ON LIBRARIES: Being a Leader Takes Practice

Professional musicians and athletes practice regularly to keep and raise their skills to the highest level. But all professions and crafts require practice.  This means being attentive to what you are doing and repeatedly assessing your performance. You probably do this as a librarian, but you may be not reflecting on how you are practicing – and improving – as a leader.  Making regular checks on your leadership practices will increase your skills and make you more successful.

The needs of your program keep you very busy but you cannot overlook how you are doing as a leader. As I have often written, you are either growing or dying.  There is no stasis.  And school librarians must be leaders – there is no other option.

Are you content to lead only in small ways? Anything is better than nothing, but you need to keep growing.  What plan do you have to do so? Do you go to your state (and hopefully national) conferences?  Have you taken webinars? It’s easy to complain about time, but that is a story you tell yourself.  Remember none of us have time.  We make time. When it’s a priority in your life, you find a way to do it. And leadership must be a priority.

As a quick check, think of how many times in the course of the day were you a leader? With teachers?  Administrators? If you can’t come up with instances, you need to do more to focus on your leadership practice. John R. Stoker’s post Are You Working on You? Questions for Improving the Quality of Your Leadership is a good way to take stock and expand on how you lead and how you are perceived. He puts forth ten questions that build on each other. If you’re struggling with the first few, you’ll be challenged with later questions as well.

  1. Are people motivated to follow you? – You can’t be a leader if no one is following you. When you propose a program—big or small—how is it greeted?  If you can’t enroll the necessary stakeholders to go along with it, you are doing everything alone.  Not only are you not leading, but you are also more likely to become overwhelmed.  If this sounds like you, think of how to reframe your ideas so it appeals to the needs of the people you want to join with you.
  2. Do people seek your perspective or insights? You should be known as someone who knows a lot about technology and how to incorporate it into teaching. People should recognize you as an expert in literature for your students.  If your advice isn’t being sought, why do you think that is?  Perhaps you give the impression you are too busy. Being approachable is an important part of being a leader.
  3. How open am I to different perspectives about tough issues? Now more than ever, we need to be models of civil discourse. Teachers and administrators may have different views on what you add to the collection. While you must be true to your philosophy and professional ethics, how you hear their feelings and react to them will affect their perception of you as a leader.
  4. What situations or feedback cause me to get defensive? When we get defensive, the other person tends to react badly as well, and we are certainly not behaving like a leader. Listen for the message rather than focusing on the delivery method. Respond calmly, once again showing how well you can engage in civil discourse.
  5. Why do I take certain situations personally? This is an excellent self-analysis question. We usually react personally when it touches on old feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability. Even if you never stop the internal reactions, being aware of why it is a trigger will help you put it in a proper perspective and move forward positively.
  6. How does my communication style affect others? This is big. In talking with others, there is what we actually said, what we intended to say, and what the listener heard. Ideally, they are all the same, but they may be three different things.  Tune into the body language of the person with whom you are speaking and ask for feedback to ensure your communication was clear.  If you are communicating by email, re-read before sending it.  You may not realize how your words will be received.  If it’s very important, ask someone you trust to read it and tell you what they got from the message.
  7. How does my mood or state of mind influence the decision-making of others? Your mood affects your body language. If you are tense, angry, or frustrated when asking for support, those negative feelings will be communicated (making the answers to Questions #1 and #2 more likely to be no).   In that case, you will probably not get what you seek. Breathe and check your mindset before initiating the conversation.
  8. Do people view me as negative and cynical or positive and passionate? This is basic to being a leader. No one wants to be around someone who exudes negative emotions and is always finding fault and complaining.  If people don’t want to be around you, how can you be a leader?
  9. What personal characteristics of others bother me the most? This is an interesting question. Sometimes it’s people who exhibit traits you are sensitive about in yourself such as being overly talkative (this is one of mine). Other times it’s those negative attitudes of the previous question. When you are a leader, you need to be able to get along with everyone at some level. They don’t need to be your best friends but look for other qualities they have and speak to those.
  10. Do I make negative assumptions or judgments of others, or do I give others the benefit of the doubt? Although similar to the previous question, there are differences. When I was an elementary librarian, I had a volunteer mother who struck me as being somewhat slow mentally. Over time I got to realize that although she wasn’t well educated, she had a keen analytic mind and could often spot things in my plans that I had overlooked. I had to get past my judgments.

