The Impact of Small Words

The words we choose matter.  They are powerful conveyors of ideas and emotions.  We are aware of the fact when writing Mission and Vision Statements, but we may lose sight of their importance in our more casual interchanges. It’s the little words that can move us forward or trip us up. The words that we use or don’t use effect how we are perceived and received. When we are in a hurry to get to what’s next we have a tendency to drop what used to be called “social niceties.” It results in diminished civility that can cost us in our relationships.

Maybe it’s because we communicate more through texts and other electronic media, but I’ve noticed “please” is disappearing from many interactions. If we are approaching someone to assist them, we probably say, “please,” but all too often when working with others, we are quick to move to “Could you” or “Would you” without introducing the request with “Please.”

A small word yet changes the tone of the conversation. There is a difference between, “Can I have a word with you?” and “Please, may I have a moment of your time?” Once we put “please’ first, it changes how the rest of the sentence goes.  “Please” recognizes you are making a request of someone and acknowledges their right to refuse.  The good news is, when asked politely, most people won’t refuse.  Civility smooths the path.

If you remember to use “please,” it is natural to then say “Thank you” at the conclusion of the conversation. “Thanks” is not quite as good, but both show you appreciate what the other person has done or agreed to do. Either are far better than “great” which is how we too often close our conversations. This acknowledges the situation not the person. Again, a subtle but important difference.

You also want to use “thank you” when having been given a compliment and stopping there. There is a tendency to return a compliment.  This has the result of diminishing the ‘thank you,” as well as the compliment, reducing it into “I’m saying this because you said something nice.”  When you simply accept the praise, you show you value it.

After “thank you” easily comes “you’re welcome.” It’s gracious and acknowledges someone’s gratitude.

Just as there are words which improve your communication, there are the small words that detract from your impact.  These are the ones we insert unthinkingly and tend to be personal conversation idiosyncrasies. For example, you may have a tendency to use “actually” to introduce something. If you overuse it, it can sound like a contradiction. “For what it’s worth” is a filler that can make it sound as though what you are offering isn’t of value. Listeners may discount what you say over time. Tune into yourself to hear if there are phrases you use repeatedly. 

For other filler phrases (both spoken and written) Grammarly discusses What Are Filler Words and How You Can Cut Them. It’s worth reviewing. The more you eliminate filler words, the easier it is for readers and listeners to focus on the point you are making.

In being aware of and using the social niceties, you show the small touches of caring for others that make people enjoy working with you. It shows that despite the pressures and stress we’re under, you are mindful of what your colleagues and students mean to you. You take the time to show they matter. By dropping filler words, your communication is clearer, and your relationships are likely to be stronger.  You put yourself and your program in the best possible light by being mindful of both.

ON LIBRARIES: Living the Characteristics of a Leader

To become that indispensable member of the educational community, you must show exceptional leadership. It’s as simple as that. As a topic I speak and writing on frequently, I also know that many librarians hear this and worry. They are already doing so much. How can they add more to their work and be a leader?  What I am proposing is not so much an added list of things to do, but rather a reminder of how to be. We are, after all, in the relationship business, and true leadership comes from how we are with the people in our lives.

Assume that your Vision, Mission and initiatives are all supporting your school to take it a step further Scott Cochrane tells us How to Spot Leadership Character With 10 Easy Signs, and those signs are the ones you can incorporate into your actions with others. They are simple and straightforward.   You probably have many of them, but some may have been lost in your struggles.  It’s time to get them back.

Here’s how people with leadership character behave:

  1. They receive a compliment with grace That not only means saying, “thank you,” it means not minimizing what the giver said or trying to return an equal one.
  2. They receive negative feedback with humility and non-defensivenessThis one can be tough, especially when you are under stress.  The key is to assume positive intent.  If possible, thank the person and then take time when you don’t feel hurt to assess the negative feedback for validity.
  3. They give voice to disagreement while still extending respect It’s not about keeping silent. It’s about how you respond.  Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”
  4. They give thoughtful answers, not off-the-cuff reactions Learning to pause before responding will improve the quality of your answer (this is one I continue to work on!).  It will have the added benefit of improving your relationship with the person who asked the question. They will recognize you value what they say.
  5. They might criticize the merits of an idea, but not the person bringing the idea to the table In our contentious time, this is a most valuable reminder. It is an extension of #3. Don’t make the ideas of others personal. Discuss why and idea works or doesn’t and don’t discuss the person who suggested it.
  6. Their apologies are unreserved; they don’t say, “I’m sorry, but” or “I’m sorry if…”   “I’m sorry if I offended you,” is not an apology.  It’s blaming the other person for the offense they took.  Own what you said, accept that it may have landed wrong, and mean it.
  7. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they say so; they don’t bluff their way through There is nothing wrong with not have an immediate answer. Librarians recognize, we don’t know all the answers – just where to find them.  People see through a bluff, and the attempt diminishes you in their eyes.
  8. They never “humble-brag” Related to #1, being self-deprecating with the intention of calling attention to your work is not a leadership quality. When you say, “I really didn’t do that much,” “It wasn’t that hard,” you are fishing for a compliment or downplaying the work you did. Be careful. Eventually, people might believe that you didn’t do that much.
  9. Their conversation includes plenty of “pleases” and “thank you’s” Between texting and being harried, we have become lax in these once automatic phrases.  They have power, particularly if the way you say them shows you mean what you say.  I had a superintendent of schools in a district that kept education on a stringent budget.  She got incredible mileage of knowing how to specifically compliment key faculty and say a meaningful thanks. It costs nothing and strengthens relationships.
  10. Their words shine the spotlight on others – Always! As a leader you give credit to others for the successes and notice when things work. When you do that, not only do you get little or no negative feedback from what didn’t work, but others feel safe in working with you.  Teachers recognize that the focus on projects won’t be on mistakes, and they will be celebrated for their achievements.

Tune into how you are interacting with others.  Look for ways to put these leadership character traits into your day (at home as well as at work).  You will see a difference and without adding more to your workload you will be a stronger leader.

ON LIBRARIES: High Touch When You Can’t Touch

In recent years, many businesses have found success by being “high touch.”  According to Upscope a high-touch business is “one in which a customer places trust and partnership with a company, and in many cases, a specific individual or team at the company.” These companies develop close relationships with their customers, which builds loyalty.  The mental image is of them “reaching out and touching someone,” of being connected. We, too, need to develop these kinds of relationships with our “customers,” but in the current environment this is challenging on both a figurative and literal level.

Our ability to connect with teachers, students, and administrators determines whether we will be considered indispensable. But we base much of our relationship skills on being in physical contact with others.  We are accustomed to reading the body language and tone of voice of others to help us identify where they are and what they need.  Zoom may give us some clues, but it doesn’t come close to real life.  While we will probably have more in-person contact as schools resume, you will still need to rely on other means to build and keep relationships.

In developing these alternatives, you will display important leadership characteristics. Our teachers and students are crying out for leadership as the ground beneath us shifts almost daily.  Our administrators are stressed even more than the rest of us, being put in charge of situations fraught with uncertainty and danger.

Ken Goldstein’s blog post Desperately Needed Now addresses what you can do to help your students and colleagues.  After observing the success of several business teams, he noticed some important commonalities and proposes we need to focus on three “C’s.”: Confidence, Clarity, and Connection.

Confidence – It’s difficult to feel and act confident when there are so many uncertainties. Yet this is where leadership comes to the fore.  You know what the proposed plans for the restart are.  You know what the changes are likely to be, depending on the situation with the virus. What is your plan of action?  And what’s your Plan B? Don’t doubt yourself. Accept that your first plan will inevitably need anything from tweaks to full-scale re-writes. Be certain to write your plan(s) down somewhere and keep checking it regularly, adapting as necessary.

Having a sense of direction will build your confidence.  Bring that confidence to your Zoom and in-person meetings.  Don’t try to suggest that you have all the answers, that would be arrogance.  But when you project you know what you will do and how you will work with others, your colleagues will feel reassured and look to you as a leader.

Clarity – You have all seen people in leadership roles who start talking and then bring in something that runs counter to what they just said.  Their audience is lost then either tunes them out or stops trusting them. Keep your ideas clear and simple. It’s hard for audiences (students and teachers) to stay focused in the current climate. Be ready to state your plan in another way if your audience seems confused. But keep it brief.  Encourage questions.  This will ensure that everyone – or sometimes the person you are talking to – understands your plan.

Connection – Social isolation is contrary to human nature. We can see it in the behavior of adolescents who keep violating the social distancing rules or the way we are calling friends and family more often.  Look for ways to personalize connections with others.  Use tech to send friendly visual messages. We are hard-pressed for time, but relationships need and deserve that time.  Ask about family and other non-education related topics once regular business is complete, just as you might under normal circumstances.

It sounds as though all this might add to your workload, but in the long road it will lessen it.  Your colleagues may start by leaning on you but will soon take on the behaviors they are seeing in you.  Leadership is about getting in there with people and plotting a direction.  The route to getting there is where the learning and growth happens.  The Connection you help to create will strengthen the school’s culture.  Your Clarity will help them achieve their own plans. And your Confidence will grow.  You’ll create a library that’s high touch no matter the circumstances.

 

 

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.