Reflecting on the Leadership Orientations Questionnaire

Throughout this academic year I’m participating in a leadership institute at my university. I’m part of a cohort of nine colleagues, from across the university and in various leadership roles. We meet once a month to discuss chapters from Reframing Academic Leadership, hear from leaders across campus, learn how to be better leaders, and discuss the challenges and opportunities we see and face in our roles. I’m really excited to be a part of this institute and learn from my colleagues across the institution. 

For October’s meeting, we took the Leadership Orientations questionnaire. This was created by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal and published back in 1991. They developed four frames for understanding leaders: structural leaders, human resources leaders, political leaders, and symbolic leaders. You rank a series of choices based on how true you feel the statement is to you and your leadership. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, you add up your scores and you see which of the four leadership frames you scored the highest. 

I scored highest as a human resources leader (followed by symbolic, structural, and political). When I looked at the definition of a human resources leader, I wasn’t surprised that was my highest score. In particular, my attention caught on the last line in the definition of a human resources leader: “A good leader is a facilitator and participative manager who supports and empowers others.”

As I shared with my cohort, I feel like the last year as a department head has really pushed me into strengthening and sharpening my facilitator muscles. I’ve always enjoyed facilitation, but in my current role, that’s a huge part of my work. I’m leading department meetings, working through theoretical questions and decisions around our reference services, and overseeing a library informatics bachelor’s degree program. In doing facilitation, I hope that the people who participate in these meetings do feel supported and empowered. That’s certainly my goal and how I think about setting up those opportunities. 

The phrase “participative manager” also resonated with me. I feel my leadership style is influenced and informed by the participatory design work I started while I was at my last institution. As much as possible, I like to collaboratively work with the department to make decisions, especially decisions around our priorities and work. This has resulted in meetings where we draw vehicles representing our digital learning objects or where I solicit feedback on a proposal for a way to move the work forward within the department. I feel that style has worked both for me as a manager and for my team (see my last post about laughing with the department).

In thinking about being a participative manager, I also started thinking about how I help, support, and often do the day-to-day work of the department. This is definitely something I struggle with; I feel strongly about “pulling my weight” and being an active participant in the department. However, my job now involves other types of work and sometimes I can’t do all the participating I want to do. In discussing these frames with the cohort, I mentioned that I struggle with balancing participating with some of my other department head tasks and someone in my cohort shared something along the lines of, “Well just don’t do as much.” 

While I appreciate the straightforwardness of that answer, I don’t think the solution is that easy. In some ways, it reminds me of the ideas I was sorting through in my coordinator role particularly around my identity. When I started in this department head role, I felt pressure (whether internal or external) that I needed to prove myself. So I jumped right into the teaching and the outreach work of the department. I wanted to prove I could do the work and that I could do it well. And now I’m at a point where I’ve got to start making decisions about where I can step back. I need time to do the departmental work of keeping a department moving forward. I’ve got to find new ways to balance my understanding (and participation) of the day-in-day-out work and strategic department head work. I know it’s always a work in progress and having the space to reflect on my style has helped me bring this a little higher on my priority list. 

I appreciated the chance to take this questionnaire and dig into some of my thoughts on how I lead. As a cohort, we had an interesting conversation on how our frames change over time, as we step into new leadership roles and grow as humans. I feel that I’ll always have the human resources in me but there are definitely opportunities for me to strengthen some of those other frames. Knowing where I feel most comfortable can help me think strategically about ways I can lean more into my structural, symbolic, or political side.

Have you taken this leadership questionnaire (or something similar) before? If so, what lessons did you learn about you and how have you tried to use that framing in your job moving forward? 


Featured by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Your Invisible Board of Directors: Support Networks in Academic Librarianship

Someone much more perceptive and experienced than I once told me to imagine I have an invisible board of directors in my life and career. There are people sitting at your table who have profound effect on your professional and personal life. These are people who offer you support, guidance, advice, perspective, empathy. They may not know they have such a meaningful relationship for you (but they probably do). Think about who is sitting at your table, whether they know they are or not. 

My knowledge of board of directors doesn’t go much further than the many boardroom scenes I’ve seen in Succession [warning: strong language from Logan Roy]. I do know a board of directors sets strategies, develops goals, and advises on the overall vision of the company (the company – in this metaphor – is you!). 

I’m a big advocate of mentorship, whether formally or informally. I believe that professional (and personal) support networks are one of the fundamental pieces to a rewarding life and career. Mentors help with so much: all aspects of job searching, how promotion or tenure work at your institution, understanding work culture, what professional development opportunities to take on, someone to provide perspective on issues you’re struggling with – the list is endless. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderfully supportive mentor at the U of Manitoba, who shares insightful perspective, incisive advice, and endless encouragement.  

Think about seeking out support networks that are available – through your institution or library associations, but also know opportunities will present themselves, whether formally or informally. The whole idea is you build a support network, based on connection and relationship with others, whether that’s others you work with or near. Maybe it includes your colleagues, your supervisor, someone in library administration, someone at a different institution, someone you went to school with, or someone in a different city altogether that you’ve met and gotten to know. 

I recently read an interesting article that identified six types of mentors: personal guide, personal advisor, full-service mentor, career advisor, career guide, and role model. Some guides, advisors, or mentors may offer more professional support, some more psychosocial support, and some a mix of both. Some may be short-term, long-term, or span the length of your entire career. 

I’ve found that your directors may change and that’s okay. As you move throughout your career, you will have different people that are meaningful to you. In the American Psychological Association’s Introduction to Mentoring, the authors note it is common to have multiple guides and advisors over the course of your career, able to address different needs depending on your stage of career or individual needs, and in effect, creating a developmental network. Different people can address different aspects of your professional life. I find mentors promote a sense of meaning in your work, give direction to areas where you’re otherwise directionless, and use their experience to inform your own. 

I’ve written in the past about the power of connection and I strongly encourage you to seek support from colleagues or to take on opportunities for mentorship that you find. Whether you find the board of directors metaphor useful or not, give some thought to who is at the table of your personal board of directors, and let’s just hope – for your sake – there are no boardroom coups or hostile takeovers.

Landing the first librarian job

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Emily Zerrenner, Research and Instructional Services Librarian at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

The process of landing my first academic job was a whirlwind with a steady downpour. From about February on, nearly every day I was scouring job boards, writing cover letters, tweaking my resume and creating a CV. First interviews were always exciting before nerve-wracking; I could count on some of the questions asked (Why do you want this job?) and I would daydream about the location. In every place I applied, I checked PetFinder. I wanted a job, and I wanted a dog. Sometimes my questions would have less of a straight answer. Could I fit there? Could I make a life there?

I distinctly remember the first interview I got. I was so excited, because it was on the East Coast and the campus was beautiful, and, and, and. I came up with many reasons. I thought I nailed the interview. It was a bright spot in the seemingly endless gloom of a Midwestern February.

Then I wasn’t invited for a second interview.

I wasn’t surprised, necessarily; but I had hoped so hard that it would work out. I had long been warned about the academic job seeking process, and I saw the graduate assistants a year before me go through it in Spring 2021. At that point, I steeled myself for the marathon ahead.

I had a spreadsheet to input information about every job I applied to. Light green highlight meant I got a first interview, dark green meant a second round, and I just moved the rows of rejections to a separate sheet so I didn’t have to look at them. No highlight meant my application was received, but I didn’t hear anything. (This happened to more jobs than you might expect.) Google Drive learned my habits of opening that sheet pretty much anywhere I went: “you usually open around this time.” I had a general resume and CV, a general cover letter with everything I could possibly talk about, and folders where I dropped the customized materials for each position.

I was still in three graduate school classes during this time, working 15 or so hours a week as a graduate assistant, and teaching workshops and one-shot library instruction in the meantime. Even though I began graduate school in Fall 2020, this felt like the hardest pandemic semester yet; I was so close to the end of my degree and so burnt out from juggling not only my responsibilities as a full-time student, but also managing the risk of COVID-19 at every turn.

April was the worst month. I had a second-round interview every week; all of them were over Zoom (which, eight hours over Zoom is perhaps its own form of torture) but I was flown out to visit one campus. The day after I got back from that campus visit, I had the second-round interview for the place I work now. I was so incredibly exhausted that I was convinced I wouldn’t get that one, but I kept pushing through. It was like having a final project every week, except these final projects determined the course of my life. In total, I applied to 17 jobs and completed 30 hours of interviews across institutions (not including the travel and preparation time).

I received and accepted a job offer at Salisbury University a week before I graduated, which I recognize is so lucky on my part. Moving to an entirely new state alone, away from everything I knew was its own challenge – one that I am still adjusting to. In this field, it’s almost expected that you will move away from friends and family; you have to follow the work. The long job application process is well known and documented, and yet we’re still using that same system. Additionally, I have a lot of thoughts about reimbursement culture in academia; grateful as I am for moving cost reimbursement, that initial financial burden almost made it impossible to actually make the move for this job.

But I’m happy to report that my Petfinder browsing paid off, and I’m slowly making a life here – both as a new academic librarian, and as Emily.

