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.

Social and Emotional Leading

You have become adept at incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into your library program, but you also need to consciously integrate these tools when you are leading. The social aspect is more obvious. We are in a relationship-based business, and you can’t build relationships without social skills. It’s the emotional leading that requires a rethinking.

In a profession where women are in the vast majority, it’s important to remember that, with awareness, emotions can be appropriate and important, rather than avoided or dismissed. Understanding and managing your emotions is the key to successful leadership. Emotion is a neutral term that encompasses an immense range of responses. In Social and Emotional Leading, you need to draw on the positive ones and recognize and reduce the negative ones.

In her blog post, Essential Decision Making Emotions: Are You Using These?, Kate Ness presents five decision-making emotions to incorporate into your leadership and five to manage. Starting with the positives, here are her first five:

  • Showing Respect – Recognize the value of others. You do this when you don’t interrupt work with a student to respond to a question from a teacher. If you must, you explain that you will be back. In our world of text messages, we shouldn’t forget the importance of “please,” and “thanks” becomes a perfunctory “thx.” Be more conscious of the little civilities. They make a difference.
  • Expressing Empathy – Recognize what others are going through. Use your ability to read body language and their tone of voice to reach out to them. Send a quiet note. Offer to be a listening ear if they need one. Do it with all the lives you touch, from students through administrators – and parents.
  • Considering Human Impact – Ness’ post references laying people off. We don’t do that, but we do see it happen to others in our educational community – and too often to us. This pandemic has led to all sorts of losses. In any difficult situation you come across, offer help where you can and empathy where you can’t. Let them know you are there for them at some level.
  • Recognizing and Appreciating Talent and Effort – When you inform your administrator of a successful project, highlight the important contributions of people who were a part of the project. When you’re offered suggestions, acknowledge them, and show you are considering it. When you give this type of respect to students, you give them voice and choice and further make the library a welcome place.
  • Valuing Altruism – Look for ways to give back – and acknowledge ways that others are giving. Suggest and lead projects that help the community or an individual. These are hard times. We need to work together to stay strong.

And the five you want to avoid when building relationships are:

  • Anger: Anger is a valid emotion, but you don’t want to speak or act out of it. Most people don’t think clearly while angry which can undo much of what you have achieved when using positive emotions. Remembering to pause will do much to get you back on track.
  • Panic – Panic also stops you from thinking clearly and leads to poor decisions. Once again, a pause helps along with taking time to breathing more deeply. Slower breathing leads to a slower heart rate and a clearer mind. You will get through it. You always do.
  • One-sided Compassion – Avoid being immersed in one emotion and not letting yourself see where there are other forces at play. Be sure you are seeing the whole picture.
  • Fear of Conflict – Fear of causing anger and disagreement is understandable, particularly in today’s very polarized world. But you can’t lead if you keep stepping back. Use your positive qualities and all your emotional intelligence to look for ways to respond in a non-controversial way.
  • Uncontrolled Passion – Being passionate about your work and your core values is necessary for leadership. However, overwhelming people with it is not. People feel you are battering them and that there is no room for their interests and priorities. Find ways of sharing your values and abilities without it sounding as though you demand to be heard.

Emotions are everywhere and always with us. They are powerful but can work against us when we’re not aware. Recognize and work with your emotions and your leadership skills will improve.

Communication – Positives and Pitfalls

Online, in person, via text or via social media, we are always communicating. It is the basic tool we use to form relationships, and relationships are the core of our success. As adults, one would think we would have mastered it by now, but it’s not that simple.

Because our interactions with others consist of multiple levels of communication, there are many opportunities for confusion. Most of the time we successfully send our message in a positive way and that is how it’s received. Other times we are not as successful, and we don’t always know why. What can we do to have conversations that produce the desired results?

What can we do to have conversations that produce the desired results?

Lolly Daskal has advice for business leaders, which applies to all. She minces no words in 9 Dumb Things Smart Leaders Need to Stop Doing Right Now. Here is her list:

