Posts Tagged ‘ strengths ’

details, details, details #strengths

Yesterday I attended a presentation by strengths specialist and leadership consultant, Sondra Cave, where she addressed applying strengths in times of change.  Obviously, with any organizational change, there are new assignments, roles, and relationships to figure out, and understanding the strengths of your people can be very valuable.  Knowing and working in your areas of strengths has been proven to result in greater engagement in the work, fewer mistakes, and (while not necessarily applicable to my environment) greater profits (1).

finger-in-dikeAfter the structure of a big organizational change is rolled out, and questions of who and where have settled down, the focus shifts to the work to be done.  The decisions in this phase seem to begin kind of haphazardly, in a thumb in the dyke (2) kind of way.  This is especially true for the folks “running the trains” as they say. But, when those decisions begin with conversations, and those conversations have a bit more thought behind them, people start asking about the skills (or even better, the strengths) needed to get this work done.

I’d like to take a closer look at a skill that often comes up in my line of work: “attention to detail“.  Anyone?

Well, if you plug that phrase into the top job finder sites, this skill is desired among 25,000+ advertised jobs, anywhere from accountant to electromechanical assembly technician.   You might glean a little more context from the job title as to what details you might be attending.  But even with the context of the job title, it seems we might need to be more specific — more attentive to the details of the “attention to detail” skill. Ba-dump-bump.

In my experience, librarians mostly mean attention to text (or numbers) details.  They will sometimes call this having “eagle eyes”.  What they mean is that they want you to be able to catch what  the average Joe would miss, and thereby avoiding  unintentional email miscommunication, a mislabeled book getting lost in the stacks, miscalculating expenses, buying a book we already own, or overlooking and agreeing to an egregious term in a license.

Confession: I am pretty bad at some of the traditional kind of detail my fellow librarians value.  I often send emails (and publish posts) with typos and grammatical errors.  Numbers alone actually jumble me up; I am not quick to calculate formulas or see how figures come out the way they do — at least not without struggle, trial, and error.  But I’m not willing to admit that I lack attention to detail.  And this, in a nutshell, is stubbornness the strengths concept Don Clifton started by asking:

What would happen if we actually studied what is right with people?

What I do have is a great attention to strategic detail.  I can tell how something is going to work or not work in ways you might have not thought of.  I am great at analyzing the numbers for which the details have already been attended, and can come up with various scenarios for taking action.  I can also analyze the text-meaning of a license to know what wording and phrases might cause problems, or find strategies around problematic clauses.  I am also very attentive to the details of people and their individual strengths.  I’m not always empathetic.  I don’t always openly relate well  to people, or woo them.  But I attentively listen, watch, and learn, and then find ways to help people succeed.

These are my top five strengths, although in order they are: Learner, Activator, Strategic, Analytical, Individualization.  Just 5 of the 34 unique, strengths-based ways (3)* people may attend to details.  I believe from experience that strengths offers a great approach to getting specific in the details of the work to be done and to getting a positive end result.  Sondra Cave emphasized that there are many ways to get there, but the point is that we get there. By focusing our strengths toward the end in mind in this way, we get there faster and with greater…well, strength.

Sondra also emphasized the responsibility we have to use our strengths from a position of health, and not as label, or an excuse to do or not do certain things.  One way this happens is by using your strengths to manage weaknesses.  For example, I certainly use my analytical strength in my number-details weakness, and I often use my individualization and learner to manage my introvertedness — although, this is not necessarily a weakness (4)!

Point is, once you find out how you are using your strengths in the details of your current work you will be able to see how you might use those same strengths in thousands of other work and details, and how to use them to help you in less strong areas.  This is how new teams are quickly formed, how new responsibilities are taken up, and how change becomes opportunity.


(1) Buckingham & Coffman (1999). First Break All the Rules. New York : Simon & Schuster.

(2) Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 23, 2013, from,_or_The_Silver_Skates

(3) Gallup, Inc. (2010) StrengthsQuest. “All 34 Themes Full Description”. Retrieved May 23, 2013 from     *While there are 34 Strengths themes, the various combinations of top 5 results and how they work together differntly, mean there are even more unique ways to approach tasks and relate to others.

(4) Cain (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House.


ER&L Conference Summary #erl13

I recently attended the 2013 Electronic Resources & Libraries (ER&L) conference in Austin, TX. As before, the conference reinforced and solidified ideas among my fellow electronic resources librarians (ERLs), re-energized my research agenda, and reminded me that I am not alone in making wider connections out from my work as an ERL.

In fact, the “we don’t usually have a theme” theme of the conference was bridging communities and cross pollinating ideas — which led me to ask myself, Self: How do I communicate and bridge ideas across the world of ERL and the larger library mission in practice? But another subtler theme that I picked up on throughout the conference turns out to be a very reality-based response to my own question.

