043: Alison Circle: I have to get over myself
Alison Circle Show Notes
Alison Circle received the results from an organizational climate survey that revealed some devastating results. Finally learning to get over herself, Alison realized she needed to balance what she needed to get done with what people were asking of her. Listen to Alison tell her story of how she prevented undermining her own success.
Alison Circle came from hard-working American stock that has been in the U.S. for 3 centuries. She is proud to come from a family of patriots who have fought in every war since the American Revolution.
Alison is a student of history because it lets her keep perspective about what is happening today. Especially with a sometimes crazy media, may lead us to believe we live in the worst of times. We don’t. As the playwright August Wilson said, “If you don’t know where you came from how do you know you’ve earned their sacrifice?”
Deep in her bones Alison believes in the quote: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” She feels she’s been given so much that it would be unconscionable not to build opportunities for others.
Every day Alison goes to work knowing that she has the best job in the world and she takes the responsibility seriously and gives it all she can.
Alison is the Chief Customer Experience Officer for Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), and in 2010 her work was recognized with the Library Journal’s Library of the Year and in 2011 she was named a “Mover & Shaker.”
Alison lives in Columbus, Ohio. Six blocks from my sister. She believe in the human connection to geography; living in Ohio I feel a powerful connection to the impact of the Ice Age.
She shares her home with her husband Riccardo and has daughter Sophia that attends The Ohio State University. Alison says, “Just thinking about her brings a smile to my face.”
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
“Hoping that they have confidence in me is not what’s going to make that happen.” Click to Tweet
“I have had to lead with great humility.” Click to Tweet
“If I didn’t have a great team beneath me, I wouldn’t have credibility.” Click to Tweet
“I have had to adapt to the culture instead of expecting the culture to adapting to me.” Click to Tweet
“We hold ourselves back from making it better because we can’t think we can.” Click to Tweet
“How do we make it happen, instead of I can’t do that.” Click to Tweet
“Let’s start from the standpoint that the answer is…YES.” Click to Tweet
“Seek first to understand.” Click to Tweet
“Our frontline needs to see and touch me in this role; it’s the role, not me.” Click to Tweet
“I’ve got to learn to balance what I have to get done and what people are asking of me.” Click to Tweet
“If I am not touching people in the way they need…it’s going to undermine my success.” Click to Tweet
“I can’t be independent and be successful.” Click to Tweet
“The higher up you go, the less independent you can be.” Click to Tweet
“I have had to flatten out myself in terms of how I go about doing things.” Click to Tweet
“What are you doing to contribute to the lack of performance in your people?” Click to Tweet
“Lead with your ears, not with your mouth.” Click to Tweet
“Choosing the right words to lead makes all the difference.” Click to Tweet
“As leaders we talk too much…we need to listen more.” Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Alison Circle received the results from an organizational climate survey that revealed some devastating results. Finally learning to get over herself, Alison realized she needed to balance what she needed to get done with what people were asking of her. Listen to Alison tell her story of how she prevented undermining her own success so you can move onward and upward faster.
Advice for others
If I am frustrated by what somebody else is doing or not doing, what am I doing to contribute to that.
Holding her back from being an even better leader
Too much work to do. I need to prioritize better.
Best Leadership Advice Received
Lead with your ears and not your mouth.
Secret to Success
I’m infatigable. I have so much energy and I give it my all.
Best tools that helps in business or Life
Write everything down and choosing the right words to lead.
email: acircle [at] columbuslibrary.org
54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.Click to access edited transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.
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Jim Rembach: Okay, Fast Leader Legion you are going to have some really excitement about this particular episode because it’s going to challenge what you’re traditional thought has been about government work and leadership. We have somebody on the show today who is getting things done for the better of her community, as well as her city, state, and the entire country. Her name is Alison Circle. Allison came from hard-working Americans stock that has been in the US for three centuries. She is proud to come from a family of patriots who had fought in every war since the American Revolution. Allison is a student of history because it lets her keep perspective about what’s happening today especially with the sometimes crazy media which may lead us to believe that we live in the worst times, we don’t.
As a playwright August Wilson said, “If you don’t know where you came from how you know you’ve earned their sacrifice.” Deep in her bones Allison believes in the quote, “To whom much is given much is expected” she feels she’s been given so much that it would be unconscionable not to build opportunities for others. Every day Allison goes work knowing that she has the best job on the world and takes that responsibility seriously and gives it all she can. Allison is the chief customer experience officer for Columbus Metropolitan Library, and in 2010 her work was recognized with the Library Journals Library of the year and in 2011 she was named a mover and shaker.
Allison lives in Columbus, Ohio six blocks from her sister. She believes in the human connection to geography and living in Ohio she feels a powerful connection to the impact of the Ice Age. She shares her home with her husband Ricardo and has a daughter Sophia that attends the Ohio State University. Allison says just thinking about her brings a smile to her face. Alison Circle are you ready to help us get over the hump?
Alison Circle: I am really ready.
Jim Rembach: Alright. I’ve given our listeners a brief introduction about you, but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you better?
Alison Circle: Well, my current passion is around design and innovation. I’m responsible for the recreation of a 21st-century library here in Columbus and I have the incredible opportunity and privilege of leading that from a design innovation standpoint and it gets me out bed every day at 4:30 and I’m at work at 6:30 & 7:00 it gets me going all they long.
For me I’ve been part of different committees, boards as well as being employed by certain organizations that it’s just is so challenging to get things to be done differently. And when you say innovation there’s this whole change management, organizational psychology, all these things associated with it and it takes so much knowledge, skill, and energy in order to be able to make an impact, how are you getting this things done?
Alison Circle: Jim, there’s one important word that you omitted in that list and it is patience. Cause I’m by nature not a very patient person. My mother used to laugh at me when we go to the store as children and I’ll be out of the car in the store, bought everything as she and my sister were just getting out of the car, and I’m like, “Come on lets go.” As we talked about leadership and getting over the hump, I think the hardest thing for me has been to slowdown. The classic case of view ** ahead and you look behind and there’s nobody there behind you, I’ve got to be very careful about that.
So, one of my struggles is how to balance pace, timelines, the pressures of getting it done with making sure that I bring my people along with me and provide clarity and consistency in what we’re trying to do. Because I can talk with my hands as much as possible and ideate all day long. But if I found anybody who believes it, who can deliver on it, I got nothing, so I have to be really mindful of that.
Jim Rembach: I would also dare to say that have been quite accustom and familiar with working with smaller groups and when you had taken on this particular role, my assumption is that kind of change—and you also had several constituents that you had to now be mindful of and try to get not just behind you but also to support you and push you forward, if you are to think about all of those things that you’ve been able to touch which one presented you with the most humps to get over?
Alison Circle: I am leading an institution that is 137 years old. I am first person to lead the librarians who is not a librarian. So, you take this iconic, traditional, I guess I would not say traditional because librarians are also always trying to think ahead, but it’s a profession and to place someone at top that profession who doesn’t have that expertise is a challenge.
It’s a challenge to sell the value that I bring, it’s a challenge to win people’s confidence and my hoping that they have that confidence is not what’s going to make it happen, and so I’ve had to lead with great humility and listening, problem solving with people because that’s what I can do for them, I can’t tell them how to be a better librarian. I have direct reports who oversee them, who are all professional librarians, and they do a masterful job. So, it’s a marriage of their skills with my design, creativity, execution ability, problem solving ability that has really made this work. Because if I didn’t have a great team underneath me I wouldn’t have the credibility, so, that’s been one of the biggest hump.
And also I was an internal hire and I had been the marketing director before, I had come at the time when marketing was done by librarians and I came in bringing a professional expertise and a discipline, and that was hard for people.
I must say overall in my ten years, this organization’s been patient with me as I have had to learn how to adapt myself to the culture instead of expecting the culture to adapt to me that makes sense. I came from a global brand agency where the pace, as you might expect, where the expectations were enormous and we had to deliver, that’s the bottom line, and then coming in to an organization that is very democratic, everybody feels right to a voice, and I didn’t know that, and that was a big learning development for myself.
Jim Rembach: There’s many things as you were talking that stood out to me, and that whole adaptability, flexibility, collaborative aspects being able to slowdown in order to be able to speed up. And one of the things that we focus on the show are leadership quotes because I am certain as you are going through all of what you’ve gone through to have start seeing some success it required a whole lot of that energy that you are blessed with to have naturally but you still needed that inspiration, is there a quote tor two that stands out for you that gives you that extra jolt of energy?
Alison Circle: I was thinking about that question. And I’m going to answer that in two different ways. One is what lesson of quote is standing on the foundation of great role models that my parents provided for me. And to keep a clear-sighted vision on what’s important to get myself out of the way and to listen at what’s going on. But I was thinking about something—a quote that I found that is inspiring that I just read. I’m a big student of the creative process, so I love reading about composers and artist and writers, and I was just reading a book by John Lar who is Bert Lahr’s son who was the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz. John Lahr was a theatre critic for The New Yorker for 25 years. One of my favorite playwright is August Wilson who wrote this magisterial cycle of the African-American life through the decades from the last century. And he was talking about writing a play and saying, “Oh, I just got to make this play better, but how am I going to do that?” And he said to himself, “I can always make it worst, why can make it better?” and I thought, “Isn’t interesting that we hold ourselves back from making it better because we can’t think we can do that. We sure do think we can make it worst, so why couldn’t we think we can make it better?” I think that level of optimism, and that can do spirit of I can plough through and I can figure it out, that is the quote that drives me forward.
