and some tips to try to solve them.
In my system, a lot of children’s librarians become managers. It makes a lot of sense, as children’s librarians are constantly juggling multiple priorities, have to deal with a high level of work, and are invested and passionate about library work. In fact, I think children’s librarians make great managers for all those reasons (but maybe I am biased)! If you are thinking of becoming a manager or are just starting out in management, check out these classic management mistakes and learn how to avoid them.
Mistake: Wanting everyone to like you.
This concept will ebb and flow for you, it is challenging. Instead of giving in to your people pleasing tendencies, concentrate on being honest, fair, and following up. Your actions will speak louder than your words. To build trust and respect, if applicable, put yourself in work rotations, schedules, desk time. Steel yourself to disappoint people, it is unavoidable. Management requires complicated decision making that literally can’t make everyone happy, but luckily that is not a requirement of a good manager. Occasionally, you can buy their love with some baked goods.
Mistake: Thinking that as the manager, you need to know all the answers.
The manager role seems like they need to know it all, but that is not the job. Instead, think of yourself as supporting all of the work and staff. You should try to know what you don’t know, but also it is okay to not know things! We can always be learning more, and you can grow and change! It can also empower staff to be the experts, and you can learn from them. It can be a way to earn respect and trust, and build relationships.
Related Mistake: Not developing a manager support team.
One of the best things about a large system is that there is a built in network of managers who want to help, support, and grow together. We all have different strengths, abilities, and past experiences that can shape our management style and skills. We need each other! I also think it’s a great learning experience for new managers to reach out to branches/locations and stop by for a visit/coffee/lunch and get to know your colleagues. I am so much stronger as a manager for having a peer network to call out to for problem solving, advice, information, who to contact, etc. If you work in a more solo way, try to find a professional network through ALA, ALSC, or all the lovely librarians on Twitter.
Mistake: Communication, especially involving directions
Communication can be so tricky, so it’s good to use techniques that are proven to help. I like to ask staff to repeat what I have asked of them, so that we can ensure that we both understand. It is a form of active listening, that I also model to them. It might seem tedious, but soooo many times I thought I was so clear and then realized after that the staff heard something very different. It’s helpful to spend time getting to know your staff, and how they communicate. Try giving them small tasks to learn how they might interpret them, and then meet to give feedback.
Mistake: Not eating lunch, not taking a break, not leaving your office/desk.
It is sooo easy to not eat lunch. As a children’s librarian, I used to watch my manager eat a small bag of pretzels at her desk and wonder why she didn’t take a lunch break. Now, I get it. It can be really difficult to take a break, but you need to do so, because you are a human who needs food, water, and rest. If you don’t make it a priority then it won’t happen. If you don’t take a break and learn to step away, it can lead to you feeling like the entirety of the branch/location is on your shoulders, which is an impossible task, and will lead to burnout.
Mistake: Avoiding difficult conversations.
Everyone hates difficult conversations, as they are difficult! However, some of the best advice that I have learned has been around difficult conversations. If you can reframe these conversations in your mind about wanting to be clear to your staff and help them succeed, it takes a lot of the tension away from these moments. The difficult conversation can be leveraged as a tool to help staff instead of a stressful moment for both of you. Also, the earlier this happens, the better. The longer we sit on things, the more intense the emotions can get. Then staff see that bad behavior is not dealt with, and then they feel like things aren’t “fair” or they aren’t being “treated right” as has been stated earlier.
Mistake: Being afraid/uneasy to callout wrong behavior or correct behavior.
When you see someone doing something wrong/incorrect, for example, wearing headphones at the desk, the easiest option is to pull them aside (not on the floor) and remind them about our standards of public service and why we don’t allow them as we need people focused at the desk and ready to help. It may also be helpful to address common issues in an all staff email or a reminder at staff meetings as it can set an expectation for all staff. Even though it can be an uncomfortable conversation, you can cause more damage by ignoring things. Things are are not addressed can see that you are “approving” of it. All eyes are on you as a manager, and when you don’t address things, they come back to you.
Mistake: Not checking your ego/putting your ego above your work.
We all want praise/recognition, or to know that we are doing good work. Management is pretty thankless. If you are doing good work, probably no one will hear about it or notice. Which is hard but okay! However, sometimes we can let our egos get the best of us. To that end, it’s important to check your ego from time to time. Why is something triggering you? What do you need from that moment, service, interaction? I think this goes back to the importance of having a strong manager network, then you can share ideas with them and check in with, and that can help you check yourself before you wreck yourself (which is a real thing a patron once warned me about-lol). As a manager, your place is not really a spotlight position. Your job is to serve your branch/location, community, and staff. If you want accolades or the limelight, you should consider if branch life is for you, or find other professional development opportunities to shine in! Volunteer for ALA, contribute to a blog (like ALSC!), or submit a presentation to a conference.
These are only SOME of the many manager mistakes I have made over my career, but I hope that they have been helpful to you! Any other mistakes that you made in your management career? Share below so we can all learn, and grow our own management network.
I love this effort, but I can tell you that personal failings really go far in dooming a manager. My list would go: (1) look and listen. when you start somewhere, pay attention to how things are being run and listen to why they are that way. you might not love it, but you’ll find out a lot of information about how things were done historically that will help you shape your process in the future. (2) give your underlings the credit they are due. the longer these people have been doing their jobs, the more they know about the system, your particular branch, and the potential pitfalls of any system. don’t be fooled by hierarchies: your techs know everything. (3) admit you’re wrong, early and often. the singular quality that I can say all bad managers share is that they refuse to admit when they’re wrong, and will not apologize to their staff when they’ve made a mistake. whatever your reason is for doing that, stop it. you will get a million times further if you can show a little humility to your staff than if you strongarm them because you think it’ll make you look better to your supervisors. People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.