ON LIBRARIES: Dealing with Criticism

Last week I blogged about Dealing with Failure. This week’s topic is almost its twin.  Most of us hate to be criticized as much as we hate to fail.  Both are inevitable.  Some criticism will be formal, such as a bad observation or evaluation. Other times it will be informal, ranging from negative feedback from a teacher after doing a lesson (which also ties it to failure) to a denigrating comment on how easy your job is.

Like failure, it’s important to be prepared for criticism and know how to deal with it. Two common reactions can have an adverse effect on your leadership.  Going into offense/defense mode ignores what the other party said.  In the process, you are likely to escalate the event, say things you don’t mean, and rupture what should be a developing relationship.

The other reaction, often based on fear and embarrassment, is to curl up inside yourself and say nothing.  But it festers.  You hold inner arguments about what you could have said, alternating it with self-recrimination.

Does this sound like a leader?

Nobody’s perfect.  While the criticism may have inflated your supposed errors (and deflated your ego), there invariably is an element of truth in what is being said. It’s that element that is the true trigger to your reactions.

For example, perhaps you have a class getting rowdy at the end of the period.  You might have yelled at them or ignored it and waited for the period to end.  However, the teacher coming in saw an out-of-control class and possibly an out-of-control librarian and said you and the kids shouldn’t be behaving that way.  Well, that is true.  But you want to explain the situation, justify it. The list of reasons as to why it occurred can be extensive.  Whether you want to lash out in defense or just be tight-lipped, you are missing the point.

As with failure, this is an opportunity for reflection and self-assessment.  Maybe not immediately, but certainly before the day is over.  How did it happen?  What could you have done to prevent or reduce the situation?  How would you like to deal with it in the future? You learn more from what goes wrong than you do from what goes right.

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of online posts on dealing with criticism from both the business world and psychology.  The one I feel did the best job is Laura Schwecherl’s How to Handle Criticism Like a Pro.

The first piece of advice she offers is to consider whether the criticism was constructive.  It’s easier to accept when you know the person is well-meaning. However even hurtful criticism may have a valid point – otherwise, it probably wouldn’t hurt. She follows that observation with a five-step action plan.

Listen Up: Again, assess whether the criticism was constructive or rude.  Have the courage to ask for clarification, particularly if you are unsure if it was only meant to be hurtful.  People tend to make a general critical statement.  You need more details to determine just where you missed the mark.

Respond Calmly: Really tough to do sometimes.  Whether you want to rant or disappear, you do need to respond.  You can say, “I appreciate your observation.”  You don’t have to do more, which is good since you probably can’t take it all in and make a reasoned assessment in the moment.  Later, when the critic is not around, analyze what you heard.  How much was true?  Was there a place to do it better?  In the best case scenario, you might even go back to the person and thank them for taking the time to give you valuable feedback.

Don’t Take It Personally:  This is a reminder that you are not a failure (see last week) nor are you a bad librarian, person, etc.  Focus on the specific information without generalizing. It was just one more learning experience.

Manage Stress: This is a challenge since you were probably stressed by your day before you were dealt this criticism.  Take a deep calming breath.  Or three or four.  Or some time in your office if that’s possible. As Judith Viorst so accurately put it in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, “some days are like that, even in Australia.”

Keep On Keeping On: As Schwecherl note, this was just one person’s perspective.  Sometimes you need to also check to determine whether the criticism was valid.  Just because someone says it, doesn’t make it true.  And tomorrow is another day.

All leaders get criticized. It comes with the territory.  Some is mean-spirited coming from envy, and some are accurate.  It may not feel like it in the moment, but you need good criticism to grow.  It’s hard to see where we miss the mark. It helps when the good people around us help us get back on track.

 

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Embracing Failure

You can’t escape failing.  Maybe the word “embracing” is a bit much, but whenever you try something new or different, the risk of failure is always present.  Knowing this is often what prevents you from trying. But there are lessons that come with each setback and the more you are willing to learn, the stronger leader you will be.

