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.

ON LIBRARIES: Leaders Are Team Players

Leaders need to know how to be team players.  They can’t succeed in a vacuum.  And for those of you who are still leery of stepping into leadership, learning to be a valued team player is a good entry into leading. Being part of a team means you listen carefully, evaluate critically, and offer suggestions and alternatives. When you contribute in this way you are showing leadership while you build your confidence to propose plans and ideas of your own.

When you are a team player, you lead from the middle which means, according to Hildy Gotleib in her article Leading from the Middle: Bringing out the Best in Everyone: “bringing out the best in others, so that they can realize and step into their own potential to create change.” This is an important and results oriented form of leadership that allows you to have a voice in what is working as well as what is not working for your program and students.

I faced a situation that called for being a team player when administrators suggested changing to a block schedule for our high school. By doubling the length of classes, students would take one year of a course in a single semester.  The lab science teachers loved it. The world language and English teachers hated it. Others had mixed views but generally were opposed. I liked it because it increased time to do research.

But it didn’t matter – I knew it was a done deal even though the administrators presented it as though it was a possibility.

The challenge was how to respond. Since, the decision was already made, there was nothing to be gained by presenting alternatives.  On the other hand, outright support for block scheduling would pit me against many teachers.

My solution was to suggest I be given a one-time budget supplement to purchase materials to support the teachers as they learned to prepare lessons that lasted 90 minutes. The funds were immediately approved.  I bought the material and set up a special section in the library for the teachers to work there or they could make arragments to take the information home.

The teachers were grateful for the help I got them making this a win-win for the school library.  Even better, when I got my budget for the next school year the money that had been added remained there for me to do with as needed.

As usual, the business world offer suggestions we can use to learn to lead from the middle. In her blog post, 5 Ways to Build a Leadership PathwayMarlene Chism writes that you can “build your own pathway to leadership by becoming the best possible employee.”  Some of thewse you already do. See which ones you still might need to put into practice.

Ask for clarification – This has two parts.  When you learn of a change or new situation, don’t assume you understand exactly what your principal wants. Try to recognize the intended purpose of the plan and if you don’t know – find out. (My administrators wanted to change the method of instructional delivery.) After you know the what and the way, do some negotiating. If too much is being put on your plate, ask for advice on what has priority.

Using this particular approach shows that you are an active listener and aware that decisions have many parts and reasons.  Your administrator will recognize you are focused on achieving positive results. In the process, you might save yourself some work.

Master the skills – On the one hand, this is a reminder to keep current with technology, standards (including the AASL National School Library Standards), and the latest approaches in education which would interest your administrator and support new initiatives. Chism also talks about mastering soft skills as well.  You want to hone your relationship building skills and be aware of how you are being perceived.  If you detect negatives, do your best to change them. Consider getting a mentor to help you.

Become resourceful – Propose solutions to challenges you see whether it’s about the school library or other areas.  Never bring a problem to an administrator without having a potential solution to offer. They don’t appreciate being put on the spot and might very well come up with a method that doesn’t work for you.  By being pro-active you make it more likely your approach will be the one used, although there are likely to be tweaks.  Administrators want to let you know they can think on their feet, but you have already paved the way.

Take ownership – This is about your commitment to what you do. Your school library reflects your values. You take responsibility when something isn’t working and seek to fix it.  Leading from the middle (or the top) also means that you spotlight and acknowledge others who worked with you on a program or unit.

Seek accountability – Chism says ownership is about mindset and commitment while accountability is about measurement. Always assess. Whether you do a formal one for a large project or informally evaluate a lesson, always take time to review, reflect, and assess. By doing this you will also come to notice that your successes outweigh by far the ones that didn’t go as planned.

Actively and consciously being a team player means that your work strengthens the whole team. This can be an important way for the library program to be viewed as vital to the success of the school as a whole. Your input, support and knowledge will be an asset and you will be known for being a leader.

ON LIBRARIES: How Leaders Learn

Just as you continue to increase your knowledge of technology, you also need to increase your understanding of what makes a leader successful.  And when this knowledge becomes integrated into your practice, you’re a better leader.  Leaders stand out. When you are a leader, you stand out.  Others watch you.  To continue to be viewed as a leader, you need to up your game.  As you well know, if you are standing still, you are likely are falling behind.

