Blogger Managing Children's Services Committee

Leading Toward a Shared Vision and Common Purpose

Supervising a creative, project-driven team, I often tread a fine line between wanting to be a supportive ‘yes person’ and making strategic choices for how we allocate staffing and resources. It’s not always easy, for as David Maister says, “Strategy means saying no” ( Three books are helpful when balancing intentional decision-making with motivating a team:

Harwood, Richard. Stepping Forward: A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Lives. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2019.

This new book by the founder of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation introduces seven principles of stepping forward to help communities find common ground, rebuild trust, expand circles of action, and develop a culture of ‘civic confidence’ for positive change. Harwood talks about the importance of stopping to listen, of having the courage and humility necessary to show up, to make those tough and intentional choices, and to remain open to new ideas. Trust is built through ‘deep listening’ without an agenda, without immediately seeking sides or solutions.

Shared Idea
ID 117789972 © Pavlo I |

Harwood also emphasizes the importance of nurturing ‘authentic hope,’ or the belief that tomorrow can be better than today. He notes that authentic hope develops when everyone feels seen and heard, when a diverse group pulls together for a common purpose that provides a sense of belonging to something larger than the individual. Common purpose can be overshadowed by competitiveness and the need to ‘win at all costs.’ Instead, civic confidence is strengthened through shared, ‘can-do narratives’ that override negativity. When applied to my library team, our common purpose becomes what’s best for the community we serve, focusing on possibilities and collective action.


Edmonds, S. Chris. The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

A team’s culture is influenced by many factors, including the beliefs and values of past, current, and new members. Edmonds describes a continuum for measuring values and performance ranging from low performing/ low values to high performing/ high values. Ideal team members are high performing with high values. While leading by example is often cited as a means for developing staff with high values, sometimes modeling is not enough to sway new habits. Edmonds recommends setting clear, measurable expectations for both performance standards and values, then holding a team accountable through coaching and evaluations. For employees that consistently demonstrate low performance and/or low values, Edmonds promotes that we, ‘Lovingly set them free’ (p. 22). Although it’s not always that easy, when positions do open on the team we can recruit new members with values that align with and strengthen a desired culture, including valuing diverse individual perspectives, experiences, and points of view.

Perry, Rhodes. Belonging at Work: Everyday Actions You Can Take to Cultivate an Inclusive Organization. Portland, OR: RPC Academy Press, 2018.

Perry describes two types of shared narratives found in groups: ‘anchor stories’ and ‘North Star stories.’ He cites Joel Brown in coining the phrase, “anchor story,” for narratives that pull us down and hold us back, such as those based in fear, pessimism, or insecurities. He advocates cutting the anchor line to focus instead on ‘North Star stories,’ or positive narratives that propel us forward toward a shared vision, through a ‘charted course’ of a strategic plan, to a sense of belonging via a common purpose that is larger than the individual.

compass pointing to vision
ID 133661956 © MRMake |

Part of my library’s mission is to ‘transform lives and strengthen communities’ through positive change within our county. Our strategic areas of priority will chart our course and enable intentional choices as we focus on providing relevant and meaningful programs to specific underserved communities over the next few years. Having clear, measurable expectations for both values and performance standards will help the team stay on course, cut the weighty anchor, and focus on what’s best for our communities. Tough decisions will become easier and the group more unified as we progress strategically, seeking common purpose through a shared vision.


What anchor stories are weighing on your team? What shared vision or common purpose leads you forward?

Today’s blog post was written by Krista Riggs, Supervising Librarian for Programming and Eservices at the Fresno (CA) County Public Library on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee.

This blog relates to ALSC core competencies of VI. Administration & Management Skills and VII. Professionalism & Professional Development.

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