When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to go into space, beweightless, do fascinating and science-y things. But I didn’t know how you got to BE anastronaut, so I didn’t ever follow through. Instead, I’m a librarian. And I’m an administrator, a leader, and a manager, all much youngerthan anyone expects. I surely didn’t know how you got to BE those things, more than theastronaut gig, and yet here I am.So how’d I get here? I’m 35, so it’s not that I earned it by slogging through trenches, strugglingup ladders, or waiting out my elders, as some conventional wisdoms would ask you to believe.Instead, I just did it. I recently told a good friend that when people tell me I do great things, I’m usually bafﬂed. Ijust do my job, choose to be authentically myself, and reach for my goals. Good things happento me, and bad ones, too. And I don’t think that’s explicitly about leadership skills or traits – Ithink it’s about understanding your skills and traits, and what it means to lead, good and bad,and knowing who I am in that regard, good and bad.
But I don’t want to just start by talking about myself -- that’s less helpful to you than askingyou to think about what you know already and putting it into a new context. So I’d like to askyou do a small exercise -- the ﬁrst in a series of what I promise will be painless ones -- tohelp frame up some of that context with you. These exercises will all be private, largely -- Imay ask a few volunteers to share answers, or to have you all do an A or B multiple choiceanswer thing, but largely these responses are for your use. Don’t worry about being forced toshare them and thus feel awkward about answering.Now, hold on to those. We’ll come back to them.
Okay. So. Let’s dig in. Leadership is not management. We will talk about management later -- Colleen will discuss changemanagement just after lunch, and we’ll both hit at some of the hard work of personnel management this afternoon.Leadership is something else entirely. I can think of no better graphical demonstration than this: JFK is, in this image, giving thefamous speech in which he proposed that we put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.Let me read a piece of that speech. “Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedomand tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did theSputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination ofwhich road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the VicePresident, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, wherewe may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--timefor this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the nationaldecisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never speciﬁed long-range goals on anurgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulﬁllment.”He continued, “I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of theCongress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks andmonths, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an afﬁrmativeposition in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, weshould decide today and this year.”Those are the words of a leader. A well-informed man, studying costs, beneﬁts, and potential directions, threats and possibilities,and making a decision on direction, which he recommended in the strongest possible and most compelling terms he couldmuster, linking his proposal to his arguments and making a case for the future.Whatever you may think of NASA, we must all recall that it worked, even after his untimely death. We did put a man on themoon.Now, the gentlemen on the right are the ones who made it happen. They’re NASA’s project managers. They took the goals ofthe Congress and the President, the nation’s funding, the scientiﬁc challenges and opportunities, and put astronauts on themoon’s surface. Their jobs were distinctly different from Kennedy’s. That’s not to say that he didn’t manage details in preparing his speech andpresidential agenda. And that’s not to say that the managers at NASA weren’t leaders in their own rights. But the two jobs arefundamentally different.
Simply deﬁned, “Leadership has been described as the “process of social inﬂuence in whichone person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a commontask”. or, "Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to makingsomething extraordinary happen."Management is “the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals andobjectives using available resources efﬁciently and effectively.” or “Management comprisesplanning, organizing, stafﬁng, directing, and controlling an effort for the purpose ofaccomplishing a goal.”They are overlapping skills, but they are not the same. For example,My secretary is a great process manager. My head technical services clerk is an awesomeproject manager. Niether of them are leaders. Neither wants to tackle vision, strategy, orcommunication, but they can manage details and workﬂows like the professionals they are. Some of librarianship’s biggest names are excellent leaders. Some of them are also terriblemanagers, more interested in the grand idea and futures thinking than the nuts and bolts ofimplementation, people management, morale management, and sustainability that are thehallmarks of a great manager.For any project, idea, or organization to succeed, we need both roles to be ﬁlled.
• Do we have enough leaders in librarianship:? Managers? Do we have more of one than the other? (I think In libraries, in my experience, we have both managers and leaders, but not enough of either, and in too many cases, managers have ended up in leadership roles, or leaders are pushing forward without enough management experience. )• Why do you think that is?
In practical terms, strong leadership provides the framework within which library staff can dotheir jobs. That’s it. That’s all. Easy, right? Well. The challenges come in when leaders envision a framework that’s HARD. Aframework that pushes boundaries, studies challenges and rejects them, and attempts tomove things forward toward impossible goals. Like, say, putting a man on the moon. Sosometimes leadership means we succeed, and JFK exhorts us to go to the moon, and then wesend Sally Ride up on a shuttle and library directors create sustainable and innovativeinformation environments.But sometimes leadership means that NASA closes down the shuttle program andMcMaster’s University Librarian ﬁres most of its librarians and replaces them with postdocs.Leaders move us forward – so you better be sure you like where they’re taking us.Which is why I’m so glad you’re all here, willing to listen. Sometimes our leaders speak for usbecause no one else is speaking. Sometimes people ﬁll leadership roles because no one elsewill. Sometimes that works out great, but sometimes it’s an overt disaster. The more thatpeople understand their own power as leaders and their own value as librarians, the morecertain we can be that the paths we will all walk down are going to take us somewhere wewant to go.