In past blogs, in my books, and at presentations and workshops, I have discussed leadership qualities including leading with integrity, being a team player, having a sense of humor, and being a visionary/risk taker.  No doubt these are basic as are some others.  Working on these qualities do help you become a better leader, but there are behaviors that are also essential.

One aspect of leadership that is rarely discussed is how leaders continue to learn and grow.  Lolly Deskoll whose posts I have discussed before explains How the Best Leaders Invest in Themselves. She offers seven ways for you to do that.

  1. They’re open to feedback As much as we want to know the truth, egos are sensitive things. We don’t like hearing negative comments even when they are objective and helpful. Sure, we ask for feedback, but how do ask for it?  For example, if you say, “Did you like the way the class went?” chances are you’ll only get one-word answers.  It might have gone well, but that is not necessarily the whole story, and if you want to improve, you need to get legitimate feedback.  Instead, say, “What did you think I could have done better?” or “What do you think was helpful and what wasn’t?” And remember – some feedback will be positive.
  2. They’re always readingThis is easy for us, but it depends on what you are reading. Deskoll notes that Bill Gates regularly goes on retreats and reads 20 books.  I get several “SmartBriefs” in my Gmail.  While some are educational, many are business and tech related.  It is from the business ones that I get a new perspective on development (including today’s topic). I also am a member of ASCD.  Not only do I get e-newsletters, I also get their magazine Educational Learning.It’s how I keep up with what supervisors and administrators are interested in. Find new things to read that will inspire you from a new perspective.
  3. They learn from their mistakes – Although we teach our students the importance of failure, it doesn’t feel the same when it happens to us. But you never grow without risks and there’s always a chance a risk won’t pan out. You also can learn from the mistakes of others. I even observe this with corporate America.  The ones who try to cover up their mistakes end up in worse shape than if they hadn’t tried to hide it.  Those who own up to what went wrong and have a plan of action to make changes gain the confidence of their customers and come back from the failure stronger than ever.
  4. They grow their network No one understands what goes into being a school librarian the way other librarians do. The more librarians you have in your PLN, the better able you are to deal with new challenges – and bounce back from setbacks. There are many Facebook groups for librarians.  Join them.  If you are not a member of your state library association, you are cheating yourself and your students from a valuable source of help.  And if at all possible, you need to belong to a national association. As you know, I am very active in ALA/AASL and I continue to learn from it. I know I wouldn’t have become the leader I am without my participation.  I’ve chosen to belong to ISTE as well. I’m not active, but their journal keeps me informed.
  5. They know how to ask questions In general, leaders are big picture people. It’s a necessary part of being visionary. That means they sometimes overlook details, and, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.”  Asking the people you work with to look over your ideas and critique them is not a sign of weakness or even insecurity.  It is recognizing their value and showing you know that no one has all the answers.  Good leaders know their strengths – and also know their weaknesses.  They look to others to fill in the spaces where they aren’t strong. It also creates places for collaboration.
  6. They make time for reflectionI admit this has always been hard for me.  Fortunately, I discovered walking.  When you are so busy, it seems like a waste of time to step away from the tasks at hand, but in actuality it is the pause in the day that rejuvenates and can inspire you. Deepak Chopra once said people who don’t have time to meditate once a day should meditate twice a day. Find a way that works for you such as keeping a journal, coloring or knitting.
  7. They have a coach A coach or mentor is an invaluable resource. I have had a few over the years, although I never put a name to the relationship. I don’t have a specific person now, but I do have a number of “go-to” people I reach out to when I have a question. Who is a leader you admire? Is there someone in your PLN who seems to be very knowledgeable in an area that concerns you? Consider asking that person to be your coach/mentor.  It might surprise you to discover that some of the major leaders in the field are willing to help you.

Strong leaders are lifelong learners – something we librarians do naturally. These behaviors aren’t new tasks – they are new places to learn. And always make time for yourself.  Remember you are a human being—not a human doing.

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.