Find Your Why, Part 2

Last week, I posted Part 1 of a professional book review for Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker’s Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. The information in last week’s post focused on the first sections of the book. I found “discovering your personal why” valuable, but the information below was why I was eager to read this book.

Co-creating, nurturing, and sustaining a shared “why” is a theme running throughout my forthcoming book, Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA, June, 2018). I believe school librarians can be leaders in this process. As Sinek, Mead, and Docker write: “The why is a tool that can bring clarity to what which is fuzzy and make tangible what is abstract… The WHY can help set a vision and inspire people. The WHY can guide us to act with purpose, on purpose” (26).

Nested WHYs
Sinek, Mead, and Docker compare organizations to trees—with roots, trunk, and branches that form various subcultures. If the organization and the subcultures within it must be clear about their why in order to attract the “right” birds (new employees and leaders). Groups that pay attention to purpose and beliefs “tend to have the highest morale, are the most productive and innovative, have the best retention rates and over time are some of the highest performing groups in the company (school or district)” (87).

One reflective exercise related to embracing a nested why is for an employee (educator) to think about to the time when she/he joined the organization (or school). “What inspired you most? What inspires you to remain in the organization?” Another is to tell a specific story about a time when you were proud to work for this organization (school/district). How did this action better the lives of others?

The Tribe Approach
The authors offer a strategy for discovering a nested why. This strategy involves inviting an outside facilitator who is known and trusted by members of the “tribe.” A facilitator must be objective and a superior workshop leader.

The authors note that people should work for companies (schools) where they “fit the culture.” If an employee (faculty member) shares the values, believes in the vision, and the shared purpose of the organization, then their individual why will serve the company’s (the school’s) overarching why.

“The opportunity is not to discover the perfect company (school) for ourselves. The opportunity is to build the perfect company for each other” (19). For most of us in education, we will not have the luxury of hand-picking our coworkers. In K-12 schools, principals and colleagues will come and go.

But if we have a strong school culture with a shared purpose, we will help our new colleagues nest their whys into our learning community. They will choose to join our faculty because they share our values and seek to further their own why alongside us. I believe school librarian leaders have an essential role to play in discovering, developing, and sustaining (collaborative) school cultures.

Using Hows to Achieve Our Best Work
Sharing core values makes colleagues part of a team. Expressing those values in terms of how we achieve our values helps our teams consistently do our best work. “Hows” can help us become a “tribe.” For example, as a school culture, we may value “collaboration,” but why and how we act on that value is equally important.

Rather than a “Collaborate!” sign in our faculty lounge, we might want to post: “We coteach with one another in order to meet the needs of future-ready students while we continually improve our own instructional expertise.”

Now that’s a culture where my personal why will fit comfortably, and I will be able to contribute to the purpose of such a school. It is also a culture that is focused on growth. “If every member of a team doesn’t grow together they will grow apart” (195).

As the AASL National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries motto, Think, Create, Share, Grow, suggests, school librarians will accomplish our whys and create joyful, sharing learning communities when we grow together alongside our colleagues, administrators, students, and families.

Work Cited

Sinek, Simon, David Mead, and Peter Docker. Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. New York: Penguin, 2017.

Find Your Why: A Practical Guide

In July, I posted a two-part professional book review for Simon Sinek’s Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Part 1 and Part 2). While traveling in the U.K. earlier this month, I slowly read and worked through Sinek’s follow-up book: Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. He coauthored this book with David Mead and Peter Docker.

I was eager to read Find Your Why because of a nagging question from the previous title. While I truly believe everyone must find her/his own personal “why,” I also believe a “shared why” is an essential component of collaborative culture schools.

In the past, I have served in schools where faculty have a shared sense of purpose. These have been the most productive, effective, and satisfying work experiences in my career. I have also worked (hard) as a member of a faculty with no shared why. Such an environment does not foster trust, collaboration, or innovation and results in a dysfunctional environment for growth and change.

Find Your Why begins with connecting readers with the why/how/what content of the first book. In the introduction, the authors write this: “Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it” (7). These ideas spoke to me, and I kept them in mind throughout my reading. Subsequent chapters include discovering your individual why, two chapters on strategies for “why discovery for groups,” a chapter on “hows,” and the final chapter about taking a stand for your/your tribe’s why.

Discovering Your Individual Why
Sinek, Mead, and Docker offer a compelling strategy for discovering one’s own why. It involves identifying ten impactful stories from your personal and professional life. (I used the two weeks of travel to consider, reconsider, and identify my top ten stories). The authors offer two strategies to help you select your stories: peaks and valleys and memories prompts.