So, what, exactly, is leadership? “Provides the framework” is totally lame management-speak, Iknow. So here are the pieces, as I see them.Coherent approach to personnel: Leaders have to answer the question “Who are we? Whatdo we value in our colleagues, our team, and our approach to organizing our work?”Strategic vision: Leaders answer the question “Where are we going? Do we have goals? Whatare they?”Change management: “How will we get there? Are we prepared? ”Decision-making paradigms: “Who will decide? Who gets a say? How much inﬂuence does anyindividual have?”Morale and attitude management: “How will we feel about it, whatever it is?”External presentation and representation: “What will everyone else think of us?”What else? What else to leaders in libraries need to do?
read instructions.time to take testexplain scoring methodologyask to scoretime to review results
There are more ways to lead than I could possibly cover, and I am in no way an expert on any,let alone all, of them.I informally surveyed about 30 early and mid career librarians and asked them what theywanted a bunch of people talking about leadership in libraries to know about approachingleadership. Here’s their list.
Lead from the middle, whoever you are, you have power of some kind, becauseyou as a person have skills, values, and abilities that have meaning. You just haveto leverage them.Lead by words. Sharing an enticing vision is, well, enticing. People followdreams, because we want to believe that Yes We Can.Lead by doing. If you can provide proof of a concept, you will earn respect.People respect accomplishment.Lead by supporting others. The leader isn’t always the person with the idea, butoften is the person who makes it possible for the ideas of others to be realized.You are your team.Lead by creating the environment. One framework that matters is a workplaceculture that allows for change, growth, and success, and a leader can cultivateand build that.Lead by recognizing others. Acknowledgement of what people haveaccomplished, and creating value around accomplishment through your choicesof recognition, is leadership.Most of all, they wanted everyone to realize that leadership can be ﬁerce, or kind,or collaborative, or maverick. Leadership can be collaborative or individual, quietor soapbox-y. Leadership comes from you, whoever you are.
And so. The people I talked to are all right. Leaders can be any of those things,or all of those things, or some of those things. So if you want to lead, I wouldsuggest that your ﬁrst step is knowing yourself. Where are you in the spectrumof leaders?The answer to that doesn’t really matter to the outside world, but it matters inthat you have to know your strengths if you’re going to use them well. You alsoneed to know your weaknesses so you can either avoid or bolster them, or, morepractically, ﬁnd a good team to do the parts you suck at.
So, to that end, we have anotherassessment for you.
So, I’ve talked about what leadership is, and what leaders do, and why thatmatters.You’ve thought about what you admire, who are are in your organization, andwhat your leadership strengths are.Now I want to talk about two intangibles of leadership that I hope are hallmarksfor the future of librarianship: Trust and transparency.John Glenn went from that hallway onto a spacecraft that, looking back, appearsto be made of tin foil and transistors. Hundreds – thousands – of people workedon those craft, made and ﬁxed mistakes, and contribued to the project. Theyhad good managers, and good leaders. And the astronauts trusted that thewhole thing was going to ﬂy. And it worked.
Our libraries also work on trust. Healthy ones, anyway. Because, here’s the thing:Leading only works if people follow you. People will follow you if they fear you,but punishment is a miserable motivator. People will also follow you if theyrespect you. And what is respect if not trust that your track record will hold true?Even if you have an acknowledged authority, a proven track record, and a strongbelievable vision, if the staff isn’t on board, you’re screwed. And to get them onboard you need their trust – either in you, or in the vision. In short: Don’t be an asshole, and model the behavior you would hope for in yourteam.
And so how do people know all those things that allow them to trust you?Because you show them.That’s the king and queen of Belgium in the third row up, to the right of thepointing guy, watching one of the apollo launches. I know that conspiracytheorists still say the moon landing was a hoax but by and large the world truststhat we did it. Part of that trust is because we showed people. We invited themto watch. We broadcast it. We made it available. Why do otherwise professionally?
In many, and I would argue most, cases we have nothing ot lose by sharing.Budgets? Are they a secret? WHY? What part of your process is so secret youcan’t share it? Are you ashamed of it? What would happen if you told peoplehow you allocate money? Is it possible that if they understood how you makedecisions, they might trust you more?After the ﬁrst six months in my current position I told my team that my operatingprinciple is that I will say yes unless I must say no, and that I deﬁne “must” byconsidering our mission, our goals, and our resources. And I’ve been consistentin that. They trust me. And they expect a yes, but respect a no, because theyunderstand how I make those decisions. Someone, upon hearing that, onceasked me if I ddin’t think that was a misstep – telling the team. Because now thatthey knew how I made decisions, they could manipulate the system, and thusme. I just stared at them. If my decision-making process is something I’m proudof, and it’s based on mission, goals, and resources, how precisely wouldsomeone manipulate me? If their idea is good, I say yes. If their idea compels meto say no, I say no. Knowing that doesn’t give them some strange power overme, it just makes them more comfortable asking me for things because theyknow how I will treat them when they do.Of course, there are some areas where perhaps people don’t need to know.Legal ones like personnel issues. Things waaaay outside their pay grade that willjust confuse the issue. My internal emotional reaction to criers, liars, and timewasters. How often I censor my language. But nearly everything else is fairgame.
But not all worlds are perfect worlds. So let’s open this up to discussion andquestions.