At the end of each month, reflect back on your accomplishments and challenges.  What did you do well as a leader?  Where can you improve?  Practice may not make perfect, nothing does, but it does make you better.  And remember to speak as kindly to yourself while you’re learning as you would to your students

ON LIBRARIES – Staying Curious

There used to be a commercial that had the tag line, “Inquiring minds want to know.” That mindset is what we want to instill in our students.  It is also one that is essential to a leader. In following the rabbit, Alice discovers a new world and a lot about herself. You never know what you will find if you go down that rabbit hole.  How can you develop a vision and take your school library to new heights if you are not seeking out new possibilities? Leaders are lifelong learners, and so are librarians.

What stimulates your curiosity?  Is it related to a hobby you have?  Do games engage your attention? As school librarians, we are constantly helping students search for information on a subject of academic or personal interest.  Do you ever continue to explore it even after the student leaves because you were still curious?

The nature of our profession requires us to be connectors.  We are constantly connecting people with information, but we also connect one piece of information to another.  That is how new knowledge is created.  When we follow the rabbit, we find ideas that can add greater dimensions to our program.

One way to stimulate your curiosity is to read outside school librarianship. I keep an eye on what is happening in technology and what administrators are focusing on. In addition, I look frequently to what the business world is doing.  Their purpose and goals are not necessarily the same as ours, but there are enough commonalities to see how their ideas can make us and our programs more effective.

A case in point is a post from Stephanie Vozza on 8 Habits of Curious People. She suggests that being single answer driven results in our being trained out of curiosity. How can we re-ignite the curiosity we had as young children?  Here is Vozza’s list of habits along with my usual comments.

  1. They listen without judgment – This implies active listening. You need to hear people out.  Sometimes they say something that sparks an idea you would never have considered. A rush to judgment shuts down your thinking on the subject.
  2. They ask lots of questions – If you have that inquiring curious mind, you want to know more. And the questions you ask should provoke a more detailed response and a way to continue learning.  Questions that can be answered with a yes or no will not add to your knowledge or lead you anywhere.
  3. They seek surprise – This one surprised me, and then I realized how true it is. If you look for something different, whether it’s a scenic attraction or an exhibit of technology, you don’t want to find what you have always known. The surprise generates new thoughts and who knows where that may take you.
  4. They are fully present – This is about knowing when to not multi-task but to focus on what is happening in the moment. How many times are we doing something else while someone is asking us a question? Are we really listening to what is being said? Is anything being said?  Why bother being with someone if you are not going to be “fully present?” Conversations with people outside the profession can bring up an idea that has relevance to what goes on in the library.
  5. They are willing to be wrong – This can be scary territory. I was involved in leading a library renovation project that was using moveable bookcases on tracks to make more floor space available. I planned on putting fiction on the counter height bookcases and reference along with the rest of the nonfiction on the tall bookcases.  My co-librarian noted that having heavy reference books on high shelves was not a good idea. She was right, and I made the change.
  6. They make time for curiosity – The suggestion here is to take one day a month to consider what things might be like in three years. You probably can’t schedule a full day to do this (although if you can – do it!), but you can plan time on a Friday at the end of the day to reflect on what isn’t working as well as you like or what is going better than expected, on what the kids seem to be interested in, and then on what can be changed or enhanced to respond to these situations.  You might then explore your thinking further – just because you are curious.

    copyright Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co
  7. They aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know” – Not knowing is the perfect launch to finding out. It’s giving rein to your curiosity. As librarians we are accustomed to saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Use that in how you respond to something new you haven’t come across before.
  8. They don’t let past hurts affect their future – Don’t live in your previous experiences. Just because you understand them and perhaps have had some bad experiences with pursuing a new course, you shouldn’t shut the door on curiosity.  Learning should never stop.

I challenge you to find one new idea outside librarianship that excites your curiosity.  Follow the rabbit.  Then create a plan for bringing your idea into your program.  It’s what leaders do.

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Leader in You

If you saw the title and thought “Hilda’s writing about being a leader again” my response is – absolutely. I will likely never stop. I honestly believe every one of you is a leader.  You just may not be revealing it to yourself and others. It’s time to let your leader out for the sake of our students, teachers, and our profession. And just as you must continue to discover, practice, and improve your leadership skills, I must cheer you on, providing as much assistance as I can. I hope as this school year gets underway you challenge yourself to engage in one demonstration of your leadership.

The Vision of AASL speaks to what I have been saying for many years, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian.”  The only way we are going to stop losing school librarians is by being valuable leaders in our school communities.  Those of you who are leaders have two tasks: become even more visible as leaders and help the school librarians in your district and state to become leaders.

A Google search yields scores of definitions of what a leader is, but the one I like best is from Vocabulary.com: “A leader is the one in the charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”  You are leading when you work with your students and engage them.  You are being a great leader when they feel they can really do what at first seemed like an overwhelming task.