After you are satisfied with ten, you identify a partner to help you explore the themes that inform and connect your stories. Your trusted partner in this process must be able to be objective (not a relative or very close long-time friend).

As you share your stories, your partner will encourage you to focus on how you felt as the events in your story were taking place. Your partner can ask questions such as “What is it about that story that really matters to you?” (51). Together, you and your partner draft your why statement: to ________ (contribution) so that ________ (impact). The authors suggest you validate your draft statement through individual conversations with friends until it feels just right. (Note: The book includes an appendix of partner tips for supporting an individual’s why discovery.)

Next Steps for Me
My ten stories are ready for prime time. Of course, I see themes and think I could compose my draft why statement today. However, I intend to follow the authors’ process. I have a short list of people to ask to serve as my partners to listen, to make notes, and to see the themes from their perspective that connect my stories. I am excited to learn what she/he sees that may be the same or different from my view.

Next week, I will reflect on the “nested WHY” information in the book. “The goal is for each individual to work for a company (with a school faculty) in which they fit the culture, values, believe in the vision and work on a team in which they feel like they are valued and valuable” (85).

Please stay tuned!

Work Cited

Sinek, Simon, David Mead, and Peter Docker. Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team. New York: Penguin, 2017.

Leadership Shapes the Shore

My husband and I just returned from a two-week visit to England. During our trip, I took an almost complete technology-free sabbatical, answering only the most pressing email and not engaging with social media at all. My goal was to take a break from thinking about my book revisions (the result of the title change and plans to include the new AASL national standards) and my place in the great scheme of school librarianship. I wanted to know if other thoughts would occupy my mind.

Still, I seemed to find messages in the scenery that spoke to me about our profession. (I guess I have found my true “why”! Okay, so I didn’t give up reading on the trip. Read my take-aways from Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why in next week’s post.)

After we hiked the Jurassic Coast from the Chesil Beach in West Dorset (just one of the four gloriously sunny days we enjoyed during our travels), we drove to the seaside town of Seaton in East Devon.

This photograph shows one of two metal sculptures that demarcate the entrance to the boardwalk.

“The shore shapes the waves.”

A photograph of the other sculpture is below.

At first, these two complementary ideas spoke to me about how school librarians must respond to and interact with “the shore,” the ever-changing environment in which we live and work. Our actions within this environment are “the waves.”

There are positive aspects to being mindful of our school, district, state, and national trends and priorities. When we situate our work within those larger contexts, we align the library program with other people’s goals and may be able to reach our capacity to influence teaching and learning toward a future-ready direction.

This may be especially true for future ready librarians who are serving in school districts that have taken the Future Ready Pledge. A commitment to change, growth, and improvement in instruction presents leadership opportunities for these librarians. The waves they make land on a hospitable shore – an environment and school culture where they have support for enacting future-ready learning.

On the other hand, for far too many of school librarians, “the shore” can act as an impediment to such progress. Understaffing, fixed schedules that prevent school librarians and library resources from meeting the just-in-time learning needs of students and colleagues, the lack of collaborative planning time during contract hours, inconsistent or non-existent leadership at the district level, and more can create an undertow that limits our opportunities to make positive change. Such a shore can undermine our opportunities to change, grow, and lead.

“The waves shape the shore.”

To my mind, for most of us, this idea is a stronger metaphor for future-ready school librarian leadership. Rather than being at the effect of our environment, school librarians must be proactive in building a continuous learning environment and culture in our schools.

Through our work as leaders we must shape the shore. We must design library programs and guide our schools and districts as well as our state and national associations in shaping learning environments that “work for” students and educators.

Cohort 2 Lilead Fellows are engaged in the first of four leadership courses. In the current course, participants “identify an issue in their school or program that is important to their school, district, or state’s priorities, examining and planning practical and tangible ways the school library program can help address the issue. They will identify new ways of thinking about their library programs and how they can lead in change efforts at the building-, district-, and state-levels.”

This requires transformational change—not merely tinkering but targeting our “waves” to shape “the shore.” Our future leans more toward this message. We must use the force of our unique areas of expertise, our waves, to collaboratively create a receptive shore for change. This requires us to build connections between the library and the classroom, between curriculum and resources/tools, between and among educators, between school, home, and community.

School librarians must be proactive in offering ever more relevant, engaging school-based learning opportunities for future-ready students and in supporting the teaching and professional growth of our future-ready colleagues and administrators.

Image Credit:
Photographs from Judi Moreillon’s Personal Collection