ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

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

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

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

The three big questions are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful year everyone.

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ON LIBRARIES: Stressed Out?

The school year has just begun and many of you are already feeling stressed out. Some degree of chaos is normal when you get back to work, and even if you aren’t in a new job inevitably there are changes you need to incorporate into your workday.

First – it’s important to decide if you are experiencing stress or distress. We tend to confuse the two. Stress isn’t all bad as I will discuss a bit later.  Distress is something else.  To deal with the issue, determine whether you are stressed or distressed.

When you are distressed you can’t focus.  Your brain bounces from one idea, one task to another. You

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can’t decide what to do first.  You tend to feel irritable and anxious and everything becomes hard to do. In addition, you are exhausted because you don’t sleep well, and that exacerbates the problem. An element of fear frequently comes into play as you wonder if you will ever get your situation under control.  For newbies, worrying about being able to do the job only heightens the fear.  Experienced librarians who have been thrust into a heavier schedule often caused by being given an additional school or a change in grade level also undergo periods of anxiety.

If you are in a state of distress, you aren’t leading.  And as leading is critical to the success of your program, you need to move from distress to stress.  Yes, you need to move to stress.

Since feeling continually out of control is one of the key elements of distress, begin by writing down all the things that are causing the situation. This will immediately reduce the swirling and noise that’s going on in your head. Identify by numbers which are the most important/serious and which less so.  Put a star next to any that are in your control to change and a minus next to the ones that are out of your control. You can also consider an extra star for those items you know you can change somewhat quickly.

Next, come up with a plan to address the most serious situations that are also within your control and deal with it.  As you eliminate these “distressers’” your anxiety level will go down. Once you have dealt with the ones in your control, review the ones that are out of your control.

What has caused them?  Some can’t be changed this year.  Others are the result of factors outside the administrators’ control.  However, a few will be caused by erroneous perceptions of administrators or others. For these, develop a plan/strategy to change these views remembering to not be defensive or accusatory in your communication.  When you have a plan to follow, you will slowly distress.

By contrast, stress is a normal part of our lives. When we manage it well, it has us moving efficiently from task-to-task, from problem-to-problem. Sure, we’ll have rough days, but they’re a part of what can be normally expected. If we have too many stresses or too long without an abatement the stress can become distress. Be alert for the possibility so you can put the de-stress techniques into play early.

An article entitled 7 Ways Mentally Strong People Deal With Stress, Amy Morin is mainly talking about distress, but her techniques work at both ends of the scale. She says mentally strong people accept that life always has setbacks.  I find it calming to recognize I have had huge problems before and managed to deal with them.  I will do it again.  Look to your past successes.

Next, she says, They Keep Problems in Proper Perspective. Just because something goes wrong and you don’t immediately start a downward spiral.  For example, you have a lesson prepared and the internet is down. Unfortunate, yes, but you are creative and flexible. Revise your plan. It doesn’t mean the whole day – or even that lesson – will be a disaster.

Third, They Take Care of Their Physical HealthIf you don’t feel well everything is harder to deal with.  Make sure to incorporate healthy living as a priority in your life.  This includes eating well and finding an exercise plan that works for you.

Along with that one They Choose Healthy Coping Skills. Hobbies, meditation, bingeing on a favorite television series help.  So does “allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions.”  Bingeing on chips and sweets? Not so healthy.

Number five is They Balance Social Activity with Solitude.  Socializing with friends and family puts us in a positive frame of mind.  We also need quiet downtime.  Our days are filled with talk. Sometimes you need silence. (I know we aren’t shushing librarians.  This is just for us.)

I particularly like They Acknowledge Their Choices.  I had a friend who stayed in a job she disliked because she chose to be near her ill mother.  She streamlined her job and stopped doing the “extras,” and accepted the conditions as part of her commitment to her mother.  We all make choices.  Sometimes we need to get out of a situation, but other times we need to recognize what got us here, what keeps us here, and what we plan to do about it.

Finally, They Look for The Silver LiningThis doesn’t mean pretending all is well. It means looking for what you can learn from it or what is good in the situation.  Has it helped you develop your coping skills?  Do you now have more empathy for others? Did it force you to learn new skills? Do you now prioritize better?

I don’t think I know anyone who is not stressed.  I also know many who are distressed.  You can’t afford to stay in the second group.  One of your new leadership skills will be showing how to move from distress to “healthy” stress.