How High is Your Emotional Intelligence?

If ever a year (in reality, more than a year) tested our Emotional Intelligence (EI), this year was it. EI rests on being aware of emotions and how they play out in your life and that of others.  Having a high EI improves our communication and strengthens our relationships and the result is we are more successful.

The four main components of EI are:

  1. Self-Awareness,
  2. Self-Management,
  3. Social Awareness, and
  4. Relationship Skills. 

Responsible Decision Making, which results from these four, is sometime included as a fifth component, and you may find Empathy and Motivation included as well.

Self-Awareness means you know who and how you are. In addition to your library Mission, you have a personal purpose and know your core values. You recognize when you are having an emotional reaction to something said or seen and are aware of (and still learning about) your implicit biases.

Self-Management rests on self-awareness. What do you do when you recognize your negative emotions are engaged? Those who self-manage change their mindset to avoid what might turn into a confrontation or prevent a morning mishap from influencing the rest of the day.

Social Awareness means you can identify the emotions of others. You recognize when they are angry or upset.  As a result, you can be empathetic and keep emotions from boiling over. When in a group, you know how to “read a room.”

Relationship Skills are key to your success.  Librarianship is a relationship business.  If we don’t build relationships, we are out of business. You can’t build relationships without having the first three components of EI. We must always be looking for ways to connect, collaborate and create. Good relationships with students, teachers and administrators are required to achieve our Mission and Vision.

With these components in mind, John R. Stoker in Emotional Intelligence Begins with Self-Awareness poses ten question to assess the level of your EI and how to raise it where needed.

  1. What part of my behavior do I not see? Since it’s impossible to answer this alone, Stoker suggests you ask someone you trust. Be open to what they tell you (remember, it’s feedback – not criticism) using your self-awareness skills.
  2. Do you know who or what sets you off? Some people automatically cause our bodies to stiffen as we prepare for emotional combat.  Who does that to you?  More importantly, “Why?” The answer will help to anticipate and moderate your reaction.
  3. Are your relationships growing and deepening, or are they diminishing and contracting? If your relationships aren’t growing, you are losing support for your program. What is the cause? You may need to reach out again to others to figure this out.  
  4. Do people seek you out as a sounding board or for advice and support?  This is a good indicator that speaks to your relationship building skills as well as your social awareness and empathy. Do they come back for more?
  5. Do people volunteer to give you feedback? It takes a high degree of trust to offer feedback when not asked for it. Stoker notes this shows you are approachable.
  6. Do you seek feedback from others on what you could do to improve? Asking what you can do better increases your chance of getting honest, if possibly uncomfortable, feedback. Just as you help others, remember this is necessary if you are to improve. It also is an opportunity to build relationships.
  7. Do you express appreciation to others?  Thank-you’s are always good.  Even better is to let someone know you saw and admired something they did. Did a teacher manage a difficult situation with a student?  Let them know you learned something from it.
  8. Do you let your past history dictate how you treat others? Similar to #2, this is a reminder to keep an open mind. Use the past as a learning tool, not a prediction tool. A negative anticipation will guarantee a negative result.
  9. Are your interactions with others yielding the results that you want? How have you interacted with other?  You can’t change them, but if you identify your challenges with EI and make needed shifts, your dealings with them will improve.
  10. What similar situations repeatedly show up?  You are the common factor in all your interactions. Start with Self-Awareness and move through the other components of EI to see how you and your reactions have contributed to those situations.

As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Emotional Intelligence is a soft skill, but it can quickly make a bigger difference than all the hard knowledge you bring to your job. 

Take My Advice – Maybe

Are you up to your eyeballs in guidance and recommendations? Have you had days where if one more well-meaning person gives you one more suggestion you might scream? Or are you frustrated because no matter how much expert advice you read or receive, you’re still exhausted and overwhelmed?

This is because no matter how good the advice, if it doesn’t fit with who you are, it won’t work. Even the experts offering guidance have days when they struggle to handle what is on their plates. Nobody is immune to this. There are days when I have trouble deciding what comes first. It is often accompanied by not finding things where I thought I put them, physically or digitally. I wonder how am I supposed to help librarians with time management, if I can’t do it. It reminds me of an old saying, “Take my advice. I’m not using it.” 