How would you speak to yourself if you were one of your students who wasn’t trying because of the fear of failure? You would tell them that failure is important and worth the effort.  Whether it is learning to ride a bike, throwing a curve ball, or playing chess, no one gets it right the first time. Frequently they don’t get it right the second time. I can hear you say the consequences of failing at those is quite different from what you would experience if something you tried for your library didn’t work, but what are your choices?  Taking a risk and possibly succeeding (particularly if you have thoroughly researched your idea) or staying where you are not advancing your program or your ideas.  I love the quote attributed to James Conant, Behold the turtle who only makes progress by sticking his neck out.”

Failure happens in the business world all the time on the way to success, and Lily Daskal, a leadership coach and author of The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, explains Why It’s Important for Leaders to Fail Well. I love the idea of failing “well.”  She points out that beginning skiers learn how to fall safely.  We, too, need to fail safely, and not let a failed idea make us believe we are failures. Learning how to fail safely means we need to develop the right attitude towards failure – even welcoming it for the benefits it brings.  Daskal identifies seven benefits of failure.

  1. Failure keeps us focused on our strengths – It sounds counterintuitive, but that is what we need to do. It’s too easy to beat yourself up for the mistakes you made. Although you shouldn’t ignore them, also take stock of what you did right.  What were your strengths –and how can you utilize them in another project or improve this one.  What weakness did you exhibit?  Can you turn it into a strength?
  2. Failure teaches us to be flexible – Don’t give up on a good plan just because it failed. If it was worthwhile, how can you change it so that it does work? It’s a worthwhile skill to develop for several reasons. For example, you want to turn your library into a Learning Commons.  You approached your principal or superintendent enthusiastically and were shot down. Why? What reasons were given?  Money?  If so, consider revising your concept so it takes longer to complete and allows the cost to be spread out, or look for a grant to cover some of the funding needed.  Instead of nursing your wounds, get creative.  I had a superintendent who told me her first answer was always, “No.”  It got rid of the people who weren’t fully committed.
  3. Failure teaches us to rethink what we deserveIt’s easy to blame yourself for the failure. It gives you an excuse to quit and not try again.  That’s the real failure. Accept responsibility for why the plan or idea failed, but don’t take it personally.  It’s part of your growth. And if you’re still fully committed to the idea – you’ll find ways to make it happen.
  4. Failure reminds us that everything is temporary – When we fail, and we all do at some point, it’s vital not to think this is how it will always be. It’s been said that change is the only constant. As a leader, you need to be looking for any change in direction.  As I blogged last week, administrators come and go.  What your current one didn’t like, the next one might love, particularly since you learned from what didn’t work.
  5. Failure shows us it’s not fatal – The failure was yesterday. Today is a new day, and you are alive and well. If you try only a few projects, every failure looks huge.  Do more and the number of successes will outweigh the ones that didn’t work.  It’s how you build your “street creds.” You demonstrate perseverance by digging in and moving on.
  6. Failure disciplines our expectationsIt’s great when we get excited about introducing something new. However, our enthusiasm can sometimes blind us to what is realistic.  This doesn’t mean you don’t attempt big things. You don’t say, “They never want to try something new.”  It’s recognizing that not everyone sees the project the way you do. You need to create a foundation of support before you move into introducing your idea.
  7. Failure instructs us to keep tryingThere is wisdom in the adage, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.” No invention worked the first time it was tried. Leaders in every field know this. They don’t like failing, but they don’t let it stop them.

And here’s one from me:

Failure teaches us to understand our students better – I knew a math teacher who always underestimated how long it would take students to complete a test.  She was brilliant in the subject and couldn’t understand the difficulty many of her students faced.  Sometimes a person who struggled in school makes the best teacher.  Use your experience with failure to help students when they have trouble dealing with their own failures so that they too keep taking the steps that will lead to their next success.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Successful?

I suspect many of you would answer the title question in the negative. I hear from many librarians who are feeling frustrated and exhausted, and while I understand their reasons, it causes me great concern.  These symptoms, if prolonged, lead to burnout and that in turn results in not giving your best to your students and teachers.

But what can you do when you are overworked and under-appreciated?  The answer begins with changing your mindset. When you change your mindset, you can start recognizing you are far more successful than you think. I am not saying you aren’t working under stressful conditions, but it’s how you react to them, how you internalize them, which can make all the difference in the situation.

Our new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries refers to having a “growth mindset” which is the antithesis of a “fixed mindset.”  It is defined as “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.  This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” (p. 276)

And you definitely need resilience to deal with what is on your plate.

