Fight Feeling Like a Fraud!

I have been teleworking from home since March 16, 2020 due to COVID quarantines. It has been a bumpy process because at the same time, my son was also virtual learning. As you know from earlier posts, my husband also was going through the process of fighting for social security disability. He won his case, but we are still waiting on the backpay (we are at three months now and have been fighting for three years!). Oh, yeah, and there is the little matter of my dissertation too.

This is my mom’s list of who may enter (this is edited from someone else!). I’ll just take the puppies!

I have been battling internally for a couple months with the idea that I am not working hard enough. I am busier than ever, but I feel like I am getting nothing done. My days are filled with Zoom meetings, emails, and research on how I can turn my face to face workshops into virtual sessions. Oh, and there are also the committees and tasks forces I am a part of as well. And that is just my library job. I am also teaching, working on my dissertation, being a wife, parenting, keeping track of the household stuff, and so so much more. Yay, me!

Part of my struggle with my productivity is probably related to the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. I have had a couple of heart to hearts with my supervisor since March because my anxiety keeps telling me lies. The truth is that many of us feel like we don’t belong or have nothing interesting or worthwhile to share.

It is not the first time I have felt like that. On top of my regular office job, I teach a graduate level library science course about integrating STEM into libraries collections and programs. I am pretty sure by now you all know what STEM stands for, but just in case, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A couple of terms ago, I had a student who had already received her PhD in Astrophysics. She was a Rocket Scientist! So here I was trying to teach a Rocket Scientist about STEM. Can you imagine? A librarian teaching a rocket scientist? What did I have to teach her that she didn’t already know? But that wasn’t the point of the course. I wasn’t there to teach STEM concepts, I was there really to teach about program planning, collection development, and, well, libraries. I was there to show the connection of how STEM fit into all of that. That is where I was the expert, so why did I feel like the biggest fraud there was?

A couple of weeks after the term was over, I received an email from another student in the course. He was thanking me for sharing my personal experiences and said that I had inspired him. That made me feel like all the other stuff didn’t matter. Here I had made an impact with at least one student and that was all I really needed. It was wonderful to hear back from this student that I had made a difference for him. But that feeling still lingered in my mind that I didn’t really deserve to be there teaching the course.

What causes us to have these feelings like we don’t belong?

We are living in a culture where we are told to be humble, that we shouldn’t talk about our accomplishments because it will come off as bragging or egotistical. So we downplay our accomplishments and it shocks us when other people point out them out and perhaps even makes us a little uncomfortable. I first heard the term Imposter Syndrome in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Apparently, this happens to a lot of people where we feel like we don’t deserve a seat at the table. This feeling of being an imposter chips away at our confidence. We feel anxious, stressed, and experience moments of self-doubt. Just like in my experience teaching my course, we feel like we have nothing of value to impart. Heck, even the COO of Facebook feels this way sometimes.

I like to joke that every time I create my monthly report at work, I am reminded of all the things that kept me busy that month. Let’s just say that it was eight pages long last month! But that monthly report is only a small snapshot of everything I do. Keeping a record like that can actually be pretty helpful when it comes to battling Imposter Syndrome.

A few months ago, I had to update my curriculum vita, which is basically an academics version of a resume. In case my boss is reading, don’t worry, I was not applying for a new job. I needed it as part of an application process for a research project related to my dissertation. It had been two years since I had last updated it. I’m a librarian, so one of the things I do when I have a task is to research it. As I looked up things to include in my CV, I realized I needed to add some sections. Things like committees and statewide projects I served on. Awards or grants I had received. As I added these things to my CV, I started to think to myself, why did I feel like a fraud? Right here on paper was a list of everything I had accomplished in my career. And I have to say it was a lot of stuff. Great stuff. Interesting stuff. Inspiring stuff. Publications and committees. International conferences. I had pages stating right there in black and white of all that I had accomplished. There was my reminder that I have value in my career and I deserved to be where I am.