When I get to that place, I take a breath and remind myself everything will get done; it always does. I go away from my desk, or, better yet, take a walk. Physically removing myself from my office, I can get my brain functioning again and see what needs doing first. I return to my computer with a plan, and all falls into place.

That’s me. Does it sound like you? If it doesn’t, it won’t work for you. No matter where we look, there is no magic pill of advice you can put into action.

LaRae Quy says in The Most Common Well-Being Advice That Doesn’t Work, self-help “is hard work that must be done by you.” She discusses four common recommendations that are most often offered, explaining why they don’t work, and what you can do about it.

  1. Develop Good Morning Habits – All too often, this is the suggestion of the rich and famous who profit from being prominent this way. You may not be a morning person. You already have a morning routine. Quy notes the last thing you need is to add one more thing to your busy morning. Unless… it works for you. If journaling puts you in a positive frame of mind, do it. If not, don’t. That should be your guideline for anything you add to your life. And accept the fact that life happens and some days you can’t get to the things that work. Don’t beat yourself up for the days when you can’t get to your new well-being habit.
  • Digital Detox – It doesn’t take a genius to realize we are tied to our devices, and they overwhelm us. Realistically, most of us cannot cut out these connections. The smart way to handle the digital tsunami according to Quy is to set boundaries. If the thought of a digital detox adds to your stress, consider taking control by stepping away for a short time. Instead of trying getting rid of devices for set periods of time, Quy suggests every 20 minutes look at something that’s 20 feet away. The change in eye-focus and blink rate is restorative.
  • Deep breaths –Quy calls this her “favorite piece of bad advice.” Unless you’ve got the time to do this for an extended period, it probably won’t provide a sense of well-being. When you are stressed, your emotional brain is in control, the flight/freeze, fright part. Your thinking brain needs time to catch up, which is why the recommendation to take the deep breaths. However, Quy says it won’t work unless you also acknowledge the underlying emotion that caused the panic. Take a moment to notice what you’re feeling (anger, embarrassment, worry, fear, etc) in whatever way works for you. Then your thinking brain can step in an work it’s magic.
  • Declutter Your Workspace – The belief is the clutter confuses your brain and keeps you from being organized. The reality is, it depends on you. Only you know if seeing a cluttered workspace distracts and upsets you or if it doesn’t bother you at all. If it makes you anxious, declutter. If it energizes you or doesn’t bother you, leave it alone.

The bottom line is, you need to take care of yourself, but the best way to do that is to learn what works for you. You can read advice columns—and, hopefully, this blog – but use if for ideas that resonate with who and how you are. And remember, some days nothing works. On those days – I recommend chocolate.

Being Effective

As you pivoted your way through the pandemic, goals and needs kept changing. Being effective was and is a challenge. Being efficient was even harder. With the heavy time constraints we have, we need to improve our techniques for being more effective – and by doing so – become more efficient.

Merriam-Webster defines Effective as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” It implies knowing what needs to get done and then getting right down to the task. It’s a good goal for students and for you. But it is elusive.

We know that working harder is not the solution. It is draining, making you less productive and therefore less efficient. John Rampton says the way to do it is to Work Smarter, Not Harder: 10 Ways to Be More Effective at Work.