You certainly believe that a growth mindset is important for your students. But how about you? You are working hard but are you working towards your mission, your purpose? Are you only seeing what you aren’t accomplishing and the negatives around you? That will only move you into a downward spiral.

I challenge you to define what success would look like.  What do you think being successful with your students looks like?  With teachers?  With administrators? Your list likely has places where you haven’t achieved what you consider success.  But look a bit more closely.

You are undoubtedly more successful with your students than you are giving yourself credit for.  Has a student thanked you for your help in some way lately?  What about any relationships you have developed with teachers?  Has one of them expressed any appreciation for something you have done? Have you made any inroads with your principal?

I recently read an article by Jillian Kramer entitled 4 Myths We Are Taught about Success. This comes from the business world but there are strong connections to what we are dealing with every day.

Her first myth is one I have discussed before, “If You Are Good at Your Job, You’ll Get Promoted.”  You are good, and no one is noticing you.  True in the business world and true for us.  And what does she recommend to change this?  Build relationships – and focus on your next step.

The second myth, “You Must Start Young,” doesn’t seem to connect – but it does.  The point is yesterday doesn’t matter.  It’s what you do today.  Where do you want to go? How will you get there?  And then, start NOW.

The third is “You Must Kill Yourself to Succeed.”  Some of you are trying that route.  It doesn’t work.  You feel like a martyr and you have nothing left for what’s really important in your life.  Working late everyday is not a recipe for success.  Try my mantra, “Everything will get done. It always does.” This really means if it’s a priority, you will make it happen.

The final myth is, “You Must Play Politics.”  Guess what? In business and in our world, that kind of approach is obvious to everyone. Being a team player is not being a brown-nose. On the other hand, you do need to know what your stakeholders’ goals are, whether you are referring to administrators or teachers. That’s how you successfully connect your library program to what matters to them.

It’s easy to focus on all the negatives in our lives. Obviously, they must be dealt with, but when we bring them to close to our vision, we see nothing beyond it. I counter that habit by keeping a Success Journal.  Each day I record whatever has occurred that makes me feel successful. (Such as completing my blog for the week.)

Learning to take a wider view will help you establish a more positive mindset, which will improve how you see your world and yourself. Ultimately, I hope you will discover you are far more successful than you thought.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Confident

Confidence is a grounding leadership quality. It makes it easier to take risks, speak before groups, ask for help, and develop a vision.  What makes the title question difficult to answer is while you may be confident in how you do your job, once you consider leadership, all that confidence melts away.

How can you build the confidence necessary to become the leader your students and teachers need you to be?  You can start by employing some of the skills I have talked about in other contexts.  The first is having a positive attitude. Pessimists and nay-sayers are not confident.  They retreat by pointing to why something won’t work or why things are bad and getting worse. If it won’t work and everything is going downhill, there is no sense in doing anything differently.

Leaders don’t think that way. No one follows a pessimist. They may join in as justification for their own attitude but that’s not following.  Change your mindset and it will change your perspective. Look for the “chopportunity” or the positive challenge that can be found in almost every negative. For example:

  • Losing staff? Look for ways to enlist student help (and if you are in an elementary school you may be able to get high school students to help as part of their community service).  Identify what jobs could be eliminated and discuss with your principal. In the process you will be expanding his/her understanding of all you do. And he/she might come up with another suggestion.
  • New administrator who doesn’t see value of librarians? Use highly visual resources such as Piktochart to create reports featuring students at work and to make infographics. Invite your administrator to see a project you created with a teacher. Depending on the end product, you might see if one or more of the students’ work can be displayed in his/her office.
  • Heavy emphasis on STEM minimizing library use? Incorporate the many STEM-based programs into the library.  For example, connect a Makerspace to books and a research project.

Start a personal “Success Journal.”  Keep a small notebook at your desk.  Record each personal success.  Jot down when you get thanks from a teacher or student. Note when students show they really got a particular lesson or loved the book you recommended.  Once you start doing this you will be amazed at how many times you are successful during the day.

Back in September, I wrote a blog on Dress for Success. It suggested that if you dressed more like an administrator you were more likely to be treated like an administrator.  Dress also can build your confidence.  When you feel that you look good, your mindset shifts and you feel more confident.

You will also boost your confidence if you keep up with the latest ideas in school libraries and in education Be on the Facebook pages that will help. Read articles in education journals such as Educational Leadership.  Just seeing what the monthly themes are will give you a clue.  Being on state and national committees will do even more to keep you abreast of trends.  This keeps you ahead of the curve which will do much for your confidence.

Being informed in your field will also help you speak confidently.  Your ability to do so reinforces your growing confidence. Do be mindful as to whether you have picked up the habit of raising your voice at the end of a sentence as though you were asking a question instead of making a statement.  It makes you sound less sure of yourself, and mentally you pick up on that as well.

Another tool is to learn to have a welcoming smile.  “Smile and the world smiles with you” sounds trite, but there is truth to it. People respond positively to a smile, and that, in turn, makes you feel more confident. Let people see your engaged attitude.

Confidence is also linked to self-esteem.  Self-esteem is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” Note the words “oneself” and “satisfaction.” It means, on the whole, you like the person you are—and you’re not waiting to like yourself until you become perfect. You’ll be waiting a long time on that one.

People in high self-esteem accept that they make mistakes and have bad days.  They don’t let those things change how they view themselves.  Although some may see confidence as a synonym for self-esteem, it seems to me that it’s more that the two terms reinforce each other. If you are in high self-esteem you exude confidence.  If you are confident in what you do and how you do it, you develop high self-esteem.

So how confident are you?  Do you regard confidence as a leadership quality?  How are you building your confidence?

The Buddy System

 

lifetime-membershipI love my Weight Watchers program.  Although I reached Lifetime over 12 years ago, I faithfully attend my weekly meetings, because they keep me on track and I’m always learning new things. I was recently reminded of a truism I had learned a while ago.  You are more successful if you don’t do it alone.

Our program leader has us regularly set small goals, and I have always done so and found the practice very effective.  But a few weeks ago, she suggested working with someone in the program to keep our goals.  A few people had already made the connection but I hadn’t. Since I want to keep exercising, particularly walking, I paired with another woman who was struggling a bit to integrate it into her life.

We began texting each other. Every time she went to the gym and worked out on the treadmill, she would text me.  When I completed my two walks for the day, I would text her.  We both have Fitbits and while we don’t challenge each other since I walk more than she does, we let each other know how many steps and miles we covered in the day.buddy

The result is she is definitely walking more and had a significant weight loss this past week.  I thought walking 3-5 times a week was ingrained into my habits, but knowing I was going to text her, pushed me further.  In this case, I felt it necessary to be a role model.

Yes, there are days when life intervenes and one of us doesn’t get in an anticipated exercise, but we are buddies. We cheer each other on even as we hold one another accountable.  “I wasn’t in the mood,” is not something we want to text each other.

It amazes me how easily I can lie to myself or give myself excuses.  I wouldn’t lie to anyone else.  And that is part of the reason buddies work so well.  Another is the feeling that we are in this together.  We understand the challenges our buddy is facing because we have the same ones.

We live in a face-paced world with many demands on our time.  Too often we put the tasks ahead of relationships forgetting that humans are social organisms.  We need that contact for our well-being.

from-my-friendsSome people are really good at maintaining connections with friends, usually of the same sex.  I wasn’t that person for a good portion of my life.  Although I appeared sociable in my professional contacts, I was a loner and thought it worked just fine.  Friendships take time and I didn’t have any to spare.

I was wrong.

Making time for lunch with a friend energized me.  Exchanging thoughts with someone I liked and whose thoughts I valued, gave me greater insights into whatever I was doing.  The time with others enriched my life.
Although I generally think of buddies in pairs, if you have a common purpose small groups can foster similar feelings of success and accomplishment.  The barn raisings which were part of our pioneer culture brought the community together to get a specific task completed.  Everyone participated in one way or another. At the end of the day, there was a new barn and people felt the sense of satisfaction of doing a good and worthwhile job.  In addition, they shared a camaraderie that spilled into their future interactions.work-together

While few of us will ever be part of a barn raising, if we are open to the possibility there are still occasions where a group of like-minded people will get to get to achieve an objective.  When you hear of one, strongly consider participating.  As with the barn raising, you don’t need to be one of those nailing the boards in place.  There are always other jobs, but the sense of achievement and belonging are worth the effort.

