ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.

ON LIBRARIES: What Do You Project

We all send out and receive non-verbal messages.  It is why we make almost instantaneous decisions as to whether we like or dislike someone we just met.  Something may change our minds eventually, but part of that first assessment is almost always there.

If you want your administration to regard you as indispensable, you must project that.  It’s subtle and will affect all your interactions.  But first, you must honestly believe you are indispensable. The good news is, as with other aspects of leadership, you don’t have to be born with the ability to project strength, professionalism.  It can be learned. The hard part is learning to retrain your brain. 

What you project is all about your mindset.  Remember that old truism supposedly said by Henry Ford, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t—you are right.”  Our thoughts either limit us or set us free to grow.  A statistics professor I knew at a library school told a student who said she would take her “C” here (since she was limited to two C’s in order to graduate), she just guaranteed she wouldn’t do better than that.

Positive self-talk is vital.  Stop focusing on where you are not doing well and celebrate your achievements – no matter how small.  I keep a Success Journal.  Every day I note where I have succeeded at something.  Some days I only list two successes.  Other days I might have five.  But I see where I succeed every day.

LaRae Quy lists Confidence, Persistence, Dedication, and Control in her article 4 Secrets of a Strong Mind and writes how these characteristics will take you far.  Here’s how they play out in our world.

You won’t be taken seriously if you are not projecting confidence.  This is not the same thing as being a know-it-all.  It does mean you know what your job is, believe you do it very well, and are prepared to demonstrate that.  I had a principal tell me, “You be the expert, or I will be the expert.”  I answered, “I am the expert.”

Quy says, “Confidence is a belief in yourself and your ability to meet your goals. Push out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to different situations. Learn how to push through the uncomfortable.” Remember, it’s what you believe about yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone.

Persistence means you don’t give up. You try another tactic. A superintendent once confided in me that her first answer was always, “No.” because most people went away and didn’t come back.  I always did which convinced her I was serious and knew what I wanted and why.  It also showed her I would carry the project through and not waste the money – which was a big factor in all her decisions.

Quy says, “Persistence is the tendency is to see life’s obstacles as challenges to be met, rather than as threats. Don’t whine, point fingers or blame others for your predicament. You can be the hero of your own life and choose your destiny.” Become creative.  Keep putting forward what your program needs.  Whatever it takes.

Dedication is an easy one for us.  We really care about what we do, and we show it. Many of you come in early and stay late. It’s about living your Philosophy of the library program and the values of our profession. They guide you in your decisions along with your Mission and Vision.

Quy says, “Strong-minded people have a dedication that comes from a purpose in alignment with their deepest values.” I think most of you do.  Now you have to see that in yourself which will help you project it.

Control is not a word I usually like, but Quy uses it to mean closing out negative thoughts. It’s back to a positive mindset.  Have a goal you work toward and record every small success you have in getting there. Don’t listen to nay-sayers—particularly the one in your brain.  You have achieved much.  You can and will achieve more. Quy says, “Control is having a certainty that you are able to shape your destiny and not passively accepting events as fate.”

I have added Quy’s words and ideas my ever-growing list of leadership qualities. And just to show you more how they manifest in my world, I am under 4’11’’ and yet my mail carrier commented recently, “You are one powerful lady.”  He doesn’t know anything about my professional life, but he “got” what I project. When I was still a high school librarian my principal and the curriculum supervisors responded to that, giving me the respect and attention necessary to carry out and grow the library program.

Everything we do is a choice.  Choose to see yourself as powerful and indispensable.  Remind yourself whenever you can it’s true. Believe it and others will see you that way.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Confident?

confidence2Leaders are confident. Not arrogant.  Not bullies riding roughshod over others, just confident. They trust themselves and, while they listen to others, they don’t constantly second guess their decisions.

Confidence is a natural part of leadership. Who would follow someone who was uncertain and continually thought, “Well maybe we should do it this way instead?” This doesn’t mean good leaders don’t alter their course or tweak a plan. However, they do it in a well-thought out reasoned way.

Since I advocate that leading is not an option but a job requirement for school librarians, I have come to recognize developing confidence is a necessary prelude to becoming a leader.  Leadership seems a difficult challenge for many and idea that you can become confident seems equally remote.  If you are in that situation, I have some suggestions.

Dress with Confidencedress for success

In this context, it means dress like a leader.  People react to visual messages before they hear the verbal ones.  See how teacher and administrators dress and emulate them. You don’t have to go over the top, but avoid clothes that don’t fit well or send a conflicting message.

Anyone who has worked in an elementary school is aware of the different building climate on “picture day.”  Students dress up and without anyone saying anything their behavior improves and becomes more orderly.  Dressing up for a prom sets the tone making it a special day.  We all dress for a dinner at a fine restaurant.

Clothes affect how we think about ourselves and how we act.  For those who aren’t confident, dressing as though you are helps you “fake it till you make it.”

Speak with Confidence

You might not know where to begin with this, but there is an easy first step.  Monitor how you end a sentence when expressing an idea.  Does your voice go up as though you are asking a question?  This speech pattern has become common particularly with women and girls.  It implies you are uncertain about what you are saying.

Become familiar with educational and library issues.  AASL’s and your state association’s web page report on these.  They give background information.  From there you can pick up the language in use.  Talk to a mirror at home about these topics.  When you speak without too many pauses, needing time to re-check the information, you are ready to share your “expert” opinion on the issues. And you will sound confident.

gears of confidenceProject Optimism

Confident people are optimistic.  The current climate in most schools has caused even those who aren’t pessimists by nature to develop a negative outlook. Search for the positives.  This doesn’t mean be a Pollyanna who sees life only through rose-colored glasses. Being realistic is important.  But remember nothing in life stays constant.  You don’t have to be in education too long before you realize change is always happening.

For example, you can point out that the stresses caused by Common Core and PARCC testing has roused parents.  They are now working with teachers and are putting pressure on districts and the state to make changes.  Note that ESSA has been passed and this will make a difference in the educational landscape.  While the shift will probably cause additional stress, you will be there to help them adapt and work through them. And since you have been on the AASL and your state association website, you will be current with where ESSA is and where it’ going.

Adjust your attitude. Whether or not you are a person who likes affirmations, start each day with a positive thought. Think of seeing a teacher or a class you like to work with.  Focus on the parts of your job that you love.  Yes, there will be incidents that pull you off, but just get back to why you became a librarian.

Ask for Helpconfidence

This sounds counter-intuitive, but remember confident people listen to others. It’s how you ask that makes the difference.  Instead of saying, “I am supposed to do this, but I have no idea what to do,” say, “I am working on this and would like you input as I value your opinion,”

Check with your PLN.  Librarians are an incredibly helpful, supportive group. Ask for suggestions and opinions (we have some great conversations on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page!).  You will get a vast amount of valuable assistance.  In turn, be ready to help others.  It will build your confidence.

One final piece of advice.  Smile – and mean it.  It goes a long way to projecting confidence.