This week I’m in the midst of both being Branch Librarian (taking care of the branch and all of the people therein except for circ staff and librarians) and a huuuuuuge event in Children’s Services that I hadn’t yet prepared for. Also programs started this week so we have a handful of new instructors running around, bins of program materials being delivered just in the nick of time, and storytimes. Of which I did three this week. During all of this, I’ve been ingesting (by coincidence) a lot of Tina Fey managerial advice. Which, to be honest, I could listen to forever.
I had a doctor’s appointment last week and managed to read a New Yorker article written by Tina Fey on things she had learned about producing from Lorne Michaels. While I’ll never have to ask an actor if she’s comfortable fake breast-feeding a grown man she’d only just met, some of the points she made resonated with me and my managerial struggles, particularly this week. Coincidentally, I’m also listening to Bossypants on audiobook and I wish I could listen to it always. I basically want Tina Fey as my managerial Jiminy Cricket. But I’m sure she has better things to do so let’s get to it.
Being Disappointing for the Good of the Organization: I think Ms. Fey said something like “being the producer means crushing the creativity of others.” She meant it in the way that if you ask for a bran muffin and the props department gives you a hugely decorated bran cake, you have to kindly insist on the muffin. At some point in your life, saying no will make the shift from “sticking it to the man” to “crushing someone’s dream kindly.” Or just being disappointing. What I mean by this is if you work with fantastically creative and passionate people, as I do, sometimes the vision gets a little out of hand and it falls to you to reign it back in to workable, feasible or suitable proportions. As one of the “creative types” this happens to me frequently. That is, I get reigned in. When it doesn’t, sometimes it’s because everything has been correctly anticipated but sometimes I realize the mistakes that I’ve made in scope or content or whatever only too late and things turn out not-so-good. I think a trait of a good manager is to recognize the difference between when trusting staff with their intuition and when to impose a bit of your own. The fine line between letting them dream as big as they can and identifying the point where it becomes unattainable or will potentially be unsuccessful. Encouraging risk-taking and protecting the library. You get it.
Owning Your Disappointments: The flip side to that coin is owning your decision to crush people’s dreams. This bit of advice that I got from my husband, who is a legitimate Leader in Our Profession. Although I’m sure Tina Fey knows this, too because she’s just the best. Once you disappoint people, you have to stand by your decision. Essentially: Own your shit… like a BOSS. When I was a baby librarian and was confronted with an uncomfortable decision to make or bad news to give, I tended to reference the overriding authority of others or tried to ignore the problem until it goes away. Needless to say it’s caused me a lot of guilt, anxiety, and trouble. In the intervening years, this has evened out a bit, but the act of letting others down is extremely distressing to me. This week I had to deliver disappointing news as a result of being “disappointed for the good of the organization.” As a side note, the interesting thing about wearing two hats at the same time on my maiden supervisory voyage is that sometimes these things are done to me as a employee and sometimes I have to inflict these things on others. It keeps me honest, to say the least. Anyway, I was agonizing over this and Nick basically advised me to own my shit. So I did and it felt… awful, yet like I had made the right decision in the end. On the other hand, I suppose any real manager would tell you that you don’t do these things so YOU can sleep well at night. So let me rephrase. You do these things so that your staff have a clear understanding of why you make the decisions you make. You want clear lines of communication and honesty and transparency are far better managerial currencies than being everyone’s buddy. And to be honest, the idea that I won’t always be the Good Guy makes me INCREDIBLY uncomfortable, so I know I have to keep working at it. So there you have it. Not quite Bossypants, yet, but good start.