I’m kinda tired of all the negativity lately.  In fact, it’s starting to get stale and exhausting and nauseating.  The latest large dose of it is courtesy of the Annoyed Librarian and all the anonymous commenters on the most recent posts.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care if you disagree with the medium, I don’t care if you don’t agree with the message.  I don’t care if you disagree with the list of skills, the essays on the site or the work that Michael Porter and David Lee King do.  Because if you disagree with those things I will make the assumption that you can back your opinion up with some substance.  And then there would be a constructive discussion.

What really bothers me is the massive hate pile on.  The general attack on both of their personalities and professional work.  The non-constructive comments.  The anonymous mean comments.

Library 101 may not be my thing, but I’ll never take away from the enthusiasm, passion and effort that went into creating it. I appreciate that enthusiasm and frankly I think the library profession needs more of it.

It bothers me to watch two people get attacked for work that they put a ton of time, effort, money and love into.  When was the last time you did something that you passionately believe in and put a huge effort into and gave your all and got really excited about creating?  Think about that.  Now think about how you’d feel if it was bashed in a national public forum by anonymous strangers.

It wouldn’t feel too good, huh?

I am the oldest of four children.  I have one sister who is three years younger than I am, and two female cousins, one 4 years and the second 10 years younger than myself.  I say that I am one of four because in grand, old school Italian style, our families (my mom and her sister) lived very close to one another and my grandparents.  We were raised as a four-pack and did everything together – vacations, birthdays, weekends, weekdays, after school, Sunday dinners, you name it, we did it together.  When I was 13 our grandmother moved into our house and still lives with my parents.  Us kids thought this was great because now we had Nannie’s cooking every night and she dropped us off and picked us up from school – no more bus.  This also meant that at any given time there were 5-8 people in our house.  It was fun, but insane, and very, very loud.

Sometimes stereotypes are so dead-on that you laugh when you read about them or see them portrayed in movies or on television.  The stereotype of the loud, everyone talking at once, everyone has an opinion, everyone’s opinion is correct, and whomever is the last one talking wins all happening around a table of food is very true, at least it was in my house.  If you put any stock in birth order, you’d know that first born children tend to be more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable and less open to new ideas than later born children.  Add a huge dose of Italian upbringing and this pretty much summed up my personality up until I was 22 years old.  You could not tell me anything.  I had an opinion and you were going to hear it.  I was right, you were wrong and that was the end of the story.  It was my way or the highway.

I took this personality to college with me and surprisingly did very well.  I had my mind opened much more than I had before and became a more tolerant person.  I began college as pre-med.  I wanted very much to be a doctor, but life had other plans for me and after my sophomore year, I transferred schools and found myself as a history major.  I graduated and then on the suggestion of a librarian I worked with, decided to go to library school.  She swore up and down that I would be a “fantastic librarian.”  I am still not sure if she was correct, but I am enjoying figuring it out.

This seems like a very long winded story and way to talk about stepping outside your comfort zone, but there is a point I promise to make.  Being a doctor would have been a great job for me and my domineering personality.  I wanted to be an ER doc, which would have been fantastic since I could bark out orders and work in a high stress environment.  But, that did not happen.  What did happen was during my first year of graduate school I accepted a management position at the library.

Looking back on that time, I can safely say that I was not a glowing success in that position.  I actually had a supervisor tell me that they thought my personality was not suited for management and that I tended to get very upset when I did not get my way.  I wish I could say that I disagreed with that assessment, but I knew then and I know now, that was a dead-on appraisal of my management skills.

When I accepted my first professional position I made a promise to myself that I would work on developing my management skills.  There was not a lot of opportunity to attend formal professional development classes for this, but I found ways that I could improve my skills.  I started very simply, I listened to other people.  I really listened.  I considered other people’s opinions.  I worked on having better discussions about projects or issues.  I engaged others.  And, more often than not, I took their advice or suggestions and put them into practice.  I also learned how to accept criticism and feedback.  I learned to listen to it and accept it with grace and then work on improving the problem.  When receiving criticism and feedback I practiced what I like to call “generous listening.”  To me, that meant remaining calm, not interrupting, not arguing, asking for clarification or suggestions, and then thinking about what I was just told.