Jim Rembach: For me there’s two things that stood out when you were explaining, and first of all thanks for sharing it, is that mindset—we talk a lot about mindset and getting your mind, and then choice. Oftentimes we make the choice on what you were just talking about whether our choice is to focus in on, “Well, I can’t do that.” Or more so, “How can I do that?”
Alison Circle: One of the things we’re working on here as part of a customer experience strategy is how do we make the answer, yes. If we think this is the right thing to do, how do we make it happen? Instead of, “Oh, man I can’t do that, and I can’t do that we’re going to have—okay, that’s all true but let’s start for the same point that the answer is yes. Now, let’s backfill and figure how it get there.
Jim Rembach: Thinking about the other side of that, oftentimes we rear the ugly head of the world policy. It’s too easy to fall back on, policy. I’ll be transparent, I was removed as a customer because somebody threw out the word policy, and for me, I said, “Well, if that’s what you’re going to fall back on then there’s nothing more to talk about.”
Alison Circle: Right. Here’s my example, I was talking to one of our managers—a great manager, lovely person, positive, I’m standing there and a customer comes in and she has a book and she said, “Hey, I drove down here today, I check out this book, I already had the book I lost the book that I checked out I haven’t even opened the book that I bought because I forgot I bought it, can I give this to you? The first word out of that manager’s mouth was, “No.” and I thought, “Gosh, this lady drove down here how about—Gosh! Thank you so much, let’s make this right for you.” I mean it’s that subtlety of how do you make the experience a yes instead of automatically go to no, because of what you just said the whole idea of what the policy is, I can’t do that. But at least, act like the policy is not between my interaction between you and me.
Jim Rembach: That’s a great point. As you were even talking, I start reminding myself of just an interaction I had with my 12 year daughter and along those same lines. The first response was, no, and then she was giving me really something that aligns with what I was saying, and I’m like, “Why did you say no to begin with.” It’s a habit, it’s just a habit” and I think we have to be mindful of that and say okay, that is not a habit that going to permit or allow or enable us to be able to find a way to get a yes.
Alison Circle: Well, and more on that too is, I think about a quote is that perfect one is seek first to understand. What are you trying to tell me? And when people ask me questions or say something, what are they really telling me? And trying to understand what is driving the question. I did this all the time and you probably do this where you’ve say, “Oh, do you know when such & such is…instead of saying, I need to do X and I’m going to need Y for that. Does that jive with what the question is, I just ask? We’re not very directing clear on how we get the information that we need. I work really hard in trying to be clear and concise about what I’m asking of people.
Jim Rembach: That’s a very good point. There’s so many things that I am sure contributed to you being able to not only essentially fill the job responsibilities and role that you have right now but then also thrive at it because you have received a lot of recognition for the accomplishments that the library system has had. And I know as you just explain that it’s been a collaborative effort and a team effort and you’re the instigator in regards to all of that. Was there a hump helped you to meet the challenges that you have today and also you’re going to meet tomorrow that defined a better path for you, can you share for us?
Alison Circle: We had an organizational climate survey a couple of years ago and it was devastating honestly it was not positive about upper management. We are stretched really thin right now and I had to understand that I can be as busy as I think I need to do but because of who we are our frontline people need to see and touch me as I embodied this role. It’s not me Allison Circle but it’s this role, there needs to be much greater touching and I can be impatient with that as I want it’s not going away.
I think the thing I’ve had to learn as a leader, I’m a middle child so I’m pretty much about making everybody happy, but I have to realize that I’ve got to learn to balance when I got it I have to get it done and what people are asking of me. And it gets back to that same thing, “What are people really asking me?” And if our staff keep saying, “We need you to come out and talk to us, I have to get over myself and realize, “I may have this [16:28 inaudible] list over here” But if I am not touching people in a way they need to be touched it’s going to undermine my success. I’m also an extremely independent person, the thing I’ve have to learn the hardest is I can’t be independent and be successful. That’s actually the theme to all the things I’ve talked to you about it here, I can’t just go off and do something, like anybody who’s in the kind of role I am, we could probably do it and get it done at half the time It’ll even takes to explain it to somebody but you just have to understand that the higher up you go, the less independent you can be.
