Several weeks ago I was invited to speak to the management class at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management (SIM). This was my first speaking engagement as a professional librarian and I was honoured to be asked.
Although eager to speak to a group of new professionals about management, I wondered what advice and anecdotes I had to offer. Should I talk about professional conduct? Presenting yourself as a professional (even when you look 20!)? Managing staff as old, if not older, than your parents? How to go about gaining the trust and respect of your staff when you’re still learning and they’ve been in the field for years? What about making management decisions that aren’t popular?
How can I share what I’ve learned in 15 minutes? I wanted to highlight the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned as a new professional and provide the class with concrete examples. I also wanted to create a dialogue that the students would feel comfortable pursuing further.
Dr. Fiona Black, the Director of SIM, provided some guideline questions to all the guest speakers which assisted in shaping my talk.
1. What type of changes have you witnessed in organizations since you began your professional career and how have you been involved in “change management”?
2. If there is one thing about management you would emphasize to a new professional, what would it be?
3. How do you motivate your colleagues (now or in past positions) around learning new things?
4. How do you (personally) demonstrate accountability within your organization?
Using these questions as the foundation for my talk, I stressed the following points:
Always appear confident (or as I like to say, “fake it”)
Acknowledge what you don’t know.
Give credit where it’s due.
Praise your staff.
Be willing to learn from the ground up.
A first impression is vital, but so is maintaining a day-to-day professional appearance.
Graduating doesn’t mean that your professional development is over, it’s just beginning.
Respect your staff. An MLIS doesn’t give you the right to talk down to anyone – EVER.
Lead by example.
Be fair and be honest. Don’t expect your staff to do anything you aren’t willing to do.
Let your actions and achievements represent your commitment to the profession. If you don’t have library experience, or very little experience, look for opportunities. Volunteer to write book reviews for publication, join committees and become involved.
Perhaps I have a stronger desire to participate in the shaping and education of new professionals because it hasn’t been too long since I was in the classroom. But I think it is the responsibility of all professionals to take a hand in educating and mentoring young professionals. How will they learn the necessary lessons and skills without us?
Classroom perception of the profession and reality of the day-to-day requirements of the profession are all part of a new professional’s education. One of the best kept secrets that I realized early on is that new professionals and those professionals in the twilight of their career are not so very different. While more mature professionals have experience under their belt, twinges of anxiety still creep up when writing a report or making a major management decision. We don’t always know everything, even though we learn how to look like we do. And, all of us want to make a difference in the profession in some way.
In my limited experience, I have found that emphasizing the similarities between new professionals and mature professionals bridges the gap and takes away some of the fear of inadequacy young professionals face when starting their careers. It also opens the door for opportunities; opportunities for collaborating, mentoring and creating. Young professionals have incredible ideas but mature professionals know the rules and the processes. Long-standing professionals have the knowledge and young professionals have the drive. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
As information professionals, we’re all about access to information. Why aren’t more of us improving access between students and current professionals? We, as professionals, are the information that students need. We are the resources. Let’s work on the access. I urge all of you to get involved in your area information school programs – both at the college and university levels. Become a mentor or host a student. There are so many ways we can participate.