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Tuesday
Feb192013

Advice to strivers

Strive not be a success, but rather to be a value.
                                                                   Einstein

Our district-level technology integration specialists, Tracy and Marti - the best evidence one would ever need of the wisdom of hiring people who are smarter than you are - have been holding after school professional development sessions using Google Hangouts. Using this powerful tool, we have teachers from across our 15 school district sharing best practices, doing joint problem-solving, and modeling effective uses of technology for their peers. And having fun. Between them, they have re-energized staff development efforts in technology, moved curriculum and technology into closer collaboration on shared goals, and have even tackled efforts in training district administration in technology uses. It's been amazing. 

Jacob my network manager elegantly solves problems on a daily basis, volunteers for a role in new tasks such as building camera security systems and computerized test monitor training. He's working with our building technicians to optimize their scheduling and prioritize work. Our student information systems manager, Cassandra, this year has headed a centralized registration task force, taken on the management of both the library and data mining programs, and is setting up new calling lists to better inform our staff, families, and public about school closings. Our accounts secretary, Jocelin, has done more to automate ordering in the past year that we had accomplished in the previous 10.

While I would like to think they do all these things just to please me, even I am not that delusional. They do it to make a difference, to challenge themselves, and, yes, to prepare for bigger roles in their careers. I would disappointed if that were not one of their objectives.

These sorts of folks present managers with a dilemma. I want to encourage them to stretch, to succeed, to excel, to advance, to "self actualize." But I don't want them to ever leave - and given the small size of our organization, career paths are short. So, subversively, I encourage them to explore positions outside the district that will allow them to grow.

But I also suggest that one be careful in changing positions. While people often look at salary and title in deciding to move on, I'd base my change on:

  • Does the new position allow me to grow? (Will it be challenging? Will it be interesting? Does it fit me?)
  • Does the new position require a physical move or long commute? (Commuting and housework are the two biggest causes of unhappiness in modern life - (Buetrner, NPR, 2-18-13) Children do not like to leave friends. Divide any salary bump by 12 and then take out taxes and benefits.)
  • Does the new position have a favorable work environment? (Flexible hours, congenial co-workers, supportive supervisor. See Getting the Job You Deserve.)

Last week I was going through some "to-be-read" materials in my Evernote account and ran across Stephen Abram's long but very wise Editorial Commentary: 51 Insights, Perceptions, and a Few Things That I Think Are Important to Professional and Personal Progress, December 11, 2012. These jumped out at me:

it’s not just management’s responsibility to develop staff but that it’s also a staff and personal responsibility to take some ownership of their own careers and personal development. 

...the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct because the climate changed, many disappeared because they couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt to the changes.  The one’s that succeeded may have become birds or stayed smaller and more flexible.  Some moved to better environments. 

If you hide your ideas (or worse, start to believe that the only reason your idea is rejected is because you’re ‘hated’), you risk maturing well as a professional leader. 

Make it clear that you want opportunities.  Seek promotion.  Seek developmental opportunities on projects, teams, and committees. ... Don’t let your professional development happen by default.

Your personality is your greatest strength and hiding it too much in a false sense that it is more professional is a mistake.  Not being yourself, or showing too little of your personality, will often just look phony.  On the other hand, fully developed leaders and managers bring many behaviours and styles to work and make choices about when to use which aspects of their personality and when to use which skills. 

Don’t say ‘no’ too often.  When you’re offered the opportunity to stretch yourself at work or in association activity, jump at it. 

... attend every association event you can.  If your employer doesn’t pay, go anyway.  It’s often the cost of a meal and if my experience is any indication, I’ve found positions that increased my pay a lot over the cost of the investment in learning and networking that comes from involvement in associations.

Really focus on building a good professional reputation above and beyond your workplace. ... Write. Blog. Tweet. Share.  ...  Try to remain professional and positive, but don’t shy away from difficult problems and issues.

If you or your team is studying something to death – remember that death was not the original goal! 

Remember the 15% rule Humans have extreme difficulty in actually seeing a comparative difference of less than 15%.  I once read that research shows that when we see the light from 100 candles, we don’t see a difference in brightness until 115 candles are lit.  Interesting – I understand that the same thing is true of sound volume, colour variation, and other matters of human perception.  Indeed, in job evaluation systems, job bands are not considered sufficiently different until there is a 12.5-15% difference in the job’s points.  

I need to understand the user’s context and needs and not project my own them.  For instance, it is likely that the end-user doesn’t actually want ‘information’ but, more likely, wants to be informed, learn, be entertained, taught and/or transformed in some manner. 

 Ask everyone, including your management team and users, the three magic questions:

 

  1. What keeps you awake at night?
  2. If you could solve only one problem at work, what would it be?
  3. If you could change one thing and one thing only, what would it be?

 

Don’t overvalue one piece of out-of-context feedback or let it loom out of perspective and balance.  Avoid lasting emotional responses to single instances of both negative and positive feedback.  Feedback is best digested in the aggregate rather than in small doses.  

When you have 100 good ideas to choose from the critical skill isn’t choosing 5 but sacrificing 95.  Learn the skill of temporary sacrifice.  You can store your good ideas in an idea parking lot and bring them forward into the strategic planning process as projects are completed and new priorities are set.

We are often too serious.  Our work is serious and our impact on our communities is enormous!  However, I don’t believe that serious means professional and it gets in the way of progress and teamwork when it is overly evident.  Working creatively, trying new things and being innovative are fun.  Take the time to recognize that and live your life to the fullest.

I hope "my strivers" take these to heart - and of course read all of Mr. Abram's post. 

 

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Reader Comments (4)

Thanks Doug!
Stephen

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Abram

I appreciate the kudos, boss, but with you at the helm, I feel like we are allowed to spread our wings and soar! It takes a strong leader to recognize the strengths of his colleagues and let them work to the greatest capacity within them. Thank you for letting us grow and learn from you. Now...how about a raise? :-)

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTracy B

Tracy,

You've already received twice the raise I have. (2 X $0)

Doug

February 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Stephen, you are an inspiration to the entire library world! Thanks for all you do.

Doug

February 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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