ON LIBRARIES: Leading from the Middle

Back in February (doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago?) I blogged about Leaders are Team Players and discussed the idea of leading from the middle. It seems like a contradiction in terms.  How can you lead from the middle? The leader is the one in charge, the one in front.  The reality is you can lead from anywhere, and many do. It’s about how you are, how you present yourself, and how you interact with the people around you.

If you think only the person heading things up is the leader, you are focusing on a title not on actions.  If the person who holds the title does not exhibit strong leadership qualities one of two things will happen.  Either what they are leading will not function well and will achieve little, or someone will step in to fill the vacuum.  The person who does is leading from the middle.

For those of you new to leadership, it can be a good position from which to start. Those of you who are already leaders can sometimes more easily step in, but you will need to be mindful not to take charge. You don’t want to show up the official leader. That can sabotage your efforts.

You can practice leading from the middle when you are on a school or district level team, but the skill really comes into play when your principal is ineffective, incompetent, or uncertain.  I have had administrators in the first two categories, and it was often hard work to steer them in the right direction. Mostly it was a matter of “sharing” an idea I had, stating it briefly, and proposing to handle the details while keeping them in the loop. It made them feel as though they were in charge, as if they were giving me permission to move forward. In reality, I had taken the lead.

These days with school opening plans being open-ended, subject to quick changes, and having the potential for causing harm, administrators at all levels are uncertain and insecure.  If they don’t have strong leadership qualities, knowing how to get a broad selection of advice and information, and  understanding the needs of the people they lead, they are apt to freeze in indecision or push forward regardless of how new information changes the picture. That can put you in a difficult situation. Lolly Daskal, author of The Leadership Gap, explains The Best Way to Deal with an Insecure Leader, offering these six suggestions:

Don’t take their lack of confidence as a reflection on yourself Insecure leaders blame others.  They don’t take responsibility and are quick to lash out. Listen instead to what has set them off.  What are they worried about? How can you help mitigate the situation?  By staying calm, you will help your principal to relax and, hopefully, refocus so that purposeful action can be taken. When you can see what they fear, you can better offer solutions.

Praise their strengthsThis can be difficult because when you are annoyed and frustrated, you don’t see any strengths.  But everyone has them.  Even if it’s a small thing, find a positive.  It has to be honest.  You don’t want to be an apple polisher or over do it. Just keep looking for good qualities that you can bring to your administrator. It bolsters their ego which is obviously damaged at this point and helps them move forward in a good direction.

Don’t allow comparisons – This is an interesting one.  Whenever we compare ourselves to others, we invariably come out second.  We always see what someone else is doing better than we are.  Your administrator may be doing this as well. Don’t exacerbate the issue. The last thing you want to do is compare how another principal has handled a similar situation.  Just make the suggestion — without attribution.

Pinpoint productive ways to handle frustrationDealing with a poor administrator will cause you to become frustrated.  Don’t let them drag you down.  I once had a principal who was a bully and not very competent.  I would come home almost daily complaining about him. By doing this, not only had I let him affect my workday, I had allowed him to spoil by personal time.  After my husband pointed it out, I stopped discussing him at home.  Make time to do the things you like.  Do any routines that calm you and put you in a better place. In addition, find support from other librarians – as great as your partner may be, s/he does not understand your situation the way others in the field will. Let your Professional Learning Network (PLN) bolster you and be a place where you can let off steam. You will be ready for your principal in the morning – and your family at the end of the day.

Link your success to your leader’s – At first glance this seems almost impossible, but it’s something I have recommended before.  Usually, I suggest you identify your principal’s vision and goals.  With an insecure leader this might not be obvious.  Instead, figure out what would make them feel successful.  Who do they need to show they are doing well?  How can they do that?  Help them get there, using the library program.  They may never say it, but they will then regard you as indispensable to them. This is a key part of leading from the middle.

Lead from withinAnd also from “without.”  Lead everywhere.  It doesn’t matter what your title is or what situation you are in.  A leader is what and who you are.  The more confident you are in your abilities and what you bring to the student, teachers and administration, the more obvious it becomes to other that you are a leader.

For your efforts, you will improve your relationship with your principal and through that relationship create a better working environment for everyone. You will also improve your leadership skills. That’s something we all need right now.

ON LIBRARIES: Be a Community Builder and Leader

The world will never be as it was on New Year’s 2020.  So much has changed, and so much will be changed.  What never changes is people. One of the reasons we feel unsettled so much of the time is due to the upheaval in our relationships. Being cut off from our usual daily contacts for such a long stretch is a huge challenge.  What does all this mean to you? An opportunity. This is a time for you to take a new type of leadership position – one with a community focus.

