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The First Year: 5 strategies for success

[The First Year: 5 Strategies for Success, 1 of 8]

Over the past several years, I've had the pleasure of coaching several new public library directors. For a variety of reasons, many directors are stepping into the role for the first time. Often, particularly in smaller or more rural libraries, they haven't even had a lot of supervisory experience.

I tell new directors that the two big advantages of confidential access to someone who has walked in your shoes is that (a) you can ask the questions you might feel embarrassed to ask your board or staff, and (b) you have the advantage of someone else's mistakes. To be clear, everybody makes mistakes. It may be the most powerful learning tool we have. But I've thought about my mistakes, and I can help you identify the old ones, and with luck, make new ones. There's no good reason to make the same ones!

I believe that there are five key constituencies the public library director must satisfy: your boss (usually a board), your staff (both direct reports and the larger culture of the organization), your communityyour profession, and--the most overlooked of the five--yourself. If you put a relationship management strategy together, you are far less likely to be surprised by events, and far more likely to succeed.

I've seen too many directors who seemed to be doing things right, often spectacularly so, only to be tripped up by a staff vote of no confidence, or a devastating board evaluation, or a sudden shift in the local community, or a sudden and complete personal burnout. How does that happen? The director either didn't have a strategy for dealing with all of the five constituencies, or forgot to pay attention to them.

I've noticed something else: almost every director, in the first year, faces the problem of a key staff member who doesn't perform. How that issue is dealt with defines the course of a career. And a library.

Boards should also pay attention: the transition to a new leader should be a key organizational goal, requiring conscientious analysis and support. Replacing a director is a time-consuming and emotional process. It is far better to coach one to success than have to push 'em out the door and start over. The more directors spin through the doors, the harder it becomes to find a good one. The board is usually the problem. But it doesn't have to be.

I'm going to flesh out my roughly first year curriculum and try to pitch it to a professional magazine. Meanwhile, I'd be interested in hearing from directors with their own thoughts on key relationships, and their experiences with formal coaching.

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

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