Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Stop. Think. Reflect. Act.

I'm part-way through the MLA Future Leaders course. Its purpose is to build leadership capacity within public libraries. There's an argument that leadership qualities are transferable across fields; my view is that having thorough knowledge of the library domain and understanding the challenges it faces will make me a better library leader.

By far the most useful thing I've learned so far is to think. Sounds stupid, doesn't it? But it's not.

We should make time to think, just as we make time to go to meetings and talk circles around the issues we're passionate about. We're employed as professionals to do a professional job: will the results be better if we have the space to think about what we do, or if we go with instinctive reactions?

I like to think things through. I like to assimilate as much information on an issue as I can. I probably prefer to go beyond what most people would consider reasonable: I'm building a media PC for the bedroom and I've read four books and about six million web pages on the subject. I like to get things as right as I can. Time is often a secondary consideration, but fortunately, I've got enough flexibility built in to my current role to allow for that.

I'm trying to stop and think before doing things. The leaders of the course advocate setting aside some time for thinking, as you would set aside time to check your email first thing in the morning. One of the (deliberately?) provocative questions they asked was:

When was the last time you said, "Oh I can't, I'm in a meeting"?

Followed by:

And when was the last time you said, "I can't, I'm busy thinking"?

Both are, supposedly, equally important. But aren't meetings increasingly irrelevant? How often do you find yourself in a formally-structured meeting when an informal chat would be more efficient?

I can't carry out an empirical scientific survey of the effects that this emphasis on thinking will have on my work, but I certainly feel more confident in my abilities and my decisions for applying the principle. It suits me and the way I work.