Libraries, the universe and everything

#SLA2016 takeaways
July 18, 2016, 13:05
Filed under: CPD, Events, Reflections | Tags: , , ,

SLA 2016 was an excellent conference. My experience was a little different this year as I was wearing several different hats: an attendee, a chapter president and a board candidate. I’ll blog about the latter separately, but here I wanted to capture some of the things which resonated most strongly with me as an attendee (and, perhaps coincidentally, as a leader).

For a conference which didn’t have explicit themes or tracks, it was remarkable how the same points kept appearing in different contexts. The two which I encountered most frequently were ‘understanding yourself’ and ‘learning is leading’.
In her inspiring opening keynote, Erika Anderson told us that “[s]he who learns, leads”. Human knowledge now doubles approximately annually, so it is vital that leaders keep learning to stay at the top of their game. Not only that, we should strive to preserve our childhood curiosity and take joy in learning. Being bad at things – which most of us are when we take something up for the first time – is really hard to accept as a successful, professional adult, but being comfortable with being bad at the start is truly empowering: rather than becoming bogged down with negative self-talk (“I can’t do this”, “this is going to be a huge failure” etc.), embracing the challenge and knowing that you will improve over time frees up your headspace to actually work on making that improvement happen. (Oh, and know this – remember all those things you’ve been meaning to learn but never actually got around to starting? The reality is that you don’t actually want to learn them, or you’d have made time for them by now, you only think you ought to!)

This need for heightened self awareness was emphasised throughout Shelley Reciniello‘s presentation. She pointed out that every professional interaction has a psychological component – humans are not perfectly rational or controlled, but rather have illogical unconscious minds with hidden agendas which can surface at any time. Leadership in the 21st century is all about transparency and empathy, collaboration and co-creation, all of which requires trust. Trust develops from authenticity, and if you don’t know yourself, your own qualities and behaviours, you can’t possibly expect to engender that trust, let alone control your own behaviour. Deep listening (e.g. without giving in to the urge to offer comments or advice) helps to create empathy, whilst constant feedback (which should be solicited if it’s not being offered) provides a much-needed way of finding out what others think of us and comcomitant learning opportunities.

Jo Alcock spoke about the transformational power of authentic leadership. Understanding what drives you enables you to make the best decisions in both work and home life, and to lead in a way which is not only effective for you but stands the best possible chance of inspiring and motivating those you lead. Jo had us thinking about pivotal moments in our lives, about our authentic drivers, and about our internal and external qualities, to illustrate some of the points she was making. This was a very short taster session, and I’m looking forward to exploring the concepts of authentic leadership further – Jo recommended a book, the Discover Your True North Fieldbook by George, Craig and Snook, and my copy is awaiting my attention.

And, finally, Lisa Monarski told us how taking your drivers and using them to tell your story. Stories activate much more of the listener’s brain than mere facts, so are a powerful way to convey your message. Select the stories you want to tell, not only do they have to represent you authentically, but they should capture interest and make people care – what can you tell them to help them understand you? Not only useful for your LinkedIn profile headline, Lisa shared examples of how stories can be used in the workplace for recruitment, retention and cross-company enrichment. (N.B. Lisa’s own LinkedIn headline is a masterpiece, and despite being some years old now apparently still perfectly sums her up. She encouraged us to take the time to create our own, and this is most definitely on my to-do list.)

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Although this doesn’t fit my theme nearly so neatly, overall the conference program was ridiculously full of excellent-sounding content, and of course I attended several other sessions in addition to these four. Particular highlights were fascinating talks on forensic engineering, museum libraries, and ethnographic research. I also had an excellent time in the expo hall, talking to a number of the vendor reps and learning about all kinds of interesting products.

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