Archives For personality types

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?

hand giving a thumbs up

Compliments are just as important to library leaders as they are to everyone else. In the last two days I’ve received three compliments about my work. This is notable for several reasons:

First, they were compliments about my work product/work style, and not my hair or clothing. I’m way more interested in being perceived as competent and good at my job than being perceived as fashionable (this is a hallmark of being an INTJ). Because so much of my work as a library director is about glad-handing and being out in public, most of the compliments I receive are about what I’m wearing or what I look like.

Second, they were spontaneous compliments. Unsolicited work compliments are rare for me, and I assume for any manager. Being a library director is a singular, and often lonely, position, so there’s little opportunity for the kind of camaraderie and support that other library staff provide each other. If I ask a coworker “What did you think about my presentation?” I worry that it puts them in a weird spot because I hold power over them, so where’s the incentive for them to be honest? I totally get that. So to have coworkers tell me out of the blue that I did a good job is a real ego-boost.

Lastly, I hardly ever get compliments anymore, and to get three in two days is way out of the norm. Partially it’s because a lot of the work I do is amorphous, long-term, and difficult to quantify, so how does anyone compliment that? I think it’s also because I don’t have someone onsite daily who monitors and reviews my work, so I don’t get feedback on a consistent basis.

Managers like compliments, too! If you have a great boss, or great boss’s boss, I encourage you to let them know when they’ve done a particularly good job on something. I know the three sets of kind words I’ve gotten recently will get me through the next several weeks, if not months.

In 2010, Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations conducted a study about the importance of self-awareness as a trait for leaders. They found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of success. I am not surprised by this.

photo of a brown owl looking in a mirror

cc-by Wagner Machado Carlos Lemes

Over the years I have met a few professionals who, when I hear them speak, I think “Yes! I agree completely!” Their philosophies match my own perfectly. However, then I find that their methods of following through on their ideas are actually demoralizing to staff, controlling, or insensitive. Their actions do not match the inspiration and enthusiasm of their words. Maybe they mistake aggression for assertiveness and are actually just a jerk with good ideas, or maybe they have no idea how they are coming across to others. That is, they mean well but have no self-awareness.

When hiring leaders, we should ask the candidates about how they accomplish their work, rather than just be impressed by the laundry list of important projects they have completed. We should also be sure that when we call their professional references, we ask about the candidates’ self-awareness. Not just “What are their strengths and weaknesses?”, but “How do they improve themselves?” and “How do they gain feedback?”. The important part here is how they gather feedback.

You can also use personality tests like Myers-Briggs or StrengthsFinder as part of the hiring process for positions of leadership. Are you hiring a personality type that complements those already on staff, and among those whom they will work most closely? Are you hiring a personality type that is compatible with the goals of the institution?

Leaders, to you I suggest putting yourself in your co-workers’ shoes. If your boss had this decision to make, this procedure to put in place, or this project to complete, how would you want to receive the information? What would make you feel included and empowered? Look at the last few big projects you completed. How do you think your co-workers would describe your effectiveness? Be honest, and take into consideration the areas you know to be your weaknesses.

If anyone has other good ideas about self-awareness and leadership, I’d love to hear them in the comments!