Leading and Participating Effectively (Pt. 2 of 2): Mark Samuel on Making Ourselves Indispensable

July 30, 2012

We could easily make the mistake of thinking that Mark Samuel’s thoughtful and thought-provoking book Making Yourself Indispensable is all about us. But we don’t, as trainer-teacher-learners who need to be playing leadership roles in the organizations we serve, have to move very far into his work to see that Samuel has his sights on more than individual endeavors—and his well-received presentation on the topic for ASTD Orange County Chapter members last month shows that his message resonates with our colleagues.

You are “not indispensable unless you use your gifts and principles in service to other people’s success, improvement, or survival,” Samuel suggests (p. 13), and it’s a theme that makes what otherwise could have been a very self-centered endeavor take on much greater importance for all of us and those we serve.

If, in fact, we move directly from the book surveyed in the first of these two articles (Eli Mina’s 101 Boardroom Problems [and How to Solve Them])–a book that helps us understand the structure behind effectively facilitating meetings and dealing effectively with leadership issues—into Samuel’s exploration of how our actions to support the organizations we serve can foster results that go far beyond what any of us can accomplish alone, we have two interdependent points of view that effectively help us understand how the act of embracing and encouraging interdependence makes us—and our organizations—indispensable.

Samuel’s work is centered on a personal accountability model. He first takes us through what he calls “the victim loop,” where we ignore and deny problems; blame others for situations we ourselves could be correcting; rationalize actions or situations we could be changing; resist change; or simply hide from what we need to be addressing. He then offers an accountability loop that begins with us recognizing and owning situations requiring our attention and action; forgiving ourselves and others for what has not already been done; and engaging in a level of self-examination that leads to effective learning which, in turn, produces action.

“Truly playing big is about using your talents and gifts in service to a cause greater than yourself,” he reminds us repeatedly. “Playing big is linked to your purpose” (p. 26)—an action that he quickly connects back to the path that allows any of us to serve as leaders “regardless of your position” (p. 42).

The theme of interdependence is never far from the surface here. In fact, it’s an essential part of being successful and fostering success within an organization: “Ask for assistance!” he insists (p. 94), and remember that in sharing our unresolved challenges, we may learn from the success stories that colleagues will offer as guidance in our moments of need—a practice encouraged in ASTD through the Sharing Our Success program for chapter leaders.

One of Samuel’s greatest achievements in the book is his effective use of anecdotes that help us viscerally understand the points he makes—a practice that extends to an admission that he almost lost his own thriving business by ignoring the very lessons he had been helping others to absorb. We can’t help but appreciate and learn from his frank discussion of the situation: “It didn’t matter how many times I had taught the Personal Accountability Model; I was now immersed in my humanness and experiencing all of the pain and suffering that comes from victimization.” We certainly walk away from that particular sharing-our-lack-of-success story inspired by how much his own self-examination and honesty shows that we, too, can make a positive difference if we’re willing to learn and take action rather than succumbing to the lethargy that at one time or another threatens every one of us.

Trainer-teacher-learners also can’t help but react positively to Samuel’s focus, late in the book, to how much the learning process is part of our efforts to be indispensable in the terms outlined in this book. Beginning with writer-futurist Alvin Toffler’s assertion that “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn,” Samuel reminds us that we need to continue learning—and implementing what we learn—rather than hiding behind timeworn clichés about how we’re doing what we do simply because that’s the way things have always been done.

“Learning,” he suggests, is “the outcome of every relationship we are in and every action we take” (p. 161); if we approach our relationships with the spirit of teaching-training-learning that is at the heart of all we do, we’re likely to reach one of the many useful conclusions Samuel offers: “Being indispensable doesn’t start and stop with whatever job you are currently in. It is a lasting state based on the value you represent to others” (p. 115).

Ultimately, he concludes, we find an ironic guiding principle to making ourselves indispensable: “…you gain your independence not when you act in your own best interest but when you realize your interdependence and act in a way that serves both others and yourself” (p. 210).  And if that makes us more cognizant of the value of both leading and participating in the meetings and other activities that comprise so much of our work day, we will be well on our way to having more successes to share.

