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What do I really want to be known for?

| November 29, 2022

by Trey Pendragon

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Trey Pendragon, Senior Developer & Digital Library Development Manager at the Princeton University Library.  It is a reflection on what he is learning as a MOR program participant.  Trey may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.]

Recently I was flipping through my “leadership notebook.”  It was delivered to my house the weekend before my first MOR experience (our cohort began the program virtually). In the first couple of pages I wrote down what I want to be known for. It reads as follows:

I want to be known for building a stable and diverse ecosystem of development focused on the growth and health of the people involved.

Roughly two pages later I’ve circled the question “Is what I said true?” Clearly, I had some doubts.

Now – I don’t have a lot of experience as a supervisor and I lead a small team of six people, if you include our student developers. So, I’m not going to provide poignant management advice in this reflection. Instead, I’d like to talk about a couple of moments where I’ve put into practice the lessons we’ve been taught, share the feedback I’ve gotten from it, and reflect on what those moments mean to me.

Since MOR started, my group has begun a visioning process to build cohesion around the service we as a group want to deliver.  We want to enable buy-in from our influential stakeholders when it comes time to choose one priority over another. We’ve followed the MOR process – we analyzed the forces and trends for our field, defined a desired future state, did a SWOT analysis of the current state, did a gap analysis, and developed some strategies to get there. During this process we broke into pairs for certain steps, shared at the meeting in a go around, refined our strategies in a tight window, and gave out action items for the next meeting.

About halfway through the process I was in a 1:1 with one of my staff and got feedback: “everything was going very fast – will there be time to talk about all of this more in depth?” We talked about it and decided to trust the process. At the end we did a retrospective and discovered that, despite it not taking a long time, we were happy with the outcome. Rather than one hotly debated future state, we had four that coalesced into one. Instead of one voice overriding the strategy we had several viewpoints that came together to articulate a strategy we wouldn’t have come to otherwise. It was fast – and effective. That feeling of success was invigorating, and that process is now not just in my toolbox, but also my team’s.

The next moment that stuck out to me happened very recently. Every year as part of our annual review our staff sets goals they’d like to accomplish. I try to encourage them to choose goals that are reflective of how they’d like to grow personally. Every half-year we do a goals check-in. Equipped with the coaching tools I’ve gotten during our workshops, I made a few resolutions: I’d ask questions without leading, I’d check to make sure these goals reflect the work they want to be doing, and I’d work with them to find commitments they could make that would make those goals successful. This meeting wasn’t about evaluation – it was about coaching.

What a success. I can’t begin to describe how well this went. One of my staff left that meeting having redefined the goals that were important to them with clear steps for meeting them, and I didn’t have to provide any answers. Which is good – there’s no way I could have! They know their field better than I ever will. Another of my staff had a goal of continuing to work on their mentorship. They started with “I’m working with our student developers and continuing to learn,” and now have clearly defined which of their mentorship traits they think they’re best at, which need work, how they can work on them, and most importantly how they can transfer their own strengths into strengths for their mentees. Next time they’ll be sharing what kind of mentor they want to be. The feedback I got from this was “This was great, I’ve never had a meeting like this before.” You know what? Neither had I! This was the first time I’d implemented a practice I’d never had used on me by another manager.

When I reflect on these moments, I think about how my staff are on a path towards growth now in a way they weren’t before. It didn’t increase my workload – or theirs – but with just a few questions and a little focused time they’ve gained clarity on where they can go next, and I have clarity on how I can support getting them there. They have actionable goals and a vision that will redefine themselves, the people around them, and in some cases will affect our broader field. This makes me think about what I said I want to be known for: “building a stable and diverse ecosystem of development focused on the growth and health of the people involved.” You know what? I want to be in a world where stable, diverse, healthy, and growing teams are the bare minimum expectation. I don’t want to be known for meeting the bare minimum.

While working on our unit’s vision, one word kept coming up that I connected with: inspiring. However, it’s not that I want to be inspiring – there’s a more impactful level I see. So, here’s where my reflection over my experiences since MOR has led me:

I want to be known for being a leader that fosters inspirational individuals. When someone joins my team, they’ll know that they’ll become an inspiration – their growth will be so transformative that it will raise those around them.

I’m not anywhere near there yet, but I’ll try, and I’m building the practices now that will get me there.

This Week’s Survey

Do you know what you want to be known for?

From Last Week

Last week we asked you to reflect on what you value most:

  • 35% said moments where you make a meaningful connection.
  • 26% said memories that enrich your life.
  • 21% said making time to support others.
  • 18% said messages of appreciation.

Relationships matter.  Relationships are currency.  As we reflect on what we collectively value most, it involves meaningful, enriching, supportive, and appreciative connections.  How do we increase our opportunities to experience such moments, and how do we increase our opportunities to provide others with those moments?  Also considering this week’s reading brings us to even more interesting questions: do we want to be known as embodying those things we value most?  And if so, what can we do to continue on that journey this week?