Although we often refer to the educational community, we don’t pay much attention to what holds and keeps it together. Our schools must be strong communities outside the classroom more than ever, and you can be the one who creates and leads it. This goes beyond the support you have given teachers on distance learning and the resources that go with it, and the various online events you have held during the virus.  I am talking about vital connections and relationships, the kind that truly sustain a strong community.

Believe it or not, one of the ways you can do this is by building website – one that is specifically focused on creating community. Yes, your library and/or you school already has one but consider creating one that is for community.  This is not for tools, techniques, meeting times, administrative forms or other resources.  This one is for connections. Alternatively, you could consider building private Facebook group.

People join communities because they need something that’s provided by the social support and network found in a community. When trying to create one, think about the needs of the potential members (parents, teachers, administrators). Beyond the academic goals of each of these groups, what do people need that they can get from coming together as a group.

This can be a place to encourage the school community to share who they are with each other. It may be a place where people ask for help, or a way to set up online playdates or movie watch parties.  You can also create themes for days of the week. For example “Monday Menu Ideas” could ask for everyone to put links to their favorite simple recipes (we all need some new ones by this time!). “Starring The Staff Tuesday” could be the day where teachers and administrators are featured engaged in an activity they love. “Binge Fridays” could ask what shows people are planning to binge watch in the coming weekend. You can also spotlight local businesses that could use the support of everyone around.

Before starting this, discuss your idea and goal with the principal. Explain that building a strong community will boost resilience as we tackle whatever the future brings. To get the community site started, announce it on all social media the school uses and any other ways they reach out. Be clear about the purpose and how you see this supporting the school through this time and the future.

Even having posts to help people laugh can build community. I saw a post on Facebook askin people to quote a famous line from a movie and add “due to the pandemic.” The idea drew many responses and was shared heavily, drawing more suggestions.  You can do the same with a famous line from a book, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times …due to the pandemic.” Post some riddles or other brain posers.  Invite teachers and administrators to add their own ideas.  The more people who contribute the stronger your community will grow.

You might suggest the community have a slogan and/or a logo.  Ask for ideas and have a vote to decide which one to use.  Then incorporate that in any activity you do.

Emelina Minero offers 10 Powerful Community-Building Ideas you can choose from to boost your group.  I like the Shout-outs.  Encourage members to acknowledge someone for anything that is worthy of sharing with others. We all love to be praised.  Oddly enough, we also feel good when we single out someone for praise.

Look for projects everyone can get behind. Ask for suggestions and for someone to lead it.  You are leading the way, but you want others to join you. And you don’t want to be doing all the work.

The idea behind this is to have some fun together and learn who we are as people.  We need to be like the California redwood trees which manage to grow so tall and live so long even though their roots are very shallow. They remain standing because their roots are interconnected with each other.  Together they stay strong. Like the redwoods, the more interconnected we are, the stronger we will grow.

ON LIBRARIES – Making Your Presence Known

Schools are creating – and recreating – their reopening plans for the fall. Budgets are being slashed in the wake of the pandemic. As administrators wrestle with tough decisions, you need to ensure that you and the library are seen as essential to making the new configurations work and work effectively.  If you haven’t been sending this message, start immediately, or it may be too late.

The workshop I give, “Making Your Presence Known,” was designed for what, in retrospect, was a simpler time, however its central premise, using Emotional Intelligence and the Four Truths, is extremely relevant now.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is vital to your success because it means you know yourself, manage your emotions, and, most critically at this juncture, know how to read others’ emotions – whether in a Zoom-type meeting, in an email, or in person.  What messages are you getting from your administrators’ emotions? Your teachers’ emotions? What can you do to act on those?

Four Truths:

  • All libraries, regardless of their type, are part of a larger host system.
  • All libraries, regardless of their type, get all their funds from this host system.
  • These funds are dependent on the value of the library to the host system.
  • That value is determined by the host system, not the library.

Are you valued by your host system?  If you are not, you are likely to be gone.

Now is the time to make sure you are highly regarded by your administrators, recognized for what you do, and turned to for ideas and advice.  It’s time to increase the volume as you speak and speak out.

Joel Garfinkle in an article entitled How Fauci Exemplifies Executive Presence  identifies these four necessary characteristics which are key to combining EI and the Four Truths:

Gravitas: It’s the ability to project calmness in a crisis. You may be churning inside, but you don’t show it.  This is the managing your emotions/self-regulation part of EI as well as being aware of the emotions of others. Where is their fear?  How can you address it and, even if only part, ease it?  You are bringing a perspective to the table others might not have. If you work on this now, you stand a good chance of staying at that table because you will show your value to the “host system”.

