During my time as a Bush Fellow I've gathered a handful of helpful metaphors for leadership that remind me of what I'm called to do. I've written previously about comparing leadership to being a gardener, or a hiking guide. Lately, I've started seeing community leaders as librarians. One of the biggest things the Bush Fellowship has taught me is that leadership is about almost constantly reaching out and asking for help. No one person has all the skills, experience, wisdom, or capacity to lead in a vacuum--we can and should be able to look outside of ourselves for the resources to supplement the gaps in our knowledge. So, in the same way, a librarian doesn't hold in their mind all the knowledge of an entire library, but they will have access to systems they can use to find where a piece of knowledge is kept. Sometimes a librarian will be the person you ask to find a book when you already know the title and the author's name, but librarians can also be the people you go to when you have a general question about the world, or even when you know you need a particular tax form or a connection to a health insurance navigator! In my own experience as a leader, I've found that seeing myself as a librarian--as someone who can help you find the information and help you need, rather than as someone who always produces the solution out of thin air--feels both more realistic and more sustainable. Of course, as leaders we are called to put forward new solutions and to innovate, but trying to gin things up out of your own store of energy isn't something you can do every single day. It's hard to acknowledge most of the time, but each person is a finite resource, and if we're in a situation of constant output without any restoration procedures in place, we eventually run out of energy, passion, and good health. Like a well or a field, we need rest and input to be able to continue providing resources for others.
My focus on my own leadership and on building self-care practices through this fellowship has meant trying to figure out when to flip the switch from "output" to "restoration"--and sometimes, how to do both at the same time. It's meant realizing that rather than just being the librarian for my community and reaching out for help for them, I also have the ability and the responsibility to reach out for help for myself. In the past few months I've connected with a spiritual director, an advisor on interpersonal conflict, and a fundraising consultant, alongside the therapist and the professional development coach I began seeing at the beginning of my fellowship. Having these people in my corner has meant that when I feel overwhelmed by a project or a request from my community, instead of getting stuck and feeling guilty for not always knowing the best course of action I can now pivot to thinking, "Who might be able to help me with this?" It also means that rather than just reacting to situations as they arise I can actively plan for the future. Of course I still can't read the future, and I'm still surprised by needs I didn't anticipate, but with more eyes on a problem other people can help me see what doesn't seem obvious from my perspective. And looking for help as a leader doesn't just mean asking for assistance from those outside your community--it also means being honest about your boundaries and your limits with the people you trust within your community. I've worked hard over the summer to train in a small leadership cohort within our organization, for instance, who are librarians in their own right, and who take some of the pressure of me and the other people on staff. I always try to remember that leadership is something that you pass from person to person, and not a title to be held forever.
I can't believe that I only have six months of this fellowship left. The world is in many ways a totally different place than it was when I started, and the plan I set out in the beginning was refigured several times as I tried to respond to that movement. Flexibility has been the word of the year for many of us, and I look forward to seeing what metaphor for leadership comes up for me next as I continue to move with these winds of change.