No person is born great; great people become great when others are sleeping.
– African proverb
No person is born great; great people become great when others are sleeping.
– African proverb
In honor of Thanksgiving, please share with us the name of a leader in your life to whom you would like to hold up in celebration. In addition, please share any great advice this leader gave to you. Many of us would not be where we are today if it was not for the support, care and advice from others. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Library Lost & Found!
The past couple of months I have been burning the candle at both ends. This means that the blog has been taking a backseat to things like sleeping and eating. Even though I have not been posting as regularly as I would like, I am still monitoring articles, reading books, and viewing other blogs on leadership. I save the best stuff on Flipboard an amazing tool that allows me to “flip” great articles I find on the web into a “magazine” so I can refer to them at a later date. Many of my blog posts are based on something I have “flipped” into the Library Lost & Found Magazine.
I encourage you to use Flipboard online or download the app. Afterwards be sure to follow the Library Lost & Found Magazine. You’ll find a lot of great resources to help you be a great leader and you just might learn a thing or two.
Do you have something big looming on your to do list? Perhaps it’s been on there for a while and you just can’t seem to face it. Maybe you have even done other things you were dreading just to avoid doing The Big Bad Dreaded Thing?
This is my sad tale more often then I care to admit. I’m a lifelong procrastinator and while I’ve gotten better, I still tend to let certain tasks I don’t want to do fester. I’ve even created a fake productivity strategy around this terrible habit which I call “The Hierarchy of Procrastination” wherein I do somethings I don’t want to do to avoid doing other things I want to do even less. For example, I do the dishes to get out of doing homework, and I do homework to get out of sweeping the floor, and so on and so forth. It is not actually a very helpful strategy, because there’s always The Big Bad Dreaded Thing at the end of the list and there’s nothing I want to do less, so I just…don’t do the thing. So I have recently been putting into practice a much healthier strategy. It doesn’t have an awesome name like The Hierarchy of Procrastination, but we can see how far a fancy name got me, i.e. not very.
The idea for this strategy came from my love/hate relationship with running. I have been running for three years now. I’m not a naturally athletic person, I never enjoyed sports or gym class as a child, but over the course of the last three years, I’ve come to appreciate and ultimately depend on the benefits running brings to my life. I am healthier, mentally and physically, when I run. I’ve gained self-confidence and a more positive relationship with my body. But, between you and me and the computer screen, I totally hate running. It is THE WORST! It hurts and it takes time out of my day and it is very hard and I get bored, I don’t like running when it’s too hot or too cold outside but I also hate running on a treadmill. Does this make me sound like a giant human mess? Yes, because that is what I am and that is probably what you are too, my friend. How on Earth do I drag my whiney, messy self outside to run when I’d rather slouch on the couch and whine about it and how on Earth do you do that one Thing that’s looming on your to do list?
Here’s how: one step at a time, with some light self-deception.
Basically, I tell myself I don’t have to go for a run I just have to put my running clothes on. Then, if I still don’t want to run, I can just go for a walk instead. 100% of the time I go for a run. That’s because a lifetime of procrastination has taught me that worrying about the Thing and whining about it and putting it off is always worse then facing up to it and doing it. And all the putting off and whining and worrying just builds a massive wall that is dark and scary and the Thing itself probably isn’t even that bad. So what you have to do is put on your metaphorical running shoes and see how you feel. Lie to yourself a little bit and tell yourself you don’t actually have to start working on the project, but you do have to figure out what your first step would be. And as long as you’re figuring out what your first step should be, why don’t you list the next few steps and some deadlines? Maybe outline who you need to communicate with to get the project started. You end up breaking down the task into manageable pieces that don’t seem so bad and before you know it, you’re off and working on your project and I’m off and singing a Beyonce song to myself while I’m running and we’re both the happier for it!
Your library career path has a catch-22: you can’t get a management position without management experience – but you can’t get management experience until you’re in a management position.
If this is your current dilemma, know this: you have a loophole.
We talk a lot about the difference between leadership and management. This distinction works in your favor for career development. Leadership comes from any position, so you can gain leadership experience even before you enter a management position.
