6 months

This week I am celebrating my 6 month anniversary at my new job. A wise librarian once said to me that it takes around 6 months to get your head around the culture of a place and decide whether you want to stay somewhere. I’m inclined to agree with this, and I’ve certainly had this on my mind in some of my previous jobs when I’ve been unsure about how long I want to stay.

However, this time around things are different. It is my first leadership role and it’s only now that I’m starting to feel like I’m getting to grips with the routines of the institution. It’s also taken me this long to feel like I’m building good working relationships – not only the people I’m managing – but also others I’ll be working closely with. Another wise librarian once told me that (in an education context at least) it takes at least one round of the academic ‘cycle’ to figure out whether you’re doing your job properly or not. There are certain regular ‘landmarks’ in our academic calendar that I haven’t navigated through yet, so I’m looking forward to what the summer term will bring. I also think that I’ve taken on a role that will need to develop over a number of years in order to see how much progress has been made. In my opinion I’m going to be waiting at least 2 years before I feel satisfied that I’m making an impact.

I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time reading excellent blogs such as Letters to a Young Librarian and Feral Librarian for leadership inspiration and found The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins to be a very useful read in my first few months. It’s a book that I’ll definitely be returning to when/if I change roles in the future.

Here are my Top 6 takes from my first 6 months in a leadership role:

  1. Get comfortable with ambiguity, uncertainty and a lack of control very quickly. There is no way you can possibly learn or know everything in the first 6 months, and a decent manager would not expect you to. I am very lucky that I have a good line manager in my workplace.
  2. Learning to be comfortable with the above ambiguity, uncertainty and lack of control is one sure-fire way of getting rid of Imposter Syndrome. I used to think I would need to read books and articles and perhaps attend training in order to be able to cope with the feelings of not being worthy in a work context. Turns out that being forced into management situations that you HAVE to deal with (because there’s nobody else who can) pushes those ‘imposter’ feelings out of your brain when you’re under pressure. Sometimes they try to creep back in, but you know that you have dealt with worse before and can do it again, so it stops those worries dead in their tracks. I appreciate that this might not work for everyone, but it did for me.
  3. Building relationships is EVERYTHING. With the people you manage and the people they manage, with your manager and their manager, with people in other departments, the list goes on. Every single person you come across has their own agenda and priorities (both positive and negative in relation to your priorities) and it’s up to you to have those discussions and build those connections to ensure that your department doesn’t become just another department working in its own silo. As part of this, I think it’s also crucial to respect everyone’s professional judgement and give people chances to perform. Never make assumptions about someone’s ability to do something without giving them the chance to do it first.
  4. Be patient when faced with people who think that you can’t do something. There’s always going to be someone who thinks they can do your job better than you can. Don’t add another person to the mix by giving in to your own self-doubt.
  5. Don’t do ANYTHING in terms of big changes in the first 6 months. Possibly even in the first year, depending on the type of organisation or team situation you’ve entered into. This is one of the best bits of advice that I found in The First 90 Days. It can be really tempting to spot things that are ‘wrong’ with your library or learning technology department and try to immediately start making changes, but it is extremely likely that this will not go down well with the staff you are working with and your ‘good ideas’ may fall flat. In my opinion, it is impossible to have a good enough idea of how somewhere works to be able to make any significant change work properly within the first 6 months. Again, I must emphasise that in my organisation I am lucky enough to have a good line manager who is not the type of boss that would put pressure on me to make quick changes.
  6. Education is messy and sometimes you have to just accept how a place works and just make time to ‘be’ for a while. Taking time to reflect and think has been essential in my role so far and sometimes doing nothing is much better than making a hasty decision.

I realise I have a hell of a long way to go before I can think of myself as some kind of authority on management and leadership, but I figured that it would be good to look back on this post in a year, 2 years and even 10 years’ time to see how my insights have changed. The past 6 months have challenged me in ways that I’ve never been challenged before and I would be lying if I’d said that there hadn’t been times that I’d questioned my ability to cope with certain situations. I’ve also learned so much about how people tick, including myself, and how different approaches are often required to encourage and support people you are working with.

I suppose I’ll be sticking around at The Northern School of Art for a while, then!

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