23 December 2022

Vulnerability, leadership & a mixtape

I had a great 2022. At work, that is. 

We successfully migrated to a new library services platform, completing this project on time and on budget, and winning a VC's Award for Professional Staff Excellence in the Innovation category along the way. We also completed a long project to provide our creative arts researchers with a second repository for showcasing their work. We were part of the university-wide effort to implement a new learning management system. We sought funding to digitise our legacy print theses and to implement a new archives platform next year, in order to support the University's upcoming 50th anniversary, and were successful on both counts. Some team members resigned to take up great new career opportunities and in turn we recruited some lovely new colleagues. It was busy, I said when asked, but good busy, like things were finally moving forward after two years of feeling like we were running all the time but not really getting anywhere.

Outside of work, things weren't so great. 

My year started with a cancelled 50th birthday party, due to the first Omicron wave. I hadn't had a big party since I was 21 and had been really looking forward to this. As it turned out, cancelling was definitely the right decision, as I tested positive two days after my birthday. My Covid experience was not too bad, until about Day 11 when I ended up in emergency with a low heartbeat and even lower than usual blood pressure. They monitored me for six hours, said I was fine and sent me home. Six months later, I still had 10% less lung function than pre-Covid and an increasing amount of rage an disappointments at the lack of care our governments and many community members seemed to have about it all. 

The second half of the year brought more lowlights. A family's member death from pancreatic cancer (and the aftermath). A painful shoulder injury. A week after finishing physio for the shoulder injury, an ankle injury - caused by, as I classified it in the health and safety report, "psychosocial factors", subcategory "distraction, lack of attention". Six weeks of skin cancer treatment for the latest of many BCCs. Another death from breast cancer of another extended family member. Another terminal diagnosis for another extended family member... It's just been one thing after another. 


Rumbling with Vulnerability: 4.6/10

Rumbling with vulnerability is a growth area for you. Vulnerability is the foundation for the other skill areas, so we suggest focusing your growth efforts here first.

Vulnerability is the emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk,and emotional exposure. It’s having the courage to show up, fully engage, and beseen when you can’t control the outcome.

[Excerpt of my results from the Daring Leadership Assessment, completed this year as part of an internal series of workshops with our library leadership team. Not a great surprise.]


Our recent end-of-year Library celebration had the theme of Music. It included an album cover competition (hiliarious - librarians should really not be allowed anywhere near photo editing software when there's a theme), music trivia, team presentations and optional dress-ups. I went 90s with a Breeders' Cannonball T-shirt, cut-off jeans shorts, tights and Doc Martens. Others came in all their New Romantic, rock 'n' roll, roadie, band T-shirt, and disco glory. There was a Freddie Mercury and a spectacular spangly flared jumpsuit. There were giant scones (and other food, but the giant scones were most memorable). It was a really fun morning, the first time since 2019 that so many of us had gotten together in person from across our five campuses. 

Each member of our management team got three minutes to do whatever we wanted by way of a wrap-up of the year. My photoshop skills were not up the high standard of the album cover competition, so I went with an old school mix-tape (in the more modern form of a playlist) that captured the vibe of the year. 

My single Powerpoint slide contained this image: 

The night before I jotted down a few notes in an email to myself: 

back in the 80s, when some of you weren't born yet but i was a teenager, the most up to date music technology was the audio cassette

making a mix tape for someone was a project that could take you days or weeks. you couldn't just click the instant "add to playlist button" and then move tracks around later. you had to carefully select songs, work out what order you wanted them in, use your double cassette ghetto blaster to dub from one cassette to the other. sometimes you stayed up all night waiting for a song to come on the radio so that you could record it. and then when your tape was finished you'd carefully hand-write out a tracklist and if you were arty (which I'm not) you might even do your own cover art. 

it was a real labour of love and you only did it for people that you cared about. 

i've made a mixed tape for today, but of course since it's 2022 and my last cassette player was a Sony Walkman that would have died 30 years ago, I've had to create this as a YouTube playlist! 

like all good mix tapes, it's got some dancefloor fillers and some head bangers and some more introspective moments. i'm not going to go through each track individually but I've picked them all because for me they captured something of the 2022 vibe that I wanted to share. 

it's been a year with a lot of achievements and we are here today to celebrate that

but it has also been a difficult year for me and i know it has been for many others too. there are songs on my mix tape for you that are about staring change down and meeting the challenges that we are faced with.

there are also songs about not having to face things on your own - we can't all be as awesome as pat benatar! 

my big takeaway from this year is that it is OK, in fact it's essential, to ask for help

i am usually a pretty resilient and optimistic person but this year really broke me a few times. i've had to ask for help this year to deal with personal and professional challenges and it's always been forthcoming. many times i didn't even have to ask for it - it was offered before i even knew i needed it. 

it really means a lot to me to work in a place where people genuinely look out for each other, and i hope that you'll all agree that is as worth celebrating as all our other activities and achievements.

Well, that is what I would have said, had I not burst into tears in front of dozens of my colleagues in a lecture theatre about a third of the way through what I was trying to say. 

I took a few moments, tried to keep going, couldn't, stopped again. My boss who was at the side of the stage came over and gave me a pat on the back and eventually I managed to bumble through to the end. Another colleague took my place on the podium and that, I thought, was that. 

Except that it wasn't. In the following days a few colleagues messaged me to see if I was OK and to say they'd had a hard year too. Others that knew me well said they were proud to see me present such an honest view of how I was really feeling instead of bottling things up. Someone from another team came up to me a couple of days later and said they'd really wanted to give me a hug when they saw me crying. I said hugs were always welcome, and accepted one gratefully. 

The more I have thought about this, the more I have realised that moment was really important and I shouldn't just forget about it. It shows me how much I have changed as a person and as a leader. Three years ago I would have been mortified and beating myself up thinking I'd embarrassed myself in front of all my colleagues. But now, after the past three years? I'm not too bothered that people I work with have seen that side of me. If they didn't know it before, they now know that managers are human beings too, with all our own feelings and issues. I knew that I was in a safe space with all my amazing and supportive colleagues, and that overwhelmed me. In a good way. 

Happy 2023, everyone. I hope it's a better year for all of us. And as for you, 2022 - get in the bin. I'm so done with you.