  1. Trim the Fat – This sounds like a good diet idea, but it refers to making your to-do list work for you. Putting too much in sets us up for feeling frazzled, not accomplishing everything, and encourages multi-tasking which doesn’t work (we’ll get to that). Besides identifying your three highest priority (and goal-related) tasks, get at least one finished early, giving you a feeling of success.
  2. Measure Your Results, Not Your Time –Whether it’s weeding or collecting books, measure your success by what you accomplished in one day. You know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Rampton quotes Leo Widrich, who recommends keeping a “done” list. It allows “you to review your day, gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments, and helps you plan more effectively.”  I do the same with my Success Journal which I keep next to my computer.
  3. Have an Attitude Adjustment – Your mindset has a powerful influence on your effectiveness. When you feel you are getting things done, when you recognize your help to others has made a difference, you don’t have the weariness that keeps you from being effective.
  4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate –Communication is key to our success. It’s not just our words or our texts. It’s the choices we make in using them and the silent communications happening simultaneously. Active listening is your responsibility in communication. Suiting the message to the communication channel enhances the chances of it being received as intended. Long emails often don’t get read completely. Don’t bury the lead. Say what needs to be said—and stop.
  5. Create and Stick to a Routine – The more things you don’t have to think about, the more effective you become. To help make this happen – use the next tip.
  6. Automate More Tasks – There are apps and programs for planning, calendars, reminders, and more. Ask your PLN what’s helping and see if it makes sense for you. The best automation can help you get through your day with fewer decision points leaving more energy for bigger issues.
  7. Stop Multitasking – Once the touted way of getting more done, studies have proved it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, we do this more often than we realize. The worst offense is when we are mentally planning what we will do or say next while we are talking to someone. Stay focused and you are more likely to stay effective.
  8. Take Advantage of Your Procrastination – Historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, author of Parkinson’s Law said, “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.” Not that this should be a general practice, but it suggests we cloak our tasks in more time than they need. Give yourself shorter, clearer, deadlines and you’ll find yourself getting more done.
  9. Relieve Stress – Stress impacts work performance. You’ve heard this before and likely know the techniques that work for you. Get up and move for a while. Take a break in another part of the building. Look out the window or find a way to sit in the dark for fifteen minutes. Lowering stress increases effectiveness.
  10. Do More of the Work You Enjoy – You have many roles, but you like some better than others. Put your emphasis on those. It will give you the positive attitude you need to do the other ones. It’s also a good reminder when it seems like most of what’s on your to-do list are the tasks you like less. Use the things you love to jump start your day or as a reward for getting other things done.

Chances are you already do some of these to make your days go smoothly. If you’re looking for ways to be more effective, choose some of the ideas on this list and put them into practice. Hopefully, you’ll see an increase in your own effectiveness.

Why Is It So Hard?

Somedays are just too hard. I have big plans for the day.  My to-do list is at the ready.  Then one by one, life happens, and the day is drawing to a close.  I still haven’t done my number one priority, I’ve added more things to my to-do list, and I am too tired and brain dead to deal with any of it.

I remind myself tomorrow is another day. I focus on having a positive mindset. And then tomorrow brings its own set of obstacles to my plan. Or I have one or two great days and feel confident I have a handle on my life. And then stuff happens again. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. Social media is filled with tales of life continually interfering with plans and intentions. 

I give advice on time management. Surely, I should manage my own better.

Some answers came from an unexpected article. A post by Scott Mautz, 5 Reasons Why Your Middle Manager Role Is So Difficult (And What To Do About It) provided answers I could see where school librarians are middle managers and how their challenges are ours. You are the Program Administrator for your library with the responsibilities it carries, and you also have a boss–your principal.

Consider how these five reasons reflect your situation.

  1. Self-identity – Mautz points to the many hats you wear and their differences. You move from directing what is happening in your library to working collegially with teachers, and then bringing a “deferential stance with your boss.” These “micro-transitions” exhaust us. Probably more so because we are not recognizing them as such. It’s hard.
  2. ConflictExhaustion and stress are everywhere, which means tempers flare. You may be in challenging situations with teachers, students, and parents. As librarians, you are expected to have a positive working relationship with everyone, but no one seems to have that responsibility with you. You are using many of your relationship skills to soothe tempers and reduce tensions. It’s hard.
  3. Omnipotence – Mautz says you “feel you are expected to know everything,” The saying that “if librarians don’t know the answer they know where to find it” heightens that expectation from others. But they have questions and needs from so many different fields. Every moment you’re uncertain adds to the weight of your day. It’s hard.
  4. Physical – All that micro-switching, uncertainty, and desire to be at your best takes its toll. You’re probably not getting enough sleep and the sleep you do get is not always restful. You wake up exhausted with the entire day to face. Then it’s coffee and/or sugars to give you an energy boost even when you want to eat better. And exercise? When? It’s hard.
  5. Emotional – Mautz points to the emotional toll of middle managers who felt isolated. Librarians know this deeply as most are the only ones in their school– or perhaps spread over multiple schools. No one else has our responsibilities, goals, or challenges. PLNs definitely help. But it’s hard.

