It was the middle of March 2020, and I was livid. I sat in our apartment complex’s parking lot, one hand clenched around my phone, the other slamming into the side of my steering wheel over and over...
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How can anger be a kind leader’s superpower? It was the middle of March 2020, and I was livid. I sat in our apartment complex’s parking lot, one hand clenched around my phone, the other slamming into the side of my steering wheel over and over. In the space of the last week or so, the world had been turned on its head. I’d switched from pitching the library as the academic hub of the university to urging my fellow administrators to encourage our students and faculty to stay out of the building. I’d sent everyone to work from home except for myself and a few others who either felt comfortable staying or who needed to stay due to the nature of their jobs. And after consulting with the team, all of whom felt keeping the building open was a public safety risk as well as a hazard to the library staff, I sent an email to my provost that I never expected to send in my entire career. I asked the provost to ask the cabinet to allow me to close the library building until the crisis passed. And even though classes were cancelled and dorms were emptying, and everyone else who could was being ordered to work from home for the duration, the cabinet said said no, not yet. Keep listening to find out now I negotiated that difficult conversation, and how anger, when channeled, can be a leader’s superpower. 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? it 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 partnering collaboratively, and your school or library will build a more informed and educated world along the way. Before we get started, I want to let you in on a little secret this week. A month or so back, I asked our Facebook group what leadership skill they struggled with the most. And the results were clear— difficult conversations. That inspired me to create a new free Kind Leadership Guild Guide—Mastering Challenging Conversations. This guide is gonna come in two versions. The free version of the guide is a set of annotated checklists that you can use to plan for, conduct, and move forward from a challenging leadership conversation. This guide will be released to all current and new email list subscribers starting on May 30,2022. But I’m also recording a bonus 5-part mini-course that will walk you through typical case studies so you can practice ahead of time! When Mastering Challenging Conversations launches, that mini-course will be offered alongside the checklists as a $19 upgrade. But if you join the mailing list between now and May 30th, you’ll get the checklists and the course both for FREE. Just head on over to the link in the show notes. Well with that I think I’ve kept you hanging long enough. What happened once I stopped banging my steering wheel in frustration? Well, that banging of my hand was necessary, but it was also getting kind of painful! So I stopped, and topped it off with a nice, satisfying primal scream right there in my parked car. Fortunately most everyone around was either huddling in their apartments or standing in line at the grocery store for toilet paper, so I didn’t have to worry too much about being overheard. But in any case I knew from long painful experience that I should never make decisions when I’m angry. I needed to feel and process that anger, and then take action. And as the anger flowed through and out of me a question arose. Why were they so focused on us staying open in the middle of a pandemic? So I took some breaths, made sure that I was in a calmer headspace, and read through the email again. Their concern was reasonable, and one I probably would have agreed with as recently as 48 hours prior. Long story short, lots of our students at that time didn’t own computers, and the library is home to the biggest computer lab at the university. Since classes would be resuming remotely in a few days, the cabinet wanted to make sure that students had a place to go with good computers and connectivity to do their work. And before y’all get, like, righteously angry at my university’s cabinet with the two years of hindsight we have now, remember how confused, and frankly naïve, we ALL were back in March of 2020,. The official line was still that campus would reopen in a couple three weeks, and I figured that the worst case scenario would be that the rest of spring 2020 would take place online. So, how could I respond to what was a reasonable concern with the data we had in that moment? I pondered while I made dinner, vented a little more to my husband, and then settled down to reply to my Provost’s email. Now, I normally don’t check or definitely write work emails after I get home, but again, March 2020 was weird. I replied to my provost stating my understanding of the decision as well as reiterating my concern about the risks it posed to the university, and that I and one other volunteer staff member would keep the building open to computer lab users only for 8 hours a day. The provost approved the plan. Next day I spent removing mice and keyboards from every other computer in the completely empty computer lab, and checking with directors and deans at our neighboring institutions to see how they were handling the crisis. I knew from experience the cabinet would respond better to data, and I would feel more confident in my recommendations as well. Now It all turned out to be moot, as by the end of that day both the president of the university and the Governor of our state had shut down the library for the duration of the crisis. We wouldn’t have another patron in the building for almost 9 months. And I exhaled, and then started pondering. What did I do right in all that craziness? Well, and this is your challenge for this week, I Got mad. And then I got curious. Anger is a Kind Leader's superpower. Now obviously, blowing your stack in the heat of the moment isn't usually the most effective or humane or collaborative way of managing a situation, but anger is a valuable sign both that something is wrong with the current situation and anger is also an energy source to help you overcome the obstacles to solving the problem you’re dealing with. So go find a private space, and do what you need to do to feel all the anger that you're feeling. Process it. Work through it. And then ask yourself, "what is the situation that's causing this problem, and how can I best use this energy to respond to it?" The answer can be something internal or external that needs to change, but in the moment that that rage is rising, the more important action is to honor your emotion and ask that question. So what are you mad about right now? How can you feel and process that anger? And once you do, what is it about the situation that you need to understand better before making your next move? Come on over to the facebook group and let us know 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. In the group, we’ll dig deeper into this topic this week, and answer any questions you may have as well. Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s 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.