We all have people in our organizations who we want to support and help grow. But, what is the best way to do this? On today’s show, I talk with Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede, Associate Professor, and Erica Rose, Library Science Faculty and Program Coordinator, at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
They share with us a process of appreciative inquiry that allows us, in libraries, to throw out models of deficit thinking and embrace positivity in working with others. We can all benefit by creating an affirming cycle of inquiry to support those around us. You won’t want to miss this information to help set the groundwork to support teams and possibly even develop some of our best leaders from within.
This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas.
This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.
We all have people in our organizations who we want to support and help grow, but what is the best way to do this? On today’s show I talk with Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede, Associate Professor, and Erica Rose, Library Science Faculty and Program Coordinator at the University of Nebraska Omaha. They share with us a process of Appreciative inquiry that allows us in libraries to throw out models of deficient thinking and embrace positivity in working with others.
We can all benefit by creating an affirming cycle of inquiry to support those around us. You won’t want to miss this important information to help set the groundwork to support teams, and possibly even develop some of our best leaders from within. Enjoy the show.
Welcome to the show, Melissa, and Erica.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
Thank you so much for having us.
Hello, thank you.
Question #1: It’s great to have you here. Today we’re talking about growing our own leaders in libraries. You do this through a process of Appreciative inquiry. First of all, why is there a need for this discussion? 01:47
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
This is Melissa, I’ll start us off here. Leadership implies movement, correct? Like we are moving somewhere, hopefully forward. But too often in our world, and this includes me, we get stuck in deficit thinking where we just think about what we don’t have. We don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough time. And, I want to acknowledge that those things are true. But when we do that, we start looking at everything as a problem. So, we’re just problem solving. And, everything becomes a problem.
That zaps our energy, (at least it does mine) enthusiasm, and sometimes it stalls us from that forward movement. With Appreciative inquiry it flips that idea. So, instead of deficit thinking we are looking at our strengths.
We still look at the problems, but we look at them in terms of our strengths. What strengths do we have for addressing them? And, we also look in terms of opportunities. What opportunities do we have that are still in front of us? That helps us build our energy. It helps maintain enthusiasm, and engagement in our organization. But, it also then helps us move forward.
Question #2: I like that a lot. And, we all know we have good people in our organizations and looking at things through this positive light is fantastic. So, there are many good reasons to engage in this work. And as we mentioned, you do this through a process of Appreciative inquiry. This uses perspectives of strength and positivity, as you mentioned. How does this work? Can we go to you Erica? 03:33
Absolutely. So, adding on to Dr. Cast’s comments, again, this is really about reframing our approach to the entire organizational culture, so we can move forward. Just to be clear, we know that this is easier said than done, particularly in a professional like ours where our days are filled with all of these unknown variables—putting out fires. Appreciative inquiry is so valuable because it helps us make a conscious shift.
For me, one of the reasons it’s so appealing is because it’s very simplistic. It’s all right there for us in the title. To appreciate is about seeing the value in every situation, every person, every interaction, and every event. And sometimes, to be fair, that value might be more focused on the growth opportunities. Or, it might be information about how we missed the mark. But, even that is valuable to us in helping us move in the right direction.
The second piece of this, the inquiry piece, suggests asking lots of questions – but truly listening to the answers. I think at the end of the day we all think we’re better listeners than we actually are. So, this is about really activating that research aspect of our librarian selves to gather good and meaningful information.
This requires productive conversation that’s built on trust and vulnerability. For all of the Brené Brown fans out there, that will resonate. It is also then taking that conversation and being proactive in doing something with what we get from it.
Appreciative inquiry actually gives us four key concepts that help guide us through this: dreaming; design; destiny; and discovery. And, just super quick I’m going to give you a brief definition of each one of those. I love alliteration so it’s easy to remember, which is nice.
Dreaming is the visioning process. It’s what you hope to achieve. To use a little analogy, if we were going to go on a trip together it would be about setting our destination. We have to know where we’re going to go before we can create a roadmap. Design is really the process of creating that roadmap. When the gang all knows and supports the destination, when our teams and our staffs understand where we’re going, and what we’re doing, we can start making key decisions about how we’re going to get there.
Then we move into destiny which is when we get in the car and we start to drive. That’s taking action, right? We’ve done all the planning, here we go. It’s really the biggest piece of any initiative, actually moving forward and taking action. That sounds really obvious, but in my experience, and personally, we can sometimes get stuck in the planning process. So, it’s very important that we keep an emphasis on our destiny.
Once we’ve done all of that we’re going to discover a lot of things along the way. Back to our road trip analogy, what hotels were good, more snacks next time, maybe more money for souvenirs. But we’re going to take all those lessons learned and then utilize it when we move into our next dreaming phase, as we tackle the next thing. That’s how I like to envision how we take action and put Appreciative inquiry into play.
Question #3: So, it comes full circle in the process. And, can you go through the basic principles and the framework for implementing these strategies? 07:05
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
Sure, absolutely. This is Melissa, again. I think in the interest of time we’ll just look at the five original principles. Later researchers in the area of leadership came up with some others, but we’ll focus on the first five.
For instance my favorite one is the simultaneity principle, because it’s based on questions and is why I love it. It’s the idea that change comes the minute we begin to ask questions. That we can’t ask questions and not have change occur.
Then the next one is anticipatory. That’s about expectations, and the conversations we have with each other shape our expectations. And, our expectations will guide us to the direction we’re headed, our path.
Then, there’s also the positive principle. Just from hearing us talk so far you’re probably, Well duh, positive, right? But the positive is important to remember because our questions should be positive. Our expectations should be positive. That’s what keeps us moving forward. That’s what keeps us focused on strengths and opportunities. So, if we have negative questions that’s what will bog us down.
The other principles we want to highlight are the constructionist principle, jumping in here as Erica. The constructionist principle is really about your environment and setting tone in your culture. One really important way we do this is through our own behavior and interactions. Some key strategies for doing this are things like making time for meaningful conversations, even the smallest gestures like opening every conversation with a positive statement or asking a sincere and honest question to see how somebody’s doing.
Another big thing here is to do less telling and more asking. People really respond to that. And, finding opportunities to celebrate and encourage peoples’ points of pride, and their accomplishments.
Then the final principle for us to mention is the poetic principle. This is really about the fact that there are multiple interpretations of the same narrative. So, two people can attend the same play and one might love it and one might hate it, but both of those are real. They’re just bringing a unique perspective.
So, it’s very important that we acknowledge and value people’s perspectives. As librarians we are familiar with confirmation bias. We know this to be true. So, we have to put this into play with our own interactions with people.
What we choose to focus on, and how we talk to one another makes a huge difference in the culture of our organization. If we choose to approach everything as an opportunity, then that’s where we’re going to see growth and other people getting on board. If we choose to focus on negativity or, the face that somebody made at you that didn’t make you feel quite right, or whatever that is – then that’s where all of our energies will go. So, it’s very important that we’re always making a conscious choice to focus on who we want to be and what we want to do.
Now, there are those additional principles that Melissa mentioned, the wholeness principle, the free choice principle, and the enactment principle, and we would strongly encourage folks to think, This is all really exciting and interesting—to check those out, because there’s a lot of value there, as well.
Question #4: This sounds like a great framework. So, you’re asking questions, setting expectations, keeping a positive focus, creating an environment where this works, and then looking at multiple perspectives. This gives us a way to work with our team members, to bring leaders up through the profession, is that right? 11:00
Absolutely. This is really something that can be applied in a lot of different ways. So, we can apply Appreciative inquiry to those kind of big leadership endeavors we think of, like vision, and strategic planning, succession planning, change management. It’s even a fabulous tool for staff evaluations.
But, we really think the magic of Appreciative inquiry is in these small, but pervasive shifts in behavior, and communication, and interaction with others. This is about remembering the name of peoples’ children, or taking the time to send emails congratulating colleagues or, to seek out other opinions from folks who think differently than you do. We need to share ourselves, and we need to listen to other people.
So, I think one of the first things leaders should consider doing is just having intentional conversations with our people, and asking about their dreams, and their passions, and their strengths.
I’m kind of surprised by what I learn about people that I’ve worked with for years. I think I wish that I would have just asked about that sooner. And, we need to ask people for candid feedback about the future of our organization, because it’s at stake for them as well.
I think when we nurture this kind of open communication people are empowered, and they’re excited, and they start to see those opportunities.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
I’d like to add to that. I think a big part of this is the idea of story telling. That people have their stories. Erica is talking about sharing those stories and learning those stories. But the organization, the library, has a story as well. We can’t expect anyone at any level in the library to help move the library forward toward goals if we don’t know the full story.
So, everybody needs to be hearing this story. It’s not just something that’s talked about in some meeting. Everybody needs to hear the same story at the same time. That way it’s not like, Well, in this meeting I heard this, and in this meeting I heard that. You want the story told so it’s consistent. That way everybody, at every level can participate and see how they’re contributing to that story.
Question #5: Do you have any examples of how you’ve applied this directly in your organization? 13:17
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
When you asked that you said, My organization. But, the first thing that came to mind was actually a library that I’m closely affiliated with and have been watching for the last couple of years. A new director came in – and what was just so great was – he was so excited to be there, still is, even. Not just because it was like a promotion or a move up his career ladder, but because he just was going,There are so many exciting things happening here. I just think it’s so cool that I get to be a part of it. So, it’s that anticipation of, This is going to be great – coming in with that energy.
He took the time when he got there to learn everybody’s story. This is an academic library, so there’s a large number of staff and he took everybody out to lunch at different times. We had groups of two’s and three’s. So, he heard everybody’s story, and what they were doing, and got a sense of all these different pieces and how they work together, and peoples’ strengths.
Then he just says, What can I do to help you do your job? Help us move us forward. And, trust them to act on those strengths. Even today when I see him, he’s just like – he’s been there like three years now, and he’s still like, I just can’t believe how lucky I am, and we’re moving these things. It’s not like everything is fabulous there, and there haven’t been hiccups, and stuff like that. But there’s such a focus on positivity, and strength – that they’re really moving. You just see it. You just go in the building and you can feel it.
I would jump in as I was thinking about this with an experience we have had on our team. I think actually this whole framework of Appreciative inquiry appealed to Dr. Cast, and me, because it articulates and defines how we really do strive to work. Full disclosure, we are really lucky to live and work in an environment where positivity is shining, and we really do treat challenges as opportunities.
But, specifically, four years ago Melissa and I were just starting this huge initiative in which we were going to convert all of our library science classes to a fully online delivery format, which is a lot of work. It’s kind of a big deal. Our program chair really set the tone from the start with a few simple but really powerful comments.
First she says to us, We’re not going to do this if we’re not going to have fun. That’s a priority for us throughout this journey. And the second thing that she says is, We’re not going to hurry, we’re going to trust each other, and we’re going to take this as we need to. We’re going to do this in our way and in our time.
Then of course, she just set us on fire for this adventure by telling us that she’d been waiting for the right people, and she’d found them. That built so much trust between us that we’ve really been able to just hold on tight and dive in, and do crazy things, and we really are still having fun. It’s amazing how it really does work.
Question #6: Definitely. Anything else you’d like to add? 16:32
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
This is Melissa, again. I don’t think you can ever overemphasize the importance of relationships. We know it’s the heart of libraries. And, it’s the big part of Appreciative inquiry. Really these two things just lineup so well because of that.
Question #7: Absolutely. And, I think that we’re talking about growing our own leaders in the profession and if we come up in an environment like this we are more likely to have people stay with us, grow, take on new projects, become leaders themselves. Is that what you’re finding with this model? 17:06
Absolutely. I think that is the case. It’s amazing how sometimes people might think, But, our people—they’ll outgrow us. But, instead people just continue to bring excellence back to their family. Or, if they go on they’re still contributing to our profession and there’s somebody else who’s coming in and adding their excellence. So, like you said earlier, it’s like this beautiful circle, and it does work.
I think we’re really lucky. We see it with our students all the time. There’s just so much fabulous talent in this profession and I hope that we can all maybe be a little more intentional about celebrating the good work that everyone is doing.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
And, I would add that if you look at the literature in terms of careers across lots of different professions, you see that really what a lot of, especially now, in the last ten years—that people are really starting to think about being rewarded, and engagement in their work. Not just the paycheck and advancement, stuff like that. They really want to be involved and feel like they’re contributing. And this really, this model really fits that need in people to grow, but not necessarily grow out of where they are, but just grow as a person and grow in how they can contribute, and how they can help the organization grow.
Question #8: I agree, we all want to contribute what we have to offer to our organizations, so this is fantastic. Do each of you have a favorite book, or resource you’d like to share about leadership, and why? 18:45
I feel like it’s a dangerous thing to ask librarians to pick one book, or resource…
…but, I cheated and I picked two, first I mentioned Brené Brown earlier. I read her book, Dare to Lead this summer and found it to be really inspirational. Specifically though, kind of related to Appreciative inquiry, because I think a lot of what she has to say allows us to get in the mindset where we do trust one another so that we can have productive conversations.
The other one I have to recommend is Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why. Because, mysterious goals don’t inspire anybody. I think, if you want buy-in and passion we have to be clear about why we’re doing these things, about the value of the services that we provide.
As Melissa was saying earlier, It’s the power of everybody knowing what our story is, and that’s when we can really come together, put all those various skills and talents to work as we work toward that common goal.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
I’m going to be a little different in my answer because the first thing when you said that, my first thought was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
So, I’m looking at the fiction world. The first time I read it was after 911 and it was just before the US was going to go into Iraq. I read the book and just went, Huh, wow. And then I went back and read the preface. I know better I should read the preface and introduction first, I know that, but I read it last. It turns out the edition I was reading was coming out just before the first Iraq war. So, he wrote this introduction with it. He said he didn’t realize how much leadership was a part of his thinking as he was writing this novel.
Since then I’ve gone out and done a little research about it and it’s used. This novel’s used to review military strategies. I’ve seen articles in Forbes, and Business Week about this and how the main character, Ender, is a true leader and models leadership. He built relationships with his team, getting to know them, their strengths.
There’s a focus on goals. Winning these battles are the goals, but he delegates the tasks and they work together based on their strengths. And he trusts them, and empowers them to act on those strengths. There’s focus. There’s practice-practice, which is basically meaning you make professional development opportunities available to your folks, right, so that when things happen, they’re comfortable and competent in themselves.
And then finally, they were successful because they were so focused on their strengths. When they were thrown curve balls they could adapt and be flexible. Too often we think we have a plan and we have to go forward and just follow the plan, trust in the plan. Well, no, you need to modify the plan as things happen. The goal doesn’t change, but sometimes the environment around you is changing so you have to adapt and be flexible. You can’t do that if you don’t trust each other, if you don’t know each other’s strengths, and you haven’t been practicing and working together and developing your skills.
Question #9: Fantastic. I love asking librarians about books. I get so many different answers. In closing, what does being a librarian mean to each of you, personally? 22:13
This is Erica, I think over the years I’ve come to learn that a librarian is truly synonymous with educator. And, I believe fiercely in the idea that our communities are empowered and nurtured through education. That could be curriculum-based or it could be self-directed education. It happens in all kinds of different ways, but I think we are truly educators.
But, the most important aspect of librarianship for me is the principle of equitable access. I am just so proud to be part of an institution that’s devoted to service to all people regardless of social circumstance, or race, or religion, or language. I think our open doors are a saving grace to so many people, and I’m really honored to be one of the folks that keeps the welcome mat out. So, that’s what it is for me.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
And for me, what drew me to the profession from the start was puzzles. Figuring out puzzles. Whether the puzzle is a patron’s question, a new technology, How I’m going to catalogue this book? I don’t get this—it’s full of puzzles. Over time I realized that the technology, the catalog, working with the patrons, those are all tools and pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle, shall we say. That all of those things, our patron interactions, the services, the tools we make available, the back end stuff that we do, all of those are pieces that work together for this ultimate puzzle, which is serving our communities and enriching our communities. These are all pieces. And, it’s a constant puzzle of moving those around and refitting them together to serve our communities in that way, in whatever their needs are—to the ultimate enrichment and building relationships within the community.
Melissa, and Erica thank you so much for sharing this positive outlook on creating leaders in our own organizations in libraries, which is so important. I think you’ve given us a lot to think about and I appreciate you being on the show.
Thank you, it was such a pleasure.
Dr. Melissa Cast-Brede:
Thank you. It’s always fun to think of these questions out loud.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at https://libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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