Do I need to explain how difficult this was for me to do?  Me, the gal who won every argument by yelling the loudest.  The one who would sit at a table of 10 people who were all talking at once and was still heard.  The oldest child who’s way of doing things was always the right way.

The point I am getting at, rather circuitously, is that doing that self-reflection and work was difficult and at times extremely uncomfortable.  Being honest with yourself, the type of honest where you admit you have faults, is painful.  However, it is also invaluable to our development and improvement and when you are committed to changing, the results can be life changing.

Being a good manager requires constant self-assessment.  It requires adapting to your environment and those who you are interacting with on a daily basis.  Learning how to communicate.  Discovering how to motivate people.  Realizing what you are doing that may be ineffective and sometimes damaging.  In short, it requires you to go outside your comfort zone on a continual basis.

The good news is that once you regularly go outside your comfort zone it starts to become familiar and comfortable.

An interesting side note: the three remaining in my four-pack (my sister and two cousins) all became teachers….and married teachers.  I find it funny because the classroom, at least as I remember it, is not a democracy.  You do what the teacher tells you.  This is even more funnier after I tell you that they are all math teachers.  There are no gray areas in math. The answer is either right or wrong.  This is the perfect place for our types of personalities.  I’ve been a manager for almost ten years.  When I come home for holidays, events or vacations and we are all together (now our numbers seem to have doubled) I get teased because I am the “quiet one” who “never argues” anymore.  I just smile and tell them that I am listening to them. 🙂

Getting ready to catalog in Library Thing

Getting ready to catalog in Library Thing

I’m sitting in the gift shop of the Joel Lane House in downtown Raleigh, NC with 13 of my collleagues.  We are “flash mob” cataloging the museum’s small collection in Library Thing.  Having not cataloged since library school, I must say that cataloging in Library Thing is so simple and fun!!!!!  Loving every minute of this.

Settling in to flash mob catalog the collection

Settling in to flash mob catalog the collection

I was going to title this post Compassionate Management, but I think I want to go bigger than just this one aspect.  Confrontation. Most people hate it.  A small number love it, while a much larger number work diligently to avoid it.  Contrary to what people may think, this is not a part of being a manager that makes our year.  We do not relish in it, and it can be an extremely uncomfortable interaction.

A while ago I wrote a post about Giving and Receiving Feedback.  It is one of the most popular posts on this site and it is extremely applicable in this discussion. Rather than re-hash it, I want to expand on it a bit.  As managers we have a responsibility to our superiors, our employers and most importantly, our staff to provide performance feedback and guidance.  Ignoring under performers and claiming blissful ignorance, or covering for those whose work is not up to standard helps no one and hurts a heck of a lot of people.  I come to work each day and have to look each of my staff in the face and tell them I am working hard to help them.  If I chose not to address blatant performance issues I would be lying to them.  I don’t like lying or liars.

Confronting someone about their performance or behavior is not a fun or easy task.  There have been many books written about how to conduct a performance discussion and/or review.  All give solid advice and I have used many of the tips and strategies.  The important thing to remember is that a person needs to understand and accept responsibilty for their performance and behavior.  They need to know how they will be evaluated and that they will be held accountable when issues arise. As managers we need to work with staff to correct or improve performance. We need to provide our feedback in a constructive manner, clearly and concisely.  And most importantly, set expectations and deadlines if necessary.

This is not a joyous or fun part of being a manager.  Confrontation is a part of life – work life, home life, personal life.  At work, it is just abou that.  It’s not personal and should not be taken that way.  No one likes to tell someone something that they don’t want to hear.  No one likes firing anyone.  I would not want to work for someone who enjoyed these types of interactions.

I am so incredibly proud to work with Tina Adams, LJ’s Paraprofessional of the Year for 2009.  Tina is a valued member of my department who truly cares about our work and our staff.  What tickled me pink about Tina’s nomination was the willingness of our colleagues to write letters of support and recommendation.  She is a credit to the profession and I hope that I have the good fortune to work with her for many years to come.  Congratulations, Tina!  You deserve this!!!!

Happy New Year!  Well, work trumped blogging a lot towards the end of 2008.  There was a lot of work orienting new employees, general end of the semester/year craziness, and then preparing for the new associate department head’s arrival.  There have been a lot of posts brewing in my head and I figured now is a good time to share some thoughts.