Acts with Authority:  Yes, you do have authority when you speak from your strengths.  You have been curating information on COVID-19, on alternatives to managing it within the school environment, and the pros and cons of the possibilities.  Because of the help you have been giving teachers and students, you have direct knowledge of their challenges.  As Fauci does, you can bring the downside while you inform them of the upside.  You tell the truth.  It’s not sugar-coating; it’s reality put in a constructive framework and that becomes usable information, something everyone needs.

Establishes Credibility: You can cite the research.  You know your stuff. This is part of where your authority comes from. But you also have built relationships.  People trust you because you have proven yourself to be trustworthy. Again, your EI comes into play as you empathize with others’ fears. By doing so you reduce their concerns and increase your value.

Communicates Powerfully: Keep your administration informed about what you are and have been doing. Use infographics and other visual means. In a Zoom-type meeting don’t dominate the conversation.  Be succinct and don’t use library jargon.  People are tense and overwrought.  Speak simply and clearly – with gravitas. Speak slowly and don’t end your sentences with your voice going up as if you are asking a question, which sends a message that you are uncertain.

You already have some of these four skills.  Now that you are aware of them you can make certain you are integrating them into your communications, particularly with the administration. This will put you in a position to show – and have them believe – that you and the library must be part of the new normal.

ON LIBRARIES: Crisis Leadership

For most of my career I have discussed leadership and its importance to school librarians but leading in the pandemic requires another set of skills. Crisis leadership necessitates the traditional leadership skills of confidence, empathy, and vision – but on steroids. You can see these skills at work in the governors who are getting respect for managing the pandemic in their states.  They stay calm, reassure but tell the truth, and seem to have a plan for getting through and past these surreal times.

The Leading Blog zeroes in on Dealing with the Two Fronts of Every Crisis—Issues and Fear. The post quotes Harvard Business School Professor Herman “Dutch” Leonard’s definition of a true crisis as “there is no precedent for it, there is no playbook for handling it. There is no script for managing it.”  Sounds familiar.

You are accustomed to being flexible, adjusting to the mini crises that are part of managing a school library but this is unprecedented. On the Issue front, although you are just attempting to do your job in a different environment, you really are in uncharted territory. You need to invent answers to managing it as you go. The clearest way to deal with the situation is to define a process and make it work as you go.

To create this process, the post suggests you first identify all the concerns or priorities. Next, get information on the crisis focusing on who has information relating to your concerns.  It could be the school district, or it could be resources from ALA. Finally, knowing the priorities, you develop a plan for getting things done.

You may have already done this but are still feeling harried.  What likely is draining you is the second front of Crisis Leadership – Fear.  The article presents four ways of dealing with fear in a crisis.

  1. Always Keep the Big Picture in Mind – Leaders always need to look at the big picture. Don’t be pulled away from what you are doing by the latest news, the newest curation, or the most recent outpouring of free resources. The news needs time to be validated as do the curations and free resources. Don’t let them immediately distract you.

Instead, use your Mission Statement as your anchor.  Too much is happening too quickly. Keep your direction in mind. Sift through the new and only deal with it if it moves you in the direction you want to go. Is the curation or resource worth your time to explore? Are they of immediate value to your students and teachers? Is it information you need to share with an administrator? If not, let it go.

  1. Educate to Bring Clarity – Being able to communicate clearly is a core leadership skill. In a true crisis there is continuous confusion (have you noticed?), and people need help in dealing with their fears and their insecurity about what they are doing and if they are doing it right. As teachers cope with how to do their jobs online your expertise as a tech integrator can support them and their students.  You can share the best resources to guide them through this uncertain landscape or offer to do an online tutorial.
  2. Remain Steady – If you look at those who are best regarded and trusted during a crises, you see they remain calm even as they refer to uncertainties. Part of a crisis is there is so much no one knows. Instead of adding to fear, look for positives.  Acknowledge your teachers and your students for where they are successful. Look to your PLNs to acknowledge you and take time to cheer for others.
  3. Make People Agents of Something Positive – Along with acknowledging, leaders empower others. In crisis leadership this is more important than ever. We are often reminded that together we are stronger (the needs of social distancing not withstanding). Consider creating a newsletter of sorts to highlight the great things being done by teachers, students, and parents. You might even give a boost to your administrators.  Encourage people to email you contributions. It’s a wonderful chance for your community to see how it is working together.

Iron is forged in a super-heated fire.  The pandemic is our fire. Crisis leadership needs a cool head and the ability to alter course quickly. You have what it takes to be a crisis leader. Follow your Mission and priorities. Take time to get clarity before acting. Do what is necessary and don’t try to do everything. Lean on others even as you lead the way and remember to take time for yourself.

ON LIBRARIES – The Fine Art of Feedback

We all know the importance of both giving and receiving feedback.  However, when it’s negative, it doesn’t sound like feedback.  It sounds like criticism. What is the difference? Generally it depends on the giver of feedback and its true intention – and is usually coupled with our own insecurities.

