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.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

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 – 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.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

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.

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.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

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.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – a PLA PreConference

Are you planning to attend the Public Library Association Conference in Portland OR or live in the vicinity? If so, why not brush up on your leadership skills by joining me and a team of great leaders for a full day pre-conference session, Finding Your Leadership Pathway.

Our presenters include:

  • Lynn Hoffman, Director of Operations, Somerset County Library System of New Jersey
  • Isaiah West, Teen Services Specialist, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System
  • Derek Wolfgram, Library Director, Redwood City Public Library
  • Douglas Crane, Director, Palm Beach County Library System

This full day event is happening on Tues. March 22, 9 am to 5 pm, at the convention center.

What to know what is in store? Read on!

Public libraries offer multiple pathways to leadership. From team supervision to directorship, and from small municipal and rural libraries to large multi-site systems, the array of options create a rich leadership landscape for public library careers. Join current and prospective leaders at all levels to share in a day of exploration, self-reflection, and networking, all focused on helping you map out your own career development journey. In addition to having ample opportunities for interaction with other participants, you’ll also hear from over a dozen diverse leaders as they talk about their own varied experiences throughout the day.

Outcome OneState their leadership value and identify the strengths they can put to the most effective use now and in the future;
Outcome TwoCommunicate with stakeholders and powerfully advocate for change within their organizations, employing strategies to make their voice heard at all levels of leadership; and
Outcome ThreeCreate a plan for sustained action that exemplifies their commitment to maintaining and building on their leadership practice

Register for the PLA Conference and add on this event for an additional charge. Lunch is included.

I hope to see you there!

We’re All Alone in this Together

Organizations that are able to form reliable teams tend to accomplish more goals and provide better internal and external customer service. However, there is an unspoken tension around teams. In order for them to work effectively, everyone has to know their assignment. The distribution of work needs to be clear otherwise important items fall through the cracks.

David Allen has explored the intersection of personal productivity and teamwork. In a recent blog post he notes the following:

Have you discovered yet that no matter how big the button is that says “TEAM” you’re wearing at the conference, nobody’s on yours?! That in order to get done what you have to get done, there aren’t a lot of people at your beck and call, making sure your specific actions and projects happen? Ever have the feeling that you’ve got to hold on for dear life to your own projects and outcomes, against the hurricane of events and other people trying to get their world defined and done?

Later in the post, David considers the reason why teams fail to clarify their work.

Problem is most of us never had training or experience in dealing with that syndrome efficiently and effectively. We grew up in a world where you just went to work, and the work to be done was visible and obvious.

What is the solution to this problem? It could be as simple as acknowledging our struggles.

The best teams and relationships, from my experience, are the ones in which the players all acknowledge they’re each alone in the endeavor together. That’s when we can really experience team, and function as one.

Read the entire post on the Getting Things Done web site.

Gazing into the Crystal Ball

2021 proved to be a very unpredictable year. Between the pandemic, political uncertainty, and economic challenges we never knew what would happen next. Still, everyone must plan for the future, including Library Directors and CEOs. So, what are these leaders focusing on with the new year?

In a recent survey I conducted of Urban Library Council members, I asked Directors to share their top concerns for 2022. The results were published in an article on the Public Libraries Online web site. The group reported focusing on a broad range of topics, but far and away the largest was COVID and its fallout.

The pandemic upended the library’s relationship with patrons. Between limited hours, uncertain access to buildings and safety concerns about virus spread, patterns of use changed dramatically. Libraries have seen a drop in visitors that has not reverted back to pre-pandemic levels. A Canadian library director listed a number of possible reasons including:

“The continued effects of the pandemic including changing customer behaviors, hesitancy to frequent public spaces, mental health issues, impact on loss of learning due to school closures, and the shift to online.”

Related to the pandemic were concerns about budgets due to a violate economy.

Several directors commented that their infrastructure is in need of repair and upgrading. However, funding for capital projects is running up against tight operating margins. For example, a California library director shared the following about their system.

“This may not be the case for every library system but over half of our branches are too small and well beyond their normal useful life. There is a high amount of deferred maintenance and insufficient funding resulting in increased deterioration of buildings.”

Explore more thoughts from public library leaders on their top concerns for 2022 at the Public Libraries Online web site.