 

 

ON LIBRARIES – Personality Plus

successWhy are some librarians successful and others are not? It’s not about knowledge and competencies.  I have seen highly experienced librarians unable to regularly get teachers to work with them while some newly degreed librarians are quickly embraced by the faculty.  What makes the difference?

My blog on “It Begins with Relationship,” posted on April 4, 2016 began with almost the same words.  I discussed some ways to build relationships with students, teachers, and administrators.  Everything I said is still valid, but there is something more.pq

Back in the very sexist 1950’s, a self-help book for teenage girls asked, “What’s Your PQ?” It stood for “Personality Quotient.”  While the advice was to employ tactics I would never use, the question is relevant for librarians of both genders.

Personality is a major factor in how people relate to you, how they connect – or don’t – with you.  And I am sure some of you are thinking that your personality is ingrained.  It’s how you are.  But as someone who has seen her own personality evolve over the years, I am convinced you can work with who you are and by knowing how to accent the positives of it, bring out a more engaging personality.

Attributes of an engaging personality include:

optimismOptimism It feels good to hang out with someone who has a positive approach to life. This doesn’t mean a Pollyana who believes life is wonderful no matter what happens.  It’s a person who doesn’t focus on the negatives but deals with them by seeing them as “chopportunites” – challenges that can be turned into an opportunity (click the word to see the original post).

But perhaps you are a pessimist.  What can you do about that?  It’s who you are, right?  Face it, living with pessimism isn’t pleasant.  Even for the pessimist.  So take one page from the optimist and find the “chopportunity” in a given situation.  Change your mind set.  Affirmations seem too corny for most pessimists, so instead try “I can handle this.”  It’s not a ringing statement but it moves you from looking at whatever is occurring with a sense of despair.  With practice you will get better at it.

Introvert/Extrovert – Oddly both can be leveraintrov-extrovged to animate your personality.  If you are a librarian and an introvert you can’t retreat from being with people.  What you mean is that you don’t initiate a contact.  But introverts are great at listening and that is very attractive to others. Use this in a focused way and people respond.

If you are an extrovert, the caution is to “curb your enthusiasm.” Enthusiasm can be infectious, but it only work if you aren’t overpowering others with it.  Rein it in a bit and give others a chance to respond.

empowerEmpowering – As AASL exhorts in Empowering 21st-Century Learners, one of the things you do is to empower your students—and teachers.  In addition to giving them the skills they need, you can also empower others by recognizing their accomplishments and cheering them on.  Quite different from empty complements such as “good job,” this is specific.  You might say, “that was a very creative use of this technology” or whatever else they did.

Teachers and students need to be validated as much as you do.  Many don’t see where they are special.  Those with a positive personality know how to make others feel good about themselves. It ties to the Tom Peters quote, “Leaders don’t make followers; they create more leaders.”

inclusiveInclusive – What pronoun do you use most?  Listen to yourself. If you are saying “I” very frequently you can easily be viewed as egocentric.  It’s not about you.

Start thinking, “We are all in this together.  Together we can make things work better.” It’s important that you identify with the faculty.  So it’s “we teachers” not “you teachers.”  Your language will affect how others start viewing you.

In addition, as a librarian you should have plans at least in the back of your head for how to improve your program.  You can’t do it alone.  When you are inclusive you build the basis for a team. Using the other aspects of personality, your team will be ready to work together with you.

And finally the “Plus”

Related to personality but not exactly the same thing is Charisma.  When you think of charismatic leaders you might name President John F. Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and others.  Not everyone liked them but a large segment of the population did and followed them, glad to help them achieve their goals.plus

To be sure there are negative charismatic leaders and they have successfully led their people down dark paths.  However, I trust you are not heading in that direction.  The fact is charisma is a powerful leadership attribute.

You might think charisma must be innate, but like any element of leadership it can be learned. LaRay Que wrote a blog post on her website called 6 Ways to Become a Charismatic Leader. Among the things she talks about is how to win the hearts of followers – an important lesson for librarians who want to get support from their teachers and administrators.

She also explains how to use story.  We have been focusing on this increasingly, but she brings an additional thought to it. Her last point is on how to create a strong persona.  By polishing your personality and recognizing your own skills and strengths you can do it.

So how is your 21st century PQ?  Where does it show up in your relationships?  And what how can you make it more engaging?