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

Desperately Seeking Sense-Making

If you know a little about me, you know my practice of librarianship — what I like to call truthbrarianship — desperately seeks to express a deeper connection to the communicative side of our profession, whether that’s information-seeking or information-management.  I’m still working on an alternative word for the latter, but my truth-seeking approach is inspired by Brenda Dervin’s sense-making methodology, work which most famously contributed to the practice of the reference interview.  Dervin also addressed sense-making in information systems and the impact on the democratic principles of librarianship, which are vulnerable to “unexamined assumptions about the nature of information and the nature of communication” (Dervin, 2003, p74).   To examine these assumptions means approaching communication differently than just an act of sending and receiving messages.  Since learning about this methodology in graduate school, I have been working to apply it to internal communication in library organizations.   

Communication theorists still debate whether organizational communication is best measured as a product of organizational structure, or whether communication itself leads to the formation of organizational structures.   Nevertheless, I observe people fairly consistently credit or blame organizational morale and culture on communication.  When/if communication is good, morale is high.  When/if communication is bad, morale is low.  However, this link between communication and culture doesn’t make a bit of sense to those who approach communication primarily as messages.  Because messages can be controlled, communication problems are easily addressed by increasing or better-targeting messages, right?  People who see communication as connection, on the other hand, would rarely get what they need from messages alone, no matter how abundantly or frequently messages are sent, or even if they were received. Since the target, if you will, is connection, its lack is perceived as a more fundamental organizational problem.    

In the absence of clear solutions, I’m left to make peace with perpetually seeking.  But a couple of workplace examples recently paved some hope on this path.   One is a wonderfully challenging development series I’ve started attending, called “Compassionate Communication”. Based on Michael Rosenberg’s book, Non-violent communication: a language of life, the introductory focus of this workshop intentionally distinguishes the use of judgement (problem-solving) and empathy (connection) when communicating, especially when communicating within conflict.  What I like most about the series so far is how it hasn’t discarded rational, judgement-based thinking in communication altogether.  Rather, it shows where this has value and where it doesn’t. With mindfulness and emotional intelligence, the Compassionate Communication: An Introduction course prescribes “translating judgments into observations, emphasizing needs instead of strategies, replacing thoughts with feelings, and changing demands into requests.” Like the reference interview compassionate communication considers that in situations people may not always know how to communicate their needs.  Dialogue offers a way to connect to needs and feelings in order to make meaningful requests.  So far (and I’m only two classes in) it promises to deliver what leaders sometimes struggle to accomplish with planning, hierarchy, and logic alone.

Another sense-making example took place in a recent email exchange about a new and somewhat contentious library policy.  In this scenario, most might have just chalked up the policy decision to “it’s complicated”, accepted it by virtue of hierarchy or expertise, and moved on.  Instead, this administrator and staff each made room to express and examine the different and often hidden circumstances at play.  I consider this kind of sense-making giving transparency to complexity. I have advocated and worked to develop this in my own communication and know the extra work it requires.  In my experience you can either pay the price of that work in confusion, frustration, and ongoing inefficiency, or in the work of communicating through those complexities.  I find only the latter builds trust, and I believe Dervin would say the act of building that trust is what matters most.  

Unfortunately, both approaches are still somewhat rare and sometimes discouraged in library leadership generally, despite similarities to LIS methodologies. Like Dervin’s sense-making, these two examples approach communication with questioning.  In compassionate communication, observations beyond the surface messages lead to more connected requests (aka questions) about what is needed. In the email exchange I observed, it was the willingness of this staff and administrator to first question whether they understood the whole picture and to thoroughly engage in seeking connections between those understandings.  Neutral questioning in the library reference interview demonstrates a shift in the balance of information power to create space for dialogue and understanding.  Shouldn’t that process, which translates to improved communication with users of library services and in the usability of library systems, also apply to our internal communication and information systems in a similar way?  Do we assume an expertise in sense-making with our users, and does this create an expectation that we can or should provide sense for our own needs?   

Left unexamined, such an assumption might result in providing our own messages and dialogues for ourselves. That seems both silly and irresponsible, especially as individuals and organizations seek truthfully to examine practices related to diversity and inclusion. This must mean understanding experiences beyond ourselves and our expertise as librarians. In the most basic sense, attending to these relational aspects of our work will require librarians to see each other as information seekers, balance informational power, and learn how to effectively ask questions of each other. Translating sense-making to organizations calls for us “to listen and to address differences and contests in human beings’ understandings and experiences” (Foreman-Wernet, 2003, p6).  The point is not understanding difference as characteristics or experiences that will define (read: label) how we interpret or listen in communication but connecting these differences toward understanding. Making sense of our internal information needs are necessary not just to solve collective problems, but for making sense of each other as human beings, our relationships in practices, and the ways in which these relationships are always changing.   

On Leadership: Doing it Right, but Dancing

Lots of things leading up to a post on leadership lately, such as contemplating my own privilege, planning strategic priorities, and experiencing the challenges of parenting tweenagers. But mostly, I think this post is in typical response to evaluation time, which requires me to describe competencies and expectations of leadership, both for managers and  for staff and faculty without management or supervision responsibilities.

What I hate most about leadership conversations is what I see as an arbitrary division between leadership and management. I particularly dislike the adage that addresses these differences as:

Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.

I don’t believe in this division, probably because when I was as a manager, I did all kinds of things wrong, and as a leader I never feel like there is a clear right answer to things. My personal philosophy of leadership is more fluid. Ultimately, I believe we all practice a little of both.  As a librarian, especially, this comes from my observation that library managers and leaders typically come up from the ranks of library workers. In my experience, this places a high value on skills of librarianship over the particular skills of leadership, or in the management of library process over the relational management of people or teams. I admit this is perhaps just as oversimplified as the former adage, but does help me with a point.

The danger I see in the phenomenon of manager-heavy leaders in libraries is a tendency to devalue inspiring and motivating aspects of leadership.  There is also the risk of micromanagement when scaling effective management of processes to people. When I was a staff member in the ranks, I felt the biggest issue of leadership and management had to do with opportunities for development, organizational communication, and curbing supervisory micromanagement. As a leader, I still hear the call for better communication and less micromanagement, but at the same time there remains a preference for managers who are leaders and experts in doing, and a general distaste for too much touchy-feely inspiring and motivation. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Certainly people skills and leadership skills come just as the practical librarian skills come, with both learning and doing.  This has been true for me, especially with respect to gaining confidence in my relational side, improving my communication, and managing stress.  I also recognize my strengths in learning and analytical thinking, which plays out in a constant cycle of reflection, learning, and self-correction. A necessary part learning from doing is how it prompts a realization for development and how we make time for meeting that need.

Beyond demonstrating the value of leadership development, it is extremely challenging to build in time for this. Especially as leaders come from within the ranks, rarely is there a swift and seamless transition of duties.  It is often hard to let go of former responsibilities.  Not only are we increasingly asked to do more with less, but many find the certainty of former tasks a necessary coping mechanism during the change and uncertainty of a new leadership role. Yet some of the most excellent leaders I’ve known can be so heavily bogged down with their doing that they unintentionally give themselves and their staff the perception that they are too busy to bother with people-concerns, or for training that does not appear directly tied to doing. Finding a better balance remains an imperative for doing the right thing by the people I lead. But, I know the solution consists of something more than just good delegation.

In a Covey training I was once tasked to put my personal philosophy into a single word, for which I chose dance.  This word — and I went a step further with a theme song — best reflects the ebb and flow of leadership for me. Doing it right, but dancing. This helps me see leadership as a more nebulous evolution between structured intention and carving out time (choreography), learning and development (feeling the music), and the need to just do something (dance!).  I’m learning that you can’t take away too much doing from leadership.  Staff don’t respect it, and library leaders and managers don’t function well as leaders without it.  So, I’m trying to find good ways to facilitate managers and staff to embrace delegation of the doing, nurture an ongoing development of strengths and weaknesses, while giving plenty of a space for dancing.

What is your current leadership/management philosophy?  How do you, or your leaders and managers, balance doing things right and doing right by people?

Please share theme songs if you’ve got ‘em!
Want more on leadership? See http://acrlog.org/tag/leadership/

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A Beloit Mindset Moment

As part of our Library event for incoming freshmen we organized a scavenger hunt. They are pretty popular right now, and putting one together takes some thought and effort. But we got the participants to get around the entire library, visit a few service areas, try our text-a-librarian and cell phone tour services, and overall it went pretty well. The students seemed to enjoy it, and we offered a few nice gifts. But clearly we aren’t able to completely put ourselves into the mindset of the college freshman, and as a result one student thought we had an unfair question. Seems we asked the students to record the name of a movie for which we have a poster hanging in our media services area. To find the right poster the students were told to look for Humphrey Bogart. According to this student, she had never heard of him – so how could she know who to look for (this is overlooking his name is on the poster in 12″ letters). My colleagues and I were a bit taken back by that – could you be 18 and not know Bogie? Then again, when the class of 2014 was born in 1992, he was already dead for 35 years. Next time, we’ll just go with the poster for the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Every college student knows that guy, right?

Here’s An Idea for an Experiment – No Academic Library for Two Years

I read an anecdote shared by a librarian from brand name, elite 4-year college, about a faculty member who said something along the lines of “Our students graduate and become incredibly successful. They haven’t had much research instruction, and they aren’t particularly good at conducting research, but they are successful. So if that’s the end outcome, why bother with the research instruction?” How do you respond to a comment like that? I’m not sure, but what concerns me is that the librarians will buy into that line of thinking, and just give up on instruction all together. Why bother if the students end up at Wall Street brokerage firms with six-figure incomes? Is that how we measure success? [quite possible the faculty member simply means “success” at whatever the students aspire to]

The next logical step from that line of thinking is why bother having a library at all? Just close the library and cancel all the subscriptions. Allow faculty to use the library budget to get personal subscriptions to the journals they want. Use library funds to buy every student an e-book reader with a quota of a few thousand dollars to buy whatever books and paywall content they want. If after two years of no library or librarians the results show that students still graduate and still become incredibly successful, that tells us that the library never made a difference in the first place – other then for faculty and administrators to gush about the library as the “heart of the institution” – and as a good stop on the campus tour. I wonder if it makes a difference that a faculty observation like this one comes from an elite, brand name institution where the students arrive with many lifestyle advantages that will contribute to their post-college success. What about the institutions, like Chicago State University, where student failure is the norm? I wonder what faculty there have to say about the need for research instruction? Do they have time to think about it at all?

What’s the Biggest Mistake You’ve Made As a Leader?

It’s a long road and hard work becoming an effective leader, whether you are responsible for the vision and direction of a library, a single unit or program within the library that needs leadership for it to survive, or leading your colleagues in an association effort. Along the way you’ll likely make some mistakes. Hopefully one of them one won’t be the “big mistake” that shatters your leadership potential. Best of all, if you are new on the leadership path – or if you’ve been traveling that path a long time – you can avoid the big mistake by studying the lessons learned by other leaders.

A good opportunity for that type of learning can be discovered from Harvard Business Review’s video piece on “the biggest mistake a leader can make” which features a mix of academics and executives sharing what he or she thinks is that biggest mistake. Here’s a quick list of what I gleaned from each expert – but watch the video – it’s just over 7 minutes – there’s more good advice to be had there:

* Putting self-interest before the interests of the organization – leadership is about responsibility for the staff and stakeholders and putting yourself ahead of them is a fatal error.

* Betraying trust – if you fail here nothing else matters.

* Being certain – once you think you know how it all works there is reluctance to change; great leaders understand the power of uncertainty.

* Not living up to values – if you espouse values and fail to live up up to them you will rapidly be found out by followers.

* Overly enamored with vision – becoming single minded and obsessed with a vision makes a leader blind to other opportunities and possibilities.

* Personal arrogance or hubris – confuses the success of the organization with his or her individual persona; leads to the making of huge mistakes.

* Acting too fast – leaders need to step back and think before they act, and seek out advice from subordinates; re-think the vision/plan and then act.

* Failure to be consistent – followers need to know their leaders are authentic and predictable; if you are pleasant one day and a monster the next it destroys trust.

* Lack of self-reflection – leaders need to constantly review their own behavior and honestly contemplate what affect they have on others; good leaders are self-aware, learn from their mistakes and improve.

In my leadership positions I’ve made any number of these mistakes at one time or another; you can only hope to learn from a bad experience. But I’ve worked very hard never to betray trust, and I think that would be the ultimate leadership mistake. What about you? What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, what big mistake have you seen a leader make or which one on this list is the worst sin for you?

Some Writing Advice Worth Your Attention

I hope your regular reading regimen includes the Chronicle. If I had to guess I’d say it’s the most read non-library publication for the typical academic librarian. I’m also guessing many academic librarians will only go and read a Chronicle article or essay if someone else tells them they should go read it. As an academic librarian blogger I try to avoid leaning too heavily on the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed as a source. It would be all to easy to do that – and then I’d just end up writing about whatever other librarians are already reading and discussing anyway – not too challenging or exciting.

But this essay on improving your writing gave some good advice, and as an academic librarian blogger one thing in particular resonated with me. Number nine on the list of ten reads: Your most profound thoughts are often wrong. That’s a profound thought right there. I often find myself second guessing many of my blog posts because I question if I’m making sense or effectively communicating my message. Then again I’ll go ahead and post them anyway thinking I’ve come up with something profound only to realize it wasn’t something all that great and that it didn’t make anyone think twice anyway. There’s been talk of the death of blogging for years now. But blogs persist even though many librarians show a preference for sharing their thoughts – as much as that is possible – with a facebook or twitter update. Perhaps in those mediums, since what’s written quickly passes on and fades, there’s not much need to think about whether what’s being written is profound or possibly wrong. With 140 characters, it may not matter much. An exception – when a simple tweet sets off a strong reaction with a blogger. So even though there’s a good chance my profound thoughts are wrong I’ll likely continue to share some of them with you. One of the best things about blogging at ACRLog is receiving comments that help me to re-think what I thought was profound and become more clear about my thinking and writing. Not an easy task.

Humility Is A Form Of Presence Too

Management and leadership issues, while of interest to a good many academic librarians, are just one of many topics we cover here at ACRLog. We do so mostly when it applies to some issue of the day or a debate within higher education. In the past we’ve talked about being an “involved library administrator“, creating the next generation of leaders, reflections on leadership, decision making, and most recently discussed the value of having presence as a form of expressing leadership qualities. Yet I received some e-mail requests that ACRLog should continue to offer occasional posts about management and leadership topics, since many academic librarians are new to positions requiring these skills or want to learn more about them. To those folks I suggested subscribing the the Lyrasis Library Leadership Network, but we appreciate receiving the suggestion and ACRLog will continue to offer posts about management and leadership topics from time to time.

Where else can aspiring leaders look for advice on how to acquire the skills needed to do the job? I’ve become a regular reader of “Corner Office”, published in every Sunday issue of the New York Times, and authored by Adam Bryant. Corner Office features an interview with a different CEO, business leader or start up specialist each week (you can subscribe to the RSS feed). The quality can be a bit uneven but in general I always find something fascinating in any column. I’ve picked up new ideas about interviewing job candidates, strategies for getting things accomplished when there’s too much to do and being sensible when taking risks. Just recently there was an interview with Andrew Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group. I was quite impressed with the InterContinental I visited in Chicago this past July during ALA. So I wanted to see what Cosslett had to say. He came off sounding quite confident in himself, to the point that I might say he sounds like the type of leader who has presence – and I’m sure he does. But in a good way?

I suppose that was the question op-ed columnist David Brooks had in mind when he wrote the column “The Humble Hound.” Referring back to the interview with Cosslett, Brooks makes a point that extremely self-confidant and charismatic leaders can produce volatile results. I won’t try to repeat what Brooks says here, but he too gives some quite poignant advice for would be leaders:

The humble hound leader thinks less about her mental strengths than about her weaknesses. She knows her performance slips when she has to handle more than one problem at a time, so she turns off her phone and e-mail while making decisions. She knows she has a bias for caution, so she writes a memo advocating the more daring option before writing another advocating the most safe…Because of her limitations, she tries to construct thinking teams…She tries not to fall for the seductions that Collins says mark failing organizations: the belief that one magic move will change everything; the faith in perpetual restructuring; the tendency to replace questions with statements at meetings.

The message: be humble, be persistent and be patient. Brooks paints a rather different picture of a leader, but in my view it’s one in which there is still a great presence – just in a different way.

So what’s a future leader to do, especially if going out on interviews for leadership positions? On one hand it’s important to demonstrate self confidence; who wants a wishy-washy leader? Be clear about your vision and values. Show what you believe in and how your behavior supports your beliefs. Do so with an assurance that demonstrates inner strength and faith in yourself. All of that needs to be balanced with humility, an appreciation for the support of colleagues and co-workers, and the good that inspired teams can achieve. There are different ways to demonstrate presence. An accomplished leader is able to express the right type of presence when and where it’s needed.