The Ring Theory of Kvetching has been all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds these last few months, shared over and over again as a guide for avoiding saying the wrong thing to a person in crisis. The concept is that you put the person in crisis at the center, then draw concentric rings representing close family, close friends, colleagues…with each successive ring representing people who are further from the central person. The idea is that you send “comfort in” towards the person at the center, and “dump out” anger, frustration, fears to the outer circles.
It struck me that the Ring Theory is backwards for leaders. If the leader of an organization is at the center, with concentric rings rippling out to represent colleagues, trustees, stakeholders, and patrons, then the Ring Theory for Leaders becomes “comfort out” and “dump in.” I know that I spend a lot of my time putting comfort out to my coworkers, my board, my partners, and my patrons, while taking in their concerns, opinions, complaints, and suggestions.
You see the problem, right? Where does a leader find balance in this scenario? To whom does the leader turn for comfort in the face of a lot of dumping? For me, it points out the need–the requirement–for leaders to network with their counterparts in other organizations. It drives home the truth that there are few, if any, people in the organization itself who can provide that kind of comfort and understanding to the leader. I think it’s important to have a network of managers and directors at other libraries, people who will understand your struggles and provide support when you need it, so that you can provide support to them in turn. Most importantly, having a network outside of your organization will help you continue to provide “comfort out” while dealing with the “dump in.”