The same skills can apply in your dealings with others.  Joel Garfinkle, writing for the business world, identifies and explains 8 Traits of Great Leaders. Many of these you are using with your students. It’s why your lessons work.  The next step is to think of how you can use these traits in throughout your school and beyond.

  1. Great leaders have integrity – It’s why your students trust you. And your teachers do as well. They know you keep confidences. You also uphold the ALA Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Great leaders have intelligence –It’s why you can help others. You know your stuff.  This intelligence is also social and emotional intelligence.  You have empathy. This is what, along with trust, helps you build relationships.  Don’t forget to show how you can help your administrator. What is his/her vision?  What do they want to accomplish? Use what you know to help them achieve it.
  3. Great leaders have high energy – It’s why you keep coming back. You can’t be a school librarian without it. Even on a fixed schedule, you can’t predict what demands will be made of you during the course of the day. Your high energy communicates to others your enthusiasm for what you are doing. Don’t forget to build in “me time” to avoid overwhelm and stress which will sap that energy.
  4. Great leaders bring stability – It’s why you can stay cool in a crisis. (You may choose to fall apart later.) This calm inspires confidence in you and your program. It is a reason for people to look to you for help when things get crazy. It’s why they will follow your lead.
  5. Great leaders have high standards – It’s why you have a Mission Statement. This works in addition to the ALA Code of Ethics and Library Bill of Rights. It represents what you see as your purpose and what your school library program is determined to deliver. Everything you do is related to that statement.
  6. Great leaders have a strong inner voice – It’s why you can stay focused. You trust your intuition and your gut to help direct you in your decisions. This is part of why you are calm in a crisis.  It is powered by your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  If you haven’t taken the time to create these, do so.  That inner voice will serve you well.
  7. Great leaders are confident in their decisions – It’s why you can get back on track. You may always feel very strong in this trait but trust your inner voice, standards, intelligence, and integrity. Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing you will grow from it. Your confidence, like your calm, contributes to having people follow you.
  8. Great leaders invest in their own growth – It’s why your program keeps getting better. I have always felt strongly about this. You are responsible for your professional development.  There are so many opportunities from webinars, Twitter chats, professional journals, and, of course, conferences.  (I am an unabashed conference junkie.) You must be a member, preferably an active one, in your state library association.  You should also join—and participate- in at least one national association.  Working at that level will bring out your leadership skills.

As the subtitle of my most recent book for ALA Editions, Leading for School Librarians says, — There Is No Other Option.  Take on making the AASL Vision a reality by performing as a leader.

 

ON LIBRARIES: The Price of Perfection

You want your colleagues to see you as vital and hopefully indispensable which means you work very hard to get things right.  But are you working towards excellence or perfection?

Excellence means something stands out because it is well done.  It achieves its goals. This is true of projects and people. Perfection is an unachievable standard that sets you and those around you up for failure because it cannot, by definition, be reached. Seeking the elusive and impossible is not a good use of your resources – personal or professional. Those who want perfection tend to struggle with accepting help or delegating because they are concerned that the work of others is never up to their standards.  Frequently, perfectionists don’t even believe their own work meets their standards, making them work even harder, never feeling success.

Sometimes, we can’t help but measure ourselves against a mythical Perfect – what we believe others are doing easily and flawlessly – and when we do, we have to fall short. Missing that mark leads to feelings of self-doubt which was the topic of last week’s blog, as well as losing self-confidence.  All of which adds stress and keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone and being a leader.

Jane Perdue says Perfection = an Overrated Waste of Effort.  She observes that it’s boring.  Of course, it is. Imperfections make life interesting. To counter your pursuit of perfection, she propounds nine ways it is overrated.

