“People Make Choices” has long been my mantra. I say it so much that my friend and fellow Library Lost & Found contributor Angela Semifero made it into a paperweight for my desk. I say it so much that my friend’s ten year-old daughter was overheard saying it to her friends. I use “people make choices” as a shorthand for several ideas, and I’ve found that it’s adaptable to almost every situation. Here are some of the ways that “People Make Choices” keeps me sane:
Pick your battles. Sometimes it’s better to nip small problems in the bud before they become pervasive larger problems, and sometimes small problems are so small that you can let them go. I’m sure we all have looked back on certain situations and thought about how we could have done things differently to get a better outcome–with a patron, with our colleagues, with our families. Reflecting on those times helps me when I face similar situations in the future and have to decide whether or not to fight that battle.
There are always options. In 2008, my library had revenues of more than $6.5 million. At our lowest point during the recession, our revenues were $4.9 million. That’s a huge decrease, no question. But we can do (and have done) a lot with that money. Why lament what we can’t do when we could choose to celebrate that we still have five million dollars to do stuff with? Even with our budget, staffing, and physical constraints, we have so many options available to us. It’s much more fun (and productive) to talk about the possibilities!
We choose our reactions. Marcellus Turner, whom I heard give a talk about change management back when he was director at Jefferson County (he’s at Seattle Public Library now), said that his mantra is “People make choices. Your suffering is optional.” I immediately felt that we were kindred spirits! We choose how we respond to change. You can choose to suffer, or you can choose to react differently.
People make choices that I wouldn’t. There are an infinite number of ways to accomplish things, not just my way only. If you give your staff a goal and some parameters and then let them work it out, I guarantee they’ll do something you never would have done–and you’ll be amazed at their work. I enjoy watching people’s self-confidence grow as they take ownership of a task or process, and seeing how their own personalities and styles are incorporated into the end result.
Some choices are mistakes, and that’s okay; libraries are rarely life-and-death environments, so we can be more tolerant of experimentation. Any mistakes are almost always recoverable, and failure is critical to growth. One of my big challenges as a leader is letting people fail, because I tend to be a rescuer. My employees don’t want me to rescue them, though; they want the tools and opportunities to rescue themselves. Rather than rescuing people from failure, I try to guide them, mostly through asking questions to get them thinking. If they’ve done their due diligence and make a solid recommendation–not necessarily a recommendation that I agree with 100%–I am satisfied, and we move forward. If something doesn’t work out, or if new information comes in, or if the situation changes, we circle back and reassess and adjust. A former colleague of mine would measure failure by asking, “Did anyone die? Did anyone get fired? No? Then it’s no big deal.”
In a world of finite resources, “Yes” contains “No.” When you say “Yes” to something, you are inherently saying “No” to something else, choosing This over That. “Yes, I will work on Saturday” also means “No, I will not go away for the weekend.” “Yes, we will spend this money now” also means “No, we will not have this money later.” Every time I choose something, I think about what I am also not choosing.
Sometimes people are crazy. Crazy people get to make choices, too. Even when they’re crazy and/or wrong. A rueful shake of the head, a shrug of the shoulders, and a “People make choices” is sometimes all you can do.
Many of you who read and contribute to Library Lost & Found have heard me say “people make choices.” Did I miss any nuances? How do you use “people make choices”?