I’m coming up on my 1st anniversary as a supervisor at my library, so I’ve been reflecting on how the year has gone. The core of my successes and failures is attitude. When I come into work, ready to serve and listen to the needs of my staff and patrons, things go more smoothly. We all know what happens when we enter the library with a seething soul or an ax to grind. I frequently go back to the first section I read in the excellent ALA book Be A Great Boss: One Year to Success, “Attitude”. “Attitude is everything” may seem like a trite thing we say to coworkers when they’re struggling, but if you really take it to heart, it can do wonders, even when nothing else around you changes. Here are some tid-bits I’ve gleaned from the book and how I’ve put them to use in my under-staffed and busy department.
1. “…come to the library each morning expecting permanent whitewater.“
This may seem like the opposite of the state you’d like to be in when you arrive at work. Shouldn’t you be calm? Notice that the sentence does not end with, “and freak out about it.” I personally call this idea “the appropriate sense of urgency”. Nothing makes me more nervous than being unprepared or seeing my manager/director being unprepared. When I come into work expecting a leisurely day with no interruptions, not only am I disappointed, I’m also off my game. Patrons and coworkers can read unpreparedness on my face like a book. Preparedness and a ready-for-anything attitude allow you to ride those waves like a pro. When I’m successful, I achieve this by devoting some time before I start work to thinking about recent issues, and switching on my work self. This can be on your commute or for a few minutes at your desk before work starts “officially”.
2. “Think every day, every week, and every year about how you treat others.”
I’ll save the customer service lessons for someone else (or a later entry). I’m talking about how you treat the people you work with, specifically the people you manage. To me, this is the cornerstone of a good team and a good leader.
It’s the golden rule, with a twist. The way you would like to be treated may not be the way your co-worker would. The high stress service environment of the library effects everyone differently, and it’s your job as a manager to find out how all your people react to this environment. Does employee A like to talk about an issue he has with one of your decisions immediately, or does he need to cool down first? You’d better find out before you have an emotionally charged argument with him.
Commit yourself to really thinking about the way you interact with your staff. Talk to them about how they handle conflict, about how they expect you to treat them, and about how you expect them to treat you. Pay attention, and then use the knowledge you gain to create an environment where your staff can bring anything to you because they trust you will always treat them right.
3. “A true leader builds consensus…don’t lead alone”
You have hired and kept the staff you have for a reason. You value them and what they bring to your team. Then by all means, let them help you! Whenever I have a big decision to make, especially one that will effect my staff’s lives and jobs, I bring it to them and ask them to look at it from all sides, poke holes in it, look for the crafty patron loophole. This isn’t because I’m polite, or because I’m lazy, it’s because it makes the final product better. It also engages my staff, who for much of their days may feel like they’re doing grunt work. It’s because they’re on the front lines of the Circulation desk that I need their input. New policies and procedures are easier to implement if you had a hand in creating them.
A great manager has to learn the art of delegation. This is an area where I struggle. I can tell that I still struggle with it because just the other day, an employee on my staff said, after we agreed that she’d take over a task for me, “I hope you don’t think I think you can’t do it. I’m just trying to help you out.” I was mystified. I thought I had given the task up gratefully, but my long-standing track record for not wanting to give up control of things spoke louder than my “Thank you for helping me”. If you’ve created a good environment, your staff will want to stretch their legs and be happy to help you…accept the help!