not be revealing it to yourself and others. It’s time to let your leader out for the sake of our students, teachers, and our profession. And just as you must continue to discover, practice, and improve your leadership skills, I must cheer you on, providing as much assistance as I can. I hope as this school year gets underway you challenge yourself to engage in one demonstration of your leadership.

The Vision of AASL speaks to what I have been saying for many years, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”  The only way we are going to stop losing school librarians is by being valuable leaders in our school communities.  Those of you who are leaders have two tasks: become even more visible as leaders and help the school librarians in your district and state to become leaders.

A Google search yields scores of definitions of what a leader is, but the one I like best is from Vocabulary.com: “A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”  You are leading when you work with your students and engage them.  You are being a great leader when they feel they can really do what at first seemed like an overwhelming task.

The same skills can apply in your dealings with others.  Joel Garfinkle, writing for the business world, identifies and explains 8 Traits of Great Leaders. Many of these you are using with your students. It’s why your lessons work.  The next step is to think of how you can use these traits in throughout your school and beyond.

  1. Great leaders have integrity – It’s why your students trust you. And your teachers do as well. They know you keep confidences. You also uphold the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Great leaders have intelligence –It’s why you can help others. You know your stuff.  This intelligence is also social and emotional intelligence.  You have empathy. This is what, along with trust, helps you build relationships.  Don’t forget to show how you can help your administrator. What is his/her vision?  What do they want to accomplish? Use what you know to help them achieve it.
  3. Great leaders have high energy – It’s why you keep coming back. You can’t be a school librarian without it. Even on a fixed schedule, you can’t predict what demands will be made of you during the course of the day. Your high energy communicates to others your enthusiasm for what you are doing. Don’t forget to build in “me time” to avoid overwhelm and stress which will sap that energy.
  4. Great leaders bring stability – It’s why you can stay cool in a crisis. (You may choose to fall apart later.) This calm inspires confidence in you and your program. It is a reason for people to look to you for help when things get crazy. It’s why they will follow your lead.
  5. Great leaders have high standards – It’s why you have a Mission Statement. This works in addition to the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. It represents what you see as your purpose and what your school library program is determined to deliver. Everything you do is related to that statement.
  6. Great leaders have a strong inner voice – It’s why you can stay focused. You trust your intuition and your gut to help direct you in your decisions. This is part of why you are calm in a crisis.  It is powered by your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  If you haven’t taken the time to create these, do so.  That inner voice will serve you well.
  7. Great leaders are confident in their decisions – It’s why you can get back on track. You may always feel very strong in this trait but trust your inner voice, standards, intelligence, and integrity. Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing you will grow from it. Your confidence, like your calm, contributes to having people follow you.
  8. Great leaders invest in their own growth – It’s why your program keeps getting better. I have always felt strongly about this. You are responsible for your professional development.  There are so many opportunities from webinars, Twitter chats, professional journals, and, of course, conferences.  (I am an unabashed conference junkie.) You must be a member, preferably an active one, in your state library association.  You should also join—and participate- in at least one national association.  Working at that level will bring out your leadership skills.

As the subtitle of my most recent book for ALA Editions, Leading for School Librarians says, — There Is No Other Option.  Take on making the AASL Vision a reality by performing as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Managing Confrontation

No matter who or how you are, at some point someone is going to get angry with you.  How you respond is a demonstration of your leadership skills. Your ability to manage the situation will affect your relationships and possibly your reputation. The “attack” can come from any direction –a teacher, and administrator, a student.  There are basic strategies to deal with all of them as well as some specifics. Knowing these in advance will help you through a stressful situation and potentially result in a positive outcome.

When someone comes to you angry at something you supposedly did, pause before responding.  Let the other party fully express themselves. That is likely what they most want. To be heard.  As they talk, take time to breathe.  Depending on your personality, your natural response will be to attack or defend and neither is a good solution. It will only escalate the confrontation.

My favorite example of diffusing a nasty interchange occurred when I had started a new position as the high school librarian in the early days of automation. A teacher stormed into the library and began haranguing my clerk.  I stepped in immediately and asked the teacher to come into my office.

The tirade slowly ended. In between the “how dare you,” and “you had no right to,” was the core of the complaint which stemmed from a system the previous librarian created. My first thought was, “I just got here. It’s not my fault.”  Rather than engage that way, I let her know I would fix the problem as soon as possible.  I also consciously relaxed my body during the conversation. This added to my personal sense of calm and allowed me to stay focused on the teacher’s concern.   By dealing with the message rather than the method of delivery, I was able to calm her and fixed the situation. Ultimately, the teacher became one of my strongest supporters.

On another occasion, the confrontation wasn’t loud, but it was challenging.  In the late ’90s was the leader for the district librarian and was meeting with the assistant superintendent who began by stating my repeated requests to flexibly schedule elementary librarians was ludicrous. He had observed one lesson where the librarian used a filmstrip on how a book is made starting with a tree.  He felt a classroom teacher could have done the same, and it was a waste of valuable time.

Once again, the person on the attack had a point.  I agreed it was an unfortunate lesson, and my agreement took the wind out of his sails.  He was prepared for an argument.  I said it showed we needed proper professional development opportunities so we could deliver the program students needed.   I earned his respect for that one.

My recipe for managing confrontations:

  1. Pause
  2. Listen to the whole complaint/concern without contemplating your response.
  3. Use the time to relax your body and calm yourself.
  4. Respond to the core of the issue.

Anne Rubin authored a post on The Principal’s Guide to Angry Parents which contains good advice for librarians as well.  Her recommendations are similar to my own.

  1. Stay Calm – Meeting anger with anger is a guarantee you will lose.
  2. Cut It Off – Recognize when the person had gone beyond acceptable limits. Change your body language. You can raise your hands to indicate, “stop.” Then try something like, we can’t resolve this now.  I will get back to you on the issue.  Using email will help you document the interchange if necessary.
  3. Protect Others – I stepped in quickly when the teacher was berating my clerk. You are the leader. Any problems are your responsibility.
  4. Don’t Take It Personally – It rarely has anything to do with you. It’s usually a situation that for some reason has frustrated the teacher or administrator at this time. Find the reasons and you’ll be able to change the situation. This is usually is true for why a student became angry with you.
  5. Know When Enough Is Enough – This is very much like Cut It Off. You can say, “This is not the best way for us to deal with problems. Let’s find another approach.” Your composure could make them angrier if they’re not ready to work with you and still want to be mad or right, but if you maintain it, you will bring the discourse to an end.
  6. Create Guidelines for Behavior- Rubin suggests principals create guidelines for others’ behavior. Since you can’t do this, you can do it for you.  Be aware what your limits are so you know when to “cut it off” and when “enough is enough.”

Most people don’t enjoy confrontations, but we all get caught up in them. The only thing you can control in this situation is you so the more tools you have, the better. Look to understand what is fueling the other person and how to tone down the rhetoric.  People will come to realize that you know how to manage these stressful interchanges.  It makes you more trustworthy and demonstrates your leadership ability.

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 – 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.