ALA Annual Conference 2012: Ideas, Inspiration, and Meals of Food and Challenges

June 22, 2012

Gather small groups of training-teaching-learning colleagues over meals, as I have so many times over the past few years while attending conferences, and you’ll find yourself exploding with ideas. Inspiration. And the rewards of intellectual and collegial engagement.

Which is exactly what happened once again when that sort of group here in Anaheim for the 2012 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference broke bread this evening—actually, we broke Chinese food, but there’s no need to be overly precise about this—and eventually moved toward a very spirited discussion about some of the trends and challenges we face in libraries as well as in other industries.

We were a smaller than usual group this time—eight instead of the usual 10 to 15—and it worked out very well. Partially because most of us found common ground through our affiliations with libraries and/or library organizations. And partially because, as usual, the gathering included some healthy cross-pollination of ideas—this time through the inclusion of two non-library colleagues from the Orange County Chapter of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD).

There was the usual time spent just becoming reacquainted and welcoming those new friends into the group. And then we not-too-surprisingly found ourselves acknowledging that the challenges we encounter in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs transcend industry barriers.

But what was most engaging and inspiring was not the simple recitation of what’s wrong with what we and our learners are doing; it was the willingness to dream of potential solutions to the challenges we and our learners face. In discussing the challenge of not losing institutional/ organizational knowledge as colleagues move on to other positions or retire entirely—regardless of whether we’re talking about libraries, ASTD chapters, or any other organization or group—we proposed and considered a variety of potential solutions. Wikis (which received an almost universal thumbs-down because too few people are willing to dedicate the time and effort to make a wiki thrive). Short work sabbaticals during which colleagues would take time to document the knowledge and experience they have acquired. Top-down implementation of formal knowledge-retention efforts. Informal cross-training so departing colleagues leave those still in the workplace with the knowledge needed to continue and to thrive. And even making it a requirement of a job or a service position that employees/volunteers create documentation of what they do and how they do it.

When all was said and done, we found ourselves returning to what’s at the heart of all successful training-teaching-learning: concentrating on the people, not the tech tools. Our mantra, in fact, could easily be “peer to peer; no technology”—as one colleague suggested—if we want to create a sustainable pattern of retaining and learning from the wisdom of our workplace crowds.

As the conversation moved into another perennial topic—learners who are far from engaged in the learning process—we found a variety of suggestions covering a variety of extremes. One on side, there was the dream of making learning so engaging that learners actively pursue those learning opportunities. On the opposite end of the discussion, there was the practice of firing those who will not learn and support an organization’s efforts to survive in what is clearly a very competitive environment.

And no, please don’t assume that this was just a bunch of trainers kicking around ideas with no hope of implementing them. We know of trainer-teacher-learners who successfully and consistently draw learners to their workshops, seminars, and asynchronous offerings because they are so engaging. We also know of organizations where those unwilling to keep up with changing worksite needs are offered one of two choices: rise to the challenge or rise to the need to find new work before being removed from their current positions—the choice was the employees’ choice to make.

It’s clearly sobering as well as invaluable to create and take advantage of the opportunities a conference provides for this level of conversation and exchange. It’s what draws many of us to conferences and other learning opportunities. We have the opportunity to draw upon the thoughts and experiences of some of the brightest people we know or are about to meet. It provides us with a chance to float ideas that otherwise might not have been considered. And it reminds us that rethinking our beliefs and our assumptions can be a very healthy endeavor, both for the chance it gives us to reaffirm what we hold dear, and to recognize the need to change what we might unnecessarily—and to our collective detriment—be retaining.

N.B.: Sharon Morris and I, on Sunday, June 24, 2012, will be facilitating a 90-minute workshop on how to engage workplace learners. The session, under the auspices of the ALA Learning Round Table, begins at 10:30 am at the ALA Annual Conference here in Anaheim, in Convention Center Room 203B. Hope you’ll join us for what promises to be an engaging discussion.

%d bloggers like this: