It Helps To Have Presence

There are many different ways to be a leader in your library or on your campus, and you can lead from any position in the library. Being willing to step up and take responsibility as the idea champion for a project is one way to establish yourself as a library leader. Spotting new trends, connecting the dots and putting it all together to develop an innovative service is another way to express leadership. Seeing things on your campus that need to be accomplished and taking the first step toward getting things done will help establish the library as a campus leader. But no matter what you do or how you do it, it helps to establish presence. But what does it mean to have presence, and how would you go about developing it? Do some people have a natural presence or is it a quality you can learn and acquire?

So how do you know when you’ve achieved this intangible thing we call presence? Chances are you may not know the answer to this question until you encounter your crucible. In the book Crucibles of Leadership, Robert J. Thomas profiles many leaders who were tested by way of experiencing a personal crucible. A crucible is the vessel in which alchemists attempted to turn base metals into gold. Thomas writes:

We can think of a crucible as a transformative experience from which a person extracts his or her gold: a new or altered sense of identity…Crucibles are not life stages…like moving from adolescence to adulthood…Crucibles are more like trials or tests that corner individuals and force them to answer questions about who they are and what is really important to them.

There are dozens of state, regional and national library leadership programs, and they cover many issues that emerging and experienced leaders must know. But I suspect that few offer authentic practice for developing a presence. In Thomas’ book most leaders describe a crisis or catastrophic experience that defined their crucible. Such events cannot easily be manufactured in a seminar setting. Often it is a test of fire that one must prepare for and emerge from successfully. Then you will know you have experienced your crucible.

But a simple test of presence for any leader, is being called upon to speak spontaneously about your library or a library-related issue, such as scholarly communications. For example, at a campus meeting the college president calls upon you, as the representative of the library, to share your vision for a 21st century library, to share your perspective on a recent news item about the changing academic library, or to explain how the library best serves as the heart of campus. Great leaders can speak extemporaneously with great presence so that they inspire others – or at least reassure their colleagues that someone has a command of the situation. How do you prepare for that? Developing presence is a challenge.

According to John Baldoni, presence is not the same as having charisma. In a recent post at his blog he writes:

I define leadership presence as earned authority. You may have a title, but you need to earn the respect and trust of your coworkers. Presence is rooted in fundamental competence, and for anyone who aspires to lead, presence is essential. Developing this is a long process that goes far beyond speaking in public. Some people confuse presence with charisma, but the two are not the same. The former is developed over time; the latter is what you are born with and is a matter of looks, charm, personality, and appeal.

But what guidance does Baldoni provide for those who want to develop and build their leadership presence, particularly when put on the spot to speak publicly – a formidable crucible for many:

Remain calm. Why? Because you are in control! Your stomach may be churning and your palms may be sweaty, but you must realize the microphone is in your hands. This is a little secret that I share with people I coach: people have to listen to you. Whether you croon or wax eloquent, the audience is at your mercy. You are the master of your destiny, or at least the next five minutes. When you keep that thought in mind, you will realize that yes, you can do this. You can speak in front of an audience and you will be okay.

Simple – right? If you seek to establish your presence, a good place to start may be improving your ability to speak like a leader. There are plenty of resources to help with that, such as blogs or organizations like Toastmasters. But even taking time for authentic practice is beneficial; try delivering a short talk on a topic well known to you but do it in front of a mirror. Of course it helps to be well versed on the issues of the day, and to spend time thinking about and crafting your personal vision so that you can quickly articulate it when called upon to do so. Two ideas that may help: (1) be prepared to deliver sound bites and (2) stay on your message.

I learned the first at a prior position when we were required to undergo media training. What is media training? That’s learning how to show grace under pressure when a reporter sticks a microphone in your face and asks for a response to a challenging question (think 60 Minutes confrontations). That rarely happens to a library leader during a crisis, but you never know when a journalist may call you and ask for an on-the-spot opinion about an issue. You need to be ready and long, drawn out explanations won’t cut it. You need to deliver the goods in a concise and coherent way. Sound bite has an unpleasant and superficial tone, but if you want to be quoted correctly and come off sounding like you know your business, it does work. So think in advance and prepare sound bites that you can deliver under pressure and on demand.