And what about when you’re giving feedback. You are accustomed to giving feedback to your students, but do you do it in the best way possible?  As a leader, you also need to have the courage to give feedback to teachers.  How can you do so successfully?

John R. Stoker is referencing the business world in his post, Managers, Here’s Your Guide to Effective Feedback yet everything he says works well for us in our schools. There are fifteen tips he recommends:

  1. Assess the context – This includes answering three questions:
  • Does this issue need to be discussed?
  • Am I the one to do it?
  • Is this the time?

If you are giving feedback, consider how much of a difference it will make to be clear on the answers to these three questions.  Does it need to come from you or is there someone in a better position to give it? Feedback is best given when there aren’t others around to hear. In receiving feedback, ask yourself if the issue being discussed that important. Is the person giving it knowledgeable enough?  Are you in a place where you can take it in? If not, ask if it can be discussed at a later time.

  1. Prepare the conversation – Think before you speak. Think of the best setting for the discussion and the context you will bring. As a receiver, don’t respond too quickly. Give yourself time to take it in and decide whether the feedback was valid. Then your response will also be valid.
  2. Identify your intent- If you have prepared the conversation, you should know your purpose. Make sure you stick to it. It is too easy to start bringing in other items if it feels uncomfortable. Stay focused.  As a receiver, hone into the message and assess whether the person giving feedback is doing so with a positive intent.
  3. Craft an “Attention Check.” – Be upfront about the topic of the feedback. It tends to put the other person at ease if they know in advance what you are getting at. As the recipient, listen carefully and ask a specific question to be sure you know what the focus of the feedback is. Don’t assume you know what their focus is.
  4. Identify and gather the data – Make sure you have all the relevant information. You don’t want to be giving feedback and discover there were mitigating factors you didn’t know. As a receiver, find out the specifics the feedback is based on. Again, you don’t want to make assumptions.
  5. Craft a respectful interpretation – Words have power. Giving feedback has the potential to cause hurt. Choose your words carefully. As a recipient focus on the message not on the delivery.  Some people with the best intentions have trouble critiquing someone else and so don’t always handle the message well.
  6. Ask questions – To discover any mitigating circumstances you might have missed when gathering data, ask appropriate questions. As the recipient, make sure you are accurately hearing what is being said. Clarity can make a huge difference on either side of this.
  7. Agree upon a mutual plan – This is not always necessary, but if you are in a position to look for a change, such as when you’re working with a student, have a strategy for addressing the issue and any next steps. As a recipient, make sure you understand what you are being asked to change, and, if necessary, by when.
  8. Allow time to process – While you may want to end the conversation as soon as you have had your say, remember being told you have fallen short is never pleasant to hear. Continue speaking so the other person has a chance to deal with what you said. As a recipient, wait to respond.  You need time to take in what you were told. Try not to act on your first responses.
  9. Keep it simple – You never want to deal with multiple issues in one feedback. It will sound as though you are dumping on the person or keeping a list. They will have little time to process, and all you will get is a defensive response.  As a recipient, if you are being given feedback on several items, ask which is the priority.
  10. Allow sufficient time –Know how much time is available for this discussion. You don’t want to rush. Don’t start this when you know you have almost no time before a bell rings. As a recipient, you might ask for the discussion to be postponed to a time when you can properly pay attention.
  11. Consider proximity– Although you want to allow enough time for the conversation, don’t wait too long. Feedback is best when it is given soon after the situation arose. As a recipient, you may want to ask the one giving feedback to refresh your memory if it’s been a while.
  12. Control yourself – As noted, feedback can be painful. If you are the giver of feedback don’t let the other person’s reaction set you off.  And as the recipient, stay calm.  That’s why you need time to process.
  13. Acknowledge great performance – Always look for ways to give positive feedback. If you only critique performances, the other person will have their hackles up as soon as you open your mouth. Don’t mix good and bad feedback if you can help it, otherwise the other person will expect bad news after any good. As a recipient, if the one bringing the feedback has acknowledged you in the past, recognize they have your best interest at heart.
  14. One on one – Unless you are acknowledging someone, give your feedback when others aren’t around. You don’t want to be overheard. It’s not appropriate As the recipient, if things start in an open area, ask to take the conversation to a more private place.