This process of writing down a list of your accomplishments is actually a form of writing therapy that is used for people who might be suffering from forms of Imposter Syndrome. It is easy to dismiss our accomplishments, but much harder to do so when we have a written record showing that they exist in reality. I am sure that many of you have these same feelings like you don’t belong or that you are a fraud. In fact almost 70% of people worldwide suffer from these feelings.

We can wait for those moments when someone will say thank you or job well done. But while we are waiting, that feeling of being an imposter will continue to chip away at us. We need to tell ourselves that we are interesting. That we deserve to be where we are. That we deserve to strive towards our best potential. So I challenge you, create that list. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a resume or a CV. Just simply take some time to list out everything you do. Then look at that list any time you feel like you don’t belong. You might be surprised at what you find.

Oh, yeah, I finished my completed draft of my dissertation this week. I am still waiting for the feedback from my supervising professor before the final draft and the defense, but I am feeling a little less like an imposter now. Here is to Dr. Jen in 2020!

Change is Scary…the first 90 days in a new leadership position

The following is from an essay I wrote as part of my doctoral studies in educational leadership and management. It was a response to a prompt asking for the steps that should be taken upon stepping into a new leadership role. My organization will soon be going through a transition of leadership. Libraries and schools have a lot in common when it comes to managing people and resources. The concepts taught in an educational leadership program can be helpful when transitioning in a leadership role in a library as well….or really any organization.

According to Watkins, “[t]he actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail. Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and make needed changes in an organization” (Gallos, 2008, pg. 293). To have a smooth transition, it is important that a new leader, follow a series of steps not just during the first year, but in the first ninety days. These include evaluating the program, collaborating with stakeholders, transitioning towards change within the organization, and reflecting on the process. As Fullan (2011) states, change can be scary. The leader’s role is to make this change as smooth of as transition as possible for stakeholders.

First Steps: Evaluation

According to Watkins, during the first ninety days, it is important to take a diagnostic look at the organization the leader is joining so as to understand the full scope of the challenges and opportunities (Gallos, 2008). He recommends having crucial conversations with stakeholders about the expectations the new leader has for those within the department. Fullan (2011) describes a situation where a new leader to an organization started his role by contacting others in the organization to ask what the organization meant to them. Before making any changes to the organization, this leader first took the time to have conversations about the importance of the organization and what the organization meant to the stakeholders within that organization. Doing this can not only help the new leader gain a clear picture of the organization, but also an understanding of the culture that makes up the backbone of the organization. Taking the time to listen to the stakeholders is also a way to inspire authentic leadership (Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow; 2009; Gallos, 2008). These first initial steps are crucial to the developmental growth of the new leader.

Since it is important for the new leader to inspire trust and buy-in within the organization, an evaluation model using a collaborative and participatory approach is recommended (Ruft-Eft & Preskill, 2009). Using this type of approach can result in the inclusion of a large stakeholder group, a better understanding of the program and its effectiveness, and improved skills. By involving stakeholders, opportunities are created to help the leader and the new supervisors learn from those who are vested in the program. It also brings to the surface the values and beliefs that are inherent to the culture of the department.

Also important is to take a look at the roles of those in the organization; Watkins recommends that the leader look at team members and their roles to decide if some restructuring is needed (Gallos, 2008). Leaders should approach change carefully so that the people in the organization may adjust to the change. Overall, they must place building relationships as a priority before all else or the changes they hope to implement will be doomed to failure (Senge et al., 2012; Scharmer, 2008; Gallos, 2008; Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009).

It is important to also evaluate each situation and decision through a lens of inspiring trust within the organization. Evans (1996), states that leaders who are authentic are the ones who inspire trust and are followed. Goals and actions must be aligned, and there needs to be transparency behind the steps taken. The more open communication is, and the more information is shared, then the higher the probability of success for implementing changes. This can also be part of the crucial conversations with stakeholders. Holding conversations among the stakeholders can also lead to the development of better collaboration which leads to the next step in the process.