A dog's face with black and white markings

New Year, New Job

With the fall semester well underway, we’re all adjusting to more classes and services on the 25 campuses of my university than last year. There are more students on our campuses which is lovely, though there are still lots of hybrid and online classes and services, too. And this year has also featured a different kind of adjusting for me: this past summer I started a new position as director of the library at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

I’m enjoying my new job which is an interesting mix of similarities and differences from my last position. I’ve worked in the CUNY system for 15 years, 8 of those as a director, and spent most of that time at a comprehensive college that offers associate and baccalaureate degrees. I’ve also been on the faculty in two programs at the Graduate Center for a while now (and have blogged before about that teaching), so I came into my new role having some familiarity with the GC already. I’m most grateful to know about some of the university’s bureaucratic processes, and since our libraries are consortial and highly collaborative I have that insight and familiarity, too.

But as with any new job, there are lots of differences and lots for me to learn. The GC is an interesting place — while some of our faculty are solely at the GC, many teach undergraduates at the colleges across the system as well as masters and doctoral students at the GC. And our graduate students are also both here and there — they take courses and do research at the GC, and (many) teach courses at CUNY colleges. And while our library services and resources support the GC community in their academic work, as at all academic libraries, it’s been interesting to think about the local and distributed ways that we do and might work with students and faculty and students who are faculty.

Though I miss my colleagues at my prior institution, it’s been lovely to get to know my new colleagues and to work with such a terrific team. We’ve started a strategic planning process in the library, and our relatively-new administration is also beginning the strategic planning process at the GC this semester. I’m really looking forward to thinking with my library faculty and staff colleagues about our vision and mission, and how we can advance our broad goal of equitable access as we work with our patrons in their different roles.

Story Swap

“If a picture is worth a thousand words,
then a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.”
-George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By

In this collaborative post from our ACRLog team, we’re sharing some of the “stories”–allegories, analogies, anecdotes, images, memes, metaphors, and more–that we use across the domains of our work to make abstract concepts more concrete, prompt meaning making, demonstrate relevance, communicate impact, bring a dry concept to life, or simply connect with our colleagues, users, and stakeholders.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to information literacy and research skills?

[Jen] I’ve recently become very interested in using stories as a pedagogical technique. I don’t have a large repository of stories to call on yet, but a few examples I’ve been using to good effect come to mind:

  • Source integration – Images of a container ship and a cargo train help me illustrate the goal of synthesizing sources in a literature review versus stringing them together one-by-one. I start with the train photo and ask students to imagine that each container on the train is a source. I describe how the train illustrates a style of writing where the author treats each source individually–the author might summarize, analyze, or otherwise comment on each source one by one in a long string of paragraphs. By contrast, I note that the ship is full of the same containers (i.e., sources) as the train but draw students’ attention to how the containers are instead stacked in groups, that each column is made up of many containers. In this image, I suggest that each container still represents a source but a paragraph is this time represented by a column of containers illustrating the goal of weaving sources together for more skillful analysis and writing around themes across sources.
  • Source evaluation – Wineburg and McGrew’s study serves as an anecdote regarding approaches to source evaluation (as well as the idea of relative, or domain, expertise on occasion). The researchers observed 45 people evaluating websites: historians with PhDs, Stanford University undergraduates, and professional fact checkers. When I ask students to guess which group was best at evaluating information, they typically vote for the historians with PhDs. Yet findings showed that the “fact checkers arrived at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time.” A primary difference in their approach? Fact checkers read laterally, not vertically. Because lateral reading is a departure from the kinds of information evaluation that are commonly taught to high school students, this story helps illustrate the effectiveness of an unfamiliar approach.  

I’m motivated to use stories more (and to better effect) in my classes because I think it can be so powerful; the sense of clarity and connection these stories can offer for students is incredibly productive and gratifying.

[Alex] I have referred to truncation as “my favorite library magic trick” when demonstrating searches in databases, and it’s true! It’s such a simple thing to do but can really change the list of results you get back. I also refer to it as advanced… I don’t normally go into the details of truncation until the learners I’m addressing have mastered some of the other concepts like Boolean operators and selecting keywords. But when I do introduce truncation, I love to tell this story. I was working with someone who needed information on radiation and adjuvant chemotherapy. Looking at my list of search terms, I saw radiation, radiotherapy, radiation therapy, etc… so I thought, truncation time! Radi*, easy. Because of the complexity of the rest of the search, there were about two pages of results so I looked through all of them and behold, one of them was about… radishes. You can’t anticipate every possibility when you truncate, but that one was a real surprise. Truncate responsibly, everyone!