Leadership is sometimes uncomfortable, but by knowing how to handle difficult conversations, you will increase people’s appreciation of your ability to help them be more successful. Giving and receiving feedback well helps us to build the relationships that make our programs stronger.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Communicators

It’s such a simple statement – “Leaders Are Communicators” and, typical of communication, there’s a wealth of implied information underneath it and a vagueness that makes the statement less significant.  If I wanted to be clearer, I should have titled this blog, “Leaders Are Effective Communicators,” or give you a push by saying “Librarians Must be Effective Communicators,” but even this only scratches the surface.  Most days it feels as though we are in some form of constant communication.  While some are important and significant, much of it superficial. Yet it’s in the daily superficial communication that we lay the foundation for how our important communications are heard.

In our daily interactions we tend to pay scant attention to our verbal conversations and a bit more to the written ones.  Both send important messages about us and our abilities as a leader. We are busy—even harried—which means too often we don’t focus our attention on the person with whom we are speaking. We want to get the conversation finished so we can get on to the next thing. We also want to make certain we get our thoughts in, sometimes even interrupting the other person.

If this sounds like you, it is detracting from your leadership. Leaders must pay attention to others.  They “see” them and welcome their thinking and information. You don’t want your teachers and students to think you don’t have time for them.

We do pay somewhat more attention to our written communication, especially if it’s to an administrator but how often do we check our emails (and definitely our texts) for misspellings and phrasing that may not be as clear as we intended.  The recipients notice.

In her post, 3 More Communication Tips to Implement Today, Diana Peterson-More says, “Clear, concise, and intentional communication is the key to successful relationships — even more so in today’s workplaces, when miscommunication leads to misunderstanding.”  You can never forget that we are in the relationship business. It’s key to developing collaboration and to building advocacy.  It is why leaders need to be effective communicators.

Peterson-More offers the following three tips:

Communicate in different methods or modes – How does the recipient like to receive communications.  We are all drowning in e-mails.  Is sending another one the best idea for the person you are trying to reach?  How long are your emails?  I know I have inadvertently missed important information because I didn’t read to the end of a long email.

In-person conversation tends to be more effective, but even here you must be alert. Is the recipient listening to you or are they too busy to hear what you are saying?  If the information you are trying to impart is important, let the other person know you recognize this isn’t a good time, and see if you can meet at a later time.

Peterson-More observes that some people like to hear the information once while others prefer that you restate it in different words. It’s a good practice to start by making your point succinctly, clearly stating what you want from them, then asking if they want more details or information.  In dealing with students and teachers, going into more detail is sometimes necessary because they don’t have a complete foundation, the information is new.

Check for understanding: Was the communication clear? Was it understood? – Don’t assume your message got through. What seems obvious to us is not always clear to someone else. Even within education, each of our disciplines use different words and phrases.

Be careful about buzzwords.  They tend to blur meaning. My New Yorker Day-by-Day calendar shows a comic of a man doing a presentation and saying, “Enhanced branding metrics drive robust solutions for scalable monetization of jargon.”  I have heard all those words often. Do I understand completely what they mean?  No.  It’s important to speak for clarity not to impress.

When you are the receiver of the message make sure you have understood it. You can restate what you believe you heard or ask for more clarity.  It will ensure that you don’t miss the mark in your response.  You certainly don’t want to misunderstand what a teacher wants to have their students do or what an administrator needs to reach his/her goals.

Use the subject line on emails effectively: Get the message out – As noted earlier, we are drowning in emails. Many of us delete that don’t seem very important without opening them based on the subject line.  Or I open them and do a quick scan – and perhaps miss something.  Use the subject line to grab attention.

Peterson-More suggests including all important information in that subject line.  You can be fairly long and no one will skip over it.  Do you need a reply?  Ask for it there.

Her final recommendation is to change the subject line when a long thread develops.  I have never tried that.  I think if the subject is specific to a meeting time, it might be a good idea, but in general it seems best to me to keep the original one so everyone knows what is being discussed. It can be helpful if a secondary subject has come up and needs people’s focus.

Communication is a pathway we travel every day.  The more we learn about keeping it clear the better our relationships will be.  The better our relationships are, the more likely we will build advocates for our library and realize the vision we have for our programs.

 

 

 

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – The Relationship Building Blocks of Leadership

As the administrator of the library program, you are a leader. However, it is important to stop and notice where you are either not leading or not leading effectively and the first place to look is to your relationships. Do you regularly work on building your relationships with teachers?  Have you established a positive relationship with your principal?

AASL’s Vision sets the path for us. “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.” Remember, a Vision is what we strive to achieve.  It may not be realized yet, but your planning and what you do each day should be focused on achieving it.  To get to the second part of the AASL Vision, we need to work on the first part.

Relationship is the first building block of leadership, but creating relationships requires both a mindset and a skill set.  Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup, in a post entitled Leadership That Works: It’s All About the People, aptly defines leadership as, “the art and science of influencing others in a specific direction.”  He states: “You can’t become a world-class leader without being anchored in the fundamentals of your craft, the craft of leading people” and offers the following ten building blocks to get you there.

