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Managing relationships: pulling it all together

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 8 of 8]

We have now briefly considered 5 relationships: with boss, with staff, with community, with profession, and with self. What's next?

Most people find that some of these are easier than others, whether because that's just a natural strength, or because one of those relationships happens to be characterized by unusually pleasant or easy-going people.

But most of us tend to get swallowed up in whatever relationship dimension has something exciting going on. Then, we get blindsided by the one we weren't watching. The questions then become:
  • How do you assess the strength or health of your current relationships?
  • How do you "fix" the relationship that's going awry?
  • How do you devise a system to regularly scan the relationships, so that you are not blindsided?

Using these articles as a guide, review each dimension and ask yourself at least the following:
  • How frequently or regularly am I touching base with this relationship?
  • How representative is the group of people I check in with? For a board, that has to mean more than the board president. For the staff, it's not just direct reports. For the community, it's not just elected officials. For the profession, it's not just local or regional colleagues. For yourself, it's not just one aspect of your life. One friend of mine assembled what she called "an advisory board," covering those aspects of her job she thought she might want some coaching about. Asking those people to serve in that capacity is a demonstration of sincere intention, and having a panel of mentors is better than just having one. They will correct for each other.
  • How confident am I that the relationship is positive and productive? Have I asked representatives about that?
  • Which areas of this relationship seem to need work? Think about that by yourself first. Then take those ideas to those representatives of the relationship and ask for validation or advice. Humility and authenticity go a long way here.
Fixing what's broken

Your approach here will depend on what you found during the assessment. The best path forward is to state, to key members of those relationships, that in order for the organization to succeed, you have to manage your relationships, but that you can't do it by yourself. Then budget time to work on each of them, and follow up.

Scanning the horizon

The key here is to be systematic. Many of us rely on intuition, which is fine until it isn't. Some strategies include:
  • A graphic aid. Put a mind map or chart somewhere you can't miss it. List all five relationships. Subcategories might include: current projects, areas of friction. Don't forget, too, to call out areas of success. It's easier to build on strengths than to completely root out weaknesses.
  • Scheduled meetings. Put regularly scheduled meetings with key representatives on your calendar. Begin with listening: how are things going with you? With us? Make sure you ask: do you need anything from me? Am I dropping the ball on anything? What should I keep doing?
  • Journaling. This doesn't have to be pages and pages of detailed self-reflection. A bullet journal--consisting of just phrases that capture activity or concerns--is fine. But it does need to be done regularly. I recommend either at the beginning of the day, or at the end.
  • Continuing education. Be on the look out for books, lectures, workshops, and webinars. The more you think and talk about it, the better you'll get.

These articles aren't meant to be exhaustive. They represent only my still-developing thinking on the topic, based on my own missteps and observations. I do hope they'll be helpful to those just starting out as directors, and suspect they may prove useful reminders even for seasoned leaders, whether in the public sector or not. (Warning: plug alert.) I am of course available to provide additional articles, keynotes, and workshops on the topic! Meanwhile, I look forward to comments about anything I might have missed, or proved particularly useful.

The Series:
  1. The First Year: 5 Strategies for Success
  2. Managing your relationship with your boss
  3. Managing your relationship with staff, Part I
  4. Managing relationships with your staff: Part II
  5. Managing your relationship with the community
  6. Managing your relationship with the profession
  7. Managing your relationship with yourself
  8. Managing relationships: pulling it all together


Sunnie said…
As a Library Director who just celebrated 6 months in this position, these blog posts are right on. I think the relationship here that most new Directors are least prepared to manage is their relationship to the Board, since there aren't a lot of ways to get that experience until you reach the position. I think you could write at least half a dozen articles on this topic alone!

I was lucky enough to have served on two non-profit boards prior to this role - as Secretary and committee chair for my state library board and as President for a small early childhood focused nonprofit in the town I live in. Those experiences helped me to feel much more prepared to be on "this side of the table" and it's something I'd highly recommend to any Librarian who thinks they'd like to be a Director.
Jamie LaRue said…
Thanks Sunnie. The hard part about working with a board is that very often, individual members don't really understand boards, either. All of us are learning, and we need to learn how to do so openly, without recrimination. And maybe with a more generous spirit.

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