Library Leadership

66. Personal Leadership with Michelle Ornat

Michelle Ornat

How do you define leadership for yourself? For each person there is a different answer. On today’s show, I talk with Michelle Ornat, Deputy Director of public services for the San Jose Public Library. She discusses how we can define leadership for ourselves and utilize a combination of traits to develop our own personal leadership style. Whether you are currently in a leadership role or looking to grow in this area, you won’t want to miss this conversation.

Transcript

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Adriane: 

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. 

How do you define leadership for yourself? For each person there is a different answer. On today’s show I talk with Michelle Ornat, Deputy Director of Public Services for San Jose Public Library. She discusses how we can define leadership for ourselves and utilize a combination of traits to develop our own personal leadership style. Whether you are currently in a leadership role or looking to grow in this area, you won’t want to miss this conversation. Enjoy the show.

Adriane:

Michelle, welcome to the show.

Michelle Ornat:

Thanks so much for having me. It’s so great to get to talk with you.

Adriane:

Question #1: This is really fun, and I appreciate you talking with me today about personal leadership. Will you start off by telling me about the conundrum of leadership and what this means for our personal leadership development? 01:38 

Michelle Ornat:

Well, I’ve given this some thought over the years. Some has been conscious thought, some unconscious thought, but I had this realization that leadership is not about us at all, but it’s totally about us. Leadership is about the people, the teams we work with but, it’s about us in the way we handle ourselves and how we respond to our teams and the goals of our organization. It’s so much about how we behave and how present we are. You have to keep all of that in mind, but your focus needs to be about your team. So, it requires you to be a bit in two places at once—have two mindsets. 

I don’t know if you are familiar with Haruki Murakami, but many days I feel like I’m in the Murakami book, like I’m literally hard boiled at the end of the world. Thinking about leadership—that I’m present and I’m on point. At the same time putting some of my issues or needs aside in order to address the larger issues at hand with my team. Understanding that my team all have different needs. How they either work together, they work within their teams, across departmentally, across institutionally, it’s quite a bit of a jungle there.

Adriane:

Question #2: Right. So how do we define leadership for ourselves? 03:17 

Michelle Ornat:

The first definitions of leadership and leadership styles came out in, I think, in 1939. There were these three types of leadership: authoritarian type of leadership; or delegatory style. Since then the world of leadership studies, organizational leadership—all that has just exploded. Now you have this laundry list of leadership styles and traits you can choose from, per se, or you can prescribe to, or figure out where you fit in. To go through that, especially if people find themselves out in the interview marketplace where they have canned questions, oh, what is your leadership style—to have to pick one is really difficult.

The definition of a leadership style or a leadership trait, at least for me, is reading a lot, watching, listening, learning. Trying to take that all in and then reflecting. Trying something out, and repeating. There’s so many types of ways to approach it. You have to be able to figure out what your teams respond to, and what works best for those situations.

For example, right now I’m interested in coaching leadership and transformational leadership given the state that my teams are currently in. The definition of that is as a leader we are more in tune with what our teams need. I think you could come up with your own personal style and what that means for you.

I think in the defining of leadership it’s also personal affixing, something we carry with us. It becomes a part of who we are.  And who we are informs our leadership style, or our definition. I really wish there was an absolute prescription of, this is exactly how you define it, this is exactly the way that it works. But it definitely is a process with which you have to engage yourself. You have to reflect and then you’ve got to also work with your teams on that as well. It definitely is a relational thing. It requires communication with yourself and also communication with your teams in a different way.

Adriane:

Question #3: How do we use a combination of leadership traits in that case, for our own personal development? 06:03 

Michelle Ornat:

I think it’s a matter of taking time to reflect. During this time of COVID-19, all of us have been working at breakneck speed to try and solve problems that weren’t there before, that didn’t exist before. You have to take that time to figure out how the pieces work together. It’s not easy right now. It’s really tough. In order to figure out how that works for you, you’ve got to build-in that time to reflect. That may mean that you don’t get to get number 10 on your list done. That might mean that you have to put that off. But, by taking that time to reflect and to think about a conversation that you’ve had, check in with your team, figure out where they are—you’re going to get to number 10 and it’s going to happen. You may actually do it more proactively than you would have before. You’ve got to allow yourself that time to do that and to figure out where the pieces are.