  1. High-Performance – You work at this every day. But although many of you are coming in early and/or staying late several days each week, not enough of you are letting others know what you are accomplishing.  This isn’t about the hours worked.  It’s about the results that are impacting your students and their success in the school. Librarians must communicate this to teachers so they will look to you for collaboration and to administrators so they will know your importance to the district.
  2. Abundance – Your budget may be small or non-existent, but you have an abundance of knowledge to share. Keep your ear out for teacher —and administrator – needs.  You should share your tech skills and awareness of great websites, apps, and other resources. While it’s an excellent technique to send an email about a great tech resource each week to the faculty, it is far better if you can send one to a particular teacher that addresses a specific need. Or schedule a drop in time for teachers to come try something out and get coaching.
  3. Inspire Trust – Relationships are built on trust. You can’t be in a relationship with someone you don’t trust.  Be mindful to keep teacher comments confidential. Gossip is tempting and schools, like many other workplaces, run on it. But leaders are trustworthy. Don’t repeat what others tell you.
  4. Purpose – This is your Mission Statement. It proclaims what you do.  It should identify what is unique about you and the library.  Create one a fun, noticeable sign for your Mission.  Frame it and hang it so it can be seen by everyone who comes into the library.
  5. Courage – Take chances and introduce new projects and programs. You can get ideas from the many Facebook groups for librarians, other librarians in nearby districts or at state/national conferences.  Being a risk-taker is one of the basic requirements of leadership. Not everything will be successful, but if you do your due diligence by getting advice from your PLN, most of them will take off.
  6. IntegrityYou can’t be a respected leader without it. It is what inspires trust (see #3). It also means standing up for the ethics of our profession. The six “Common Beliefs” of the National School Library Standards are the bedrock of the philosophy underlying our program.   In addition to the fifth Common Belief – Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right – we also hold to ALA’s Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights, along with the Interpretations of it that relate to working with minors.  There may be occasions when it takes courage to stand by our principles, but that’s what integrity requires.
  7. Grow or Die Mindset – My oft-repeated mantra is, “if you are not growing, you are dying.” It’s wonderful to have a well-respected program, but look for ways it can be better. Be innovative. Keep your eye out for what’s next.  Get to conferences as much as you can.  Watch webinars that will take your program in new directions.  Ask questions. Find a mentor. There are many ways to keep your program growing.
  8. Humility –We have only to notice how many school districts have lost their librarians to take the definition of humility (having a modest view of one’s own importance) to heart. In addition, as lifelong learners, we are well aware that someone always knows more than we do about something. And that this someone may be one of our students. Even when we are the resident expert, there are other perspectives which can add to our own. Humility can keep us growing (see #7).
  9. How Can I Help? – The answer to this is likely part of your mission or vision statement. It’s also in the non-verbal message we send daily in our body language and voice, and how we work with students and teachers. We are a service profession which is why building relationships are so important.
  10. Have Fun – I can’t emphasize this enough. If you have been staying late several days a week, cut back on it.  Treat yourself to something you enjoy at least once a week, and hopefully every day.  Make time for friends and family. Rediscover a favorite hobby or learn something new. I guarantee it will improve your leadership skills.

I have been writing and speaking about leadership for most of my working life, and I find there is always more for me to learn. I am confident that you have many of these leadership building blocks, but each of them can be improved.  Every day is an opportunity to learn something new, do something better, and show everyone you are an invaluable leader.

ON LIBRARIES: I See You

It’s a busy world – our task lists are huge and the distractions are many. We hardly finish one thing when we are on to the next, barely looking up as we move on.  Our devices with the lure of email, social media and games pull at our limited attention and time.  It feels as though it connects us, but on a personal level we usually aren’t. Taking the time to stop, see, and connect with the people in your life, whether they are family and friends, work colleagues or casual acquaintances may be more important than ever – and it builds your leadership abilities.

Leaders need to see the people around them.  They need to read emotions and to engage others in whatever is being planned by administrators or faculty. This skill is even more vital when it’s time to acknowledge the diverse members – and needs – of our school communities. Marlene Chism, whose post I discussed in last week’s blog, talks about the importance of making these people-to-people contacts, suggesting 2 Skills to Increase Connection in 2020. She says, “The desire to connect is at the core of what it means to be human.”  The underlying truth is that humans are social organisms.  We need the person-to-person contact for our well-being.

Chism’s first skill is developing Super Vision. Her explanation of this is powerful and the steps are clear:

Decide to notice the brilliance of others. Notice your neighbor’s ability to do carpentry. Recognize your grandmother’s love of crochet and see her genius. Observe your physician and lean about what it took to get through medical school. Realize the talent of your friend who plays in a band.