The keynote opening and closing speakers, as well as many presenters throughout the conference, challenged all of us to move beyond research results or the identification of problems in our communities (content) and become involved in myriad ways with solving problems and building bridges (service). Even more than my little parenthetical emphasis on service over content — this was a call to individual action.

“What are you going to do with what you now know about Google Generation users?” asked Michael Eisenbert (session notes) — Opening keynote: Listening to Users: What the “Google Generation” Says About Using Library & Information Collections, Services, and Systems in the Digital Age

You are the Digital Library Federation” chided Rachel Frick — Closing keynote: The Courage of our Connections: Thoughts on Professional Identities, Organizational Affiliations and Common Communities)

“Are you disgruntled? Support these start-ups, your fellow Disgrunterati who are making things happen!” coined Jason Price — Lightening Talks

I attended sessions mostly focused on my passion areas, the places where I am most action-oriented — workflow and communication. I felt particularly energized by presentations from early adopters of webscale systems like Intota (session notes) and Alma (session notes). Unlike years past when new ERM systems were adopted and met with fairly wide-scale disappointment, these adopters spoke specifically to how these new ILS systems are helping them manage the complex nature of our work across the library (e and p, content and service) And they seemed so happy! They clearly demonstrated how the ability of these systems to centralize and structure key data and to bridge that data across all library service workflows enabled them to more quickly take action to address internal and external users needs.

I was also very pleased with the Project Management in Libraries (session notes) post conference workshop led by the most excellent Jennifer Vinopal (NYU). To energize my research agenda there was a welcomed talk on the importance of both Internal and External Customer Service (session notes) , especially as it relates to various organizational restructuring. Timely! These sessions helped me see where I can act by both confirming current thinking and offering new ideas to help me move forward.

Some others included Jill Emery’s and Graham Stone’s TERMS (session notes) project. I would love to become involved in extending areas of TERMS that relate to communication and information mangement, as well as key troubleshooting best practices. Another was Extreme E-resources Endeavors…(seesion notes), which included a mix of things we have already acted on (PDA, E-reserves) and things we are hoping to (renewal calendars, POOF!). Feeding one of my passions (and past professions), Instructing Future ERLs (session notes) was another inspiring call to act, although maybe further down the road with this one.

Now, strangely, and despite all Dan Tonkery’s advice to the keep emotion out of it (Improving Communication & Relationships Between Librarians & Publishers session notes), my initial overall response to the conference (after a great closing keynote) was not resolve and energy, but reservedness, fear, frustration, and believe it or not – tears! I reasoned that it was frustration with wanting to act, but not being able to due to lack of resources or, possibly, as Frick suggests, the “courage of my connections”. But I also think changes going on back at my organization may have played some subconscious role in that perhaps too — the sense of uncertainty about where these idea and action bridges will be built.

You should also probably know that I was reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking during the trip. I claim to be an ambivert, but I was operating strongly with my “I” throughout the conference. I didn’t do a lot of networking, even though I had many opportunities, and it has taken me much longer to recover my energy post-conference (also classic introvert behavior). Thankfully, some of my first tasks back were sharing project management approaches, discussing ideas for development programs, and spending most of today cleaning up my notes and summarizing my experience.

And look what I found on facebook!

And look what I found on facebook!

Reflecting now upon these bold calls to action and individual responsibility, I’m reminded that I begin acting within my circle of concern. My strengths in learning, strategy, analysis, and taking action with others are what help me be effective in my circle. These same strengths also enable me to see and act beyond this area by sharing ideas and bridging communities. I have always thought of myself as a bridge-builder of both ideas and communities. This conference is always great reminder of how I do that as an ERL prepares me in all sorts of ways to be a greater and broader leader in librarianship as a whole.

Strengths in Action

((cc) BY-NC-ND) by praecepitum

I am about to start back to work from a 10 week vacation of strategic planning.  Yes, I meant to call it a vacation not because my email backed up, or because deadlines were missed, or others had to pick up the slack of my absence.  It is because I feel as energized as if I’d been spending that time relaxing on the beach and sipping a cool beverage while trusting someone else to  watch the kids.  I’ll admit (let my freak flag fly)  — I do  LOVE strategic planning!  But beyond just being weird in this way, I want to talk about one explanation for this energy (and why I’ve bolded these key words).

Strategy is one of my top five strengths.  I also have Learner, Analytical, and (thank God, or nothing would ever get done) Activator.  My fifth strength, Individualization, means in a nutshell that I’m also good at seeing others’ strengths.  This has all brought me to a point recently where I am just bursting to tell a wider audience about Strengths,  specifically the breakthrough I had using my strengths in this most recent work experience,  and why I continue to promote Strengths in work and life.  A wonderful and succinct background on the  Strengths movement can be found here.  So, I’ll just briefly touch on the concept and focus more on my own experiences.

