Archives For Leadership Strategies

vintage-boxing-corner-and-stool-allan-swart

One of my beloved minions is stepping into the fracas of library service and I thought this would be a good time to review those items that will frustrate even the most experienced librarian.  Do I have the magic answer?  A no-fail process or procedure?  Not at all.

What I do have is a list of things that you cannot possibly control, no matter how good you are and how well you know the situation. The only thing that I can promise is that you will get better coping with the unknowns in your professional life. I also know that even the most talented, laid back person in the world will have days where coping is just not happening.

2016 (and while we are counting, 2015 too) were both years in my life that were rough. I had a lot of unfixable problems and I worried too much. I also have serious regrets for not recognizing problems ahead of time, underestimating situations, and over-reacting (or under-reacting) to situations both professionally and personally. I am always Monday morning quarterbacking the “should have” and “could have” of just about any project or program. Maybe if I spent more time on “X” it would be better. I am sure everyone does this from time to time. The danger is when you can’t get past the mistakes, and worse, the perceived mistakes, and you find yourself stuck. I still struggle with this after nearly 20 years in library service.

For new librarians it is important you know from the start that no matter how much preparation you do, things will go wrong and you will make mistakes. Even experienced people working in a new situation will have the same things happen that a rookie might face. Lack of experience can work hand-in-hand with chaos. So, newbies, with all my apologies to Ranganathan and his five laws, here are the real laws of library science:

  • There will always be someone who makes things more difficult in your work life. It could be a co-worker, patron, or boss. It might even be all three.
  • At some point, someone will blame you for something.
  • No matter how many signs you hang, training opportunities you offer, processes in place, etc. there will always be people who won’t read a policy/procedure or a sign or attempt training (or even Google a solution) to address a problem.
  • No matter how many signups there are or reminder calls you make, the headcount will never be predictable.
  • You will misinterpret a directive or an instruction from a supervisor or misunderstand a patron’s request.
  • You will bite off more than you can chew.
  • Someone will complain about something.
  • You will forget something important or miss something that should have been obvious.
  • Someone will mess with your budget.
  • You will probably burst into tears or have murderous thoughts about something or someone at work.
  • You can do everything right and it will still turn out awful.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Try these strategies for coping:

  • First, just assume everything will go bad and try and plan accordingly.
  • Be an active listener. Take copious notes and confirm your understanding of a problem by following up with an email or conversation
  • Be kind and give the benefit of the doubt to your co-workers, patrons, and bosses.
  • Make sure you connect with other librarians regularly and share your frustrations. Even in a small library you can ask for opinions in library forums or social media. I also meet regularly with a group of library workers that are not employed at the same library as me, and we have an agreement that nothing goes outside our group. They have been my go-to group for support. They are also a good reality check when I think I am losing my mind. Newbies, particularly, need to be able to touch base with more experienced librarians as a sounding board. (Caveat: Don’t get sucked into negativity with someone heading toward burnout.)

Libraries work because of collaboration. Take this to the next level by sharing concerns with your fellow professionals. Be supportive and forgive slights, knowing that no one is perfect. Don’t assume you know all the facts, and remember that no one ever has ALL the facts.

Because everyone needs a librarian in their corner.

Collaboration is Hard

Kevin King —  February 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

collaboration-mindsetIn the library world, conflict is avoided more than it is embraced. I have noticed that when faced with a situation in which you would like to verbally disagree with a colleague over an idea or plan, most people stay silent. This response only leads to stagnant innovation. Collaboration is hard. Overcoming this difficulty happens when a team can establish a trust-filled, safe environment where everyone on the team has a voice, great things happen.

Author Liane Davey, an expert on teams in the workplace, writes:

Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy back-and-forth process far too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient. Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time. The common version of collaboration is desperately in need of a little more conflict.

Davey goes on to explain ways in which teams can develop ways to make collaboration and conflict. Her methods include:

  1. Discussing team roles before the team tackles a new idea.
  2. Use a personality assessment tool to highlight team members differences.
  3. Set ground rules around dissension.

I encourage you to read more about each of these methods here. Teams that contain members that trust one another, understand the personalities at play and have established the guidelines for engagement will not only realize that collaboration is not that hard but also more innovation than you can manage.

image of window with title "want a better library job? develop your people skills"When I started business school last semester, I wanted to learn skills I didn’t find in library school. Think financial management, or strategic planning – the nitty gritty of business.

While I wanted those hard skills, I worried that I would be surrounded by business jerks who care only about numbers.

To my surprise, the first required class in the business program was all about people skills. I learned more about interpersonal communication in one b-school class than I did in two years in a library science program.