  1. Most people don’t recognize perfection when they see it. Others won’t recognize that something you created is perfect in your eyes. Of course, the opposite is true as well.  You see the flaws in your creation, but others don’t. Although it sounds counter-intuitive – perfect should be perfect—there isn’t one standard of perfection.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is perfection. Excellence is easy to recognize because a goal has been reached.
  2. Lost opportunity cost. How much time did you lose fixing that display? Working hard to line the books up perfectly? Walking away and going back just to move one part of it a hairline differently? Think about what you didn’t get to as a result of spending time on something that was already excellent and you’ll start to see the cost of perfectionism. It can keep us from having the time we need for the other goals on our plan.
  3. Miss out on simple joys. Those seeking perfection have less time to do the things that matter –like enjoy life. Life is messy and definitely not perfect. Perdue notes it’s “hard to look perfect eating an ice cream cone outside on a hot summer day.” But it’s fun. Having fun makes you light-hearted – and accessible. It gives you a happy mindset that makes other people want to be with you and that is important if you are building and maintaining relationships. Being messy can bring people closer to you.
  4. Present as narrow-minded. If you are looking for perfection, there is only one right way in your mind. Which means what other people do/say is wrong. You may not realize it, but that’s the message perfectionists send.  It’s intimidating and isolating, and it will work against you when trying to collaborate.
  5. Perfectionism feeds sex and gender stereotypes. We know from mass media what a “perfect” woman’s body is like. We know that not only is there “no crying in baseball,” but real men don’t cry either. Perfectionism is limiting and narrow   Embracing the diversity in others and accepting our imperfections creates better relationships which make the library a safe, welcoming space for all.
  6. Being perfect doesn’t automatically provide approval and affirmation. As you can see from the first things on the list, it is more likely to put people off which is ironic since usually people strive for perfection the hopes of gaining approval or positive notice. Your being perfect will not make others like you or create the willingness to work with you. It’s providing others with what they need, being open to them and their challenges which will bring support and cooperation.
  7. Perfectionism will make you sick. In striving hard to be perfect, you wear yourself out. Perfectionism dramatically increases stress, and the worst part is most of it is self-imposed. Depression is a potential result (due in part to the isolationism that goes with perfectionism) as is high blood pressure and poor eating habits.
  8. Fuel negative emotions. What happens when you can’t and don’t measure up to your standards? Self-doubt takes over. The negative noise in your head gets louder and your confidence plummets. In comes the Imposter Syndrome telling you others will see you aren’t worthy. It’s a deadly spiral that can only end once you step away from the lure of perfectionism.
  9. Consumed and paralyzed by fear. When perfect is your goal, you are more likely to fear trying something new because you worry you won’t be able to do it perfectly. You read of what others are doing in their libraries, but you prefer to stick with the tried-and-true because you know how to do that.  If you’re not growing, your program will lag behind and stand a greater chance of being eliminated.

Hopefully, some of the things on this list will help you notice if you’ve made perfect your goal.  When you hold yourself to some imaginary standard of perfectionism, you are more likely to hold yourself back from becoming a leader because taking risks and trying new things become nearly impossible. We are imperfect beings.  In striving for improvement and excellence we learn and grow. We accept our faults and failures as steps along our journey, and by doing so serve as a model for our students.

The Forest, the Trees, and Sometimes the Leaves

In last week’s blog, Should You Be a Leader or a Manager?, I didn’t specifically mention one big distinction: Leaders hold the big picture. Managers focus on the here and now.  While you can’t only look at the big picture, you also will miss the forest if you are only seeing the trees.  And some of you have gotten so caught up in the day-to-day details, you are only seeing the leaves.

Our world changes fast, and, as we have learned, the library program needs to constantly prove its value to the educational program.  In a few short years, for example, we have incorporated (and sometimes moved beyond) Makerspaces, Genius Hour, Hours of Code, and any number of other variations you may have experienced into the library program.

Those who hold the big picture were among the first adopters of these changes.  By doing so, they solidified the position of the library and proved its importance.  Those who weren’t focused on the big picture missed the opportunity. Sometimes, by the time they got to it, they discovered other departments had taken the lead, and the library was left out.

Today early adopters are looking at to incorporate “soft skills.” The business world is talking about them and so are some schools. How will you be incorporating communication, teamwork, and problem-solving into your library program? You are probably are doing it, but have you communicated to teachers and administrators that you are building students’ critical soft skills?  Maybe not, because you are too busy with the everyday needs of your program.

So, what keeps you from seeing the big picture?  You aren’t alone in dealing with this challenge. The business world is also concerned with and focused on what’s next, knowing that in order to be responsive to change they can’t just deal with what’s new. Those who want to get ahead discover what is holding them back from taking the larger view and getting past it.

A post by Joel Garfinkle looks at The Importance of Big Picture Thinking. He identifies five habits that may be preventing you from seeing the big picture and offers ways to combat them.

Overanalyzing – This is what happens when you closely examine every possibility.  Then you relook at them. General Colin Powell once said he made military decisions with only 60% of the information because if he waited for all the information to be in, it would be too late.  He referred to the practice of over-gathering information as “analysis paralysis.” It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re too worried about not being right or the danger of taking a risk.

Fixating on Results – Stop being on the hamster wheel. Trying to do it better and faster is draining.  If you are leading, you are not the one who should be doing all the work.  This is when you empower others to become a part of what you are doing.  Big jigsaw puzzles get done faster when you know how the finished picture should look – and when many hands help.

