Archives For Leadership Traits

truth

Just short of one year ago, I wrote a post for this blog called “Why I’m Leaving Libraries for the Convent“. You can read it. It’s pretty good. You don’t need to read that to understand this. But you should still read it. (I’m trying to increase my hit count).

I really did leave libraries for a convent. I was in nun pre-training for 10 months. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and also the most joyful. I didn’t flunk out. I didn’t find out some horrible secret. It was a wonderful and beautiful place that wasn’t for me – like that guy that you know is great, but you know you just don’t love. So I left at the beginning of June. I found a part-time job as an Adult Librarian at a local library. I’m not sure how much more I want than that right now. I’m happy.

For those ten months, I worked in a home for the “indigent elderly”, which is a nice way of saying women who do not have the resources or family assistance to spend the rest of their lives anywhere but a nursing home. We allow them to live, for free, in home care with a retinue of volunteers and live-ins to love and care for them.

I did a lot of things that I thought impossible. Most of them involved smelly or bloody things. Still, the most impossible thing? I fell in love with each of the three women in our house. It really made everything harder because I wanted the best for them. But, these are adult women, 2 to 3 times my age — what might be best for them in my eyes, is often not what’s best in their eyes. Phrases like, “Are you sure that you want that cookie?” and “It’s your meds, you don’t want to take them that’s your choice” often came out of my mouth. That was my way of expressing the truth without confrontation or acting passive-aggressively if you will. The truth was I thought that what I had was better for them than what they were choosing. So, I had to learn this lesson: Speak the truth in love.

See, I totally tricked you into almost reading the Bible there. That line is drawn from Ephesians 4:15 (Book Chapter: Verse):

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

There I really did trick some of you into reading the Bible!

I know that I cannot get us all behind the whole sentiment of this verse. Some people are probably trying to wash their eyes out and muttering slanderous things about me under their breath for making them read that verse. My response to them is, “look, if you can quote Twilight on your Twitter feed, then I can quote the Bible in my blog post.”

Back to the point. What I found over the last year is that true servant leadership is intertwined with this one line: “Speak the truth in love“. Working the reference desk is a constant attempt to find the right way to do this.

“No sir, unfortunately your hygiene is causing a problem for other people, so I’m going to have to ask you to leave for until you can correct the issue.”

“Yes, ma’am, I understand that your friend’s mole looks just like that cancerous one on Google images, but unfortunately I am not a doctor so I can’t call to tell her that.”

“Sadly, no. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer is not in the biography section. It is over here in the fiction section. Let me show you.”

How do you tell someone a hard truth? Something that you know that they do not want to hear? Speak the truth in love.

Don’t pussy-foot around it. You are doing no favors for them, for yourselves, or for other people at your library. Alternately, don’t take great pleasure or joy in it. Speak with tact and grace that transforms into genuine caring for another person’s well-being. Speak the truth in love.

Every library manager knows this, too. A large portion of management is learning how to navigate difficult situations with tact and grace.

“Jeanine, I know that things have been hard at home lately. Unfortunately, by coming in late and leaving early you’re compromising your effectiveness and that of your co-workers. Is there a way that we can work out a more convenient schedule during this time?”

“Bob, will you please read this section of the employee handbook? See here, jean shorts are actually against two portions of the dress code: no denim and no shorts. I can see why you like them, they’re very flattering, but maybe we can arrange for you to have a locker so you can change at the beginning and end of your shift?

“Sarah, please stop picking your earwax during televised Library Board meetings. Here, have some hand sanitizer.”

Ok, I haven’t actually had to say any of these things to employees in the past, which is more than I can say for the three reference desk examples.

Many managers have a fear of confronting employees about problem behavior. The same can be said for librarians who will not confront difficult patrons. We think that, somehow, letting people engage in bad behavior is better than talking to them about it. “Maybe he won’t smell as much tomorrow?” “Perhaps Jeanine’s family issues will sort themselves out soon?” “Maybe it will be too cold for Bob to wear his shorts to work?” Let’s be clear, Bob’s legs look great in those shorts, and he is going to keep wearing them unless you tell him otherwise. And he’s hurting your library and your staff while they wonder, “are his legs naturally hairless?” and “woah, where was he keeping that yardstick?” By avoiding telling people the truth, you are not loving them. You are not sparing them. You’re letting them walk down a path that may lead to shame, ridicule, or even termination.

Others librarians have the opposite problem. Perhaps in their discomfort with confrontation or perhaps because they’re a little bit of a sociopath, they are blunt and harsh with patrons or employees. “Jeanine, show up on time tomorrow or you’ll be fired.” “You smell. Leave immediately, or I’ll call the police.” “Yeah, we’ve established what cancerous moles look like, so there is nothing else that I can do. Please leave so that I can I page lazily through Publisher’s Weekly.” Speaking the truth is not enough. We must accompany it with an acknowledgment that the people that we see every day, co-workers or patrons, they are real people who deserve our love and respect.

Not sure how to have respect for other people? Fake it until you make it. Imagine what excuse you’d make for yourself if you were seen doing the same thing, and apply it to them in your mind. “Oh, you know, he probably just came from the gym.” “That guy is likely just confused because Abraham Lincoln was really so mythically awesome that he must also be a super-hero.”

