Why it’s a positive thing to say no in your career (opinion)


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Too often, we imagine career discernment as a straight and narrow path. Once you choose the path, you continue down it. Once you gain experience, you apply that experience to the next related position.

The problem with this pathway metaphor is that it doesn’t account for the many experiences that teach us what we don’t want (not only what we do). It doesn’t account for experiences that are meaningful and point us in an entirely different direction. It doesn’t account for the importance of saying no — of excelling in a particular type of work and yet still choosing differently.

When we find support for career discernment in academic settings (still far too infrequently), we typically find tools for determining when to say yes (e.g., “Using Your ‘Strong Yes’ to Guide Career Decisions”). It’s equally important, I believe, to spend time considering when and why to say no.

At its core, saying no is actually saying yes to something else. Sometimes it’s saying no to let what needs to fall away, fall away. Sometimes it’s saying no to imagine something different or to build toward something new. Sometimes it’s saying not yet or not in this way. Simply put: yes and no are related. Both can block, and both can build. Both are powerful for making career moves.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship of yes and no, as I’ve been trying to honor the wisdom “The absence of a strong yes is actually a no.” I’ve been focusing on this wisdom during what has been a turbulent year for me: being promoted with tenure and yet still choosing to leave academe. This decision has come through career discernment, involving meditation, consultations and reflection through writing — over many months.

Last spring, when I was experiencing extreme exhaustion (which I finally recognized as burnout), I decided to make a list of everything I liked about my job. As a writer and writing teacher, I often recommend free writing as a way to engage in self-reflection, to recognize patterns, to process information and to make decisions. So I decided to follow my own advice and engaged in several writing exercises to identify how, where and whether my commitments and priorities were aligning with my time. What I found shocked me.

I made a fairly long list of activities I truly enjoy as a faculty member. The list included:

  • building relationships with community partners and contributing to racial justice work in Milwaukee and beyond;
  • meeting in one-with-one conferences with writers fired up about their work;
  • writing with an activist agenda to share insights from research and lived experience;
  • blogging and translating research and writing for nonacademic, public audiences;
  • mentoring undergraduate researchers, grad students, faculty colleagues and others;
  • and more!

I could see almost immediately what was missing from this list: teaching for-credit courses, serving on committees, writing for in-field publications and navigating the brutal review process. In other words, the nonnegotiable core of my faculty position was missing from the list. Moreover, the nonnegotiable core was causing me to feel that my time was misaligned with my priorities. In contrast to earlier times when I found curriculum development and in-field research especially meaningful, I discovered that I was now spending hours on work that felt not directly related to — and, at times, as if it undercut — my commitments to social and racial justice.

The list surprised me because I’d been justifying that my faculty job was allowing me to do the work I felt most called to, when, in reality, it was the faculty job that was keeping me from aligning my time with my priorities.

This realization felt similar to others I’ve gained through trying different sorts of work. As an undergraduate, I had various internships, all of which taught me about what I enjoy (and don’t). Even those I didn’t like taught me what jobs not to pursue and how to identify misalignment and to make change. In graduate school, courses, assistantships and service assignments provided similar learning. For example, I realized through rotating in and out of committees that I enjoyed reviewing scholarship and nominating representatives, but not coordinating conferences or planning events. Such learning was important for informing future decision making: for learning when and why to say yes and no.

I share these stories because I’m recognizing more and more that we have wide-ranging reasons to say no: not only personal enjoyment, liking or calling but also larger commitments, social responsibilities and the potential impact of building or blocking. It’s often only through experience — weeks to months to years of lived experience — that we discern where the pathway is taking us and whether we want to continue walking that path.

Through making my decision to leave academe (saying no to the straight and narrow path so typically ascribed in graduate school), I’ve noticed that yes and no work in relationship — as a push-pull dichotomy. Saying no has the potential to open new opportunities, creating yeses not even articulated. I’m already seeing, for example, new relationships, publishing and learning opportunities emerge. And as new opportunities arise, it’s important to remember priorities and listen for the “strong yes,” as there’s a larger yes behind every no.

Saying no can also signal a change in direction, a choice to tread another path, a journey into pathless woods or an attempt at redrawing/revising the path altogether. I’m hopeful that conversations about alt-ac and non-ac careers will help expand imagined career pathways, as will more images of people creating their own career trajectories, where trajectories haven’t previously existed. I’m hopeful, too, about the possibilities of pursuing knowledge (an ultimate, underlying goal of higher education) in new ways, along new routes.

Individual decision making can impact community understandings of available decisions, so in addition to personal reasons for saying no, there’s potential behind every no for interrupting straight and narrow paths. Saying no can inspire others to see the value of experience as far more than building credentials. Saying no can build courage, too — not only for ourselves but also with and for others.