Jim Rembach: That’s a really good point. I would dare to say if you even feel that back a little bit is that our inability to do such that can permit us from moving up.
Alison Circle: That’s exactly right. In looking at the questions you’ve given me ahead of time and reflecting on my journey to this role it has been less myself as this independent force, the only way I could think about is less vertical and more horizontal. That I’ve had to flatten out myself in terms of how I go about doing things instead of this vertical—I’m a soldier in the field when I’m going off and doing it. Does that makes sense?
Jim Rembach: Absolutely, it absolutely does. If you were to talk about getting over that hump and all of the learnings that you’ve had in order to affect and impact that survey result, if you were to give our Fast Leader Legion one piece of advice, what would it be?
Alison Circle: Here’s what I struggled with every day, if I’m frustrated by what somebody is doing or not doing, what am I doing to contribute to that? It’s not what is that person doing wrong, where have I lacked clarity? Where have I not held that person accountable? As a leader that is your responsibility. I was on the drive yesterday and talking to my management consultant, who is my husband now, I was frustrated about something. And he’s always so matter of fact about he said, “People process in tools so do the people understand, so we’ll do the people understand what is expected of them. Yeah, sure they do, blah, blah, blah. And he said, “Has it been written down, documented, do they understand it, do you know they understand it?” so you got to start there. To me the advice is, what you are doing to contribute to the lack of performance in your people, because that’s where it comes.
Jim Rembach: I think we can also carry that into our personal lives as well.
Alison Circle: No, I’m always right. [Laugh]
Jim Rembach: I know for you, when you start talking about this energy, when you start talking about the recognition that you have been receiving as part of the work that you been doing and the transition in the ideation and the innovation, so many things that are going on for you and all the things that you have in your plate, if you were to talk about the goals that you have for the future, what would they be?
Alison Circle: My professional goal is that we deliver extraordinary opportunities for the people in my community. I am so gratified that the first library we built was in a very depressed neighborhood, there had been no new development in that area in a generation. We had no children, we had people with their head down, no interaction, and today we have meeting rooms and meeting room usage that has gone up 350%.
Our children flood the space, our circulation of children’s book outpace is our top category, we have 160% increase in circulation on kid’s books. What that saying to me is, we’re giving that community hope, that community feel people care about them, that they’re valued and we’re giving them a path to success. As we do this other buildings again umping that up and delivering opportunity to this community. On a personal level, I’d say it’s to continue to feel—what I have is kind of insatiable need for creativity, design and innovation and that always to me expressed through language, arts, music, design, and how can we constantly reinvent that.
Jim Rembach: The Fast Leader Legion wishes you the very best. Before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.
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Alright here we go Fast Leader Legion it’s time for the—Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Allison the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster, Allison Circle, are you ready to hoedown?
Alison Circle: I’m yee-hoe ready to hoedown.
Jim Rembach: What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?
Alison Circle: Too much work to do. I’ve got to learn to prioritize better.
Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you have received?
Alison Circle: Lead with your ears not with your mouth.
Jim Rembach: What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Alison Circle: I’m indefatigable.
Jim Rembach: Say that one more time.
Alison Circle: I’m indefatigable. I have so much energy. I get up in the morning. I work 12-14 hour a day. I give it my all, I’m positive, happy and in the end I’m a well-adjusted person.
Jim Rembach: What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?
Alison Circle: It’s really important to write everything down. I’m a big believer that words really matter, choosing the right words to lead makes all the difference.
Jim Rembach: What would be one book that you’d recommend to our listeners, doesn’t have to be business book?
Alison Circle: I’ll tell you what I just finished, last night I read, Building Art, which is the biography of Frank Gehry. The reason I suggest that is it talks about constantly looking at thing with a different eye and figuring out how to solve problems in an imaginative way.
Jim Rembach: I think that’s a great choice. Okay Fast Leader listeners, you can find links and other bonus information from today’s show by going to fastleader.net/Allison Circle. Okay, Allison this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you have been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything you can only choose one, so what skill work or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?
Alison Circle: I would say stop talking. I think as leaders we talk too much. And even in our personal lives we talk too much, we need to listen more and really hear what the people are telling us.
Jim Rembach: Allison it was an honor to spend time with you today, can you please share with the Fast Leader listeners how they can connect with you.
Alison Circle: I would love to, I love to hear from anyone about this and thank you again for having me today. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Rembach: Allison Circle, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom, the Fast Leader legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot! Woot!
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.
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