10/25/2009

Ruminations on Leadership


Last week I had the honor of serving as a mentor at the Eureka! Library Leadership Institute, sponsored by Infopeople and the State Library of California. Led by my two favorite leadership and organizational development gurus, John Shannon and Becky Schreiber, this was an intense six day program designed to help newer members of the profession understand their own attitudes and aptitudes for leadership.

One of the themes that came out repeatedly during the week was the importance of the role of the directors and managers of these new library workers (some with MLS degrees, others without). The people who felt they had some level of control over their work, who felt like they were using all their talents in what they do, and who felt supported by upper management, tended to be much more optimistic and much likely to want to continue in the profession.

This idea was borne out in a recent study conducted by Education Week, Public Agenda, and Learning Point Associates, and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. (Full disclosure: I'm the current chair of the Learning Point Associates Board of Trustees.) The report showed that fully 40% of America's classroom teachers are "disheartened." One of the leading characteristics of these disheartened teachers is the lack of support they feel from their principals and administrators.

Do we want 40% burn out --- or worse --- in the library profession? I don't think so, and I know the people who use our libraries don't want to see that. (I'll let you insert here the places you are forced to visit where the staff are less than enthusiastic about their work, and how that experience makes you feel.)

Joan Frye Williams and I did a program for the ASCLA President's program at ALA in Chicago about "Revitalizing the Library Experience." In fact, we'll be doing a slightly revised version of this as a webinar for Infopeople next month. But somehow, I think we may also have to think long and hard about revitalizing the library worker's experience. How can we get beyond empowerment to creativity? How can we be focused on getting to "yes," instead of defaulting to "no?" Where are the opportunities to allow every library worker to shine? How can branch managers, department heads, and directors support their staff when they're right, and help them learn, productively and without recriminations, when they're wrong?

Tough questions, but if this stuff were easy, they wouldn't have to pay us, right?


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