Now do the same for your employees in noticing their interests and talents, but don’t stop there.

Verbally acknowledge what you notice. Find the interest and appreciate what it took for them to do what they do. This skill takes practice and repetition, so do the same for your colleagues and boss. If you don’t see a skill or talent what about their character? Their sense of humor, their patience, their willingness to give 100%.

When you really start seeing others, your whole world and your heart expands.

As your Super Vision improves, you will see the special qualities your colleagues bring to their jobs and their lives. Acknowledge them and let them know you appreciate what they do. The same is true for students. With Super Vision, you’ll notice their gifts in and out of academics. In both cases, don’t focus only on the work they are doing. See what brings them joy as people.

The second skill is Letting Go of Judgement.  Chism goes into detail on how judgement limits us and writes:

Seeing others as separate is a form of ostracism born from unconscious bias. It’s easier to judge “them” instead of entering into dialogue to find the connection. When you see others as “just like you” then, even when they are misguided, you can offer some grace, and make a connection.

Too often when we look at people, we categorize them, putting them in a box as though it’s the sum total of who they are. We note their age, their weight, their style of dress, and any other number of meaningless classifications. And then we judge them based on that.

I’ve written about my experience at the recent AASL Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, when I met an African American man with an incredible number of dreads, wearing a white tunic that extended below his knees.  I smiled at him and said, “I love your hair.  I can’t do much with mine.” From that we got to talking about libraries and librarianship and our purpose in life.  His was bringing kindness to the world.  We parted when I told him I needed to get to the keynote, and he responded he was the keynoter, Dr. Adolph Brown.

For his presentation he removed his fake dreads and the tunic and spoke of how some librarians asked if they could help him, implying he didn’t fit.  Security guards approached him believing he had no business at the conference.  I was honored he referred to our meeting especially when he said, “She saw me.”  He exhorted us to not let our brains take over our mouths.  Too often our brains have a picture of what something should be when we have no evidence to corroborate it.

We all want to be seen for who we are and what is the best in us. When those moments happen – they light us up. We remember them. Good leaders know this and help to bring it out in the communities with which they interact.  By using Super Vision and Letting Go of Judgment, you will find new ways to enroll others to support your projects and ways to collaborate with them.

Who have you seen lately?

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Team Players

Leaders need to know how to be team players.  They can’t succeed in a vacuum.  And for those of you who are still leery of stepping into leadership, learning to be a valued team player is a good entry into leading. Being part of a team means you listen carefully, evaluate critically, and offer suggestions and alternatives. When you contribute in this way you are showing leadership while you build your confidence to propose plans and ideas of your own.

When you are a team player, you lead from the middle which means, according to Hildy Gotleib in her article Leading from the Middle: Bringing out the Best in Everyone: “bringing out the best in others, so that they can realize and step into their own potential to create change.” This is an important and results oriented form of leadership that allows you to have a voice in what is working as well as what is not working for your program and students.

I faced a situation that called for being a team player when administrators suggested changing to a block schedule for our high school. By doubling the length of classes, students would take one year of a course in a single semester.  The lab science teachers loved it. The world language and English teachers hated it. Others had mixed views but generally were opposed. I liked it because it increased time to do research.

But it didn’t matter – I knew it was a done deal even though the administrators presented it as though it was a possibility.

The challenge was how to respond. Since, the decision was already made, there was nothing to be gained by presenting alternatives.  On the other hand, outright support for block scheduling would pit me against many teachers.

My solution was to suggest I be given a one-time budget supplement to purchase materials to support the teachers as they learned to prepare lessons that lasted 90 minutes. The funds were immediately approved.  I bought the material and set up a special section in the library for the teachers to work there or they could make arragments to take the information home.

The teachers were grateful for the help I got them making this a win-win for the school library.  Even better, when I got my budget for the next school year the money that had been added remained there for me to do with as needed.

As usual, the business world offer suggestions we can use to learn to lead from the middle. In her blog post, 5 Ways to Build a Leadership PathwayMarlene Chism writes that you can “build your own pathway to leadership by becoming the best possible employee.”  Some of thewse you already do. See which ones you still might need to put into practice.

Ask for clarification – This has two parts.  When you learn of a change or new situation, don’t assume you understand exactly what your principal wants. Try to recognize the intended purpose of the plan and if you don’t know – find out. (My administrators wanted to change the method of instructional delivery.) After you know the what and the way, do some negotiating. If too much is being put on your plate, ask for advice on what has priority.

Using this particular approach shows that you are an active listener and aware that decisions have many parts and reasons.  Your administrator will recognize you are focused on achieving positive results. In the process, you might save yourself some work.