With my ladies at the home for the elderly, I had to learn to say, “Ma’am, I love you and I would like you to take your meds because I want you to be happy and healthy. That being said, please eat a cookie instead if that is what will make you happy. You have the right to make that choice.” Speak the truth in love.

This is our call and our mission as librarians. It is a profession more about people than it is about books. We want to be there for our employees, our co-workers, and our patrons. To all those people that we encounter in the day to day, we are called to this: Speak the truth in love.

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?

Lead Locally, Shop Locally

Kevin King —  December 15, 2016 — 1 Comment

I firmly believe that one of the responsibilities of a community leader is to actively contribute to the city in which they serve. Leaders who are seen eating in the neighborhood diner, shopping in the co-op, drinking a beer in the micro-brewery, or simply relaxing in the city park are making a visible statement of love for their community. Leaders who spend their hard earned cash in the local economy are not only investing in small businesses but are also acting as a catalyst for others to shop locally. In the end, the community around your library grows and more people find their way into your buildings. There is no better time to put this idea into practice than the Holiday Season!

img_4310My first stop was the Michigan News Agency, one of the oldest and best literary locations in Kalamazoo. This place has been selling newspapers, magazines, and books since 1947. The owner Dean Hauck is a local treasure and fellow Detroit Tigers fan. I love visiting the store during the summer months and hearing the sweet sounds of baseball playing on the radio in the background. Unfortunately the day I went shopping Dean was not around, but that did not stop me from browsing the thousands of books and magazines on her packed shelves.

img_4314I found some great books that I know the leaders on my Christmas list will enjoy! The innovative, daring, “punk rock” manager will love either Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil or Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman. Both books should inspire leaders to embrace the unconventional, a trait I suspect will be needed in 2017. Do you know a leader that has a difficult time making a decision? Buy them Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman because it will definitely challenge the way they think about making decisions. In addition to all the books, there are some pretty great magazines for the leader on your list like Fast CompanyInc., and Harvard Business Review. All good leaders need to prepare for 2017 and there is no better place to stock up on resources than a local bookstore like Michigan News Agency.

img_4323Nothing beats a good latte after searching all morning for some great books! There are multiple java joints in downtown Kalamazoo and the newest is a new Biggby Coffee. Author Steven Johnson in his very popular TED Talk “Where Good Ideas Come From” discusses how coffee houses are a popular place for good ideas to brew and collide with other ideas. The high caffeine levels of espresso and the sugar in the caramel syrup certainly help the innovative part of your brain. Maybe this is why many leaders choose coffee houses as a location to meet colleagues outside of work.

Giving back to your community can take many forms. When you shop locally, you are intentionally giving back to your community by making an investment in the downtown economy. Leaders who shop locally instill an even greater level of confidence in both the citizens and the small business owners. This giving action will accelerate the growth of a public library in more ways than one. On a personal level, shopping in places in which they recognize me as “the guy who works at the library” fills my heart with an even greater love for the place I now call home.

Still Stunned

Kevin King —  November 17, 2016 — 1 Comment

shutterstock_116560858The 2016 Presidential Election was ten days ago and I am still stunned. Immediately afterwards I imposed a media blackout on myself and took a Facebook sabbatical because I did not want to see any headlines. My stomach was messed up and I woke up often in the middle of the night worried about the uncertainty of a man in the White House who did not remotely share any of my values. I felt alone. I wanted to be alone. I am willing to bet that these feelings were not uncommon.

Eventually, I realized that although it was understandable to want to withdraw, pulling people closer was actually healthier and a sign of a good leader. Executive coach Mary Jo Asmus recently wrote on her blog that,

It’s time to pull closer to people.

There is no better time than now to pay more attention to the people around you. Start with your loved ones, including the ones you’ve distanced yourself from during this divisive time. Move outward to friends and neighbors. And of course, be present to those who rely on you at work to lead them through their fears, anger, and disappointment.

Asmus goes on to list four things you can do to help the people feeling stunned and powerless during this post-election time. Leaders can easily adapt what she has written to help their teams cope.

  1. Care for yourself first – During times of crisis or turmoil, great leaders need to become symbols of stability and strength. This means before going to work, take care of yourself first.
  2. Be present and vigilant – Now is not the time to hide in your office. It is important to check in with your team. Asmus writes, “This is not about who won or lost, and not the time for you to express smugness or dismay. It’s the time to notice and just be there for others.”
  3. Listen to understand – Leaders that promote a trust-filled environment understand that there are times when you need to listen to someone even when you do not agree. It is important to be sure you are listening to EVERYONE on your team, no matter who that voted for last week.
  4. Have compassion – It is going to take time for many to move away from sadness and move to action. Likewise, some on your team may even want to enjoy the results of the election a little longer than you would prefer. It is important that you have compassion for both no matter which candidate you supported.

Our world is entering a time that will consistently challenge both our emotions and ability to lead. Great leaders will take on that challenge and find ways to pull their teams closer together to not only provide a sense of safety but to also inspire the team to take on the responsibility of making the library a safe haven.