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.

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.

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.

You Don’t Need More Content … Yet

Yesterday I finally subscribed to Netflix. Given that the streaming service already has 75 million subscribers in the US alone, it felt like I was the last one to sign on! Why did I wait so long? Quite frankly, my family has subscriptions to Disney+, Discovery+, and HBO Max. Between all three of those services I have enough movies and TV shows to keep me busy for three lifetimes of endless viewing. I resisted Netflix because I didn’t need more content.

As a trainer in productivity, leadership, and libraries, it is tempting to load up presentation with content. This is a useful approach when doing an introductory seminar or presentation. However, I have come to believe that most trainers focus too much on content delivery and not enough on integration. In short they sacrifice the cultivation of knowledge for the sake of information overload.

This insight came to me while developing a leadership clinic for TBLC, a Florida library cooperative. For weeks I struggled to decide what content to share with the students during the 2.5 hours of training. After picking and discarding many different ideas, I fell back to a training approach I learned years ago. The concept divides training into four sections:

  • Content Delivery
  • Written Component
  • Small Group Reflection
  • Large Group Share

Based on this model, delivering content is only a quarter of the learning experience. The other three components are designed to allow participants to integrate the information into their own experience. By offering students time for quiet written work, such as answering a question, they begin to wrap their mind around the material. Through communication in small groups followed by large groups, knowledge is deepened through conversation. By the end of the four sections, the student should have a strong understanding of the material and how it impacts their lives.

At the leadership clinic, the students spent a third of their time in breakout rooms. The conversations were deep and honest. In fact, the students afterward said they wanted more time in the rooms than we had available. Many stated how useful it was to talk through their issues and identify points of resolution.

Whenever you feel you need more content, it may actually be time to reflect on the information you already have. Only after you identify gaps in your knowledge is it time to seek more information.

The moral: Don’t go looking for more content, at least not yet …

Do the Easy Stuff First?

Everyone likes to get a quick win. It would seem that disposing of small items would generate momentum to tackle larger work. However, does this tactic lead to lower productivity?

In an article on getpocket called Why Doing the Easy Parts of Your To-Do List First Can Be a Bad Idea, Stephanie Vozza argues that studies show that tackling the low hanging fruit first may dissuade you from attempting more meaningful work.

“In the short-term, the person could actually feel satisfied and less anxious,” says Maryam Kouchaki, associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “But avoiding hard tasks indefinitely also cuts off opportunities to learn and improve one’s skills.

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Part of the problem with working on easy tasks is that they are often low value and procedural, making little impact on a person or organization’s larger goals.

Finishing tasks provides a sense of progress and makes us feel good. “We all have limited time and attention,” says Kouchaki. “In any moment, if you have a choice of doing an easy or difficult task, most of us tend to pick the easy task. Easier tasks are often quicker to complete, and they are more likely to be chosen first when people are busier. We call this ‘task completion preference.’”

The problem is that when you create a habit of choosing easier tasks over hard, you can impact your long-term productivity.

Read the full article on the getpocket web site.

Make a Simple New Year’s Resolution

With 2021 almost done, it is time to look ahead to 2022. Of course, the new year’s holiday is a traditional time to make a resolution to change something in your life. Whether it is losing weight, exercising more, kicking a bad habit or starting a good one, there are unlimited ways to make a resolution. Sadly, these self promises are often unsuccessful. The web site Discover Happy Habits offers some sobering data:

According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Years resolutions, by the end of the year only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.

It goes on to share that the top reasons for failure to keep a resolution include unrealistic goals, failure to track progress, forgetting about it, and setting too many goals.

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To help you set a resolution you can stick to successfully, here is my own advice from personal practice.

1 – Set only one resolution: Too much change is stressful. Instead identify one thing that will make the most impact and focus your energy on that.

2 – Make the goal realistic: For example, promising to run ten miles every day gets old quick. Getting 10,000 steps a day is simpler to achieve and once you are on a roll the target number can be increased.

3 – Identify a simple change that is easy to implement: If you want to eat healthy, it can be jarring to jump from a regular diet to a low calorie one overnight. Instead, select one food item to eliminate, like processed sugar or salty chips. Sometimes a single change is enough to get the desired result.

4 – Track and celebrate: Make a note of your progress at the end of the day. Whether it is tracking your weight or recording exercise minutes, seeing continual progress is encouraging. Even more exciting is building a streak! Once the momentum starts it will see you through tough days.

5 – Set a time commitment– A resolution doesn’t have to be a lifetime change. One way to beat the inertia to get started on a new habit is to put a time limit on it. For example, commit to exercising one hour a day for 60 days. This makes the change reasonable and offers a way out if it doesn’t work for you. Of course, if the change sticks, keep going beyond the initial time commitment.

Good luck with your New Year’s Resolution and have a happy 2022!