A friend of mine recently reminded me of a post over at Brazen Careerist that I had bookmarked.  It is focused on good management and stresses the importance of generosity when managing people.  I agree with Penelope on pretty much all of her points, but my mind can’t help but go one step beyond where she ends.  It is absolutely true that the good managers are the ones who give generously of their time, patience, skills, and mentorship.  A good manager checks in with staff on a daily basis, listens to their feedback, addresses issues and concerns, provides the necessary resources, and dedicates time to developing their stafft.  I get behind all of this and try to practice this in my management style.  The last paragraph of the post is what hit home for me:

“So really, management is an opportunity to self-actualize. Some people will self-actualize by being artists, or writing code. Some people will self-actualize through management. Some, a combination. But the point here is that being in management is an opportunity to grow spiritually and give back to the world in a way that is enormously fulfilling. If you allow it. You will need to set aside real time to make this happen. And you need to give generously. No big surprise there, though, because why else are we here, on this planet, except to give to each other?”

Reading this started the wheels turning in my head.  The holidays put the wheels on pause, but then recent discussions at work and home this week got them spinning all over again.  The big questions I keep spinning around: What happens when you get little to nothing in return? What happens when you get nothing but negative back? How can we as managers build something from little to nothing?

I’ve been thinking that the short answer is that it means you’re in for a lot more work as a manager.  You need to dig your heels in, find the small, but significant battles to win, and every now and again pull the rug out from under people in an effort to facilitate change.  Failure is always a possibility.

Sometimes I feel like management is treated as if we are not allowed to have feelings or needs.  Sometimes we have to swallow a lot that in situations other than work we would never stand for.  I love a challenge and I love to give of myself, but sometimes it can be a very draining, unrewarding experience.  No one wants to hear or talk about that side of the coin, but I think it is time.

I would like to take a moment to thank the Journal of Access Services for driving home the point that the work we do here in access services is ripe for the mocking.  I can’t exactly pinpoint my reaction to the fact that every article in the current issue is authored by the Annoyed Librarian.  I guess it wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t feel that the AL is just way more negative than they are witty or satirical.  I was a fan of AL a while back, but that changed when I found myself flinching more than laughing at the posts.

I guess I am feeling mostly disappointed that a peer-reviewed journal, in my particular area of librarianship, would publish 10 chapters of ranting.  I am all for having a sense of humor and throwing digs at some of the more absurd and knee-jerk reactions libraries and librarians tend to have, but I think the AL is just a lot of negative without a counter balance of anything positive.  Frankly, I am tired of negative.

For other opinions on this topic see the following posts:

I have been very remiss in writing and for this I apologize. Life really trumped blogging a lot these past few months. Work has been keeping me very busy, but things are going very well on that front. After being without an associate department head for almost a year, I am thrilled to announce that Colleen Harris has accepted the position and will be joining us in January. On top of that, we have been running at less than full staffing for the past several months and if all goes well that should end by the end of November. Needless to say, my staff and I have been working very hard and have been a tad stressed and stretched thin. That would be the reason for the lack of content over here.

In other news, my colleague, Tripp Reade and I are presenting at the Brick and Click Academic Libraries Symposium this Friday. We are presenting on our department’s experience of merging two of our major service points into one combined service point. This merger happened just as I arrived at NCSU and we have been working very hard for the past almost two years to make it a success. We have learned a lot from the experience and are very eager to share our experiences with our colleagues. I will post slides after the presentation and I intend on blogging the conference. This is my second year attending Brick and Click and it quickly became my favorite conference last year. If you have not attended and have any interest in academic libraries, this is a fantastic and affordable option.

I was taking a look at the stats for this site and I am constantly surprised by how many hits it gets even when I don’t post forever. The repetitive pattern in the referrers and search terms seem to be “effective communication” and “giving feedback.” I have a few more posts in my head about both of these topics. I have a particular post that has been brewing for a few weeks. I think in the next day or so it will be ready to be written up.

So there is my promise to post again soon.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of transparency.  There are projects going on, new people joining the staff, changes in policies and procedures at MPOW that require good communication and a level of transparency in order to make things go smoothly and to keep everyone as informed as they need and would like to be.  I believe that transparency in communication, decision-making, procedures and policy is ideal and I support any effort to improve in this area.

