Sunday, 9 June 2013

5 lessons I learnt at Aurora

Last month I was lucky enough to be able to attend this year's Aurora Institute for Emerging Leaders. I'd heard about Aurora for the first time via ALIA mailing lists back in 2006, and had thought it sounded amazing and challenging. It was something I hoped I would be ready for one day, but each year it was offered I thought, 'maybe next year.'

This year was no different. I saw the call for applications, looked at the website, thought it sounded fantastic, and that maybe I should think about approaching my Director about it-- next year.

Lesson 1: Seize opportunities. Sometimes it's worth taking the next step even if you don't feel completely ready. It's that idea of stepping out of your comfort zone and stretching yourself. If I had waited until I felt completely prepared, I don't know when (or if) I'd have ended up going. Mentors (Aurora Foundation Board members and invited guests), spoke about their careers and passed on what they had learnt from them. A common thread of their talks was that when a new challenge presented itself, they went for it, even if it meant leaving jobs they enjoyed, or moving interstate or overseas.

Fortunately, my Director asked me about Aurora and encouraged me to apply. It was the push I needed to finally put together an application. And it was definitely worth it.

Lesson 2: Think about how you act. And how it affects others. If you are leading, people are looking to you for guidance.

The program is facilitated by Annie and David McCubbin of coup, who use the Human Synergistics Life Styles Inventory tool to develop a picture of how you view your behaviour, and how others see your behaviour. (Thanks to everyone who completed the survey for me, by the way- it's looong, but the feedback was enlightening and extremely useful.) By working out your motivation for acting in certain ways, you can then move to consciously choosing to behave in more constructive ways. David and Annie were brilliant at using their acting skills to demonstrate particular behaviours and bring them to life.

Lesson 3: Fake it until you become it. If you can avoid behaviours which make you seem less confident and capable in stressful situations, your message will be more convincing. It also helps you personally deal with pressure.

All attendees brought details of projects from their workplace. We were asked to pitch the project as we would to our management teams or whoever would normally be responsible for approving or funding the project. Presenting in public is often nerve-wracking, but this time there was the added pressure of knowing the presentation would be evaluated and (eek!) recorded. After being told the expectations of the presentations, we were taught techniques to deal with the pressure, including breathing and centring, and using body language to have an effective presence. Amy Cuddy's TED Talk was referred to, and I highly recommend it. The importance of telling a story to make a presentation more engaging and memorable was also emphasised, and this TED Talk also happens to be a great example of that.

Lesson 4: Find friends and allies. One of the mentors said she thought of it as 'finding friends and allies' rather than networking.

This can be an especially powerful idea in the LIS world, where we may shy away from the stereotype of corporate schmoozing and exchanging business cards without making a real connection. At Aurora there were plenty of opportunities to get to know other participants over group work, meals, and maybe a game of pool. The mentors were also extremely generous with their time, attending and contributing to the sessions, eating with us, and providing excellent advice. I genuinely feel I've made friends and allies at Aurora, rather than simply 'extending my network'.

Lesson 5: Think big. A common theme for the Aurora attendees was that we were focusing on day-to-day operational matters, and letting them distract from more strategic, long term, 'big picture' thinking-- vital for the future of the profession.

But how, when we are all faced with budget cutbacks, restructuring, and the everyday tasks of helping clients and providing a well-run library or information service to our clients? One of the mentors mentioned making your own agenda, including focusing on what only you can do, and getting others to do the rest. I am particularly guilty of letting everyday tasks eat away at my day, so I will be working on this.

Amy Croft

Thank you to the Aurora Foundation, mentors, and fellow attendees. As the program is held under the Chatham House Rule I have not identified individuals. But I have learnt a great deal from all of you.

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