The second comes from a workshop I attended at which the main speaker was the author of a book about developing communication skills for leaders. This technique comes straight out of politics, and it’s used to answer difficult questions for which you are not quite prepared. How well this works for you depends, again, on advance preparation. Staying on message means having a consistent message you want to communicate no matter what the question is. If your goal is to consistently communicate the contribution the library makes to student success or faculty research, then put together a short and easy to remember message that you can recite on demand – and ad lib to as needed. If an administrator or faculty member asks you a tough question about why we still need libraries or what you thought about the Chronicle article on lousy online catalogs, you can bob and weave your way past the first 10 or 15 seconds of response, have your transitional phrasing ready and then get on message. Here’s an example:

I did read that article and I have to agree that academic libraries can do a better job of [INSERT ISSUE/TOPIC] and in our professional association conversations we debate this issue frequently [UP TO THIS POINT YOU’VE REALLY SAID NOTHING OF GREAT SUBSTANCE – NOW GET TO YOUR MESSAGE] but what’s really important is that our library stays focused on doing everything it can to help our students achieve academic success [AT THIS POINT YOU ARE OVER ANY INITIAL NERVOUSNESS ABOUT HOW TO ANSWER THE QUESTION – NOW YOU CRUISE TO THE FINISH LINE] and that’s why we are seriously examining a number of new technology solutions that address the problem discussed in that article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me about this challenge our library faces.

Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? Of course it’s easy to write this stuff out when you have plenty of time to think about it – which is where you should probably start. Then when you get asked these questions in committee meetings and at the faculty senate where you’ll have little time to think about it – you’ll be ready to step up and show you’ve got presence.

Sorry But You Can’t Have It All

I recently gave a keynote talk at a meeting of a statewide library directors group. I called the talk “The Search for Tomorrow’s Library Leaders in A ‘Dissin’ the Director’ Landscape” and part of the talk referred back to some previous ACRLog posts on leadership and library directors. I mentioned some of the reasons that Gen-X and Gen-Y librarians are disillusioned with library management. With their negative perceptions of library directors these individuals can find few good reasons to aspire to careers as library administators. Why else are nextgens disinterested? Past research indicates they want a better work-life balance and were hesitant to make the necessary sacrifices required to lead libraries from the director’s office. I made that point with a quote that appears in a chapter titled “Preparing the Next Generation of Directors and Leaders” by Nancy Rossiter from a book titled “Making a Difference: Leadership and Academic Libraries” by Peter Hernon and Rossiter:

Rachel Gordon Singer found that Generation X and Generation Y librarians have a negative view of managment…the amount of time a library director devotes to the position is potentially a turn-off; younger librarians do not want to detract from time spent with family and friends..One of Gordon’s respondents stated “There is no amount of money or prestige that would entice us to sacrifice our families, our home lives, and our sanity for the long hours and Sisyphean ordeal of a directorship.”

That led to some interesting discussion and thoughtful reactions, both pro and con. One director said this was all well and good but that the current generation of directors needed to give their nextgen colleagues a dose of reality. Getting the job done, said the director, requires certain personal sacrifices, and that a work-life imbalance, staying late, working weekends, getting emergency calls in the middle of the night, is occasionally necessary. Bottom line: you can’t have it all. But another director expressed concerns about the blurring of work life and personal life in an increasingly 24/7 connected society. This director thought that library administrators needed to be more sensitive to the next generation’s desires for the work-life balance. If the work-life practices and behavior of the current generation of directors establishes a model upon which the next generation forms its attitudes towards library administration then today’s library directors, as part of their effort to recruit and shape the next generation of leaders, needs to live and promote an image that will attract the best and brightest to academic library leadership.