Right now, more than ever, and I feel like we say this every year—there is more information, there’s more media, there’s more things that we have to consider and contemplate, ways to be better, ways we can excel, ways we can increase our productivity. I think we need to take all that with a grain of salt and go back to reflecting and maybe with a piece of paper and a pencil and focusing, seeing what works and how those pieces come together.

One thing I noticed, especially during this time, is that if I haven’t checked in with myself then I can lose where I’ve been. I have to go back and remember, Hey, I had this great note on this maybe I should try it out. Maybe this is a piece that I can put together here—a bit like a patchwork. And, it makes a beautiful quilt, right?  You have to remember to use it, to put it on.

Adriane:

Question #4: What do you think on, or reflect about as you develop your own leadership? 08:24 

Michelle Ornat:

I think a lot about authenticity. With that is transparency, also. Being authentic is not something that you wake up in the morning and say, I’m going to be authentic today. I think being authentic is one of those things that comes naturally. It develops through practice and instinct but authenticity is really about being the leader that you’re most comfortable with being, but being an honest leader with yourself, and being honest with your team. Doing what comes from your place, your heart. Being able to be honest about that. To me, it’s authenticity. If I don’t feel that I’m in the right frame of mind, that right presence, then I have to figure out how am I going to get there, so I can be my most authentic self, my most present self?

In a leadership role it is important, and I try to tell this to my teams too—that if you’re not ready to give an answer about something, that it’s okay. You can take that breath, take that pause. Let that person know who’s waiting on that answer that you value—that the answer you’re going to give is going to be the best and most appropriate answer to provide the best direction for the best outcome. If you have to wait fifteen minutes to take that, then you take that fifteen minutes to do that. Or if you have to have further conversation, allow yourself that space to have that for the conversation to really understand what is being asked of you, and vice versa. I think authenticity is really key.

Adriane:

Question #5: Taking that breath—and answers aren’t always easy. Development isn’t alway easy. What are the hard parts? 10:32 

Michelle Ornat:

The hard part is being honest with ourselves. What are our fears? What are our shortcomings, weaknesses? What are our own motives? Where do we think we need to be, or not there? Are we the type of person who needs to be credited or needs to be validated? You’ve got to figure all of that out in that leadership development for yourself, knowing what that is.

Figuring out: how do you handle things that you don’t want to handle? How do you respond to that? Figuring out: if you know you have a really big day ahead of you and you wake up in the morning, what mindset do you need to be in, and how do you gear yourself up to be that part of the leader, and be where you have to be? We all have those things about our jobs, our careers, that we don’t necessarily love to do but we have to do, it’s essential to the organization. Being honest with ourselves about that is pretty hard. I know it is for me to really be able to take a look, hey, this is where I am probably weak right now in this. And I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to get past that in order to be where I have to be.

It could be situational, it could be something that’s cyclical. A lot of library work…I work for a city where the tasks are very cyclical. Every year you’ve got budget time, you’ve got performance reviews and things like that. Maybe being able to look at the long game, look at the arc of the year, then also the things that come up weekly, or even daily and figuring out where you fit in with all of that, and how to balance those things with our own certain preferences.

Adriane:

Question #6: I know you utilize the competent consciousness matrix to get deeper into personal leadership. What is that all about? 12:46 

Michelle Ornat:

I learned this matrix about your unconscious competence, and conscious competence through a fantastic coaching seminar I did a few years back. Coaching is one of those things that is really difficult for some people. I have a really, really dear colleague that claims that she’s uncoachable herself, but she’s a fantastic coach for others. Coaching is not like mentorship, coaching is about trying to help people figure out their own pathways and problem-solving for issues that they have in the workplace. It requires us to be hands-off with that and not to jump in and say, this is how I would solve that problem and this is how I’m going to be prescriptive or directive about that.

Coaching is a skill. It’s something that’s learned. If you take this to a matrix it has four quadrants in it. When you begin a new skill or you begin a new journey, whether it’s learning an instrument, or a language you basically start off and you are unconsciously incompetent. You don’t even know what you don’t know at this point. Part of who you are becomes second nature. So if you’re learning a language and over the course of time you start dreaming in that language then you are at a conscious competence. You know what you’re doing about that.

With leadership, those are things that can become easier over time as you stretch those muscles, develop those skills to be able to handle things that people bring to you. For me the best example of that is the difference between reacting and responding. If a situation is presented I have my way to deal with that so it’s not a knee-jerk reaction to the first thing that comes up. I go through a process of how I ask questions and how I respond to the situation, and that becomes second nature over time. 

