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Begin Again

| May 16, 2023

by Roel Muñoz

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Roel Muñoz, Digital Imaging Manager at the Princeton University Library. Roel is a current MOR program participant.  He may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

In reflecting on how my experience with leadership has evolved, I think back to my university days and how leadership is a continuous learning process. One of my final courses before completing my undergraduate degree was a literature course that required us to keep a journal on what we were reading and how it intersected with our lives. The course was called “Literature as Social Criticism.” We read The Jungle, The House of Mirth, and Native Son among other titles.

As part of our final grade, we turned in our journals for review by our professor, who commented heavily on mine. As I paged through my journal reading the comments, I realized that many of the comments were questions, forcing me to reflect on my own reflections. Some of the questions helped me understand the novel more deeply than on initial reading and some of the comments were cutting and incisive. Next to the grade for a class I’d come to enjoy greatly was a final comment by my professor that has remained with me:

Be a learner. Be a teacher. Begin again.

In the time that has passed since my undergraduate days, I can’t say that I’ve kept up journaling with any regularity. As a matter of fact, my favorite form of self-expression is photography, but meaningful principles of reflection have stayed with me. As I’ve completed major projects in my career, gone through big events in my life, or tried to understand new responsibilities, I’ve often said two words to myself: “Begin again.”

Like many of my MOR colleagues, I have begun using tools and ideas that we’re learning in order to change how I work and to help lead my group to become leaders themselves. One of these tools is delegation. Delegation is more than asking others to take on tasks. Coaching and preparing staff to handle these new responsibilities is critical.

As I’ve begun to delegate, I’ve had an “aha” realization. I’m not imposing on my staff’s time.  I’m feeding their desire to learn and grow in their professional lives. My team has readily accepted ownership and responsibility for new tasks that have encouraged them to see issues from a higher perspective. This simple realization of how my team has received this change opens possibilities for what we can do together. If my team members are seen as knowledgeable leaders, they become key resources for the services we provide. It creates capacity for change and growth both as an organization and individually as professionals.

As part of delegating, I’ve scheduled time to work with them and help them see our organization with more clarity. Libraries are often perceived from ground level; buildings with books and quiet corners to study. In fact, academic libraries are critical tools in scholarly pursuit. The work my team does involves making our collections visible to a worldwide audience, exposing them to scholars who are developing ideas for research. When staff sees the importance of the work they do and its importance to patrons of the organization, they begin to see their work through new lenses. I sincerely hope that one of the realizations they make is that they are not making a sacrifice in taking on new tasks.  Rather, they are making valuable contributions to scholarship.

Personally, as I’ve begun to learn to see our contributions through strategic, political, and cultural lenses, I’m seeing how much more insight I can gain from these perspectives. I’ll admit that I had some tunnel vision when thinking about projects. It seems easy to maintain steady progress and simply complete tasks. With new perspectives to explore I might be able to see opportunities for improvement. Case in point: our imaging studio works closely with other departments to digitize materials for scholars who are doing research or publishing papers or articles. As I think about this work, I try to see it through new lenses. Can the work be streamlined? Can the images themselves offer new information for research? Should this remain a service or be an integral part of the library’s mission?

I have begun to grasp the importance of constant learning in leadership. I didn’t know how my staff would feel about having projects delegated to them. Using some of the coaching tools we’ve learned about has turned that into a positive experience. To gain clarity on issues where our group can have a positive influence, I’ve begun to practice shifting my perspective and using different lenses to gain insight. I’d like to think of our MOR journey as a fresh start to becoming better leaders. Let’s all begin again; to use the tools we’re learning about and apply them in our work as coaches and leaders.

Last week we asked what is the most impactful thing someone does to help you believe in yourself.

  • 27% said expresses confidence in my abilities
  • 18% said empowers me to make my own choices
  • 15% said creates a safe space for risk-taking
  • 14% said stands by me through thick and thin
  • 10% said acknowledges my potential
  • 9% said cheers my growth and development
  • 6% said celebrates my wins

Helping someone believe in themselves is fundamentally about helping them believe in themselves the way you believe in them, and creating the space for them to shine. The list above provides concrete actions we can take to help others believe in themselves. It begins by letting them know you believe in them. Considering today’s reading, our own learning and development provide great opportunities to help others learn and develop as well. In particular, delegation is a powerful way to say I believe in you.