Second Steps: Collaboration

Watkins suggests that to build leadership capacity within the first ninety days, the leader must create coalitions where alliances are made with members of the organization who all have a shared vision of the success of the organization (Gallos, 2008). Relationships are very important to change initiatives. While having a coalition is great towards moving the change forward, there must be a clear vision of what the changes are and how the department plans to initiate them (Fullan, 2011). Senge (2012) recommends the practice of dialogue as a way to build alignment toward a shared vision and goals. In a dialogue session, people can talk safely about issues that may exist within the department. Once everyone’s thinking has been established, the organization can then begin to move towards establishing actions towards change.

When it comes to decision-making, a team would be established to come together when there are a large number of choices, typically four to ten, to evaluate. This evaluation would be done using an evaluation matrix (Pucchio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011). To complete the matrix, the team would look at the criterion that needs to be considered for the evaluation. The criteria could be looking at the purposes of a resource; for example, does it fit multiple needs or is it too subject specific? What is the return on investment? By involving the team in the decision and evaluation, the leader is acknowledging that everyone is part of a larger system (Senge et al., 2012). Before beginning the transition process, showing that the opinion of the people in the organization holds value is essential to establishing the authenticity of the leader (Fullan, 2011).

Third Steps: Transitioning

According to Bridges (2003) and Fullan (2011), change is a messy process that inspires fear in many people. Part of that fear is because there is too much that is unknown. In this scenario, the unknowns are the new leader coming in and how that will affect the organization. Bridges’ transition process can result in a relatively painless and simplified journey. Bridges (2003) says that there are three stages in the transition process: endings, neutral zones, and new beginnings.

Endings. To begin, one must start with the end. This is not looking at what may happen in the future, but rather saying goodbye to the way things were (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). Some of the things that may need to be said goodbye to are the previous leader and old ways of doing things. This could initially cause tension within the organization because the staff is unsure of what will happen next. The conversations that were mentioned in the previous section are a good place to start for understanding what the concerns may be of the people in the organization. These conversations can help to clear up any misunderstanding that might exist from the confusion (Gallos, 2008).

Neutral zone. The neutral zone, according to Bridges (2003) is the in-between zone of the transition caused by change. In this phase of the transition, people are uncomfortable. Because of this discomfort, some people will try to rush forward before they are ready, and others will try to go back to the past. It is inevitable that they cannot return to where they were, but they also cannot move forward too fast, or they will be doomed to failure (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). By taking their time in the neutral zone, they can prepare themselves for moving forward by changing their mindsets. Watkins suggests that it is the role of the leader to make sure the organization is up to speed on what they need to know so they do not lag behind too long (Gallos, 2008). Communication during the transition is crucial to the success of the change initiative.

New beginnings. In the final phase, people need to accept that things are different and change their behavior to succeed where change is concerned. According to Bridges (2003), many people freeze when they are faced with a change to how they have done things. They did not want to let go of the past and accept that things are different. However, new beginnings should be celebrated rather than feared. It is a time for new starts and acceptance. Watkins suggests achieving early wins by identifying opportunities in the organization where good things are happening (Gallos, 2008). Celebrating these small wins is a way to build momentum within the department, but it also helps towards establishing the authenticity of the new leader.

Because the transition stage is part of a process, it can overlap with the other steps. The leader must make sure to pause along the way to make sure that everyone in the organization is receiving accurate information and communication about the process and the changes being made. It is also important to note that the change process of transition is not a speedy one. While it may be tempting to push forward, the leader must recognize that not everyone in the organization will be in the same zone (Bridges, 2003). The leader’s role is to guide people through the process, listen, and reflect upon the actions made (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009).

Fourth Steps: Reflection

An important goal of the leadership transition in the organization is to maintain or improve the same level of quality, satisfaction, and program success that existed within the previous leadership. Senge (2010) states that “[a] society without a way to value its past naturally discounts its future” (pg. 373). Yes, while it is important in a transition process to let go of the things of the past (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009), that does not mean that there are not still things that can be learned from what was done. To maintain the sustainability of any change the organization initiates, the organization needs to step back and reflect upon the change initiative and the actions that were taken (Scharmer, 2009). There may be some comparison that needs to be made between the two approaches. The leader can hurt their authenticity if they do not acknowledge that there were things that were working under the previous leadership (Gallos, 2008).