Managing Reactively – When you are focused on the little tasks, every bump in the road becomes a mountain. It’s why Vision and Mission Statements are so important.  When you know where you are going and why you get past these minor setbacks.  I have said that librarians who don’t have a Mission or a Vision Statement spend their day with a fire extinguisher and duct tape.  They are either putting out blazes or patching things up. By the end of the school year, they are exhausted and don’t know what they accomplished.

Going Solo – This is a bad approach on so many levels. You don’t build advocacy when you are going alone.  Ideas are fleshed out better when there is more than one mind working on them.  And it’s great when you have a big picture person working with someone who is more detail oriented.  They complement each other.  The big picture person may miss details, while the detailed thinker may lose sight of what the ultimate goal is.  Together, everything gets covered. We teach our students the importance of collaboration. We need to practice it.

Overfilling the Calendar – We all have a tendency to do this.  It is vital to have the opportunity to step away from the tasks at hand.  Make time for reflection. This is when you can strategize and plan.  For me, it happens on my walks.  I am regularly amazed at the ideas that I get during these times, and I’m not always trying.  I might be looking at work being done on a house I’m passing, and suddenly I get a thought about a future blog post or a way to better explain a concept to my grad students. Or sometimes it’s about nothing more substantial than dinner.  But the constant swirling of my brain when I am at the computer is now at rest and open.  We all need that.

So, as I said last week, scan the larger environment to identify innovations and ideas that will potentially impact the library program.  And take a walk in the forest.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Should You Be A Leader or A Manager?

The title is a trick question.

The answer is as a school librarian you need to be both. However, too many are almost always managers and the role of leader is sacrificed to the demands of managing. For your program to be successful, you need to employ the characteristics of both and know which role is necessary in the moment.

In the corporate world, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the manager, while the Chief Executive Officer is the leader.  As a librarian, you are both the COO and the CEO of your library program (minus the double salary).  It’s up to you to decide which hat to wear, and the decision is not always easy.

To recognize when you need to be one or the other, you must know what the differences are. In an article for Forbes, William Arruda defines 9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager. Much that he says applies to the unique job you have as a school librarian.

Here is his list- with my translations into the education environment:

  1. Leaders create a vision; managers create goals. Having a Vision is a required attribute of leaders. You need to know where you are going. Hopefully, you all have Vision and Mission Statements. It’s the leader part of you that created the Vision. As a manager, you develop the goals to execute your Mission, which is your path to your Vision.
  2. Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo. Leaders hold the big picture. They look to see what is likely to be the “next thing.” Their external scan of the environment goes beyond the library and even education. They are aware of developments in technology, psychology, and politics. Don’t panic.  It’s a scan.  Not an in-depth study.  The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less time it takes.  The manager in you will want to focus on getting today’s job done.  While that is necessary, you can’t let it be the sole focus of what you do.
  3. Leaders are unique; managers copy. Leaders don’t try to reproduce the past even when it was successful. When I left one job where my library program was highly regarded, my successor, who had worked with me, tried to do everything the way I did it. But she wasn’t me, and it didn’t fit. Slowly the library program was reduced. When I retired from another school system, the librarian who took over had also worked with me, but she drew on her own strengths and expertise to move the library in another direction while keeping the values which she also embraced.  The program grew.
  4. Leaders take risks; managers control risk. Those of you who read this blog, read my books, or seen my presentations, know I am always encouraging librarians to step out of their comfort zones. Your Vision requires it. Managers fear failure, but as I said in my blog Dealing with Failure, it’s part of the process that gets you to success.
  5. Leaders are in it for the long haul; managers think short-term. You won’t attain your Vision in a year. You may never reach it. But those who know that is where they want their program to go will keep getting closer to it.  Some librarians may write their Vision because it’s what they are supposed to do, but they regard it as unattainable.  Then they don’t create strategic plans to achieve it—which guarantees it will never happen.
  6. Leaders grow personally; managers rely on existing, proven skills. If you aren’t growing, you are dying. We are role models for lifelong learning. What have you learned today? How can you use it in your program? Reflect on how many skills you have that you didn’t when you first became a librarian. Where would you be if you hadn’t learned them?
  7. Leaders build relationships; managers build systems and processes. Relationships are the key to our success. It’s through relationships that we build collaboration and create advocates for our program. No matter how busy you are, you cannot limit your attention to managing the library.  It won’t work without the relationships.
  8. Leaders coach; managers direct. This is about trusting that others have good ideas about the library program. Be open to suggestions from others and discuss whether or these can be integrated into the program. The more you recognize others, the stronger your program will become.
  9. Leaders create fans; managers have employees. I love this one. Your job is to empower others to be their best. As the saying goes, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create new leaders.” You not only need to empower your students; you also need to empower your teachers – and everyone else in the school community. Even, and sometimes especially, your administrators. The library has a huge reach. Use that to your program’s advantage.