At my library, I work with the staff  and organizational development council who secured a grant to build individual and organizational awareness of our strengths.  This  groups’ strengths work started a couple of year ago when we traveled together to see Marcus Buckingham speak.  Buckingham is a very engaging speaker. It certainly helps to be smart, funny, handsome and have a British (Australian?) accent, but he is best known, I think, for taking Strengths beyond a mere personality test to a practice, a movement.

After this talk, I ran out to get a book — any book — that would get me the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment.  My results are from the book Strengths Based Leadership.  However, my 20/20 hindsight advice to you is pick up any other book than this one.  I was anxious to get started and this was the only one in the student union bookstore at the time.  I am currently re-reading through the Buckingham versions — try this to get a test, then  this and this — which I recommend as more approachable starting points.  The other key wisdom to getting this and taking it beyond a personality test, is have someone or group of someones go through the test with you and talk about the results — better yet, a certified strengths coach.

((cc) BY-NC) by Joming Lau

I know it sounds like a racket, especially to academic-minded individuals, and hey, it is in a way because it is a business, for-profit product.  But let’s take it from Creating the Agile Library(1995!), shall we?  Libraries will need to increasingly adopt more business and for-profit models of organizational agility to survive 21st century pressures.  Are they not already? Not all, mind you, but certainly some. Beyond that reason, though, what can we actually learn about the effectiveness of this “better mousetrap”?

I can tell you what I learned from reading and talking about it within my HR and development circles.  I can tell you a great deal more about it from working with my team, learning their strengths and how we might use them together more effectively.  The most powerful lessons came to me from a combination of all of this and what Buckingham pointed out in the video above:

At some point in your career you will be using your strengths most of the time [rather than just some of the time] and it just doesn’t feel the same.

While I feel like I’ve kind of been using my strengths throughout  my career, the lightbulb for me is how different I feel after spending 10 weeks  intensely using my strengths.  Not only am I happier and energized, but I found myself functioning way better at things I usually struggle with.  I’ve been quicker to engage in conversations (my husband is both thankful and annoyed). I didn’t stumble for words in our unit’s  f2f meeting.  I even had several new ideas and have pitched them to folks.  In the language of strengths, this is managing weakness.  But it didn’t feel like managing.  It felt fluid, more like swimming or sailing.  What’s more (and to the point of Strengths), I found where I usually excel, I excelled better and faster.  I  taught, lead, and problem solved off the cuff  — a credit I think to better practice in pulling my learner, analytical, and strategic strengths into action (activator strength).   I tell you the pistons were firing this week in ways that I know are strengths-based, because it’s what the books said they would do.

A final point about my vacation ties back to that Strength Based Leadership book I started with trusting the kids.  Sure, there were things that during my strategic vacation my staff had to deal with in my absence.  Not a lot, but some.  The point is I trust my staff with our work in large part because I know their strengths and they know their strengths.  Email did get backed up, but it got tackled it much quicker.  Imagine if everyone’s strengths were put into play in this way. We would not neglect to attend that development opportunity because no one else can cover our work for us.  We wouldn’t have to laboriously cross-train skill sets to make that happen. We all would begin to trust ours and our colleagues’ strengths and our organizations will be the better for it in all the ways that matter.


Buckingham & Clifton (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: Free Press.

Buckingham (2007) Go Put Your Strengths To Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. New York: Free Press.

Buckingham & Coffman (1999). First Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Haricombe, L.J. & Lusher, T.J. (1995) Creating the Agile Library: A Management Guide for Librarians. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

better mousetraps is a term Jim Govan (1977, as cited in Haricombe & Lusher, 1995) used to refer to “potentially useful ideas  that we should examine carefully and then employ as best fits the local situation” (p2).

truthberry picking

New thing.  I read the American Libraries Direct newsletter each week and often fill my browser with tabs of the items I find most interesting, sharing some in facebook, others via email to library colleagues.  It occurred to me today that I could use this as a blogging opportunity and aggregate my favorites here.  My hope is that perhaps  my research foci will emerge out of this effort and that you, dear readers (if you exist), may find common narrowed interest.

So, truthberry is actually the more common Rasta reinvention of the word library.   That I more often call it a truthbrary (and ourselves as truthbrarians) is just to make the connection a little clearer.  But how nicely it serves my purpose here for the berries of truth I picked out of the interwebs this week.

It occurs to me Zotero will also be my dear friend in this effort.  So, stay tuned.

Why non-academics should be following the Georgia State U case (Copyright Librarian blog)  Did I mention this might be my favorite library topic?

…a ruling against fair use at Georgia State would do a lot to establish that any time a copyright holder is willing to sell a license, not taking them up on it is inherently infringement.