Mautz follows up these challenges with several “reframes” which I have abbreviated:

  • Recognize your micro-transitions are all one job–Keep your Mission Statement in mind. Mautz writes: “The 100 jobs you belong to add up to one vital job you’re uniquely suited to do well. Take pride in that and value the variety.”
  • Leading and Influencing Up – Know what your principal expects of you (and what they need) and keep them apprised of how you are doing it. Offer regular reports or, at the least, an annual report (see last week’s blog).
  • Leading and Influencing Down–Mautz talks about the importance of giving feedback. Watch your words and body language to ensure your message comes across as feedback, not criticism. Create strong relationships and partnerships and the emotional toll is decreased.
  • Influencing Across–These are the people in the larger community. Here is where you can spread the word about the importance of school libraries and having certificated librarians run them. Even where you have no authority, you have an opportunity for great influence.

It is hard. Understanding what causes some of your daily frustration may ease your feelings that you aren’t doing enough or not organized enough. You are doing more than enough. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also important work.

Time to Report

As this school year ends, consider adding “Write an Annual Report” to your to-do list. Yes, that list is already long, but it is essential that you submit one, even if it’s not required. So many librarians claim their principal doesn’t know what they do. This is an opportunity to tell them. It can inform even aware principals and increase their appreciation for what you contribute to the entire school community.

When you go through your day, be sure to notice what you are doing: curating, collaborating, teaching, leading, integrating – the list goes on.  Use your phone or whatever method you choose to keep note of these. When you can, take videos and get student feedback, preferably verbal.

Look at the data you have available.  While circulation statistics this year are probably significantly lower than in previous years, you can include the comparison to point out how successful you were despite the drop caused by the pandemic. The same is true of database use statistics.

Did you track the number of classes you taught? What did you add to your program that is likely to remain when school resumes in the fall? The number of teachers you helped, and their subjects or grades show how you affect the whole school. Where were your unexpected successes along with the planned ones/

In putting the report together, remember to keep it brief. Highlight students and their work, but also your connection to the educational program and community. The purpose is to expand your principal’s knowledge of what you do, but at the core it is a promotion of you and the library.

Elizabeth Hutchinson’s blog post, Phew! Finished! Write an annual report …? Why? No way!, echoes my feelings and adds concrete ideas to address in your report. Her big ideas are to:

Find out – You need to know what your school’s mission and goals are. If the library isn’t helping to achieve them, the library doesn’t have value to the school. And if the library doesn’t have value to the school, why have a library? Once you see the connection – make certain your principal does too.

How do you help teachers attain the goals and needs of the different subjects or grades in your school?  This shows your relevance to them. When you are actively involved in helping them, they become advocates for your program.

Planning – Where do you want to go next—and why? It’s the “why” that is important. Each of the jobs you do should be tied to your Mission. And your Mission needs to connect to the school’s. Hutchinson has a list of great questions to ask yourself as you develop this section.

Although Hutchinson doesn’t say this is needed, your annual report should include what you plan to do. It doesn’t have to be a large project. Large or small, your plan should advance your Mission and perhaps your Vision. You can share both those statements, but, again, tie them to the school’s and/or district’s aims. Remember, though, this is not the place to ask for funding. 

As you compile your report, work on making it visually appealing. You may need to present numbers but consider showing them graphically. Incorporate the pictures and videos you have of students and teachers at work and the products they created.

And if this Annual Report is a success–consider doing these quarterly (there are several examples of other librarian’s Annual Reports at the end of the article). They are shorter and will keep you and the library in front of the principal’s awareness and make this end-of-the-year job quicker. Wrap up the year on a note of success and next year will start the same way!

Success

Nothing feels like success. And the only thing better than one – is more. To bring more successes into your life, there are two things to do. First, celebrate your success. Second, set yourself up for future successes.

