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.

The Ins and Outs of Negotiation

Don’t neglect this important leadership skill which can strengthen your program.

In the education world, where the library is only one small piece of the pie, knowing how and when to negotiate can grow your program and result in your being more valued. If you are like most school librarians, you rarely think consciously of how and when to negotiate. You are likely not to recognize when you have employed it, and as a result may not have achieved your aims. The business world, however, recognizes it a vital skill, and school librarians need to do the same.

One of my most successful negotiations came in the early stages of the tech explosion. I had just been responsible for building a new library wing in our high school, a huge expenditure. Now, I wanted to get the latest digital tool –  a CD-ROM tower. It cost $20,000. Obviously, if I put that in my budget for the next school year, it would be turned down. I knew what I wanted, why I wanted it, and what I could and couldn’t sacrifice to get it. I made an appointment with my Superintendent of Schools during the summer.

The Superintendent’s first response to my request was to refuse, as I expected. I briefly summarized the benefits and offered to make cuts elsewhere in my budget. When she suggested eliminating my periodical budget, I explained why that would be a problem, and proposed slashing my book budget. Ultimately, because of my determination, clarity and willingness to negotiate, I got the CD-ROM tower – and didn’t lose anywhere near $20,000 from my budget.

You have more opportunities to negotiate than you think. You can use negotiation to propose a collaborative or cooperative unit with teachers or you can negotiate with your principal to modify your non-library duties so they relate to your program. The idea is to be open to the possibility of changing what is to something better.

To increase this skill, Ed Browdow presents Ten Tips for Negotiating in 2021 that can help you achieve goals you didn’t think possible. Here are his ten with interpretations for school librarians:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – If you don’t ask the answer is always, “No.” Leaders have a vision. Go for yours.
  2. Shut up and listen – Active listening is a must. Don’t rush into counter what is being said and be perceived as pushing your agenda. Pay attention so that you know what is at the root of the resistance.
  3. Do your homework – Know what the other person’s needs are. What is challenging them? How is what you want to do going to help with that? See where you can align with their priorities.
  4. Always be willing to walk away – Know when to stop. If you continue pushing when the other person is firm on their position, you are only going to increase resistance for the future. Not every negotiation ends positively.
  5. Don’t be in a hurry – While this means prolonged negotiations in the business world, for us it can mean not to give up or be upset if an appointment with an administrator is cancelled, a teacher needs to reschedule, or you are told they need time to think it over. Most negotiations are part of a longer process, not a quick yes or no decision.
  6. Aim high and expect the best outcome – Don’t second guess what is achievable. You want to lay out where you want to go. At the same time, this is a negotiation, so be prepared with your Plan B. And your Plan C.
  7. Focus on the other sides’ pressure not yours – This is where doing your homework counts. You want to present why what you are planning is beneficial to the other person whether it’s a principal or a teacher.
  8. Show the other person how their needs will be met – Related to the others sides’ pressure, if you can show where your request/suggestion/need supports them as well, you’re more likely to get the answer you want.  Be ready to be specific as much as possible. The best negotiations end with both sides feeling as though they’ve won.
  9. Don’t give anything away without getting something back – In our case this means being watching out for little landmines. For example, I had to be prepared for my Superintendent to seize on my offer to slash my book budget without giving me the tower. Had she suggested it, I would have pointed out that without the tower I was forced to make do with what I had on hand and so could ill afford my budget to be cut.
  10. Don’t take the other person’s behavior personally –This is about what you are trying to get but is influenced by the pressures and needs of the other person. Listen for the message rather than its delivery. Staying calm is a top tactic in negotiations.

Negotiations happen all the time, making this a great leadership skill to develop. Some are noticeable, others are easy to miss. They are present in your work and your home life. If you are aware of when the opportunity shows up and are prepared, you’ll strengthen your program and getting more of what you need.