Leadership for librarians

Yesterday, I attending ‘Leadership for Librarians’ a training workshop presented by Andy Priestner at the University of Kent, part of CILIP in Kent’s programme of events.

We started with the easy bit: thinking about absence of leadership (i.e. bad leaders). Sadly, examples of these came to mind quite easily for all of us! Then we thought about great leaders – I chose my cardiologist because she is ace, and we recognised that leaders are not only people in positions of authority.

The key to successful leadership today is influence not authority. – Ken Blanchard

I’ve seen this truth borne out plenty of time during my working life – library assistants often make the best leaders! This quotation was also the one I identified with most of those that were stuck on the seminar room wall (one of our tasks was to guess who said each quotation).  As I suspected:

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else through hard work. That’s the price we have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal. – Vince Lombardi

We then went on to look at the differences between managers and leaders, and had to try and identify attributes of management and attributes of leadership. This was harder than I expected and led to some interesting team displays of team dynamics!

Management is doing thing right, leadership is doing the right things. – Peter F. Drucker

We followed this up by asking the (obviously rhetorical) question:

Do libraries need leaders?

Of course! Not least because there are many specific leadership challenges facing libraries, e.g.:

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And not so many (good) leaders – at least in the experience of those in the room. We talked a bit about why this might be. Various reasons were given, such as the natural temperament of librarians (which I personally think should be, err…shelved as an idea in 2016. We are way past that). I think partly it’s because we have a lot of managers who have come up through libraries and been promoted to management positions without having the qualities really necessary to be good leaders. They may (or may not) be good managers, but leadership is a different kettle of fish. It’s interesting that nowadays a lot of library leaders have come in without a library background – you don’t need library experience (or indeed a library qualification) to be a good leader. Leadership is more transferable across fields, whereas managers probably will need more specialised knowledge of their working areas.

Then we took a good hard look at ourselves though the medium of post-it notes.

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By Photoforia via Flickr

It turns out I value my family more than I thought I did. Which sounds wrong. I suppose it wasn’t really all that surprising – I’m always longing for home, whatever form that might take – literal or otherwise. I like the German concept of Heimat, for which there is no English equivalent, although for me it is most poignant in it not being its opposite – alienation, and it’s not to do with geography or nationalism in my case; more wanting to be a Hobbit.

To finish the morning off we looked at what qualities we respect most in leaders – time for more post-its!

We followed this with a discussion about leadership styles (including our own) – authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire (there are others). I scored most highly for democratic – I’m not sure if this is because I value other people’s opinions or because I can’t make decisions on my own (probably both). We talked a bit about situational leadership, which sounds like a good idea – having the most appropriate leadership style for the situation you’re in at the time. As we said, people have a tendency to want to label themselves, but it may not always be appropriate (or true) to say (e.g.) ‘I am an authoritarian leader’ because we’re probably not just one thing all the time, and if we are this is likely to be a mistake because we need to be sensitive to situations and respond appropriately.

After lunch (I think), we watched this video:

Not all of it, I hasten to add. Six minutes was more than enough for me. I totally got the concept, but I found Mr Sinek a bit irritating. To save you watching the video, the idea behind starting with why is that instead of telling people what and how you do things (like we tend to do a lot in libraries) we should instead tell people why we do them – this way they are more likely to engage with us and our services. The reason this works is because ‘the why’ speaks to our emotions, rather than our reason….as demonstrated by our next example of leadership…

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By Findntake via Flickr

In case you’re interested, @andytraining thinks Steve Jobs’ leadership style was a mixture of charismatic, autocratic and transformational. I’m sure Steve was a great leader, but I have a bit of a problem with him saying all those things he said about how Apple could change the world for the better and then allowing his phones to be made by people working and living in terrible conditions. Anyhow…

Now we were on to the really hard bit, assessing our own leadership (or lack of it). Actually completing the leadership challenge assessment wasn’t too bad, although people like me who are not currently in leadership roles found it harder to score highly because of lack of experience (even though you don’t have to be in a ‘leadership role’ to be a leader). I found that, in line with my democratic leadership style, I am allegedly good at enabling others to act (yay!) not so good at “encouraging the heart” (alas). I used to be better at encouraging people, I think – perhaps I have become more selfish over the years…I found it interesting to think back over my career, such as it is, specifically about how I used to manage people and I think, really, I tried to manage people with love (I know, yuck) which was (fairly obviously to anyone with sense) a mistake – I was an extreme teddy bear and wanted to keep everyone happy all the time, which, amongst other things (including other people’s poor management and leadership), led me to the edge of a nervous breakdown. This might be a form of servant leadership, but I’m not sure I was as selfless as all that. But we must move on….

To the personal leadership development plan. I was feeling quite positive about the day before I filled this in (lucky it was at the end!). I just didn’t know how I could practically do things to meet the leadership challenges I needed to meet. Perhaps I was just tired, but I was also thinking about my performance over the day. I am very concious of how I behave in groups, monitoring myself all the time. This is partly because I have got into trouble before for ‘misbehaving’ (e.g. being too negative) in group settings before and I know I can say things without thinking them through properly and end up sounding/being rude to people or making a fool of myself, or being ‘rebellious’ (which is often frowned upon in the workplace). A lot of workplace stuff makes me quite angry – partly because of my experiences at work (see above) and I do have a tendency towards negativity sometimes. Also, I can get bored quite quickly, which also leads me to ‘misbehave’, I fear. And then there are irritating people whose opinions I feel I must question. And so it goes on. Also (and so) I am very insecure and did I mention socially awkward and anxious?

Anyway, I thought I’d been rude to someone (by accident) so I was thinking ‘oh no, I’ve done it again, everyone’s going to think I’m rude, Andy is going to think I’m rude’, also I felt like I’d talked to much throughout the day and people would think I was overbearing, etc. I used to be so shy I wouldn’t speak in groups so now I think I say a lot because I might miss my chance if I don’t say it RIGHT NOW! I feel that I lack some kind of knowledge/instinct about what is good social behaviour – I may of course have behaved perfectly well all day, but the problem is I don’t think I did. I hate that uncertainty – I’m an adult, I should know these things.

So my filling in of the plan did not go well. I will have to look at it again and see if I can do better when I’m in a more positive frame of mind! However, I am generally feeling positive about leadership and what I could do with it, as it were. We are going through big changes at work at the moment, particularly (so far) in terms of management and leadership culture, so I’m hoping what we learnt on Tuesday will be of help in working through the changes, getting to know our new leaders and seeing how we can also lead within the library. I think, also, we can really use the idea of ‘starting with why’ in our relationships with our users. We need to tell them why we do what we do. Here’s a bit of Andy’s ‘why’ for libraries:

We work in libraries because we passionately believe in uniting people with the information they need when they need it so they can successfully educate themselves and learn more about the world around them…ultimately we are seeking to help you be the best that [you] can be.

Sounds good to me.

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