Altar of Sacrifice –

“Why aren’t people interested in my agenda? Don’t they know that it’s the best for students and staff?” The questions aren’t uncommon among librarians, as Doug’s recent blog post highlights:

The short answer: Figure out what the principal believes is important for you to do – then do it. This means creating a program that helps meet the goals and solve the problems in your school, NOT creating a program that meets AASL standards necessarily. It means deliberately learning what is important to your principal and then effectively communicating how you are contributing to those important issues. I don’t know of another way to get a principal “on your side.” Too many principals have worked with librians who have their own agendas which are viewed as irrelevant. 

It’s easy to misunderstand Doug’s short answer…it seems a bit of a sell-out at first glance, doesn’t it? Just do what the principal or administrator wants so you can “earn some credit” in the system (a.k.a. political capital) that you can spend on what you really want.

In a previous blog entry, The Disinterested Leader, I shared the power of disinterest. That is, affecting the role of a disinterested leader who asks some simple questions to get him/her-self in the frame of mind that grants him/her impartiality.

The Crucial Conversations and Confrontations books advocate asking questiosn that that help us do a gut check:

  1. What do I really want for myself?
  2. What do I really want for you and me together?
  3. Have I made the effort to build mutual purpose and respect?
These questions have profound implications for anyone who is trying to get things done and hitting a brick wall. For fun, let’s explore these together…no promises this will make sense.
1) What do I really want for myself?
As a librarian, my goal is to encourage information literacy and problem-solving, encouraging reading. I want to do this well because it taps into my excitement and fulfills me as a teacher-librarian and a human being. I love crafting programs that engage students, staff and community. To that end, I’m willing to work a little extra because it’s what I love to do. I want to be appreciated for this work because it makes me feel good. I don’t want to be the school media manager and chase people down constantly about how they’re abusing technology, or a media police officer.
2) What do I really want for you and me together?
I want you to understand that the world has changed, and although libraries may seem to be out of phase with current time and events, the fact is that information problem-solving is even more important these days. What I really want is to encourage teachers to feel as excited about building engaging, quality literacy programs for students and community members, and have the principal supporting this–not only lip service, but funding–every step of the way. 

3) Have I made the effort to build mutual purpose and respect?
You know, I often feel like I’m on one side of the fence and teachers are on the other, with the principal somewhere off in left field. We end up sniping at each other because we’re about competing interests. Each party wants what they want and it’s not necessarily what I think is right.

Everyone else seems interested in one thing or another–having a facility that looks great, works great, is organized, clean and inviting, high stakes test scores, using the library as a meeting room but seldom as a core component of the school community–and I feel left out. I realize that maybe I’ve told myself a story about the way things are, and my bitterness comes from that.

I need to ask how what others really want out of the library, and then ask how we can accomplish this together. It’s so easy to complain and whine about what I don’t have or what others aren’t doing. I need to engage others.

Reframing is a powerful tool for gaining clarity, generating new options, and finding strategies that work. Educational leaders need to have the ability to frame and reframe the issues they encounter. 

Source: Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations via slideshare preso

Stepping Back – The Way of Disinterest
If we assume the role of the disinterested librarian, there’s a way to transcend the bickering, the infighting and disagreements among people who lack mutual purpose and respect. That way is to ask ourselves, What is best for the school and those it serves? When we re-frame our conversations with others from this perspective and do so genuinely, we send a message that is unconsciously picked up by those with whom we speak. Others begin to trust us more because we’re not working for our own gain (e.g. MY project is more important than your’s) or trying to block you from achieving gain.

By doing this, we enable others to trust us because they know our motives and intent are purely focused on the good of the organization and those it serves. This is important, as Stephen Covey points out:

 When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done. 

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%! 

We are saying, simply and powerfully, that we’re willing to sacrifice our sacred cows for the benefit of the organization. We communicate that we’re team players that hold nothing above the good of the organization. When an idea is challenged, we don’t respond from what is the AASL’s perspective, or our fiercely held beliefs, but rather, from the perspective of, what actions will result in the best way ahead for the organization?

The way of disinterest, of impartiality means setting aside what we most desire, transcending the bitterness that results from failed attempts to dominate and control the conversation. Calmly, one can put ideas, information into a pool of meaning, engage in dialogue that focuses on what is best for the organization.

Are you ready to make that level of commitment? I assure you that the way of disinterest is the way to organizational success.

Check out Miguel’s Workshop Materials online at

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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