Reflection is an important part of any leadership process, but especially when trialing new ideas that have not been tried before in the organization (Scharmer, 2009). As the leader, it is also important to reflect upon mistakes to see what can be learned (Pucchio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011). Scharmer (2009) and Senge (2012) both argue that internal listening, or presencing, are ways of connecting to people and your change initiative. This is a process that involves not just listening to the self but also having an open mind, open heart, and listening to others. In addition to the leader looking inside, the leader should also hold additional reflective dialogues with the stakeholders within the organization. It is always a possibility that the change effort could result in failure, but there are still lessons that can be learned from these failures. It is important to reflect upon those to see what the organization, or system, can learn from them (Scharmer, 2009; Gallos, 2008). This is different from the dialogues that were held during the evaluation stage of the process. In that stage, the leader was trying to learn about the culture and the people within the organization. This reflective stage takes place after the transition; the purpose of this reflection is to evaluate whether the change is working or if something needs to be tweaked in the process. Change is a process that might not work out the first time. If the leader hopes to remain authentic and sustain success, then they must be prepared for the possibility that the process could take a while (Gallos, 2008; Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009).

Summary

While the steps illustrated here focus on the first ninety days of undertaking the role of leader within an organization, it is a process that will not end in three months or even in the first year. The value of taking an adaptive and authentic approach to leadership is that the leader is always learning (Heifetz, Linsky, & Grashow, 2009; Gallos, 2008. If the leader is coming from outside of the organization, they must first learn what they can about the culture and listen to the concerns of the people who make up the system. Listening to the people in the organization shows them that their opinions are valued and it can help to lessen any fears that they may have during the transition process (Senge et al., 2012; Scharmer, 2009). Before making any changes, first gain their trust (Evans, 1996). Once implementing the changes, make sure to maintain open communication and collaboration between those in the organization (Bridges, 2003; Scharmer, 2009). There is a goal of continuous improvement and collaboration where everyone in the organization has a voice and an important role (Gallos, 2008). After the change process is started, then again reflect on the changes that were made to decide if they are working. This is a process that may loop back on itself, but to maintain sustainability, it must be accepted that things might not work. The organization was successful under the previous leader; however, the only constant is change which means that the organization cannot keep doing things as they were previously done. Together through open hearts, open minds, and open will; changes can be successful.

References

Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R. (2007). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: designing for 21st century learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boss, S. (2011). Technology integration: a short history. In Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-history

Bridges, W. (2003). Managing transitions: Making the most of change (2nd edition). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Evans, R. (1996). The human side of school change: reform, resistance, and the real-life problems of innovation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2011). Change leader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gallos, J.V. (2008). Business leadership: a Jossey-Bass reader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Heifetz, R., Linsky, M. & Grashow, A. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership. Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Press.

Pucchio, G.J; Mance, M; & Murdock, M. (2011). Creative leadership: skills that drive change (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Russ-Eft, D. and Preskill, H. (2009). Evaluation in Organizations: A Systematic Approach to Enhancing Learning, Performance and Change. New York, NY: Perseus Books.

Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Senge, P, Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Smith, B., Dutton, J. & Kleiner, A. (2012). Schools that learn. New York, NY: Crown Business.

Senge, P.; Smith, B.; Kruschwitz, N.; Laur, J.; & Schley, S. (2010). The necessary revolution:working together to create a sustainable world. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

How I Got Here

Settle in, it is time for storytime; this is going to be a long one. There is a library conference taking place right now. I am not attending, but it made me think of the topics you might hear at one. It is very typical that when you attend a professional conference, there may be a panel of people taking about their professional journey and the road that took them to where they are today. I am a librarian, educator, and author. So I thought it might be interesting if I talked about my own journey to how I got where I am today.Read More »