Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I'm not sure to what extent we are truly wanting to delve into our jobs here, but I thought I'd share a truly humbling experience I had at work today.

There are three or so main areas I supervise. They all have great people on their teams and have obviously been doing just fine without me. However, there is always room for improvement, and I often play the role of conduit between upper administration and various departments.

In my eagerness to help "fix" things, I didn't realize I was actually muddying things up and inadvertently stepping on toes. One of my employees - Jane Doe - asked to speak with me today and point blank asked me who, exactly, is supervising her department. Is it her or is it me? I had spoken with one of Jane's team members yesterday about some changes I was thinking about making, and then she told Jane (innocently, I think) about them; Jane got upset that I was confusing her employees and not communicating clearly with her at all stages of the change making process.

It was one of those moments where I was utterly caught off guard because I had no idea I was causing problems. I saw an issue and wanted to fix it. But I could also see Jane's perspective because she has a system that has been working for literally decades and there is still a lot I don't know.

I apologized to Jane and there were no hard feelings. Yes, I feel a little awkward, but that will have to pass because I am an adult and she wasn't doing anything out of spite. I appreciated her coming to me before she got really upset and I am pleased with myself that my employees know they can approach me to work through challenges.

So, what are the lessons I learned today?
  1. Even if you have nothing but good intentions, something can (and probably will) throw you off guard when you least expect it.
  2. Honest communication is absolutely amazing.
  3. Your work will always find opportunities to humble you so that you can grow from it. These small instances hone your instincts (and will allow you to have your day in the sun someday, too).
  4. While we solved the current issue, this allowed me to pinpoint more of my weaknesses AND my workers'. I am often overly gung ho and trip over my feet like a puppy. My team members have been doing this a long time and can be territorial and slow to change. Neither of us is wrong, but rather we have rough edges to work on. 
  5. As a leader - and you're a leader no matter your position on the totem pole - you set the tone for how problems get solved. Empathy, patience, active listening and humility are the keys to survival. It's just as bad to fly off the handle as it is to cry as it is to shut down (and the list goes on).
  6. People talk, both innocently and maliciously. Plan how you unveil ideas carefully, even if it makes you feel crazy or paranoid.
  7. Be the bigger person. Choose your battles and get over the idea of being a martyr. You should do what is right simply because it is right and nice guys and gals often (always?) finish last. I'm getting pretty comfortable under the bus.
I hope this post isn't obnoxious and I'm sorry if it is. This situation is interesting because there are so many facets - chain of command, opinions on workflow, age differences and new versus old. I'm a fool if I expect everything to be as solved as calmly as this but my organization is a fool to think I'm not going to implement some changes. I hate the idea of people being unhappy, but my greater allegiance is to the ideals of librarianship and service and NOT my personal comfort.

What was I thinking when I went into administration?!


  1. Oof, management. People are so complicated. I think you took away a lot of good lessons from this, including the one about things humbling you... when I was a manager, I was humbled every day (in both positive ways, by people exceeding my expectations, and negative ones, by people falling short of them) and I think it was really good for me as a person, although it was not always fun or pleasant. I think you're learning amazing stuff for having been there such a short time!

  2. I love learning experiences....

    I mostly know how these types of situations feel because I was the territorial slow to change person and the best thing a supervisor ever did for me was sit me down, put the problem in my hands and asked me to solve it.