Every once in a while it’s good to evaluate your “tone” when speaking to colleagues. Are you being a leader or are you just being bossy? Think about situations in which you feel you had a successful interaction and remember all the things you did right and take note. Leadership is a skill, take the time to hone it!
Archives For Leadership Traits
During difficult conversations with staff it is vital to make sure you have turned on your listening ears. Leaders acknowledge a direct report’s ideas or concerns even if they do not agree with the person. This is hard for me to remember, but when I flick on the listening ears I often discover a more receptive individual. Most of us just want to be heard and great leaders will make sure they are attentive, caring and understanding during what could be a tense situation. So check out your listening ears to make sure they are fully operational!
Every morning my route to work takes me to an intersection with a blinking yellow light for traffic going north and south. Many times the cars that approach this intersection will stop for seemingly no reason. For years I would often get angry and yell out “Just turn already!” This intersection happens to be in the middle of a huge medical complex, where people from all over the state come for treatment or to visit a loved one. Recently it dawned on me that maybe many of these confused drivers are simply trying to navigate an unfamiliar area on their way to the hospital. This insight has definitely helped me understand that these drivers are not necessarily incompetent, but maybe lost in the thoughts of a sick family member or friend.
How many times do we assume that the people we work with are either selfish, unmotivated, or just not able to do the job? Is it because that lack the skills or desire to perform at a high level or are they dealing with outside factors? Do you trust that every patron that walks into the library is there with noble intentions or do you judge them based on appearance? All of us fall into the trap of not being a good leader because we react based on a person’s external factors. If you simply manage each situation with compassion and understanding, it will not only help a person better understand but also lower your own frustration level.
I challenge all of you to slow down when you come to theses challenging “intersections” at work to consider where the “drivers” involved are coming from. It just might prevent you from making a wrong turn.
A friend of mine texted me the other day to ask if you could ever be “too professional” at work. I wrote her back that I thought the short answer was no. But here’s the long answer:
The reason my short answer was no is largely because I believe acting professional means acting appropriately for your work and at your workplace. The only conceivable objection I can come up with to being “too professional” at work is that you might act stuffy, alienate customers or coworkers, or act overly formal for your job. But my argument is that those problems come not from being too professional, but from not acting professionally, not acting appropriately for your job. Each job and each workplace, even within the same field, will demand a specific level of formality of behavior. Let’s take attire for example: I’ve worked in libraries where jeans were appropriate attire and I’ve worked in libraries that were strictly business casual. There are probably libraries that require more or less formal attire because of the job description of their employees and certainly outside of the library world you want to dress appropriately for your work. A suit would be as out of place in a mechanic shop as coveralls would be in the boardroom (remind me to tell you sometime of how I used to dream of wearing coveralls as a library page. I still think this is a great idea).
Much like attire, in some workplaces it might be appropriate to use very formal language and modes of address with your customers, coworkers, and supervisors, while in other places it might be appropriate to be less formal. As with attire, you want to act appropriately for your workplace because that is the professional thing to do. If you are overly formal with patrons at a small, rural library branch that feels more like the community’s living room, you are judging the situation as wrongly as if you act too informal in a library where patron’s are used to being treated with more formality.
What do you think? Does this definition of professionalism match yours? Do you think it’s possible to be too professional?
My job as the leader of my library is to do my best to prepare my staff–to give them the information and tools they need, to make sure they have the training, and then to let them go and trust them. There is no way that I can plan for every possible surprise, so what I try to do is build a strong team with a solid foundation to withstand the more extreme ones.
In the time I’ve been library director, we’ve updated and created policies and procedures to give all library staff a common foundation. I don’t want to legislate every possible action for every possible scenario to get to every desired outcome. Sometimes we have to, but by and large I tell my employees to trust their gut instincts based on their knowledge of and experiences at the library. We’re all on the same team, and as long as what they decide is ethical and legal and they can detail their rationale, the management team will support their decision to waive a fine, to make an exception, to do whatever is necessary to resolve a situation.
I thought that they (mostly) get my philosophy, and this winter I had the opportunity to confirm it when we had a fire sprinkler head freeze and break. My staff pulled together quickly, dropping whatever they were doing to deal with the situation.
I sent a message to my staff the following day telling them how proud I was of how quickly and efficiently they took care of things. All hands from across the library grabbed buckets and trash cans and push brooms and dustpans and the shop vac. These were folks in high heels, in skirts, in dress pants, and wearing ties helping our Building Supervisor scoop up and take away water. Others blocked the area off as best they could. Others held down the fort at the public service desks and kept the library operating. Others called the disaster recovery company. And it was effortless–“What can I do? How can I help?” There was no ego, no dissension, no second-guessing, no pulling of rank to get out of the nastier work. It was just one big library team saving the library!
This kind of teamwork across the organization does not happen overnight; it takes years of team building and trust. We don’t have a policy or procedure written down for exactly what to do when a sprinkler head bursts; even if we wrote down exactly what happened this time, it would never happen exactly that same way ever again. My staff were tested by a surprise situation that we had never planned for, and they performed exquisitely, doing whatever it took to make things right–and the kicker is that I wasn’t even here that day. I could not be more proud of them.