Are We Doing Enough To Create The Next Generation Of Leaders

It’s not as if there’s no attention paid to developing academic library leaders. There are a few notable programs. ACRL offers a week-long Leadership Institute at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to provide leadership training for academic libray directors. ARL offers an 18-month long program, the Library Leadership Fellows Program, that is designed to shape the future leaders of research libraries. Along with these programs geared to those already in higher level leadership roles, ALA has created the Emerging Leaders Program for those at an early stage of their career. Other individual institutions create fellowships or internships to provide opportunities to those same early career academic librarians who want to gain administrative experience. These programs reach far fewer potential leaders. With our most notable leadership programs designed primarily for those who are already on the leadership track, a question arises. Are we doing enough to generate interest in leadership among the much larger population of academic librarians?

I think there is a subtle difference between refining the leadership skills of those already on the track, and developing programs to entice more academic librarians to get on the track. Ask newer members of the profession if they plan to seek an administrative position and too often the answer is “no”. Are there good models this profession could follow for developing its future leaders? The world of business may offer some possibilities. A recent issue of Fortune featured leadership as its cover story. The article profiles several companies that have distinguished themselves as having generated many leaders, both those who have risen within the corporation and those whose past employees are leaders elsewhere. For example, Procter & Gamble has produced notable leaders such as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Intuit founder Scott Cook, AOL founder Steve Case, and even General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt. General Electric alumni run scores of companies, such as Boeing , Home Depot and Honeywell.

Do we have academic libraries that are particularly well known for the leaders they turn out? Do we have a program that helps individual libraries to identify prospective future leaders and develop them within the organization? I would certainly be interested to know if there is an academic library that has a particularly strong tradition of preparing and then migrating front-line workers into administrative positions, and then bidding those same individuals farewell as they acquire leadership positions elsewhere. If such organizations exist within our profession then they certainly get little attention for their accomplishments.

So might there be a better approach for this profession? It may be unfair to point to the corporate world as a model for developing future leaders. Few libraries or library organizations have the necessary resources to create the sort of leadership training programs and development centers (like the famous one created by General Electric at Crotonville, NY) found in business. But the Fortune article offers some ideas that may be of interest. For example, identify promising leaders early on. Some companies begin evaluating their employee’s leadership potential on day one. Re-think the way new staff are assigned to positions. We hire new librarians for specific positions, but why not put new librarians into departmental rotations that include time in the administrative suite. Then other suggestions touch on the need to develop leaders in-house, provide mentoring, develop teams and indivdiduals, and make leadership development a part of the organizational culture.

As the article suggests, a good deal of work goes into preparing future leaders. But then again, a great deal is at stake. What more can we do both as individual libraries and in associations to promote the development of our future academic libraries?

6 thoughts on “Are We Doing Enough To Create The Next Generation Of Leaders”

  1. As a library administrator who tries to be intentional about nurturing the leadership skills of my staff, I have to admit that the thought of conflating “leadership” with “administration” gives me the willies.

  2. Good point, Mark! One of the things I liked about the Harvard/ACRL Leadership Institute (which I did this past August) was the emphasis on opportunities to lead from any position, not just the traditional leadership ones. I administer the instruction program when I schedule the e-classroom, make publicity handouts, or train faculty in its use. I lead the program when I speak about it in faculty meeting or seek to be involved in curriculum change on campus.

    Are there others who see themselves as leaders from outside the traditional “administrative suite”?

  3. My colleague Miguel Figueroa at NYU’s Medical Library and I are co-editing a book about how libraries can foster an environment where early-career librarians can become leaders. Each chapter will be a first-person account from an early career librarian about something that their library did that helped them become a leader. We have chapters about building a professional network; allowing librarians to incorporate their personal passion; supporting big projects, scholarship, and participation in professional service; minority focused programs to develop leadership; as well as mentoring and even formalized, structured coaching relationships. There are a lot of things that libraries can do to encourage early-career librarians to explore leadership roles and — yes — to be leaders from whichever position they work, whether it’s in the admin suite or beyond.

    One idea that was particularly helpful to me was having a required “management” course in library school where Dr. Brooke Sheldon explained that all of us in that class would be called upon to be leaders and, more than likely, managers at some point in our career. Developing the skills to be a good manager can help you be an effective leader, even when you’re not the boss/manager/administrator.

  4. A little late to the party, but let me recommend one fairly new, open, growing resource for library leaders–which clearly isn’t identical to library administrators.

    The PALINET Leadership Network, PLN, is now open to anybody who thinks they belong there–current leaders, future leaders, you define “leader” as you choose–as a source of commentary, information, resources, and place to add your own comments and discuss relevant issues.

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