Here’s to saying no for modeling, rousing, disturbing, encouraging and shaking up/off inherited ways of being. Here’s to saying no for disrupting straight and narrow pathways. Here’s to saying no for learning to walk yet-to-be-imagined pathways.

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6 Leadership Strategies To Build A Bulletproof Business


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road to excellence



It’s the focus of every leader. It’s the aspiration of those who seek to make a mark.

How to achieve organizational excellence is the subject of a new book by David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training. THE ROAD TO EXCELLENCE: 6 Leadership Strategies To Build A Bulletproof Business is the result of his research and experience as a CEO of a global organization. I asked him to share some of his leadership insights as well as some blind spots that can catch business leaders off guard with potentially disastrous consequences.


“Effective leaders are always in recruiting mode, not just when an opening appears.” -David Mattson


The first part of your book spotlights the blind spots that many have in building a culture of excellence. Of these 14, what blind spots do you see leaders making most often when it comes to leadership excellence?

The most common mistake – and it seems to be universal across all industries – is the failure to make recruiting the very best people an ongoing, continuous priority. Effective leaders are always in recruiting mode, not just when an opening appears. They build up a bench of talent, so that when there’s an unexpected departure by a key person, there’s no crisis that threatens the entire organization. If you look at the top-performing companies that dominate, you almost always find that they’re the ones that have made recruiting the very best people an ongoing organizational priority. You are always, always looking for the best talent.


“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” -Orison Sweet Marden


Know the 6 P’s

Let’s talk briefly about the 6 P’s. Planning. When a leader does this well, what does it look like?Road to Excellence Cover

Effective leaders think about where the business can and should be over the next three to five years. They think about the markets and the direction they’re headed in.

They think about where the company should focus their attention, about what they want to do – in short, they think in the future tense about each and every part of the business. That means they create a plan of action, complete with benchmarks. They look at the roadmap and identify the best possible route toward their future goal, and they get key people in their organization to participate in the discussion so that there is buy-in on the journey. They don’t let their present situation hold them back. They take off the blinders.

Their biggest challenge may be communicating the plan, because you need to continually communicate the future goals and the plans to get there in multiple modalities. Just sending out an email about the plan isn’t enough. You need face time, you need podcasts, you need video, you need everything … and you need it over and over again.


“Once people understand what is important, and why it makes sense to measure that, they’re more likely to be engaged, and they’re more likely to succeed.”-David Mattson


How about the second P, Positions? Organizational structure and required skill sets for each position are important. Given the speed of change, how often is this assessment done for optimal results?

This part focuses on the organizational chart. The idea is to sit down and consciously design what your company will look like when it’s aligned to the key goals you’re pursuing. This is an objective process, something that you separate from any emotional connections there may be with individual team members. You say, “Here is what the company needs to look like in order to achieve X … now, what needs to change, and what positions do I need to fill?”

Again, it’s ongoing. You should create an ideal SEARCH (Skills, Experience, Attitude, Results, Cognitive Traits, and Habits) template for each position, and then recruit to that template. And you should create a customized onboarding program for each position. That seems like a lot of work, but it’s actually a net time savings, because you’re far more likely to get the right person in the right position.

It’s important to remember that this is something you need to do continually. Major change in your company can happen before you are done going through all 6 P’s, which means you may need to adjust the org chart. Basically, any time you adjust your plan, you should expect to adjust the positions that support it.


“Leaders need to be congruent – meaning the words the leader uses in the workplace and the actions undertaken within the working relationships always need to match up.” -David Mattson


Let’s move on to the next P, People. What do “excellence leaders” do that makes them stand out in terms of hiring and retaining the best people?

Excellence leaders hire to a specific, clearly defined role, and with specific KPIs in mind.  They are very clear on the Skills, Experience and Results that the person doing the job would need in order to succeed. This knowledge gives them the ability to make the best hire possible.

Beyond that, some of the important best practices here are never to hire on gut instinct (it’s wrong too often), to incorporate other people in the interview process, to onboard properly, to set clear expectations, never to “blue sky” the job and create false hopes, and to look for ways to tie the individual’s unique personal goals to the goals of the company. Again, many managers think they don’t have time for that last one, but it’s a definite time-saver over the long term.


The next P is Processes. In your book, you point out that great leaders have processes for most everything. Some organizations grow to a point where process chokes progress. How do you know you have the right balance?

