Finding Your Leadership Pathway – Journey Reflections

Last week’s post discussed how to overcome roadblocks on the leadership journey by creating actionable plans. Through perseverance, effort, and a little bit of luck the desired leadership destination can be reached. Even if goals change, it is important to celebrate success every step along the way.

Too often we fail to celebrate our successes. This could be due to a feeling of modesty or simple exhaustion from the journey. However, failure to acknowledge the hard work can make the final victory feel hollow. Therefore, it is helpful to plan ways to celebrate success in advance of its arrival.

Consider that when we take a real-life trip, we make efforts to secure it in our memories. For example, photos are taken at important waypoints and with fellow travelers or locals. Souvenirs are acquired to frame memories around specific places. Memorabilia is obtained as a result of events and places visited. All these artifacts serve as ways to remember and reminisce on the journey well after it is over.

As you travel down your leadership pathway, what parts of it are worthy of remembrance? Will it be attending conferences? Will it be specific people? Will specific artifacts be created, like reports or giveaways? Consider in advance what items will help you capture the essence of the journey even before taking the first step.

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For example, every time I attend an American Library Association conference or a Public Library Association conference, I bring back a small souvenir such as a shot glass with the name of the city hosting the conference. It is a small memento that unlocks larger memories. Another way I remember milestones comes in recognition plaques. My two Golden Palm Awards, Leadership Palm Beach County graduation document, and master’s degree from the University of Toronto all have a place on the walls of my office. In addition, framed copies of the first page of every feature article I have written for Public Libraries magazine are displayed. All these items help me remember successes and offer inspiration for the future.

What will you acquire on your leadership journey? It is helpful to consider this in advance to ensure you capture them on your travels. Of course, most journeys have unplanned detours, so allow yourself some spontaneous acquisitions when the mood strikes. Anything that may help you celebrate success is worthy of consideration.

I wish you good fortune on your leadership journey. If you missed the other postings in this series, please find links to them below.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – Plan of Action

In most journeys, complications arise that force us to take alternative paths. Two weeks ago, I discussed how to anticipate roadblocks. Once these obstacles are apparent, the next step is to formulate plans to detour or bypass them. There are several ways to develop these strategies. Two are highlighted below.

A solitary method to address potential roadblocks is by brainstorming options. I suggest using map maps to avoid the trap of linear thinking. Take a sheet of blank paper and write the name of the roadblock in the center. Around that center point start listing potential solutions. Avoid early self-censorship by writing down everything that comes to mind. Don’t worry if ideas seem unworkable. The point is to get them out of your head for full review. In fact, sometimes ideas that seem silly at first might have merit upon closer examination.

Challenge yourself to come up with a least five options. For example, let’s say the roadblock to succeeding with your project is lack of funding. Here are several ideas to solve it:

  • Ask the owner/director for additional funds
  • Seek out grant opportunities
  • Arrange for a loan from a bank or colleague
  • Identify options to reduce the project’s overall costs
  • Recruit investors to the cause
  • Close out other projects to divert funds
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A collaborative way to overcome roadblocks is through a support network. There are many people out there with experience and resources that could be amenable to assist. Too often we fail to seek help due to embarrassment or ego. However, being willing to reach out to colleagues can be the difference maker.

One way to do this is through existing professional networks. For example, I am a member of the Urban Libraries Council Library Director/CEO listserv. Through that network I have access to hundreds of years of professional executive experience. Whenever a question or request is posted to the listserv a dozen or more people may respond. Quite often, solutions and options arise very fast in the candid conversation.

To that end, seek out professional networks, even ones that are not within your occupation. Oftentimes the way to overcome a roadblock is by applying ideas from another profession. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, construction workers, and librarians all have different mindsets. Join the local Chamber of Commerce or attend a Toastmasters club. Both are examples of cross professional organizations. Tapping into alternative viewpoints is a helpful way to find novel solutions.

With the end in sight, next time I’ll discuss how to reflect on the journey.

When is it Best to be First or Last in a List?

Every day we make choices. Usually, we believe that our decisions are made rationally and fully under our control. However, studies have clearly shown that our minds are influenced by factors beyond our recognition. In fact, it is possible to design systems that guide people to make specific decisions without them even knowing it.