  1. Stop talking over people – We strive for active listening, but when we’re excited or concerned we have a tendency to interrupt to get our comments and ideas in. When we don’t listen to others, they stop listening to us. (This is one I need to work on – especially when I’m harried.)
  2. Stop thinking you know best – There are knowledgeable, trustworthy people around you. Just because we know better than anyone how the library works doesn’t mean that others can’t offer something important. Their viewpoint can alert us to something that needs changing. Give them the respect of listening to what they say and the tenor of the conversation changes. You also gain a potential ally. Remember, it’s feedback, not criticism.
  3. Stop creating unattainable goalsWhether working with students or teachers, having a large goal is great, but if the receiver of the message feels it can’t be achieved, they will tune out, you will get annoyed, and your body will communicate that message. Instead, break goals down into smaller ones that do seem attainable. You don’t want your goals to add to anyone’s stress – including yours.
  4. Stop trying to control everythingWhen there is too much to do and not enough time, ironically, we tend not to trust anyone to help. We fall back on “you know best,” and it will take too much time to explain everything. Pause. Breathe. Then figure out how to loosen the reins otherwise you will probably come across as bossy and feel overwhelmed, unappreciated, and tired. When others can help, we inspire new leaders.
  5. Stop taking people for granted Unless we consciously remember to acknowledge people, teachers, administrators and students. When we recognize their worth, they are more apt to recognize ours. Thank people for their time, support, encouragement, and help.
  6. Stop the hypocrisy – Keep your actions aligned with your words. When it comes to the big things, we rarely struggle, but the small things can slip our minds in a stress-filled day. Be aware of the possibility to keep it from happening.
  7. Stop imposing unnecessary rules – Some rules are necessary, but if they are arbitrary and/or make people’s lives more difficult, then they revision – or they need to go. Don’t set rules that make the library less welcoming. Look to create positively stated guidelines that support your Mission and Vision.
  8. Stop criticizing people in public This applies not only to teacher (and administrators) but students as well. Public humiliation is harmful and can have long-term negative effects. Responding too quickly with a negative comment is damaging. Apologize immediately. No matter how well the person appeared to take the comment, the barb stung, and they won’t forget it.
  9. Stop trying to act alone This is most likely to happen when we are guilty of #2 and #4. Daskal quotes the adage, “if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

We all have fallen into some of these communication pitfalls. Being mindful of them will minimize their occurrences. We need to ensure we send –and receive—messages positively. It builds our relationships and our leadership.

Finding New Approaches to Effective Leadership

Leaders have go to responses that support their success in projects, challenges, and interactions, but with all that has been happening in the last several months, you may find that what worked in the past isn’t getting the results you want. If you’re experiencing this, the solution may be to try an opposite but equally effective approach.

A post on the District Administration site by Michael Moore, Rethinking Leadership, Plus 6 Tips to Improve Effectiveness, asks us to consider what he refers to as the “polarities” in leadership styles.  If what you’ve done isn’t working, he suggests being ready to move to the opposite pole. It will be unfamiliar at first, but the results will be worth it.

Consider these six polarities among the nine he offers:

  • Act – Plan – In a new situation, do you go into action mode first? Or do you wait and take time to plan? Both have advantages and if one is what you always do, considering trying the other and seeing what results you get.  
  • Think- Feel – It’s easier to respond to people’s ideas, but it’s important to be able to identify their underlying feelings.  Which is your go-to style and can a switch give you a better result?
  • Confident -Modest – Leaders need to be confident, but children and adults respond well when you let then know about your failures and challenges.  If you are too confident, no one will see a need to help, and you may find yourself doing everything.
  • Just-Compassionate – Is there flexibility in your structure? When there are library guidelines instead of rules, then changes can be made based on equity and unexpected circumstances. It can make decisions less clear-cut, but ultimately you will take better care of people that way.
  • Answer -Ask – Notice how you respond when people come to you with questions. Do you need to have an answer? Are you willing ask more questions or say you don’t know? (related to Confident-Modest)
  • Solution – Problem – Similar to the Act-Plan polarity, do you move quickly to find a solution or take time to explore the roots of the problem and learn if there is something deeper creating the situation? Sometimes the problem can tell you more.

After explaining the polarities and how a switch can support your success, Moore offers six tips for becoming a more effective leader.

  1. Tell People Why – Transparency in decision-making gives others a chance to contribute. Their input may sometimes save you from a serious error, and their involvement builds relationships.
  2. Be Clear About Specific Behaviors You Want – This applies most often to your dealings with students, but it could include teachers with whom you collaborate. When explaining what you want, include the why so your audience better understands your decisions. You can also consider giving them a chance to discuss how they see it working.
  3. Build Networks of Support – I have long recommended you use your PLNs but also build support with others in your school and district as well, particularly your principal. This will help when faced with sudden changes or unexpected absences.
  4. Lighten the Load – Collaboration and delegation are the secret to effectiveness.  I once worked in a school where each teacher in a grade level created the unit in a specific subject area (ELA, social studies, science, math, health).  They would then exchange their work across the grade level. Look for ways you can do this. If there are other librarians in your district, reach out and get creative.
  5. Measure and Track Results – Incorporate informative assessments into projects so you can accurately tell whether you are achieving your goals or need to change something. Be willing to make changes as necessary and celebrate successes.
  6. Vary Your Pace –You can’t be effective if you are overwhelmed and exhausted. Build in time-outs so that if a crisis comes, you have more energy. Those who exercise or weight lift are advised to change up their pace.  It is strengthening.  You will get more done. 

No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be more – the next project, a new challenge or a change in administrators.  Before automatically using the same techniques, take time to see what’s effective and what’s not working as well, then decide what you can do to support your success. Leaders are willing to try new approaches.

Your Leadership Journey

As one year ends and another begins (can I get a cheer?) it’s a good time to look honestly at where you are on your leadership journey and think about where you want to go next. The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu supposedly said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Even if it’s only a small step, what matters is that you have begun, and that you continue. Where it will end you cannot foresee, but the farther you go the more lives you will impact and the richer your own experiences will be.

Thinking of the leadership journey takes me back to my August 24. 2020 blog Follow the Yellow Brick Road. The Wizard of Oz has a lot to teach us about growing and learning in a time of stress and ambiguity. You might want to watch it through the perspective of a leadership journey. Much like you in your initial foray into leadership, Dorothy places a tentative first step onto the road.  With encouragement, she moves forward. (NOTE: If you’re starting out – I hope you have a mentor and if you’re further along, I hope you’ll look to be a mentor to those early in their journey.)   Her path begins as a spiral, coming back on itself but getting larger and more distant from the center each time. So it is with leadership. You take on small things. Slowly you move out of your comfort zone, even if it is still close by.

Eventually the path widens and there is a large vista in front of you. Your old comfort zone is behind you, but now the risk of everyone seeing your performance and potentially judging it can inhibit you from continuing the journey. Every leader deals with this, and to bring Lao -Tzu back, you won’t reach the thousand-mile mark unless you keep going forward. The good news is, the steps you’ve already taken will support your success.

As you move onto this larger road, you need to hone the skills you have developed and use them in a focused way. In a post for SmartBrief, Jonathan Dapra offers advice for Navigating the Road from Doer to Leader. The article speaks to the balance of being a manager (doer) while also being a leader.

Dapra proposes these five steps.

  1. Create a Vision and Share It –Managers work to drive their Mission; Leaders move forward to realize a Vision. I hope you have created a big Vision of how you want your library program to be and be perceived. The second half of Dapra’s advice is equally important – share it.  Post it on a wall in your library. Have it on your website. Put it in the signature of your work emails.
  2. Build Mutually Beneficial Relationships – Relationships are our business, and we need to develop them. This takes the concept to a new level. As a manager, you have undoubtedly included collaboration as part of your Mission. As a leader, you want to be more strategic.  Who are the influencers in your building? There are always teachers who are more respected. Is your principal a genuine leader or does s/he only have the title?  Is the secretary the real power?   These are the people with whom you must build relationships.  Note the term “mutually beneficial.”  What do they need? How can you give it to them?
  3. Be a Master of Feedback – Leaders create more leaders. They do so by empowering others and helping them grow. Feedback is an important element of that, but to master feedback you might want to review last week’s blog. Criticism vs. Feedback. Ensure that what you think is a supportive comment is not taken in as criticism.  Although Deprak doesn’t mention it, you also should seek honest feedback about yourself and use it. Leaders put what they learn into action.
  4. Know Your Business – Our profession has long been about rapid changes, which has been accelerating as part of our response to the pandemic. Staying current is challenging, but professional journals such as AASL’s Knowledge Quest and ASCD’s Educational Learning along with the library-related social media will keep you on top of new tech and important issues. You want to be the one people turn to when they need to know something, secure in the knowledge that you can help them or find the help they need.
  5. Walk the Talk – No matter where you are on your leadership journey, be a model of what a great leader is.  Be trustworthy and empathetic. Give help and be strong enough to ask for help.  Dorothy did and look where it led her.

I urge you to look for ways to reach the wider road on your leadership journey.  Get involved in your state school library association. Become active on the national level. Start conversations on library social media sites to contribute to and learn from your peers. When you continuously take one step at a time, you can make that journey of a thousand miles.

Practice Positivity

Has anyone else had a moment (or two or three) of wanting to smack the next person who says, “We need to stay positive.”? I’m sure I’m not alone in being frustrated with the phrase, but I also know that it can not only be an important part of leadership, but can be a way to help ourselves and others.  

What is positivity?  Healthy Place cites the Oxford English Dictionary definition as “The practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.” It’s not what you are born with, although some people are naturally optimistic. Calling it a practice means it is something you can learn.  Somehow, we need to find a path and make choices that give us the strength to push through with an encouraging attitude.  After all, we are leaders and therefore people look to us to lead the way. 

Leaders project confidence.  That is the first step toward positivity. We have seen a number of leaders during the pandemic do this.  They don’t pretend all is well.  They acknowledge problems exist but also highlight what can be done and how there is a way forward. This positivity on their part inspires confidence in others. Suddenly all is not bleak.  It’s not perfect, but we will get through it.

To do the same for the people you lead, reflect on what techniques you used to build your confidence. Recall previous successes. Remind yourself of your areas of expertise, your skill sets, and the leadership qualities you have.  Add anything that helps you.  Putting on makeup and dressing nicely is something I do decades after retiring. It gives my confidence a boost, which helps with whatever I have to do.

In his Edutopia article How to Lead with Positivity Matthew X. Joseph notes, “Positive leadership is not a topic of conversation just because of Covid-19, but the drastic shifts we’re all facing due to the pandemic are reminders of just how important positive leadership strategies are. Shifting from the difficult and challenging to the positive and inspiring brings out the best in ourselves and others, and that’s how things move forward. He goes on to write. “… positive leadership makes a difference in productivity, satisfaction, and happiness at work. Leading with positivity also helps to build trust among colleagues, and it becomes safer to open up to change.” Practicing positivity will not only help us through this difficult time, but it sets us up for future success. We need to come out from this pandemic stronger than before, not only with a seat at the table, but at the head of the table (or close to the one who is). 

There are several “why’s” behind the importance of practicing positivity. Keeping them in mind gives you additional motivation to continue. The optimism in positivity is contagious.  You lift people up, and they lift up others. Another benefit is knowing when you are optimistic, your resilience increases. (See my November 30th blog.)

Joseph also notes that optimism promotes problem-solving for individuals and groups.  In the word of the old truism, “If you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”  By bringing your positivity to the various teams you work on, you improve their attitude and their ability to solve problems.  This in turn makes you a valued member of the team.

As an additional contributor to an upbeat mood, remember to celebrate all wins, big and small, personal and professional.  We need all the celebrations we can get. Celebrations make people smile, and we definitely need more smiles.  Even when we are masked, the eyes are smiling, and the happiness is there.  Celebrations increase optimism, which increases problem-solving resulting in more celebrations.

Be confident and courageous. Your teachers, students, and administrators need what you bring. You have done it before.   You are a leader who is becoming a bigger leader.  And the positivity you bring and encourage today will lead to even greater benefits as we head into the future.

ON LIBRARIES – What is Leadership?

I was recently asked this question by the president-elect of my state school library association. With all that I have written over the years, it should be easy for me to answer, and yet I didn’t have a ready response.  How would I define leadership?

After much thinking, I decided that leadership is the ability to move people and programs in a specifically chosen direction with a goal in mind. The answer is as simple as the question but raises additional and more complex questions. What are the behaviors and skills needed to move people in that new direction?

Visionary – If you are going to move people and programs in a new direction, you must know where you want to go.  In the words of the immortal philosopher, Yogi Berra, “if you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to arrive at someplace else.”  You can’t be a leader unless you are a Visionary.

Hopefully, you have a Vision Statement for your library in addition to a Mission Statement.  That will always be a guide for you in planning.  While this sounds like it must be huge, you are the one who has the Vision, and it can be any size that meets your needs. It’s the Vision – and your commitment to it – that matters.

Communicator – To accomplish your Vision, you need to get others to support it. Whether it’s an administrator’s approval or getting people to work with you (or both of these), you must convince and inspire them to see the value of your Vison. How well you frame your message, to whom and how you send it, depends on your skill as a Communicator.

This starts with knowing the preferred communication method of the receiver of your message. Show how your concept will fit into their wants, needs, and possibly their vision. Have your plan ready to go.  Consider what supporting information you will need, but don’t inundate the receiver until you get agreement.

Relationship BuilderYou can’t lead if no one follows. Unless you give orders based on your position – such as a principal – people follow those with whom they have a relationship.  Leaders reach out to others regularly. Trust and empathy are integral to their behavior.  They hone it as a skill, knowing its value.