People usually cringe when they hear the word “process.” I don’t believe anyone needs to be smothered in process. When a process loses sight of the intent that led to its creation, that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate. Really, this is a cultural issue. You want people to have a sense of “how we do things here,” and to be ready to share and document best practices that others can follow. This is more of a playbook approach than a “death by paperwork” approach.

Some companies make process more of a compliance issue; that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about checking to see how your organization can improve by asking people – and particularly new people – about what areas they need more explanation and support on in order to do a good job.

I’ve noticed something interesting about this. If you say, “Make sure you have a good playbook,” as opposed to “Make sure you have a process,” most people will buy into the idea of a playbook. They leap at the chance to capitalize on existing best practices and not have to figure out everything on their own.


The next P is Performetrics. I like the term. Why is this so critically important?

When it comes to execution in all the different parts of the business, you need to have a view into what is both important and measurable. That’s true at the organizational scale, where you track the right KPIs to see how the business as a whole is doing, and it’s true at the individual scale, where you aim to give people a performance metric they have personal control over that connects to their own personal performance target.

The various parts of your plan should all have metrics that allow you to determine whether you are on track – and, if you’re not, that provide the right type of data so you and your team can determine what needs to happen next. The keys are to check often, to adjust, and to share what you’ve learned about how you’re doing with the rest of the team.

Give people a clear sense of WHY a given metric is important, both on the personal level and on the team level. Once people understand what is important, and why it makes sense to measure that, they’re more likely to be engaged, and they’re more likely to succeed.


“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson


Passion. That’s the last P. How do the best leaders ensure that everyone shares it?

Dave MattsonTo sustain passion throughout the organization, the leader needs to have a deep personal conviction that the path the organization follows truly is the right path — and needs to be comfortable sharing exactly why that is so — in terms that will resonate with others. The leader must be prepared to continually communicate where the company is going and why.

The leader needs to be congruent – meaning the words the leader uses in the workplace and the actions undertaken within the working relationships always need to match up.

The leader also has to be willing to give coaching and support to emerging leaders, because developing people is a critical organizational priority.

If those pieces are in place, and if the leader is willing to commit to the 6 P’s process on a continuous basis, then the leader’s passion for the plan will become contagious.


For more information, see THE ROAD TO EXCELLENCE: 6 Leadership Strategies To Build A Bulletproof Business.



This article is copyrighted by Skip Prichard, republishing is not permitted. Please share, but don’t repost in its entirety.

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SJSU Seeks Self-Nominations for Blockchain Technology Forum


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The San Jose State University (SJSU) School of Information (iSchool) has received an IMLS grant to investigate ways that blockchain technology can be used by libraries as a community anchor to partner with other organizations and to support city/community goals. Some suggestions for blockchain applications in libraries include building an enhanced metadata center, protecting Digital First Sale rights, supporting community-based collections, facilitating partnerships across organizations, and more.

The year-long project will provide three opportunities for a national dialog among technical experts in libraries, blockchain technology, and urban planning and members of the information professions to discuss ways that blockchain technology can advance library services to support city/community goals.

  1. The project website and blog includes information and resources about blockchain technology, potential uses of blockchain technology by libraries, and project updates along with a blog to foster open dialog.
  2. The National Forum scheduled for August 6, 2018, in San Jose, California, will be comprised of 20-30 technical experts in libraries, blockchain technology, and urban planning to identify and discuss key opportunities for libraries to serve as community anchors using blockchain technology.
  3. The Library 2.018 conference, Blockchain Applied: Impact on the Information Profession, is designed for presentations and discussion on the uses of blockchain technology in libraries. Registration in this open online conference is free to the profession and public. Scheduled on June 7, 2018, the call for proposals is located on the conference website.

SJSU is seeking nominations of individuals to represent professional associations (including ACRL) and information organizations by participating in the upcoming National Forum. Funding provided by IMLS is available to support most of the expenses (travel, lodging, meals) for invited participants. ACRL encourages interested members to self-nominate to participate in the forum.

Nominations (including self-nominations) are due online by February 15, 2018. Nominees should be knowledgeable about blockchain technology and libraries in order to have an impact on the recommendations that will be made and discussed during the Library 2.018 conference and National Forum.

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How to write an effective diversity statement as a job candidate (opinion)


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Tanya Golash-Boza wrote a wonderful essay for Inside Higher Ed in 2016 that discussed eight tips on writing an effective diversity statement. At the University of California, Riverside, this statement is known as the “Statement of Contributions to Diversity” and is described as a “Statement addressing past and/or potential contributions to diversity through teaching, research, professional activity and/or service.” In this essay, I want to provide an additional point of view.

The first step in demystifying a diversity statement is to understand why it matters and why you are being asked to write one. At our university, the diversity statement is just one way to show a commitment to inclusive excellence. It is also your chance as an applicant to show how you can help achieve this goal and be part of our diverse and thriving community. That is, the point of the statement is to show what you will bring to the university in terms of diversity and inclusive excellence.

What does this mean? If you are underrepresented in a particular way, you can, of course, detail it in the statement. But since we cannot legally take into account an individual’s protected characteristics, saying that you are a diverse scholar because of one or any combination of these characteristics will not suffice and, again, that is not the point of the statement. Instead, you, like each and every other applicant, should show, not tell, that you have a commitment to diversity through your research, teaching and service — the three areas that you are evaluated on throughout your academic career.

Research. What is diversity research? As a former National Center for Institutional Diversity postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, I appreciate and support its approach, which is not limited to particular methodologies, theoretical perspectives or disciplines. Instead, quoting directly from NCID’s “Statement on Diversity Research and Scholarship,” diversity research aims to:

  • Inform understanding of historical and contemporary issues of social inequality across societal contexts and life domains (e.g., in education, arts and culture, health and mental health, economic and occupational attainment and mobility, infrastructure and community development).
  • Illuminate the challenges and opportunities that arise when individuals from different backgrounds and frames of reference come together in significant societal contexts, such as schools and colleges, neighborhoods and communities, and work teams in organizations.
  • Inform our understanding of systems of power and privilege and their interactions with groups historically underrepresented and marginalized based on identities including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, social/economic class, culture, sexual identity, ability status and religion.
  • Highlight the experiences of disenfranchised populations, whose narratives have traditionally been relegated to the outer periphery of intellectual inquiry and academic scholarship, made invisible through epistemologies and research methods that privilege dominant social groups.
  • Foreground the knowledge systems, assets and resources, and cultural strengths of members of historically marginalized communities in order to promote empowerment of individuals and groups from these communities.

That is, if any of your research speaks to social inequalities, power and/or interactions between different groups, among other things, you should describe that research as part of your statement. Outline how and why your research speaks to those issues, as well as how your research ties in with other diversity-related scholarship, programs and centers across the campus.

Teaching. Teaching is another aspect to highlight in your diversity statement. This is where you can talk about the courses you teach and your pedagogical approach. Do you teach courses on or about diversity topics? Do you use a wide range of learning activities in the classroom and adjust your teaching to the diverse set of needs of your students? Are you mentoring students who represent diversity in some way in your research or in their own work? Show, again don’t tell, how diversity informs your approach to teaching and mentorship. Be sure to include details of accomplishments and how they relate to your commitment to diversity, rather just than a list of courses that you teach.

Service. For many people, especially those who are in underrepresented groups — such as racial/ethnic and sexual minorities and women, among others — commitment to diversity is seen through our service. That is where you describe the kinds of academic, professional and community service you have engaged in, which means showing your commitment beyond a CV-like listing of positions you’ve held or dates of service. You should discuss how and why you are involved in particular types of service and what you’ve accomplished in doing so. Have you mentored underrepresented undergraduates who have applied and gotten into graduate school? Detail that here. Do you serve a leadership position in an organization? Describe what you’ve done in that position and how that reflects your commitment to diversity.

As you describe one, or all three, of the research, teaching and service triad in your statement, be sure to link to opportunities at the place where you are applying. For example, if you’ve previously served as a Mellon Mays mentor, and the university to which you are applying has a Mellon Mays program, be sure to include that connection. The same goes if you work on gender and sexuality studies and the university has a center, department or program in that field — even if you are not applying to it in particular (for example, if you are applying to a discipline-specific non-gender and sexuality studies department).

Also be aware of how your own life has been shaped by the various academic and social positions you occupy. Are you a first-generation college student, and as such, committed to mentoring such students and being involved in a first-gen program? Does your family background or life experience shape the perspectives that you bring to your research? Here is where you can discuss your own experiences in the statement. But the key is this: you should always discuss those experiences in the context of making them connect to your commitment to diversity in research, teaching and service — and what you will bring, and how you will contribute, to the broader university.

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21 Quotes to Kick Off Your New Year


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new year quotes

Kick Off the New Year!

I love to step outside and watch the first rays of the sun early in the morning. There’s something about the newness of the day that gives me energy.

Whether the smell of a new car or the ref’s whistle signaling the start of a game, I love beginnings.

The new year is full of hope and opportunity.

Here are some quotes to inspire your new year. To your success!


“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” –Abraham Lincoln
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“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” –Helen Keller
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“Success is something you attract by the person you become.” –Jim Rohn
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“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” –G.K. Chesterton
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“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.” –T.S. Eliot
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