That matrix is a way of checking-in and helps keep me accountable. It also reminds me that I don’t have everything figured out and I’m never going to have everything figured out. And, then that’s okay, because it is a journey and it is a process.

Adriane:

Question #7: And knowing that is good. So, if some of our listeners want to go online they can find the competent consciousness matrix and see where they’re on that matrix to then get a sense of how they can act from that place, right? 15:38 

Michelle Ornat:

Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Adriane:

Question #8: How are all of our skills interconnected? 15:44 

Michelle Ornat:

I don’t think these leadership traits should be dissociative. The same skills you have as a leader, how you approach work, how I approach life, or how I approach a trip to the grocery store, or plan a trip – the skills that we have as leaders are informed by what we do outside of the workplace. And, the things that we enjoy doing. It took a long time to come to that realization that things are interconnected. 

We may work at compartmentalizing things, or issues. For example if you have personal problems you don’t want that bleeding over into the workplace and vice versa you don’t want taking your “work” all the time home with you. Understanding that there is a throughline there. Maybe it’s a development of maturity. Maybe it’s a development of how we look at the world and how we are there for people inside the workplace and outside the workplace. 

When I realized that how I behaved both in the workplace and out of the workplace should be in sync and should be interconnected. It sure made my stress level go down a whole lot. I think it goes back to becoming authentic and finding your voice and finding the trueness in yourself, to be able to have those things go through.

Understanding that interconnectedness and realizing how that works for each person is going to be different. Everybody’s process and journey in leadership is growth and development, at a different pace and is influenced by different things. For me, understanding that it’s interconnected made me feel also, back to your first question, that it’s all about me, but it’s not about me. I belong to something larger and I’m a pretty small person in the middle of the grand scheme of all of these things.

Acknowledging that I am a small person that my actions do affect people, and actions do matter. Being cognizant of that has really changed the way I view things.

Adriane:

Question #9: Do you have a favorite management or leadership book, and why? 18:46 

Michelle Ornat:

I’ve got a lot, but a few years ago – I think it was in early 2018, I came across this book by General Stanley McCrystal, who’s had a lot of press coverage for different things but he wrote a book called, Team of Teams. I loved the honesty in this book where he recounts how he had to change the way that he was dealing with information and the way he was dealing with teams. 

During a really tough time in the intelligence community, dealing with different conflicts we were having in the Middle East, a lot of which were highly controversial, this book is really about how he had to change how he’d been doing something he’d been doing for decades.

That really resonated with me because our work is growing more complicated in the library world, as we are doing things that we weren’t doing ten years ago, twenty years ago. We have to work differently. Information, like I said, is coming at us so quickly we are more data-driven. We are outcome-driven. We have to change how we do things consistently. I think we’re going to have to continue to do that. 

So, I thought this book was just interesting. It prompted me, and still sticks with me, that as we’re working through problems, that I’m looking at them differently. That I’m not, necessarily, approaching things the same way as we always did. It allows some fluidity, and it allows some grace, even, with figuring out how we’re going to handle things and try things out.

The pilot culture is really, really important to me. I work for an organization where we like to say, we fail fast because we try things, we iterate, we pivot, and we task, and we come up with what’s going to be the best solution. There’s a lot of inventiveness and a lot of trial. I think that’s really important. 

Adriane:

Question #10: Michelle, in closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 21:33 

Michelle Ornat:

Libraries, public libraries are the last place that you can go to, and loiter, and be free. I don’t care who you are when you come to my library, there’s a place for you. You can sit there for ten hours, read a book, be on Facebook, whatever you want to do, you can write your novel in the library, you can learn how to code, become a citizen, stem classes—legal help. If you’re having trouble finding secure housing we can connect you. It’s the last enclosed space that you can go to unfettered, and I think that it’s one of the best things that we have, and I love that idea. We have lots of room and lots of space within our institution, in our organization to continue to ensure that our access is free and open and that everybody, everybody is welcome and has a place there. There is no better place than libraries to try and do that and to build our community and to respond to what it is that they need. It’s the last enclosed place that you can do that. It’s a privilege to be part of that.

Adriane:

Isn’t that something? Thank you, Michelle. It has been great talking to you today. I appreciate you being on the show.

Michelle Ornat:

Thank you so much for the conversation. I really appreciate it.

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.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors. 

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