Library leaders recognize the importance of cultivating relationships across disciplines.  The broader the range of people with whom they have relationships, the easier it is to launch a project and get support. Those taking part know their work will be appreciated and acknowledged.

Flexible – Leaders are planners, but they are also flexible.  They recognize that the larger the project, the more chances there are for things to not go as expected. The vision they are holding is about the outcome, not necessarily how it specifically will look during the process.

I have worked on two library renovation projects and was expected to lead the way on the design and implementation.  Neither of them looked the way I had expected when it was completed, but both functioned as I had intended.  They met my Vision.

Courageous – Good leaders lead from the front.  It means everyone is watching you in some way, and yes, that feels risky. There is no guarantee of success.  In fact, you are bound to fail sometimes.  Whether in small parts which flexibility can fix, or with a project that doesn’t materialize, a leader takes responsibility for the consequences.

But leaders are also aware that the only failure is quitting.  How you react to setbacks is an indicator of your commitment to leadership. You clean things up as best you can. Commend the work of any participants.  Assess what went wrong and what you learned. And after taking some quiet time to lick your wounds, you try again.

Leadership can be scary, but it’s far better than having others direct your path. These behaviors and skills can be mastered in slow stages and grown over time.  Start small and build. You will learn as you go. Find mentors. Ask for help. The most important first step is making a commitment to being a leader and then following through.

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: Follow The Yellow Brick Road

My daughter often speaks about the great life wisdom in MGM movie The Wizard of Oz. As I consider where we have come from and what lies ahead, it’s apparent the story has much to teach us about our current situation.

To start at the beginning, a tornado called COVID-19 has swept down on all of us.  We landed in unfamiliar territory, and the one thing we know is, “we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”  With Dorothy as our guide, we can safely navigate this bizarre world.

She begins, as we did, at the beginning, not knowing exactly where she is going, but trusting herself to get there because her goal is so important.  Dorothy quickly picks up three companions, which is something most of you have wisely done, because on a journey like this, it’s important not to do it alone.

Despite being self-isolating, we have reached out to others. The various library-related social media groups are a lifeline.  Someone knows a resource that will be invaluable.  Someone can answer your question about using an app.  And we all understand the special demands being made on school librarians. Whether you are seeking help or giving it, you are part of the library community.  It will shore you up on good days and bad. It’s what we do for each other, and how we serve our students, teachers, and administrators. Some days you need the group – some days the group needs you.

Her three companions contribute to the journey, and what they represent is key. There is no doubt you will most need: Brains, Heart and Courage.

Brains:  The Scarecrow, who claims not to have a brain, shows good thinking throughout.  We may start out confused, but ultimately we are able to create important and worthwhile plans to provide the services your educational community – which more than ever includes parents – need.

Fortunately, as a librarian you are a lifelong learner – thinking is your strong suit. You have been going on webinars, checking new apps, and curating the ones that apply.  You share them with the appropriate people.  And you are there to provide technical and other help as needed.

Heart – The Tin Man longs for heart, but, of course, he has one.  He loves completely.  You, too, love your students and the job you do.  You feel for your teachers and your administrator and are doing your best to be there for them and show them you care.

Empathy is an important leadership quality.  It builds trust and draws others to you. Educators have been working on trauma-induced teaching and learning long before COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, almost all of us are dealing with trauma – ours and others.  Using your natural inclination to be of service, you bring this quality to everyone.  They count on you, even if they haven’t before. (And a reminder – be sure to document what you have been doing so it isn’t forgotten.)

Courage: The lion recognizes his fear, but doesn’t believe he has courage. However, when the time comes, when it is needed, he shows it completely. Being frightened doesn’t mean you aren’t courageous.   Getting up each day and carrying on is an act of bravery.

You also show your courage in your dealings with others.  You focus on the possible and look for solutions, trusting you will find something that works. Like the lion, you admit you are scared, but your actions show your community how you demonstrate courage in the face of it.

Finally, it is important to notice Dorothy. She starts out feeling confused and uncertain. (And who isn’t these days?).  But she soon shows she is a leader. Dorothy builds her team, accepting help to reach her Vision and Mission. The Vision – To get back home and be there for her family.  The Mission – Get to Oz and get all of them what they need. With the team she inspires with her passion, they each make their own contribution, and attain their desired results. She has empowered them to become better than they knew they were. She is a true leader.

So, put on your red shoes and start following the Yellow Brick Road.  We know it’s not Kansas,  but this is where we live now and no matter what, there’s no place like it.

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.