One way this happens is through choice architecture. This is the science of building the system through which the choices are presented. Whether this is a survey, restaurant menu, or car building web site, the order and types of choices can bias the decision maker. It need not be nefarious; it is simply an aspect of the limitations built into all choice architecture designs.

In his book, The Elements of Choice, Eric J. Johnson discusses the field of choice architecture in great detail. One specific example he explores is how placement on a list affects choice.

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Lists are a common choice architecture design. No matter if it is a list of three items or three hundred, the placement of items on the list impacts decisions. However, the format in which the list is presented also has an impact. It changes the location on the list where someone would want their preferred choice to be located.

For example, if the list is text only and the reader is in control of where to place their eyes, then the first spot is almost always the most selected. Examples of this type of list presentation are restaurant menus or short option lists, such as election ballots. However, when the decision maker is listening to a list or has no ability to move backward or forward by choice, then the final slot is the most selected. Examples of this are judging competitions that involve artistic merit, or simply having a friend recite a list of potential movies to watch on a weekend night.

This is a key difference. In the first case, people are judging their choices based on the first item presented. It anchors the decision. In the second case, the decision maker is working off memory, which tends to be strained as the list grows longer. This causes the most attention to fall on the later items.

Read more about how choice architecture affects our decisions in The Elements of Choice.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – Roadblocks & Detours

In the first two parts of this Finding Your Leadership Pathway series, I spoke about preparing for the journey. The first step was assessing your starting point by identifying strengths, weaknesses, skills and talents. Step two was picking a destination based on personal goals, desires, and career intentions. However, once you start down the road it is inevitable that obstacles will arise. Navigating around these barriers holds the keys to success.

Obstacles on the leadership pathway come in many forms. Perhaps a promotion doesn’t materialize. Maybe funding cuts eliminate projects or strategic initiatives you were counting on for resume building. Interpersonal conflicts could inhibit committee work and strain coworker relations.

An exercise to endure these roadblocks involves preparing for them before they arrive. Start by brainstorming a list of possible roadblocks in advance. Contemplate the most likely ways that the journey could go off track. For example, imagine the goal is to become a manager at a nearby location when the current person retires. Here are possible ways this ambition could be thwarted:

  • Heavy competition results in more skilled candidates applying
  • The current manager decides to stay around longer than anticipated
  • The position is frozen due to budget cuts
  • Another candidate is appointed without any interviews
  • Family issues interfere with your ability to compete

By anticipating what might go wrong, overly optimistic thinking is challenged. When you are grounded in realism there is opportunity to consider contingencies and possible detours. In next week’s post we will cover how to strategize around them.

Libraries Can Really Change the Future – Interview with Susan Benton

In February I had the honor of sitting down with Susan Benton, President/CEO of the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). Susan is retiring this summer after thirteen years of service at ULC. Before she left, I wanted to learn more about her tenure at ULC and her thoughts on the challenges facing, and future of, public libraries. The full conversation is posted at Public Libraries Online. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

DC: How has ULC changed under your leadership both internally and also in terms of its relationship with members?

Susan Benton

SB: When I first joined ULC, we had a very small staff and were located in Chicago. We made the move in 2014 to Washington D.C. which was important for us. While some thought ULC moved to Washington to lobby on Capitol Hill, we moved to D.C. so that we could be closer to allied organizations that are important to libraries. The work that ULC is doing to transform the lives of people in our cities and counties requires us to work with organizations here in Washington D.C., such as the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities and others. They are truly sister organizations with very similar missions to ULC. We now connect with them to extend our work. The move helped us take a stronger position for urban libraries. We are constantly in conversations with colleagues in the public sector and private sector so that we can educate others about the essential contributions of libraries to all aspects of life. 

Read the rest of the article on the Public Libraries Online web site.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – Goals

What is your leadership destination?

Leader development is an ongoing process. Last week I discussed how the beginning of leadership growth is understanding your starting point. After all, you can’t plan a journey without knowing from where it will begin. Once the starting point is set, the next action is to decide on the destination.

Let’s get something out of the way first: leadership development is not solely about rising through the ranks of an organization. For many people, moving into management or administration goes against what makes them happy at work. It is perfectly fine for someone to develop within their position and never become a supervisor. That is because leaders can and must exist at all levels of an organization. The challenge for each one of us is deciding a leadership goal that is personally and professionally fulfilling.