You probably celebrate big successes. What you likely haven’t taken the time to acknowledge are your smaller, daily successes. By noticing these achievements, you build your confidence and enthusiasm. You can set yourself up for future success by incorporating Casey Imafidon’s 10 Little Things Successful People Do Differently into your life.

  1. They Strive for Consistency – Imafidon says having a schedule allows successful people to focus on their goals. Routine may sound boring, but it’s what gets most things done smoothly. Although most of our routines are imposed, we still make choices about when we check email and when we do lesson plans. To the extent possible, choose tasks that work with your body cycle. Are you more alert in the mornings or evenings? Use your lower energy times for the activities that need less focus.
  2. They Set Daily Goals – It’s not just having a to-do list. It’s knowing what the high priority tasks are. Imafidon refers to Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, who identifies three goals for the day. When you know what you want to achieve for the day, you feel success as each is completed.
  3. They Nurture the Right Relationships – We are supposed to get along with every staff member as part of making the library a safe, welcoming place for all, but it’s important to ensure we have strong relationships with key stakeholders. According to Imafidon, “successful people look for support and find people they can connect with….” This builds advocates and helps make you and your program successful.
  4. They Display High Emotional Intelligence – You need a high EI to forge those “right relationships.” You also need it to understand what can help others and therefore result in them recognizing how important you and your program are to their success. I have often said, “I am a connector. I connect people to ideas and information. I connect people to people who can then help each other. And I connect ideas to ideas, seeing how they link to form new ideas.”
  5. They Take Action – Simply put, successful people are willing to leave their comfort zone to get things done. The bigger your comfort zone, the more opportunities for success.
  6. They Practice Positive Self-talk – Beating yourself up for a perceived or past failure will not contribute to your success. It will only make you less willing to try something else. It’s almost impossible to get something positive done with a negative mindset. Imafidon recommends having an affirmation-like phrase like “today is going to be a great day” when you need to make a shift.
  7. They Stay Healthy – When you don’t feel well, you don’t do well. What is your daily diet like? Healthy or harmful? We all know the positive results of eating healthy, being active, and getting enough sleep.
  8. They Meditate – Imafidon says Meditation increases focus and productiveness. Our brains need downtime. Putting in more hours does not translate into more getting done. If you have trouble meditating, try a walk or a few minutes listening to quiet music. Remove yourself from your workspace.
  9. They Act on Small Improvements to Their Goals – As the old riddle goes- “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” A big goal usually seems almost impossible to achieve. Break it down into small bites. Achieving success one bite at a time motivates you to continue until you finally reach that big goal.
  10. They Wake up Early–It’s not only the “early bird catches the worm,” it’s also using what, for most us, is the most productive part of our day. You can get so much done before the usual distractions begin. See if you can get to your library before anyone knows you’re there (consider not turning on the room lights) so you have time to get yourself prepared. Then you can turn them on to connect with the early-bird teachers who also want to get a head start.

Every success matters – and the daily ones may matter more because without them, it’s hard to keep moving forward on the bigger projects. Celebrate yourself when you can and notice your achievements. Wishing you all much success.

Doing What Works

Managing stressful interactions – even without a worldwide pandemic – is a challenging and important skill for librarians looking to lead. We are in a relationship business which means different personalities, perspectives on education, and personal issues, all contribute to volatile moments. To maintain and build the relationships vital to our success, we need to be able de-escalate these situations quickly, possibly even before they begin. And that starts with seeking to do what works rather than worrying about being right.

When someone comes to us, whether a teacher, a student, or an administrator, we tend to make a decision and predict what is forthcoming. It is often unconscious, but we note facial expression, body language and other visual cues to determine if that person is about to say something critical or supportive. Our own body language then telegraphs a response. If it looks like something pleasant will be said, we stay relaxed and open. If, however, we anticipate a negative comment, our bodies stiffen. Our arms may cross tightly, our shoulders pull together. We are ready and with nothing being said, the conflict has begun. We need to shut down this reaction before it takes control of the situation.

