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/

LACUNY Institute Explores The Next Generation Of Library Leadership

Editor’s Note: Here we share a report from the 2009 LACUNY Institute authored by guest poster Sarah Laleman Ward, Outreach Librarian at Hunter College Libraries. We greatly appreciate Sarah’s contribution to ACRLog in which she shares with our readers the highlights from the Institute.

The 2009 LACUNY Institute was held October 23, 2009 in New York. The Institute theme was “Library Leadership: The Next Generation”, and the program included a keynote speaker, two panel discussions, and a poster session. The overarching themes I took away from the institute were those of collaboration, communication, mentoring, and flexibility.

Stanley Wilder delivered the keynote address, entitled: “Demographic change in a turbulent era: technologists and the humble subject liaison.” Wilder is no stranger to the topic of demographic change in libraries, having recently posted on this blog about the prophesied but as yet unfulfilled librarian shortage. Wilder’s most salient points were those related to collaboration, flexibility and willingness to adapt. He referenced Jim Neal’s 2006 Library Journal article, saying that with the increasingly technological needs of libraries, so-called “feral professionals,” who may have different backgrounds and training than traditional or “domesticated” librarians and are less likely to hold an MLS degree, are entering the profession at a higher rate. These new professionals are not necessarily young, but they bring a different set of values and skills to librarianship, and will continue to grow in numbers and influence. Wilder encouraged librarians to view this as an opportunity to stop apologizing and start leveraging ourselves. What he calls the “Holy Grail” for academic libraries is the fact that we are already closely aligned with the core academic mission of our institutions. Wilder suggested we collaborate more with other campus units, such as instructional technologists and computing staff, inviting them to work with us to form a broader network engaged with the institutions core academic mission. His final point was that ultimately, we should not have to choose between librarians and technologists, because both are necessary for the future of libraries.

These themes carried throughout the panel discussions, which were both moderated by Marie Radford. The first panel, “The Graying of the Profession: Intergenerational Collaboration and Succession Planning” was ostensibly composed of two “Gen-X” librarians (Jenna Freedman and Erik Sean Estep) and one “Boomer” (Shelly Warwick). The second panel “Issues in Next Generation Librarianship” included panelists Erin Dorney (a “Millennial”), Emily Drabinski, and Jason Kucsma (both “Gen-X”). I reluctantly use these designations because everyone seemed understandably uncomfortable with generational labels. However, since the panelists were clearly chosen to represent differing generational viewpoints I thought it was appropriate to mention. Several of the panelists agreed that generational labels are artificial and that the real issue is communicating with people as individuals: genuine interpersonal communication can trump the generational divide. Both panels discussed the necessity of mentoring; not just “mentoring down” (veterans to newbies), but “mentoring up” as well. Radford mentioned that often, the trouble comes not from the aging of the older generation but from the marginalization of the younger. The first panel agreed that what they would like to see in newer professionals is a focus on service. The second panel focused on collaboration and flexibility as well as the “next gen” influence on 21st century libraries resulting in organizations with flatter, more team-based structures and cross-institutional collaboration. The newer generation’s willingness to move around and change jobs may be perceived as disloyalty by managers and this way of thinking needs to change, since turnover is vital to keeping organizations alive. Staying in one place for one’s entire career was mentioned as an older (or, “Boomer”) ideal, and that newer professionals will stay in places that respect them and their work. All the panelists emphasized the importance of remaining flexible, adapting, changing and trying new things while respecting professional core values.

My complete notes from the Institute are posted online here, and there is more information about all of the speakers on the 2009 LACUNY Institute website.