Column Description: This column is an eclectic exploration of leadership. It acknowledges that leaders and the lessons we can learn from them can be found in the most unlikely places.

What if the next time you were asked to make a difficult decision, you acted as though you were completely new to this library thing?

Hear me out.

It’s so easy to say no. The more experience you have, the easier it is for "no" to be a default position. It’s easy to remember a past failure and decide you will never again try a certain approach. It’s easy to listen to the first few words of a request and tune it out with a loud, giant, internal NO.


Well, how much more challenging is it to turn off that inner voice, and all of your experience, and just listen? It is hard to be receptive. It is hard to clear your mind and be open to the possibility of YES.

You may not always be able to choose yes, but yes should always be on the table.

When I think about listening and opening myself up to yes, I think about the concept of a beginner’s mind, which comes from Zen Buddhism. The beginner’s mind is receptive. The beginner’s mind is open to new ideas. The beginner’s mind does not have preconceived notions. The beginner’s mind lives in the present moment. The beginner’s mind listens.

While I am not a Buddhist, I have found this to be a powerful, positive tool. As Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” What a gift it is to our colleagues, our communities, and ourselves to stay open to all of the possibilities.

The next time someone approaches you with a request and you feel a no coming on, how about trying to actively stop that thought? Visualize yourself pushing the no away so you can listen to what is being asked and consider the possibilities.

Will this always work? Of course not. It takes a lifetime of experience and lots of failures to cultivate a quiet, present, receptive mind. Why not start now?

Elizabeth Olesh has served as Director of the Baldwin Public Library since 2014. She holds a B.A. in English from Columbia and a second B.A. in Fine Arts / Photography from Empire State College, as well as an MLS from Queens College, CUNY and an Executive MPA from Baruch College. When she isn’t getting degrees or working, Elizabeth enjoys staring deeply into her dog’s eyes, working out, drinking coffee, watching movies, and reading - often all at the same time. She is a fan of Disney trips, napping, and the Oxford comma.