Master the skills – On the one hand, this is a reminder to keep current with technology, standards (including the AASL National School Library Standards), and the latest approaches in education which would interest your administrator and support new initiatives. Chism also talks about mastering soft skills as well.  You want to hone your relationship building skills and be aware of how you are being perceived.  If you detect negatives, do your best to change them. Consider getting a mentor to help you.

Become resourceful – Propose solutions to challenges you see whether it’s about the school library or other areas.  Never bring a problem to an administrator without having a potential solution to offer. They don’t appreciate being put on the spot and might very well come up with a method that doesn’t work for you.  By being pro-active you make it more likely your approach will be the one used, although there are likely to be tweaks.  Administrators want to let you know they can think on their feet, but you have already paved the way.

Take ownership – This is about your commitment to what you do. Your school library reflects your values. You take responsibility when something isn’t working and seek to fix it.  Leading from the middle (or the top) also means that you spotlight and acknowledge others who worked with you on a program or unit.

Seek accountability – Chism says ownership is about mindset and commitment while accountability is about measurement. Always assess. Whether you do a formal one for a large project or informally evaluate a lesson, always take time to review, reflect, and assess. By doing this you will also come to notice that your successes outweigh by far the ones that didn’t go as planned.

Actively and consciously being a team player means that your work strengthens the whole team. This can be an important way for the library program to be viewed as vital to the success of the school as a whole. Your input, support and knowledge will be an asset and you will be known for being a leader.

ON LIBRARIES – Feeling and Fighting Fear

Being a leader is a job requirement, and because of this, you can’t afford to let fear take over. Most of the stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t be leaders have fear as their underlying cause. We fear failing.  We fear making fools of ourselves. We fear being judged.  When fear paralyzes us we don’t move out of our comfort zone. Most everyone feels nervous and unsure in situations where you will stand out or do something new, but you can’t let that stop you..

Every leader knows the sensation of fear, myself included.  Even after years of giving presentations, I still worry about getting to the site and having all technology work. To manage these fears, I plan, first by always arriving early and the second by arranging in advance for someone to handle the tech for me. Does it always work? Of course not. I once needed to give a presentation when we lost power.

You might not be able to let go of your fear, but you can take a first step by moving from fear to nervousness. That may not sound like much of a solution, but since fear tends to freeze you, being nervous can be more of a call to action giving you the strength you don’t always realize you have.

In an internet post, John Baldoni says Nervousness is just another word for fear: Deal with It!  His four-step approach directed to the business world works just as well for us.

From Pixar’s “Inside Out”

Prepare- It sounds obvious, but too often other tasks can distract us and we rush our preparation.  Yes, if you are giving a presentation you prepare carefully, but do you do the same thing if you are giving a short workshop for teachers?  How about if you are bringing a proposal to your principal?  As the moment arrives, you become unsure and your fear takes over.

Another way to feel prepared is to be certain you know your audience.  Whether it is teachers, an administrator or a larger group, you need to know what knowledge they have, where they are lacking, and what they are seeking. Then you can craft your message in a way they can receive it.

Deliberate- Much like Prepare, this ensures you have examined all the options. You’ve probably done the research to be sure you are focusing on the key elements but are you also knowledgeable about other aspects? If you are showing teachers a new tech resource, you know its features, but can you give them examples of how to integrate it into their curriculum and let them know how you will work with them?

When dealing with an administrator, have you considered other options in the event you meet with resistance?  I once discussed with my superintendent an expensive purchase I wanted included in my next year’s budget. I knew I had to give something up. I had my best choice and an additional backup choice.  Ultimately, I gave up both items and I got what I wanted.  When I presented my recommendations for a library renovation project to another superintendent, I had costs for doing it in one year and also how to accomplish it in three years. One year may have been my preference, but for the administration, three was better.

Seek counsel- Don’t do it alone.  It’s too easy to miss an important detail. This is the time to reach out to your Professional Learning Network (PLN) whether that’s in person or via social media.  The various library-related groups on Facebook can alert you to all the possible pitfalls. Ask advice from those who have done it before.  What worked? What didn’t?  The more knowledge you have – the less fear there will be.

If you have a mentor, check in with them before and after. You’ll definitely want their advice before launching something that feels big to you.  You also want to work with them to review how you did afterwards.  It will make your next leadership step that much easier.

Persevere- You may fail.  That’s what we always fear, but risk-taking and stepping out of your comfort zone always carries that possibility. The truth is – you can handle it. Take some time to nurse your wounds, but don’t let it keep you from trying again.  In a short time, only you will remember that you didn’t succeed and people will be ready for your next initiative.

If you keep working to grow your school library and make it indispensable to the school community, you will have more successes than failures. Eventually, you will become increasingly confident in your abilities to lead the way.  You will always have to deal with some fears, but you won’t let that stop you from leading.