Education and libraries are helping professions! A lot of us go into these fields at least in part because we want to do work that has the potential to make the world a better place. And a few of us take the leap into leadership, at least in part, because we want to scale our impact in ways that will influence our entire school or library, and perhaps even the wider community it serves. But there’s a paradox in leadership that many new leaders struggle with, and to be honest it’s one I still fight from time to time. More often than we’d like to admit, being helpful is actually UNHELPFUL.
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When is being helpful unhelpful? Education and libraries are helping professions! A lot of us go into these fields at least in part because we want to do the work that has the potential to make the world a better place. And a few of us take the leap into leadership, at least in part, because we want to scale our impact in ways that will influence our entire school or library, and perhaps even the wider community it serves. But there’s a paradox in leadership that many new leaders struggle with, and to be honest it’s one I still fight from time to time. More often than we’d like to admit, being helpful is actually unhelpful. Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild. My PhD in higher ed Leadership plus 17 years working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me a secret that I want to share with all of you. You don't have to be a perfect leader to build a better world. And your school or library definitely doesn't need to be perfect either. So here's the deal. Educational and library leaders like you give me 5-10 minutes of your Monday morning. In return, I'll empower you to heal yourself and your school or library. No long interviews, no celebrities, no lectures, no nonsense. Just short stories and simple challenges you can implement this week. Each challenge is designed to coach you in the confidence, skill, and trust you need to let go of a little control. You and your team will begin growing humanely, managing effectively, and your school or library will build a more informed and educated world along the way. Now there is one skill that you need for these challenges, not to mention all the drama doubt and dysfunction at work that leaves you overthinking, overwhelmed, overworked, and just plain stuck. That’s why I created the first Kind Leadership Guild Course, Get Un-Stuck! This 8 part course gives you the toolkit to make effective, humane, and collaborative decisions. And in so doing, you and your team will begin healing that drama doubt, and defensiveness into Trust, Confidence, and Excellence. And in turn that will empower your organization to build a better world. Get Un-Stuck covers a simple process to help you make decisions big and small, with timeframes short and long. And it’s self-paced, so you can finish it in 8 hours, 8 days, or 8 weeks. Just depends on what makes sense for you. You’ll also gain access to a private community, regular group Zooms, a 30-minute 1 on 1 session with me, and more. For all the details, check the link in the show notes. Now, on to today’s challenge! I’ve been in library leadership positions in one form or another for about ten years now. It mostly suits me well. I enjoy no two days being the same, having time to look at the big picture and grapple with big problems, and getting to advocate for the library and make connections for it throughout the universities I’ve worked for during the past decade. But today I want to talk about one of the few areas in which I’m not suited to be a leader—I like to help. Less charitably, I like to be the hero. Hero complexes among leaders are far too common, and can be so destructive in so many ways that they deserve an episode of their own. And they will get one in due course. But for today I just wanna share a little story from the early days of my time as a leader, one of the first times my hero complex got in the way. When I became associate library director, I handed off a lot of my day to day projects to a new entry level librarian who came on board around the same time. They were smart and very keen to learn a new tool I had been using and was the subject matter expert for, and I enjoyed teaching them the basics and watched with pride as they took the project to greater heights than I had envisioned. Soon thereafter, we had our monthly staff meeting, and they were on the agenda about the project. Unsurprisingly they handled the presentation beautifully, but at one point a question was asked about an aspect of the project that I wasn’t sure they knew about, but I did. And before thinking or even asking, I leapt in and “rescued” them by answering the question. Afterwards they were furious, and they had every right to be. I was a bit defensive at first, but quickly just became embarrassed at how fast I’d fallen into one of my own pet peeves around managers. I apologized for overstepping, and we moved on, but our working relationship was never quite the same. I thought I was helping, but in reality all I was doing was damaging a trusting relationship. Which brings me to the moral of today’s story, one that has served me well when I’ve remembered it and still sometimes bites me in the butt when I forget it. When in doubt, sit on your hands. There's no faster way to lose the trust of your team than by meddling in what they do or bombarding them with unwanted advice. Show you believe in them by giving them a task and then staying out of their way. Thy will feel trusted, they will feel safe, and they will climb to new heights because they know you believe in them enough to let them shine. So here’s your challenge for the week. Is a team member struggling with something that you’re just itching to help with? Don’t. Sit back, keep watching, and wait until specifically asked for help, unless your distance is causing clear and present danger to the organization that outweighs the risk of undermining trust and psychological safety with that team member. Make it clear you are there if needed, and then stay out of the way. Find your own project. Get out of the building and go do some community outreach or networking. up knitting if it comes to it! Always remember that your highest duty as a leader is to watch for incoming opportunities and threats for your school or library—and all too often, we can be the source of those threats. Come on over to the facebook group and share your challenge in the episode thread. Don’t worry, it’s a private group, and we even have anonymous posting and commenting options if that makes you more comfortable. And keep an eye out for this week’s Wednesday livestream, where I’ll dig deeper into this topic, and answer any questions you may have. Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. if you found this episode insightful, give us a like or review—or even better, share this challenge with a colleague! Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.