[Justin] I like to use the metaphor of gardening for the research process:  

  • Prep your garden: determine a topic and a focused research statement or question, along with background research.  
  • Care for your garden as it grows: identify keywords, makes a list of databases and sites to find information, create search strings, and save sources.  
  • Inspect your produce: evaluate your sources for relevance and credibility.
  • Cook! Use your sources in your writing to make something new.
  • Modify your approach if nothing is growing.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to teaching and learning more broadly?

[Alex] This is so common it hardly feels like a story or metaphor but teachers as coaches is such a great framework. I can run you through practicing a skill, I can tell you the plays, but I can’t make the shot for you from the sidelines. You have to be able to apply what we did in practice while you’re on the court.

I’ve also used my experience as a DM for Dungeons & Dragons to explain outlining activities and learning objectives for a class. (Not to students, to other educators.) If you tell your players “you’re going to go here and do this, then go here and do this, ad nauseum” that’s called railroading and it isn’t as much fun as letting the players make decisions for themselves. Giving them multiple threads to follow and seeing what they value and decide to do is part of the game! Same goes for the classroom: here are all the objectives we need to meet, but you can help me decide which one we’re going to address next, and exactly how that’s going to look.

[Justin] I’ve used the example of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”. One of my favourite ways to illustrate the hero’s journey is using Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. I find it relates to learning quite well: there’s a problem, you set out on your journey with help from mentors, there’s transformation and atonement (and learning a lesson?!) and finally return. 

[Jen] I’ve gotten a lot of mileage over the past few years out of an anecdote I’ve drawn from Carrie Brownstein’s memoir in which she reflected on some of the key experiences of her adolescence that helped shape her as a musician. In short, Brownstein first described how enthralled she felt watching pop music giants perform in stadium-sized venues. The spectacle of those huge performances entranced and inspired her but they felt opaque and unattainable. “I had no idea how it [the music] had been assembled or how to break it apart,” she wrote. “I remained merely a fan …with no means of claiming the sounds as my own.” Brownstein went on to describe her experiences a few years later, this time at shows in small clubs. Here, Brownstein could get close to the musicians and observe their techniques and interactions. This is my favorite quote about her realization: “It seems obvious, but it was the first time I realized that music was playable, not just performable—that it had a process.” To me, her story showcases the power of uncovering process. At huge, heavily produced shows, she was an onlooker with no discernible entry point for her own participation. When the making of the music and the performances’ component parts were made visible at smaller shows, the performances felt more accessible and attainable; Brownstein could imagine doing it for herself. I’ve used this story time and again– when consulting with faculty on the design of research assignments, for example–to illustrate the power of uncovering the process of scholarly and creative work rather than focusing on polished products.

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate concepts related to library services, procedures, workflows?

[Maura] As a director I often find myself having to explain our work in the library to faculty and administrators on campus in a range of contexts: as library faculty progress through the tenure track, when sharing the institutional questions we get at our service desks in the library with Student Affairs staff, and especially when advocating to fill vacant faculty and staff lines in the library. The analogy I’ve found most useful is from the restaurant world: front of the house for Public Services, and back of the house for Technical Services/Technology. In my previous position I worked at a college that offered Hospitality Management degrees and this analogy was widely understood across campus. But with greater visibility in the media into food and restaurant services over the past few decades I think it could be a useful analogy for anyone trying to make visible the often invisible work that keeps the library functioning. 

[Justin] I’ve heard an interesting comparison from a friend of a librarian’s role to What We Do In The Shadows: there’s so much intellectual work happening behind the scenes, that not all of our students and faculty know about or are aware of. 

[Jen] I just started a new book and was struck by the proverb that the author used as an epigraph: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” I’ve never personally used this proverb although I’m sure I’ve heard it before. But I’m thinking about it with fresh eyes through the lens of this post’s theme. It seems to me that it might serve as a “story” to illustrate the interconnectedness of different domains within library work not to mention the value and importance of the many small details in our day-to-day work. 

What stories do you use (or have you heard) to help illustrate library impact and value?

[Justin] My friend mentioned the metaphor of weight of books to me recently. He’s interested in knowing how much our library collection weighs – why? I have no clue. But he’s right: it makes for an interesting metaphor of the weight of information.

[Hailley] I’ve been recently working on updating our library’s mission and vision statement. In our revision, we did a lot of looking at other library mission and vision statements and the idea that kept coming up is how the library is the “heart of the university.” I don’t have any brilliant thoughts on this at the moment, but it’s definitely a phrase I’ve been thinking about and thinking about if this phrase is useful in defining the impact, value, and place the library has at an institution. 

What stories do you use? To what effect? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.