Going from leading to managing and back to leading is a juggling act.  It’s easier when you are aware of the differences and know when it’s time to switch roles. One is not better than the other, but one to the exclusion of the other will not give you the success you want.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES: Dealing With Failure

Leaders take risks—and sometimes those risks lead to failure.  What do you do then? I know what you would tell your students, but are you taking your own advice?

As with everything in our world failures come in different sizes.  There are quiet failures and more public ones. A small quiet failure might be you set up a display of popular fiction from years ago – and no one has looked at it.  A more public failure would be you planned a short program for parents during a conference or back-to-school night and only one parent showed up.

It feels awful. If this was one of the first risks you took, no matter the size, you are apt to crawl back into the tried-and-true. Obviously, leadership isn’t for you.  Or you have no business playing “large.”  You are not at that level of leadership and never will be. Fear of failure stops many from becoming leaders.

If you fall back and believe that story, you are depriving yourself of the benefit of failure.  As you tell students, failing is a learning opportunity.  No one reaches success without failure.  And even those who seem to be highly successful leaders will fail at times.

I made several mistakes when working on the plans for a new library wing in one high school. I made several others when I did a renovation at another high school.  I failed at keeping the School Librarian’s Workshop going as an e-newsletter.  And even recently, my proposed program for the upcoming AASL Conference was not accepted.

Does that make me a failure? It depends on what I do next. If I decided, for example, that AASL members were no longer interested in what I had to offer, I could tell myself I’m a failure, but failing is not the same thing as being a failure. That only happens when you quit.

Each time one of your plans or ideas doesn’t succeed, you can use it to grow and be better. For AASL, I didn’t read some of the details on how the final programs would be selected. I needed to reach more of my contacts to ask for support and do so frequently.  I sent something out once and then voted.  Next time I can and will do better.  (That’s also growth mindset.)

Look at how you failed. What caused it? Did you make assumptions that proved erroneous? Should you have built more support before you began the project?  It may be painful initially to look back, but it’s the fastest route to future success.

Everyone, especially leaders, risks failure and the potential for losing confidence in themselves.  And that is the big danger.  When your confidence level slips, it affects every part of your professional (and possibly personal) life. You can’t afford to let that happen.  We are not alone in facing the challenge of coming back from failure and losing confidence in ourselves.

Jesse Sosten offers some compelling advice on How to Regain Your Confidence When It Falters.  He refers to this loss of confidence as “the dip.”  He suggests you “Leverage the Dip.”  By this he means, reframe it so you look at it as a sign you are poised for growth. Accept that “you are a work in progress.” After all, if you are not progressing, you are not growing, and as I’ve written here before, that means you are dying.

Sosten’s next recommendation is to Limit Your Inner Compromise. This is the part where you shut down and hope no one is noticing you and remembering the last idea you had that was a non-starter. Instead, be more aware of your reactions.  When you see yourself wanting to exhibit this kind of behavior, check in with your Mission, Vision, and Philosophy.  What do you stand for?  Speak up as needed.

Confidence is not developed overnight.  But you can lose it all in a moment if you aren’t prepared to deal with the fallout when things go wrong.  The fact is things do go wrong even with the best of planning.  Having a Plan B is a good idea, but even that might not work.   When it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to come up with and move forward on your next new idea.  The best way to have people forget about a plan that didn’t work (and for you to let go of your negative self-talk) is to follow it with successes.

 

ON LIBRARIES: Advance Your Communication Skills

Leaders are skilled at communication.  A seemingly simple statement but one that is, in actuality, endlessly complex. I discussed the basics in my blog post last March, Keep Your Communication Channels Clear, pointing out the importance of the three parts of communication (senders, message, and receiver), and reminding you to be sure you are aware of how the different channels affect those parts. Yet even those who are skilled can make errors. And communication errors can be damaging.

It doesn’t take much to do damage.  At one of my libraries, teachers were always comfortable gathering in my workroom to talk and vent.  One rare calm day, a teacher came in and was voicing her frustrations to me and my co-librarian. My co-librarian said in response, “You teachers…” and I could feel the gulf opening between the two of them.  I spoke with my co-librarian about what I heard and saw.  She hadn’t realized what she had done. Anyone can make an error, but if you don’t recognize it happened, the effects can destroy any connections you are trying to build.