A guiding question is, “Do I want to be right, or do I want it to work?”  Because if you want to be right, it won’t work. Your ego gets invested, and you aren’t listening and aren’t open to other possibilities. Taking an offensive or defensive position is almost a guarantee it won’t work. If you respond offensively, the other person will rise to either defend themselves or shut you down. If you defend yourself, all you get are further examples of your perceived errors.

The solution is to listen. Don’t confuse feedback with criticism,. It’s hard to hear anything negative about our work but focus on the heart of what is being said. Take in what is actually being said not what you fear is wrong. It is related to the axiom: Seek first to understand, then be understood.

I have told the story of when I had started in a new school, and a teacher came into the library storming because her privacy had been violated. In my head I heard, “I have only been here a few months, I barely know you. How could I have violated your privacy?”  Fortunately, I thought to move her to my office, and the intervening moments gave me time to think. Instead of jumping in with my perspective, I heard the specifics of what she was complaining about. Her concerns were clear and valid. I came up with a solution. She was pleased and became a huge library supporter.

If she had been incorrect, a different approach would be needed, but that still wouldn’t include telling her why she was wrong. That would only lead to more arguments. Instead, a better response would be, “I recognize you are upset. How can I make this better for you?”  This gives her time to think, gives her agency in the problem, and the conflict starts deflating like air leaving a balloon.

Another technique to deescalate a situation is to paraphrase what the other person said as accurately as you can –not coloring it with your judgement. This gives both of you time to pause and reflect on the issue. It keeps you from making assumptions, allows you to be clear about the other person’s concerns, and helps you get to the true point of the problem.

When dealing with students, similar tactics work. If you get into an argument – or worse a shouting match – you have already lost. Keeping the library a safe, welcoming space for all, means you treat even argumentative or hostile students with respect even as you deal with their issue. Listen, paraphrase, and as soon as possible move to a more private place to discuss the issue. The same approach works when an administrator comes to your library or you meet in their office. Focus on listening before responding. And then respond, not react.

Listening to the other person, remembering it is important for the situation to be resolved in a way that supports both sides, and not worrying about who’s right, allows you to manage stressful situations and stay a supportive, astute, leader.

Reviewing Leadership Skills

No matter how well you know a subject, it never hurts to review and sharpen your skills. This is true with leadership as well. And like re-reading a favorite book, when you go back, you’ll probably find something you didn’t notice the first time and you may even find something new to enjoy.

An unexpected source of leadership information comes from American physicist Richard Feynman who was also a popular teacher at the California Institute of Technology. There he taught eight classes which have become well known and play a strong role in the tenets of leadership.  In Richard Feynman’s Lessons for Life (And Leaders) John Baldoni calls out the core of these classes and adds his own comments. I’ve added applications to librarians.

  1. Work hard – Baldoni says, “discipline is essential to mastering your craft.” I would add to remember to work smarter rather than harder. Know what is important. Before diving into a project, ask will it advance your Mission? What return are you going to get for your investment of time?  Does it need to be done now?  Can/should you get help? Answering these questions will enable you to work hard and smarter.
  2. What others think of you is none of your business – Don’t let opinion and hearsay distract you. Instead, keep in mind it is vital that others see you as important to their success. They must value the help and resources you provide. Don’t become preoccupied by those who steadfastly resist every attempt you make to collaborate with them. Focus on strengthening the connections you already have. 
  3. It’s OK not to have all the answersLeaders don’t know it all. But as the saying goes, “the librarian knows where to find it.”  It is more important how you bring the answer.  Make sure you empower those who want to answer questions, especially since most people feel foolish for not knowing. If you make the teacher feel like a co-discoverer for raising the question, you pave the way for improved relationships and collaboration.
  4. Experiment, fail, learn and repeat No one is successful all the time. We can’t let the fear of failure makes us hesitant to experiment.   We have an opportunity to model this for teachers and students and offer others a valuable lesson. They will become more confident in their own process when they see ours.  
  5. Knowledge comes from experience Lessons come from success and failure. How you react to and learn from a failure is a measure of your leadership and future success. You will show others the kind of leader you are when you accept that your project/experiment didn’t work and, rather than hiding from it, take the lessons you learned and use them to go forward. 
  6. Imagination is importantGood leaders create a safe place for others to think big. Creating a climate of “wondering” is essential to what the library provides to all its users and makes it safe for them to consider the possibilities. Allowing your imagination loose is necessary in creating a Vision for your library. This is your chance to think big!  Think outside the box – or imagine that there isn’t any box at all.
  7. Do what interests you the most – In this Baldoni is urging us to set goals that inspire us. Although you need to do your job, you can play to your interests. We are fortunate in that our job requires many skills and roles.  Where is the heart of your passion? Are you a techie? Is reading where your heart is? While you won’t ignore the range of responsibilities you have, you can put emphasis on what you care about and enlist others in the aspects of the job you like less. Volunteers are hard to come by, but if you are specific about your needs, you might find some.
  8. Stay curious – Curiosity keeps our imagination engaged. This is a place where libraries and librarians excel. We are role models for lifelong learning and what is curiosity but the beginning of learning something new. Being curious is good advice when it  comes to building the relationships which are necessary for our success.  Be curious about others.  Letting them know you are interested in them as people gets communication going.  Collaboration can then follow.

