Every Librarian A Leader, But…
There were two comments to my post about this profession needing to do more to develop its future leaders. Intentionally, my post was intended to speak to the need for upper echelon administrators, and the importance of developing our next generation of leaders who will take over those posts. Now perhaps that caused some umbrage among those who see themselves as leaders at their chosen level of service, or I connected with the inner skepticism and general eye-rolling reaction that front liners and middle managers have when someone suggests their administrators are leaders.
Well, like it or not, your library director has a different type of leadership role. Yes, I believe the “every librarian a leader” credo. It’s essential that all staff, professional and support, do their best to take a leadership mentality and apply it to whatever they do. But that’s not quite the same as being in a leadership position where a critical judgment call with enormous cascading consequences for the future, be it immediate or long term, is a regular part of the job. That responsibility lies with your library’s top administrators. That’s not to say those leaders make their decisions in a vacuum. Smart leaders depend on the knowledge, counsel and insight of those who lead from below. That’s the type of leader/administrator to which I referred in my post.
If you need further convincing that there is a difference take a look at some recent research by management experts Warren Bennis and Noel Tichy. Their new book titled Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls is the subject of an article in the October 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review (p. 94) and there is an excerpt in the November 19, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek (p. 68). They write that we all make judgment calls throughout our lives and careers – and so do all librarians. But the difference is that our top leaders’ judgment calls are “magnified by their increasing impact on the lives of others.” And unlike the many decisions made by librarians at every level, the administrator’s decisions are long remembered, especially if they turn out badly. Leaders make decisions in three areas that impact on the outcomes and survival of the organization: people; strategy; crisis.
So are all librarians leaders? Let’s just drop the first two; librarians at all levels deal with them although the top administrator tends to have final decision-making authority on those matters. What about the crisis situation? A student is assaulted in the library. Faculty are up in arms about a decision to cancel journals. The provost is on the phone and needs an on-the-spot critical decision. We need leaders who can step up and make the right judgment call in those crisis situations. To do so requires some combination of experience, authentic practice, mentoring and a knowledge of the facts and data. To get back to my original question – is this profession doing enough to identify and prepare our future leaders with the right skills?
So if you are your library’s leader for information literacy or scholarly communications, you’ve got a significant role in shaping future services. But when that critical decision must be made about an important hire in your department, or whether to allocate constrained resources to a new initiative, or any decision that takes the library down a path from which there may be no return, you want a top administrator with the right experience, preparation and leadership skills to get it right. That’s the person that I want to see our profession developing. Those are the people this profession needs to secure a successful future.