As an ACRL Legislative advocate, I’m always looking for succinct pointers to help communicate the value of academic libraries.  When talking about the library remember N3P3: an advocacy talking points framework for academic libraries (Ubiquitous Librarian blog) is a useful start.

A few nods to my Learner strength and some good tips for organizational effectiveness from your desk to your desktop.

And, finally, because Borders declared bankruptcy and, thus, closed in my town while the little (and very awesome) local bookstore around its corner remains, a tribute:  Independent Bookstores in New Orleans say they’re thriving (, via AL Direct June 8, 2011).  Also, yet another reason I am bummed to not be going to ALA New Orleans.

Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain

I have been filling up on the big picture these past few days.  Last Thursday and Friday I traveled with my colleagues down to Oklahoma for the, well…Oklahoma Conference.   And yesterday I spent the day attending and room hosting a  Digital Humanities Summit.   Great stuff! I’m hoping my inability to get focused on the practical details of the daily grind this afternoon will be aided by taking the opportunity to debrief  some big ideas from these two experiences.

Part of  describing ‘What exactly is the Oklahoma Conference?’ is obvious–  a library conference hosted in Oklahoma by the University of Oklahoma Libraries.  What’s not so obvious is how to describe how it got to be so awesome.  I mean how did those Okies get so lucky? The presenters over those two days attribute it to the OU Libraries Dean, Sul Lee and his unique ability to attract great presenters and presentation topics.  I’ve only been to this conference twice but can attest to the unusually unique way that it brings the big picture into very tangible takeaways.  Nevermind the people that took away worry about their future in the profession.  Yes, there were some — ok a lot —  of bleak presents and futures laid out for us.  But more often it was pitched as a great catalyst for change.  Good change. Right? We hope so.

My biggest take away (and validation if I may say) was a concept of allocating for innovation.  Jay Jordan of OCLC talked about the ‘cloud‘ and its ability, should we allow it, to reduce our redundant tasks devoted to infrastructure and free that up for innovation.  He referenced a  statistic of 70% commonly spent on infrastructure and 30% on innovation. He name dropped Google, which might have been a reference to  Google’s 70/20/10 receipe.  But Jordan posited that cloud computing has the potential to flip that ratio.  I think this is the part where people began to worry about their jobs.

I should have been worried because the redundant infrastructure he was talking about in a broad sense was in my area — technical services.  A part of me was worried, actually.  I mean 70% freed up time is a fundamentally scary concept in this economy.  One’s first instinct is to realize that as cost savings rather than allow it to be realized as the luxury of innovation.  The reason I was not worried however is because I have put this very concept into practice in my work.

Admittedly it was a more gradual process to make such a flip.  The first step I took was to prove I could innovate on the redundant infrastructure that we have always done.  I did that for a year. After a year of this innovation and the still persistent inability to make gains in what both I (and my libraries’ strategic plan) wanted done,  I figured something had to give.   I argued on more than one occasion that in order for me to innovate on better solutions for this stuff we want to advance, I’d have to just stop doing this other thing that we have always done.  I had to do the flip.  Luckily, I had data that I’d been tracking to back me up and, perhaps more importantly, strong personnel support in my work environment.  We’re also talking here about a small unit on which such flip produced just minor people impact.  How will such a concept scale is the larger question.

And the whole point of the ‘cloud’ is to scale such a concept.   So I thought about another group of folks trying this out on a larger scale. In collection development the goal was trying to rethink the concept of every librarian doing everything (instruction, liaison, selection). There was a proposal to build on each person’s strengths and for example, have those that are good at instruction not have to do selection and various other flips of this sort.  But it didn’t it fly when it was proposed.  Why?  Are people scared of losing their jobs?  Or  being seen as not having enough to do?  Or maybe it’s being seen as not being good at something.  I don’t know.

I do think the key is to keep at these ideas, though.  As I’ve experienced, it’s not something you can just propose and get to happen the next week, or month or even year, sometimes.  As a wise woman once said,

Take ‘No’ as the start of the negotiation, not the end.

– Theresa Peters, Partner, United Talent Agency

You have to be able to handle rejection in a way where you accept the resistance, pull it into your data, tweak the argument and keep persisting with new proposals over time.   This kind of thinking drives my husband nuts, btw, when it comes to suggestions for home decorating, throwing a party, or going on a family vacation.

Ultimately it’s just another take on another catchy phrase — the whole notion of perpetual beta.  Continue to present opportunities for people to experiment on the small scale, in their comfort zone, based on their strengths with the hope that you can then challenge them to scale that down the road.

Well I’ve blabbed on a lot about Oklahoma here. Maybe all these big ideas need a few posts to sort out.   The Digital Humanities Summit had similar validation for librarians.  I saw many ways in which libraries have always supported the new and big concepts that were being presented here.  And ways in which we can scale these to new levels.   Stay tuned.

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