I adore making lists. I love reading lists in magazines. Yes, I even adore those one hundred item masterpieces sent and resent through e-mail. Because this is my next to last article (I’m counting), I think I will share my most important learnings in the form of a “lifelong learning list” for directors. I will include my disclaimer here –– these are, for the most part, not original. In fact, some of them come from our president-elect more than a decade ago. I borrow everything—books, recipes, and ideas.
Treat Resistance or Negativity As a Request for More Information
This has worked exceptionally well in my work. Usually I under-communicate and assume that people both understand and agree. I have learned to give the message again and again. I am still amazed that what has been so carefully explained and negotiated at one level of the organization does not make it to all levels. Eventually, with enough information, however, even those who do not agree are likely to let it go.
Keep Your Eye On Perspective
Remember, it is not generally about you; it is about the other person’s perspective of the problem. This comes close to the Four Agreements dictate not to take anything personally.1 The further up the corporate ladder you climb, the more important this becomes. It used to take me hours or days into being disturbed about some particularly nasty comment or disagreement to remember it was not about me. Now I almost remember automatically. This reminder about keeping my perspective has saved me huge amounts of angst and helped me toughen up emotionally. It’s like its own little therapy session.
Make Work an Affirming Place
I first read this in a “women’s” book about creating a loving home, but since I spend more time at work than home, it just made sense to change the location. This really carries you into the realm of coaching and mentoring––the topic of my last article. Imagine a library that employees and patrons want to be a part of just because we felt like better people when we are there.
The People Who Are the Hardest to Love Need It the Most
Naturally we want to be around people who are easy and fun. We spend most of our waking hours at work with people who, like our family, we did not choose. If we make friends of these people how much different our work places could be. Years ago, I worked with someone about whom I regularly and annoyingly complained. The person who most often had to listen to my complaints said “Can’t you find something to like about this person and focus on it, really exclusively focus?” I took the wake-up call and realized that this person was, beyond their obsessive compulsive exterior, a real visionary. When I started to focus on that trait, I began to learn.
With Age Comes Wisdom, I Hope
The ability to vision became part of my skill set. Next I began to look at whether or not I was an easy, fun person to be around. Not so much, I decided. I began working on smoothing out some of my rough edges (the ones that tended to give other people slivers––like sarcasm), and while I may have a ways to go on being fun, I am at least a little more relaxed.
Keep it Simple
Jerome M. Segal in Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream tells us that “the point of an economy, even a dynamic economy, is not to have more and more; it is to liberate us from the economic––to provide a material platform from which we may go forth to build the good life.”2 I keep thinking that this in some way may be true for libraries as well. If we keep our message simple, people will get it. If we keep our services simple, people will use them. And if we keep our mission focused on our community needs, we will stay relevant, and we can’t help but make a difference. We provide a material platform from which people can build “the good life.”
Seek and Give Feedback
This last item may be both the most simple and most difficult item on this list. Two quotes come to mind. “Unfortunately,” said Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, “most people would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”3 And second, the old addage “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.” Most people think that “constructive” and “criticism” should never be used in the same sentence, but straightforward and insightful critique can be life-changing and work-changing. Yes, you have to have a trust-based relationship with those you give and receive feedback from, but no one ever got better by doing what they have always done. There are times when people and relationships, like that pig, do not have the maturity required to deliver or receive feedback. In that case, that is what you work on instead.
If the difficulty in achieving this relationship is your problem, you might try reading Peter Bregman’s blog post “Don’t Be Nice; Be Helpful,” from the Harvard Business Review online. He states beautifully that honest feedback is “neither rude nor mean, it is compassionate.”4 And it’s not just for the director. “Everyone should offer feedback to everyone else, regardless of position. Because as long as what you say comes from your care and support for the other person—not your sympathy (which feels patronizing) or your power (which feels humiliating) or your anger (which feels abusive)—choosing to offer a critical insight to another is a deeply considerate act.”
There. One more list made.
- Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (San Rafael, Calif: Amber-Allen, 1997).
- Jerome M. Segal, Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1999), 12.
- Anniekie Ravhudzulo, Nothing Lasts Forever (Bloomington, Ind.: Xlibris, 2010), 56.
- Peter Bregman, “Don’t Be Nice; Be Helpful,” Harvard Business Review online, Mar. 16, 2011, accessed Feb. 23, 2012.