In another instance, I was the one who almost made an unwitting mistake.  I was going to send a memo to my Assistant Principal.  I can no longer remember the matter, but I was concerned about a problem and wanted his help.  Fortunately, before sending it, I showed it to the teacher who was responsible for our School to Career program.  (He shared space in my library and gave me the tech he got with his grants).  He encouraged me not to send it, explaining how a man would read it and react.  I re-wrote the memo with his oversight and got the results I wanted. I’m not suggesting you always check before you send something to a teacher or administrator who is not your gender, but you might find it enlightening to have a spouse or friend look something over.  You might be as surprised as I was.

Clear communication is an ongoing art form. A recent online post by Nick Morgan, How the Communication Rules Have Changed, presents five new rules which will help you do a better job of getting your message out.

Your “Less” Is Their “More” – Morgan points to the barrage of information we receive each day and how our tolerance for reading long texts is decreasing. In the past, I have reminded librarians not to give administrators background about requests or problems.  (This connects to the gender issue – see above). Get to the point immediately.  Offer details if requested.  We have a tendency to “bury the headline.”  By the time your administrator hears or reads what you want, his/her mind has gone elsewhere – and that’s assuming s/he gets there at all. Morgan also suggests you think your idea through the other person’s perspective and “tell them what they need to hear, not what you’d love them to know.”

We Experience Our Lives Chronologically, But That’s Not How Other People Want to Hear Them This relates to the previous rule. We want to give our “receiver” a complete picture.  They don’t have the time or interest to listen.  You need to grab attention quickly.  I love Morgan’s reminder that Homer started the Iliad at the end as the two sides headed into the final battle. Having captured your interest, he backfills the story itself. You, too, need to capture the receiver’s interest first.

The Body Language of the Virtual World Is Self-Defeating There is no true “body language” in the virtual world.  Even in Zoom or Skype meetings, you don’t get the same degree of body language as you do in person. We have developed new habits based on this, and it carries over into our face-to-face meetings. One result is that our manners have slipped. Have you ever been on a webinar and checked your e-mail or played a computer solitaire game?  We bring that behavior into our face-to-face meetings. Unless the gathering is very small (and even then), you will see people checking their phones. It is not only rude, it means you have stopped listening. I can’t remember leading or attending a large group session where a sizeable percentage of people weren’t texting. Leaders need to be active listeners. 

Because People Aren’t Paying Attention, Their Contribution Standards Are Crumbling – If you are not listening, you are not contributing. Don’t be the person who sends texts during a meeting. All studies show multi-tasking doesn’t work. To fight your own urge to look at your phone, take notes. It will keep you focused, and you will be a better contributor to the meeting – and it will be noticed.

The Pause is Still the Greatest Secret Weapon a Communicator Has – This is one I need to work on. Whether it’s stepping up to the mic at a large meeting or responding to something said at a small one, take a moment before talking. It’s an attention-grabber and will focus people on what you want to say. It also gives you just enough time to remember to begin with what the others want to hear ((see suggestion #1).

All this is a reminder that we are always communicating —often without any thought of how it is received.  And yet, it’s vital that our stakeholders receive the message we intended to send.  I have reached the conclusion you can’t learn too much about communication.  There is always room for improvement.

ON LIBRARIES: Expect the Unexpected

THIS WEEK GUEST BLOGGER: Rona Gofstein

Last Tuesday, Hilda went to the ER with stomach issues and before the day was out she needed emergency surgery. As of this morning, she’s still in the hospital but will soon be heading to a rehab facility before going home. Needless to say… this wasn’t on her to do list.

As the first person who reads her blogs and then edits them, I offered to write one for her this week, and in preparing to do so I thought about the things Hilda focuses on most often: leadership, community, and communication.  I can tell you all of those things played a part this last week.

When the word went out among her friends and family, people called, sent flowers and a few headed out to the hospital. Community came together. There were comments and posts throughout social media, hopes for a speedy recovery pouring in to Hilda and her husband. There is nothing like a sudden health issue to make you feel alone and isolated. I know Hilda felt the connection of her community who reached out in so many ways to help.

As for communication,  being able to communicate clearly with doctors and other care providers is very important.  Hilda has worked hard this past week, starting when she was arrived at the hospital, to be clear about what was wrong, how long the problem existed and, now that she’s in a patient room, what she needs to be comfortable and support her own recovery. This includes asking for the support she needs to take regular walks, get what she needs for pain management, and reaching out to family for things she needs them to bring (I can tell you, her Nook was at the hospital almost immediately).