However, more and more I am starting to think that an important and essential first or pre-step needs to happen and is often overlooked.  This being: creating a climate of open communication.  What I mean by this is a work environment where people are comfortable being honest and direct, sharing their opinions, without the fear of, not retribution, but of offending people.  I know that someone will always be offended by something, I’m not that naive.  We spend a lot of time coaching people on how to communicate more effectively and how to be better at giving feedback, but we don’t spend enough time on the other side of that equation; receiving feedback.

Receiving feedback is a skill.  It takes a great deal of self-awareness, self-control, self-confidence, and self-esteem.  It is something that with practice we can improve.  I don’t have a 5 step improvement process for this, but I do have some key points that I try to keep in the back of my head.

1.  I am secure in the knowledge that I am good at what I do.  This is not conceit or arrogance.  This is recognition that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing, what makes the best use of my skills and talents, and what I enjoy doing on a daily basis.  It is reinforced by positive feedback from my staff, my colleagues, my supervisors, performance appraisals, and the fact that I still want to get up and go to work every morning.

2.  What happens in my professional life does not necessarily have much, if any, bearing on my personal life.  When I receive feedback about my work, it is just that.  It is not a remark about my soul, personality, morality, intelligence, character, or who I am at the core of my being.  If it was, I’d have a lot more issues that need to be addressed.

3.  The people I work with are my colleagues and collaborators, not my enemies. There is no hidden agenda or conspiracy to see me fail.  I consider what I am being told before I react.  Is it relevant?  Does it make a valid point?  How can I change or improve the issue?  What is the desired outcome and how do we get there?

4. I can’t please everyone.  Being a manager puts you in the undesirable position of having to hear feedback that you sometimes can’t directly address or comment upon.  You just have to hear it.  We sometimes have to make decisions when there is no time to consider all outcomes and possibilities.  A decision has to be made and we deal with the fallout later.  Sooner or later someone will disagree or be unhappy.  That is just the way it goes.

5.  9 times out of 10 it is not going to be catastrophic.  There are very few decisions or actions that cannot be reversed or modified.  We are not performing brain surgery, we are trying to help people.  We are fortunate that we have rules that can be adjusted depending on a situation.  This is not a military operation, we have many options and we can try as many as needed.

Through a lot of practice and self-improvement I have become someone who accepts and solicits feedback from my peers, colleagues and staff.  I want to know what’s going on and how things can be better.  I’m not going to be offended by what I am going to hear, no matter how bad someone thinks it is.  I can guarantee that I have thought worse about myself than what I am going to be told.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we are there yet in our work environments.  I think it has improved greatly, but I still see people getting emotional and personal about issues that are purely professional.  I recognize that sometimes people care so much about their work that it is hard for them to not identify with it, but I also think that in cases like that too much can be a bad thing.  You want to be open to what people have to say.

Another important point to consider is that not all criticism is equal.  Is it coming from someone you really admire and respect or is it coming from a person who is always negative, never has anything positive to say and never has a solution to a problem; just the list of problems?  If it is the latter, why do you care? Our most important critics are the people we admire, respect, and care about.  When they stop giving you feedback, wake up, you have a problem.

I have no answers about how to change an environment into an open one.  I think it is something that can be approached on two fronts: the first being locally, on a department or unit basis.  A manager needs to create and foster this climate and model the behavior themselves.  The second is from a top-down strategy.  An organization must commit to becoming a haven of open communication.  Everyone must practice what is preached.

Remember Your Dreams

July 26, 2008

Randy Pausch, beloved professor at Carnegie Mellon, and an inspiration to everyone who has have ever listened to a word he has spoken, passed away yesterday. Pausch became famous beyond the classroom after giving his Last Lecture. If you have never watched or read his lecture, you should do so immediately. Randy reminded all of us to remember our childhood dreams, pursue them, help others pursue theirs and to be better and kinder to one another. He was a true inspiration and I have kept some of his lessons in the back of my head for the past few months. My favorite of his lessons, “Tell the truth. All the time.”  My second favorite, “Its very important to know when you’re in a pissing match. And its very important to get out of it as quickly as possible.”  He will be missed and remembered.