Not unexpectedly, there was no clear resolution on how to best attract the nextgen librarian to the library directorship. What we do know is that perceptions are important. As long as nextgens see the current crop of directors working long hours without a clear sense of the potential rewards, it’s unlikely they’ll be motivated to enter into directorships. The current generation of academic library directors need to better communicate that their jobs do occasionally involve long hours, but that there can be great rewards. Chief among those rewards is fulfilling a vision about how an academic library can best serve the needs of its constituents. Here’s my message to those nextgens who diss their director and whose own vision is in conflict with what they see coming out the contemporary’s academic library director’s office: You may be the best person to become a library director; there’s no better way to fulfill your vision of what an academic library can and should be for your community. And if you can do it while creating a better work-life balance for yourself and your next generation of leaders then go out and create some change.

I finished my talk with a quote to emphasize that today’s library leaders do have a responsibility to the next generation of leaders. It comes from the book Crucibles of Leadership:

As the scholar Noel Tichy argues, leaders must be teachers – and the leaders in this chapter offer precisely what Tichy calls a “teachable point of view.” He argues that leaders’ responsibility is not only to provide direction and judgment in the moment, but to strive continuously to develop leadership in others, now and into the future.

So you could argue that it is incumbent upon the current generation of leaders to help the next generation to learn about leadership. Today’s library directors must think more clearly about how their leadership style and the examples they set send a message of learning to our next generation of leaders.

Mastering The Art Of Adaptation

ACRLog and its readers have engaged in some lively conversation about leadership in the last few weeks, and I hope you are looking forward to another post about it (sorry Barbara). I attended OCLC’s 2008 Symposium on “New Leadership for New Challenges” at the ALA Midwinter Conference. Described as an exploration of “how both individual and institutional leadership has an impact on the success of libraries” the program featured Leslie Crutchfield, co-author of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits and Rush Miller, co-author of Beyond Survival: Managing Academic Libraries in Transition. The two speakers gave different, but occasionally overlapping, presentations about organizations that transform through change and how they achieve sustainable success. The common thread: great leadership.

Crutchfield’s philosophies and strategies are based on a detailed analysis of successful nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Heritage Fund. Successful nonprofits (including libraries) achieve positive social change. What are the six practices? Advocate for a long-term vision; what will the world or your community look like when you succeed? Make markets work; yes, you can achieve success by collaborating with for profits. Inspire evangelists; convert your community into true believers and get them to do your job for you (that one should sound familiar to the scholarly publishing advocates). Nurture your nonprofit network; collaborate with peers to succeed. Master the art of adaptation; know your mission and do whatever it takes to accomplish it even if it’s not mainstream. Share leadership; leaders need to let go and let others share the power. Crutchfield’s talk was more about the qualities of great nonprofits and less about leadership, but she gave case studies that clearly pointed to visionary leaders who had the courage to institute the six practices even when it meant taking great risks in the name of innovative change. That’s why she said that for libraries the number one practice should be mastering the art of adaptation.

Miller’s advice for survival – or avoiding complete marginalization in higher education – was more familiar to the audience of librarians. Referencing stories about change at this own library since 1994, he emphasized that achieving an adaptive library was about the attitude of the employees not organizational structure. Miller said that while a great leader alone can’t make all the difference, a great library must have a leader with a well-articulated vision and the confidence to pursue it. In response to a question Miller closed with some important advice for the next-gen leader. While today’s leaders (and folks, by leaders he meant top library administrators) obtained their jobs based on expertise in library skills (e.g., collection development, technical processing, etc.), the next generation must achieve their authority based on ability to adapt, innovate, identify problems and develop creative solutions.

Both speakers pointed out that great organizations, nonprofits and libraries, needed leadership throughout the organization – employees that are willing to be adaptive. But it was also clear that those adaptive employees needed a topnotch administrator – an executive director – to motivate and influence them to share in the leadership so that the organization could transform and move into the future. I suggest that in our future conversations we not debate where true leadership emanates from in the academic library, the administrator or the front-line worker, but that we focus instead on how the two can share leadership in a way that puts the mission and cause of the organization ahead of anyone’s ego.

OCLC will have a video recording of both presentations on their website sometime in February. If you’re interested in leadership and creating adaptive library organizations, plan on viewing the program archive.

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.

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?