A useful tool for this process is the Nexus LAB: Layers of Leadership Model. Created through a partnership with the Educopia Institute, the Center for Creative Leadership, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, it maps out the skills needed for six distinct levels of leadership.

  • Leading Self
  • Leading Others
  • Leading the Department
  • Leading Multiple Departments
  • Leading the Organization
  • Leading the Profession

The model is meant to be approached in a non-liner fashion. Successful leaders may only explore one or two of the levels over their careers. In fact, some people might lead their profession without ever having a management role.

I invite you to explore the model in depth and use it to determine your current leadership goal. For the level you desire to reach, write down the skills, challenges, and potential outcomes associated with it. This exercise will help you identify current strengths and gaps in your knowledge that can be grown on the journey ahead.

Next week, we will explore how to navigate around roadblocks and make the best of detours.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – Assessment

What is your road to leadership?

At the PLA conference in Portland, I was honored to be participate in an all-day preconference workshop called, Finding Your Leadership Pathway. Sponsored and presented by the PLA Leadership Committee, over thirty participants joined our team to craft their leadership pathway, no matter if they were a new leader or one with many years of experience under their belt.

The agenda for the day followed a five stage roadmap. Over the next five weeks I will highlight one section. Today we start at the beginning with a leadership assessment.

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In order to take any trip, you must know your point of origin. The leadership assessment starts with identifying your current position, skills, and responsibilities. Knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses is also helpful. To ensure the assessment sticks, write down the responses on a real piece of paper to make it a physical process.

While those items will orient you to the here and know, there is something even deeper to consider: values. What is a value? The Google dictionary definition states amongst several things that it is: a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.

With that in mind, what do you consider to be your five top values? List them out and see if they resonate with your life and approach to work. If they do not, you may be simply accepting the values of those around you. Instead, reexamine the list and go deeper with another round of listing values. Keep going with rounds of examination until you are satisfied with the list.

Now that you have an understanding of your starting point, next week we will provide a process to identify your leadership goal.

Tips for Better Writing

Do you like to write?

Much like public speaking, many people feel uncomfortable writing for public consumption. However, for almost any kind of professional career, being skillful at writing is an asset. Thankfully there are very simple ways to improve your writing ability without enrolling in a course.

In a recent article on his web site, Darious Foroux lists 15 brief tips that anyone can use to improve their writing. The first one is the simplest of all:

Keep It Brief – Short writing forces you to be clear. Because our thoughts are usually abstract and all over the place, our writing tends to be the same. You can avoid that by always aiming to be as brief as possible.  

That tip is especially true for business writing, since most people want to get to the point quickly to complete a task or project. Another tip that can be applied immediately is to: Be Direct.

Say what you want, mean, or feel. Avoid leaving things open to interpretation because that only annoys people. We can often be more direct in our writing than in real life. When I teach these types of writing lessons in my video course, I don’t need to be this direct because I can use my voice, facial expressions, and examples to make my point. But when we write, we only have our words. So make them count. 

Learn about the other writing tips on Foroux’s web site.

An Underappreciated Leadership Skill

By nature of the position, leaders are required to make decisions. While experience and training are very helpful to make good calls in challenging situations, it may not be enough. In this fast changing world, there is an important skill that will help leaders of all types succeed. It is the power of critical thinking,

In a recent article in Inc. magazine titled, Want to Improve Your Leadership Skills? Focus on Critical Thinking, executive coach Bruce Eckfelt lays out the primary reason that critical thinking is a vital skill for today’s leaders.

As a business grows in size, so does the complexity and scope of its problems and challenges. Without good critical-thinking skills, leaders will make poor decisions and fail to take advantage of strategic opportunities. Very often, what holds the business back from reaching its true potential is a lack in the leadership of foresight and effective problem-solving skills.

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To enhance this skill, Eckfelt provides five ways to improve critical thinking skills. The first is something librarians loves to do: gather more and better data.

The first thing I emphasize is that most teams try to make decisions with limited and poor-quality data. Good critical thinkers start by collecting as much high-quality data as possible. They don’t take things at face value. They question summaries and dig to make sure that they really understand what’s happening on the ground and maximize the raw information they have to work with.

Learn the other four ways to improve your critical thinking skills by reading the article.