Then there’s leadership. What to say about leadership?

I think John Allen Paulus said it best with, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.”  There is no way to avoid surprises whether that’s a class showing up in the library unexpectedly, a beloved principal retiring, or  your car not starting at the end of the day. It’s rarely fun; it’s frequently unsettling; and there’s no getting away from it.

As a leader, it’s important to use what skills you already have – and frequently these include communication and community – to make the situation into one which doesn’t take you away from your long term goals and mission. In fact, I think Hilda would be quick to remind us this is one of the marks of a strong leader, and one of the benefits of being clear on your mission and vision. If you know where you want to end up, then the unexpected won’t have the dramatic or long term results that they might other

I know you’ll join me in wishing Hilda a speedy recovery. And as we writers say, when life throws something unexpected at you, yell “PLOT TWIST” and keep moving forward!

 

ON LIBRARIES: Perseverance, Persistence, and Resilience

The list of leadership qualities seems to be always growing. Listening to librarians as they discuss how they cope with the demands of their job as well as the constant need to show their value, it seemed time to add some more.  For us as school librarians, perseverance, persistence, and resilience are particularly necessary qualities of leadership. We have a seemingly never-ending challenge to prove our worth along with that of the school library and the programs we create.

According to Merriam-Webster, Perseverance is “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” It’s almost a definition of the school librarian’s world. Every day, we strive to connect with teachers and the administration to demonstrate to them how we increase student achievement, transform learning, and prepare students to be the lifelong learners necessary for success in an ever-changing world.

 

Given teachers’ highly stressed workday, it is a continuous challenge to get them to give you the opportunity to prove your worth. Yet, you persevere.  If you are or want to be a leader, you believe that you will ultimately achieve your goals, accepting it likely that it will be a process of two steps forward and one step back.

In a brief article, Terry Magelakis explains the difference between Perseverance and Persistence.  He sees Persistence as the choice to continue doing something despite the difficulties in achieving the goal. Although this sounds close to the Merriam-Webster definition of Perseverance, Magelakis, emphasizes the idea that Persistence is about the choice. By contrast, he says Perseverance is” the continuation of commitment through action in spite of the lack of success.”  To persevere you need stamina and endurance – and so many of you have just that.  I love his statement that “perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

But what if you see no path to making the needed changes in your school and/or district? While I always write about leadership and the successes that have been achieved, that isn’t the whole picture.  The fact is success is a goal not a given. And sometimes it is unattainable where you are.  It is why I blogged a few weeks ago about when It’s Time to Move On.

However, before hauling out your resumé, remember that Perseverance does require a continuous effort to achieve your goal. If you slowly see improvements, persevere. Learn from what doesn’t work and try a different approach. After all, repeating the same action in hope of a different result is a definition of insanity. Make a realistic assessment of what is possible and decide your next course of action.

Persistence, which as noted, is very close to Perseverance, is an interesting term.  I had a highly

Small Plant – Drought Desert

strategic superintendent who led a school district that voted down budgets regularly.  She had learned to make it work as best she could with a stratagem I suspect is used by many administrators.

After approving one of my requests, she told me when someone came to her asking for something requiring funding, her immediate answer was “No.”  According to her, they would go away, and she no longer had to deal with it. I, on the other hand, frequently got a positive answer because I kept coming back with alternatives.

My behavior told her that I was serious about my request.  I was creative, and I probably was not going away.  This made her confident that I would use the funds wisely and the students and staff would benefit.

Some think Persistence carries the connotation of being stubborn. This should send up a red flag.  Be careful how your behavior might be perceived.  Stubborn people don’t listen to others’ ideas, believing their solution or approach is the only possible way.  Review how you are presenting your ideas.  Check with a trusted colleague to see if you are sounding stubborn.  If so, revise your message.

Resilience refers to your ability to bounce back from a setback.   Sometimes one of your ideas doesn’t pay off.  You want to go and hide and hope everyone forgets – or doesn’t notice. Nobody likes to get it wrong.

We try to teach students that failing is a part of learning, but we don’t react that way when we are the ones who failed in some ways.  If you always get it right, you haven’t reached high enough.  Leaders will and do make mistakes. It’s what you do next that makes all the difference.

Yes, you can have a pity party, but don’t stay there too long.  Take a close look at what happened. Was the whole thing a disaster or was there any part of your project/idea that worked?  Any of it salvageable? What went wrong? Was it a matter of timing? Did you count on the wrong people? 

In your analysis avoid going to negative or positive extremes.   Honesty is vital if you are going to learn from your mistakes. You will be a better leader as a result.