These eight life lessons may all be things you knew but are they things you’ve practiced? If there is one that inspires you today or if one is feels new and exciting, then I hope you’ll put it into practice to strengthen your leadership skills. The best lessons never get old and always deserve a good re-read.

Being Hospitable

I had to go to the bank recently. Not the ATM. I needed to talk to a live person, and it was more challenging than I expected. The first branch was closed, and the second had a line out the door. Fortunately, there was a greeter who asked what service I needed, then immediately took me to her desk. She listened attentively and let me know this could be handled expeditiously. Even when my business was complete, she continued our conversation, not rushing me out the door. When I left the bank, I was feeling extremely positive about the bank and the person I spoke with. She saw me, not just my concern. That’s hospitality. She had invited me into her “house” and made me feel welcome.

The library is your place. How do you welcome people into it? Hospitality is the ultimate in reaching out to others and making them feel comfortable, safe, and welcomed. It’s hard to measure which can cause it to be overlooked as a factor. Surveys help, but don’t reveal all the emotions, which is what the best hospitality generates. As school librarians, we work at creating a safe, welcoming place. Incorporating hospitality skills will add to that atmosphere.

It’s a concern for business as well, and Disney, an expert at delivering it, offers training sessions. I have commented on Disney’s Four Keys to a Great Guest Experience, which is written with employees in mind, and offer examples relating to our environment. The second and fourth are particularly important.

 Safety

  • I practice safe behaviors in everything I do. By following safe behaviors for COVID and other school safety issues, we model it for others.
  • I take action to always put safety first. We are often in a better position than classroom teachers to spot the bullying of students and make certain they feel safe in the library. We can also find ways to alert teachers and learn the needs of both students in a bullying dynamic.
  • I speak up to ensure the safety of Others. We step in when students use hateful speech, teaching about diversity and inclusion.  

Courtesy

  • I project a positive image and energy. Consciously projecting a positive image, especially in difficult times, improves our mindset and resilience.
  • I am courteous and respectful to Guests of all ages. We don’t cut off a conversation with a student when a teacher or administrator comes into the library. We practice active listening.
  • I go above and beyond to exceed Guest expectations. We don’t just help kids find the answers they were searching for. We guide them to go deeper and find the best answer, teaching them new technologies and making them aware of additional resources.

Show

  • I stay in character and perform my role in the show. Remember, you bring a unique view to your students, teachers, and administrators. Your role plays an important part in their success.
  • I ensure my area is show-ready at all times. This doesn’t mean neat and tidy. Libraries that are overly tidy tend to be libraries that aren’t used. It means that you have displays and materials that send their message of welcome and inclusion. Student work is present and celebrated.

Efficiency

  • I perform my role efficiently so Guests get the most out of their visit. In addition to doing your job efficiently, you bring your passion for it and your “guests” in your interactions. This allows them to get the most out of their time in the library.
  • I use my time and resources wisely. Plan, budget and develop programs with an eye to the future and a focus on your mission and vision. This brings the best of the library to those who have entered your “home”.