When it comes time to apply for management positions, good hiring managers equate leadership experience with management experience. You can develop those skills in non-supervisory roles by getting leadership experience within (or even outside of) your library.
Look around your library for an upcoming project or program. Perhaps your library will soon start preparing for summer reading, banned book week, or creating a teen advisory board.
It’s easier to take on an established project than to create one from scratch, but a word to the wise: some librarians are a little territorial about their pet programs. Maybe Mona in Public Services has coordinated Banned Book Week since 1982 and would sooner pull a controversial book behind the desk than let you have a crack at it.
On the other hand, maybe Mona is completely over coordinating this event and ever since 1982, she’s been waiting for the day someone new would take it on.
Know your office politics and be open with your boss. Say something like, “I was wondering if I could take ownership of a program. Banned Book Week is coming up, and I was wondering if that might be a good choice. If not, I’m open to taking on anything else you need coordinated.”
You can also take on a project. Projects are different than programs: they have an end date, and they’re usually not about service delivery to library users. Examples of projects might include weeding the reference collection or finally RFID tagging the DVDs in storage.
Whether it’s a program or a project, running it takes time management, sustained effort, and coordination of multiple factors – all very necessary leadership skills.
What’s your library niche? There’s an excellent chance that there’s a specialized committee out there, waiting for your professional service. Angela Semifero, a library director, joined a committee early in her career as a YA librarian to plan a teen services conference. Her role started small, but after a few years of gaining experience she became the conference chair.
Joining a committee is easy peasy. Trust me: the committees want you, especially if you’re willing to take on a smidgen of accountability. In the United States, you can volunteer for your state level library association or at the national level with ALA (timely alert: the committee volunteer form is due November 6).
Service to the profession is a great way to develop and demonstrate leadership skills. As with Angela’s case, there’s often an opportunity to take a chair role on the committee. Also, building a network outside of your own library shows future hiring committees that you have the crucial leadership ability to establish connections between people.
Volunteering is an amazing way to develop your career. Like libraries, nonprofit organizations operate on a shoestring. In many cases, they rely on skilled volunteers – which means there’s an opportunity to develop your skillset and step into a leadership role.
A few years into my library career, I realized that I had somehow sidestepped anything to do with instruction. This gap in my resume would make it really hard to shift into a different job in most academic libraries. To fix this, I started volunteering as an adult literacy tutor. I was passionate about the cause, and the literacy organization gave me extensive training in adult learning. Eventually I even took on a leadership role mentoring other tutors. I developed my career while making a difference in my community.
Check out VolunteerMatch to find a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests, commitment level, and availability.
“Wait,” I bet you’re thinking. “The title of this post is about how to get leadership experience without managing employees.”
Yep. Absolutely. And in reality, supervising temporary part-time employees is far different than managing permanent staff. As Ask a Manager points out, the expectations and commitment for these times of workers is very different. This leads to less pressure on the person supervising them.
That lower amount of pressure means that taking on this kind of responsibility is also the absolute best way to prepare yourself for that next step. When you supervise even a small group of pages, there’s a lot to learn about hiring, training, and performance management.
Supervising student employees at an academic library was my first taste of formal management. I took it super-duper seriously, transforming a neglected office into a place where student employees were extensively trained, held accountable for their work, and (gasp!) given semesterly evaluations and feedback. This gave me the experience and credibility to take on more formal management in my next library role.
Back to that catch-22: you want future hiring committees to look at your resume and understand that you have leadership experience.
Make sure you understand how your experience contributes to your ability to take on a leadership role. Cindy Fesmeyer, a public library director, said of her professional skills, “They include everything I picked up along the way by just living my life. From home ownership and motherhood to volunteering on the Boards of Directors of a few organizations I liked, I picked up skills by participating in my various communities and helping take care of business.”
Be ready to sell how volunteering, managing a project, or coordinating pages prepared you to take on a next-level managerial role. Check out our guide for library managers on how to identify emerging leaders, and think about how your experiences demonstrate qualities like engagement, conviction, and invention.
The library profession needs you as a dynamic leader, so get out there and beat that catch-22! Share with us in the comments how you got (or plan to get) library leadership experience.