We went introspective with lots of personality typing for self-awareness, from the old standby Myers-Briggs to fancy color charts from Emergenetics. We spent hours talking about how different personality types interact and how we can learn from each other. We learned how to tell stories that spark people to support our vision.

The instructor, Susan Heinzeroth, explained why we were spending so much time on these soft skills. She drew a graph on the board to illustrate. Here’s a sketch from my class notes:

hand-drawn graph showing that as career level progresses, technical skills decrease and interpersonal skills increase

We all start out in libraries by developing niche technical skills, like cataloging or database searching. As our careers develop, those technical skills become less important, and the need for interpersonal skills skyrockets.

Libraries are all about people – connecting people with information and helping them transform their lives through learning.

Leadership is all about people, too. Leaders need to align a diverse group of people around common goals.

To do that, they need massive amounts of interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills go beyond the customer service skills you use to help patrons at the circulation desk. These deeper skills shape your long-term relationships with colleagues in your library.

If you want to advance your career, expand your professional development from just technical skills. Consider whether you have room for growth in any of these interpersonal skills:

  • Deep listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Asking questions
  • Negotiation
  • Apologizing
  • Persuasion
  • Assertion
  • Networking
  • Storytelling
  • Emotional intelligence

To be a great leader, you need to consistently rock these skills with a wide variety of people. If you’re like me, you feel comfortable in a handful of these skills, and that you’ve achieved mastery in maybe one or two.

The good news is that interpersonal skills can be learned and developed, just like technical skills.

You don’t have to go to business school to work on your interpersonal skills. There are great low-cost resources to kickstart new ideas. Check out Crucial Conversations, or this great list from The Muse of 11 Cheap Online Classes You Can Take to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills.

Once you start thinking a little differently about how you interact with others, you can start putting new skills into practice with people around you.

Think about your library colleagues. Is there someone you avoid because you just don’t get along?

Real talk: as you move into leadership positions, you no longer have the option of avoiding people. You need enough interpersonal oomph to have a good relationship with everyone in your organization (and outside, too).

Maybe that strained relationship is an area for interpersonal growth. Could you ask your colleague more appreciative questions? Could you find more empathy for your colleague? Could you genuinely apologize for your part in creating a rift?

Technical skills are, of course, still important. If you go back to that graph, you’ll notice middle managers a mix of technical expertise and interpersonal skills. As a middle manager, I feel that pinch. I need to know how to re-write loan rules in Sierra . . . and explain to people why we need to do that, and persuade them to help make the changes.

If you want to advance in your library career, you’ll need these interpersonal skills to have stellar relationships with your colleagues. Developing your interpersonal skills makes you a better leader in your current position. It also makes you a better candidate for advancement within your library, or for taking on a leadership role at another library.

How would you rate your current interpersonal abilities? What’s helped you grow your skills?

GIF of West Wing character with text "Well, you go girl"I’ve been listening to a new podcast. New to me at least. It’s called The West Wing Weekly. I am, of course, a huge West Wing fan, so I am, of course, loving this podcast. Still, it’s giving me pause. Not really, I just make weird connections between random things in my head.

I was thinking the other day about what sets leaders apart from the pack. There are a lot of answers to that question, and I couldn’t come up with one answer. Frankly, I still can’t come up with one answer. But, at the end of every episode of the West Wing Weekly they say the same thing: “What’s next?”

Animation of West Wing character with text "When I ask what's next it means I'm ready to move on to other things."Now, if you love The West Wing, you’ll understand why they do that. But even if you’ve never seen an episode, it’s a good message. “What’s next?”

One aspect of what distinguishes a library leader from a library employee is that the leader is always asking, “What’s next?”

They ask many other questions and do many other things, but I’d argue that asking, “What’s next?” is one key to library leadership. There is something satisfying about finishing a big task, but it is not enough to bask in that accomplishment. Sooner (rather then later) you have to ask yourself: “What’s next?”

Thinking about the future shows initiative; it shows knowledge of the library environment around you; and it shows that you’re thinking not just about what’s on your to-do list, but on what can be done to improve your library for your patrons.

If you want to be a library leader then make your new mantra “What’s next?”

animation of West Wing character with text "Bring it on."

Personal Resolutions? BORING.

Kevin King —  January 3, 2017 — 1 Comment

blank list of resolutions on blackboardIt is the first day back to work of the new year! Time to craft a list of resolutions I will forget about before ALA Midwinter. Although I feel that the intent of thinking about how you are going to be a better person is admirable, I want to challenge LL&F readers to think differently about resolutions this month. Instead of listing personal resolutions, write down a few ways in which you are going to help your peers, direct reports and friends become better leaders in 2017.

Please reply top this post with one way in which you are going to help those in the library world become better leaders in 2017. Maybe we can send the list to 1600 Pennslyvania Ave?