Not surprisingly, the hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit segments of the economy in the pandemic. It relies on us being face-to-face. Even as we fumble our way to a new normal, we haven’t come close to pre-COVID levels of personal interactions that were a part of our daily lives. By bringing hospitality into our libraries, we can improve everyone’s experience. The more welcoming we are, the more our students and teachers will enjoy being there and come to understand how we are there for them.

Leaders Must Be Strong Communicators

Communication is as natural as breathing and just as constant in our lives. Unlike breathing, however, there is so much room for error, it needs our focus and attention. Leaders need to be clear in their communication. When people receive a clear message, they are more likely to support, trust, and follow you. Taking time to improve your communication skills makes you a more successful leader.

In a post on SmartBrief, Want Real Leadership Growth? Focus on Strengthening as a Communicator,  Al Petty writes “too often, we ignore the centrality of communication effectiveness to effective leadership”. He goes on to say, “everything important in our careers and working lives takes place in one or more challenging conversations, and every communication encounter is critical if you lead.” There is a direct correlation between your success as a leader and your effectiveness as a communicator.

Petty notes that every failed professional situation in his career was proceeded by problems in communication. Poor communication inevitably has a negative effect on desired outcomes. For example, when a plan isn’t working, before changing the plan, check to see if everyone is clear on what to do, who’s to do it and why it’s being done. On the flip side, good communication produces even greater positive results than expected.

According to Petty you need to put these three tactics into operation to improve your communication skills and avoid the fumbles that detract from your leadership:

Listen Harder – There is almost nothing more powerful you can do to benefit your communication than to be a great listener. Unfortunately, in our eagerness to respond to what someone is saying or to get our point across, we stop listening. Our brain is busy constructing what to say as soon as the other person stops talking. We may think we are paying attention, but in this situation, we are, at best, hearing only the surface information which means we are more likely to miss the core of the message. Petty states, by “focusing intently on the person in front of you, you are projecting empathy, showing respect and gaining critical verbal and nonverbal insights necessary to truly communicate”. All of these increase your ability to be an effective leader.

Slow Down and Respect the Persuasion Cycle – Being eager to get to the end goal, it is easy to keep pushing for a response. When we do, we are apt to be faced with the other personal stonewalling and resisting what we’re suggesting. A good maxim to remember is, “No one wants to be sold. Everyone wants to buy.” The challenge is to make someone want to buy.

Petty explains the “Persuasion Cycle” as moving a person from

  • Resisting to Listening,
  • Listening to Considering,
  • Considering to Doing,
  • Doing to Being Glad They Did.

Knowing what the other person wants and needs helps you frame your message, so they move from resisting to listening. When you actively listen to their response you can elicit their willingness to consider your message. They now are interested in doing.

The final step in the cycle is the important piece. When the person is “Glad They Did” you have a supporter and advocate. The next time you approach them, your conversation is more likely to start at Considering or Doing portion of the cycle.

Design Your Critical Communication Messages – When the message is important, it is worth time and effort to get it exactly right. You don’t want to have any words that detract from it. Each word counts and has weight. Writing, rewriting, and testing it with a mentor or trusted colleagues will help you get it clear.

According to Petty, you need to have “three or four core drivers behind your core message.” The drivers are the foundation for why the message is so important. In the library world, one core driver is the students. They are the emotional tie that brings the most response. Test results are another driver. School and district goals are powerful drivers if you connect to them. Budget can be another.

Illustrate your core drivers so your audience understands them as clearly as possible. Pictures, graphics, and videos are more quickly internalized than text. Use the language your receivers understand. If you are talking with administrators in schools, they know the educational terms but not library terminology. If necessary, change from the terms you use to the ones they do.

If you review your past success and challenges, chances are you will see a correlation with the strength or weakness in communication. Taking the time to work on your communication skills – listening, persuading, designing your message – will exponentially increase your success. The better your ability to communicate, the better your ability to lead.