Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘leadership/management

This post by Wayne Bivens-Tatum on “Why I Ignore Gurus, Sherpas, Ninjas, Mavens, and Other Sages” did resonate with me. I also tend to ignore those types, or when I listen to them, I simply adapt what I need from them and toss out the rest. This is quote from the piece that really stuck with me this time:

“Based on my experience, I know the gurus’ giving advice about things I must learn is wrong. I can learn those things, and I might even benefit from that learning, but I don’t have to and will probably do just fine without learning them. I don’t follow sherpas and gurus because I prefer to go my own way. Leaders need followers, but I’m not much of either. I’ve found that it’s much easier to develop skills as I need them than to be told that some skill will benefit me because the teller has the skill and reaps benefits.”

As I wrote when I shared the link on Facebook, this is a lot of what I believe. Sure, I can lead when need be. Just because I do not have much use for a lot of leadership it does not mean I do not know how to lead. I may have mentioned elsewhere that I am a bit more a member of the Patton School of Leadership (Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way). A big reason I do ignore a lot of the library gurus and big shots is this: often the advice they give is because whatever they are peddling (coding and learning HTML back in the day, and yes, back in library school, learning HTML was a big deal; or social media now) benefited them. They get benefits from peddling it (speaking engagements, book deals, fame, higher blog views and counts, followers on social media, etc.) regardless of whether what they peddle or not is good advice for you or not.

I have learned to do what works for me. As an information literacy librarian, I have learned to use the skills I teach my students of always questioning and evaluating the sources of information. Plus, I have also learned the following:  You (often) improvise. You adapt. You overcome.

By the way, go read the whole piece. It is well worth it.


I came across this list when Bob Sutton, another leadership and management “guru,” discussed it in his blog here. Gardner’s ideas go well with some things I read in the book Generation on a Tightrope (you can see my notes on the book here), specifically the parts of the book discussing where a university needs to make a stand. At a time when a lot of people view universities, at best, as glorified vocational school and, at worst, as wastes of time and money, I think this list makes a good reminder of what is really important. Sutton’s discussion is worth reading as well.

So, according to John Gardner, the university stands for:

  • things that are forgotten in the heat of battle.
  • values that get pushed aside in the rough and tumble of everyday living.
  • the goals we ought to be thinking about and never do.
  • the facts we don’t like to face.
  • the questions we lack the courage to ask.

I think in large measure these values are why I enjoy working in higher education. I think they are also values that librarians share and should be embracing. We should stand for truth and have the courage to ask the questions others will not ask. We should then seek out answers where they may lead, and we should help others do so as well.

By the way, Sutton does not mention the exact source of Gardner’s words, but I did a little searching. They come from the following book:

I initially just jotted down in my personal journal some ideas prompted by Jenica Rogers’s post with “Questions About Library Leadership.” However, maybe because I don’t know better, I am blogging them now even if it is on the “not quite ready for primetime” blog. At the end of the day, I am just clearing my thoughts a bit. So, with some minor modifications from what I wrote in my personal journal, here goes.

# # # # #

Once again reading through my library feeds, and I come across another post on library leadership. This time is Jenica Rogers, library director at SUNY-Potsdam, reflecting on her blog. By now, this is the kind of topic I just read, nod in agreement, and move on. I learned a while back that in librarianship some topics come and go, almost like the seasons. So I just do the best I can with what I have. It’s not that I don’t care. I just prefer not to be too public about it. In addition, I happen to be one of those librarians who have been told they have a bad attitude because they have no interest in management. I have made notes on the topic here or there, and I did note Ms. Rogers is one of those who brings up “bad attitudes” in the profession if we hold no interest in management. Actually, I don’t feel a need to “get over it .” I have high expectations of my managers, and I expect them to be accountable. If they suck, they should be called out and fired if need be. To use the term as Bob Sutton uses it, asshole managers should not be tolerated no matter how talented they are. Period. All they do is bring down their organizations, not to mention turn off any people with potential who see that and say, “there is no way I want to be like him.”  If they are good, they should be praised because here is something else I believe: not everyone has the same gifts.

My, gift, was to be able to persuade people, to give, to the Holy Church.” -Archbishop Gilday, in the film The Godfather, Part III.

Some people have the talent to be managers, handle the bills, the big decisions that keep the lights on, etc. Some of us have talents better suited for the front lines. When a manager is good at what they do, it is certainly appreciated. I happen to have a healthy respect for those with the gift to keep the building running. I personally have no interest in that, and it should not earn me a label of having a bad attitude for saying it.

I probably should qualify that it’s not that I have no interest in management. I am able to reflect and read on the topic (feel free to click on the “leadership and management” tag on the right side column here, or on the “librarianship” tag over at my main blog, The Gypsy Librarian. I’ve had a small thought or two on the topic. As someone who gets managed by others, I do have an interest in management, and to a small extent, I have an interest in what makes managers tick. I’ve been fortunate that some of my managers in previous jobs, even when we had our professional differences, were willing to let me ask questions now and then for me to learn more. In some cases, I’ve learned things not to do from managers who were less than ideal as well.

If I may be so bold, it was a mistake for you to accept promotion. Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material.”  -Captain Spock to Admiral Kirk, from the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

What I don’t have an interest in becoming is a manager, or to be exact, a library director. As I’ve said before, mostly as a joke, no one in their right mind would put me in charge of a library. On a serious note, I don’t aspire to a high level management position because that would take me away from what I love and do best. I am an instruction librarian, pure and simple. It is my best destiny.

At any rate, the questions Ms. Rogers raises on in her latest post are interesting and ones that should be discussed. I will say that in regards to the desire for external hires that I have often seen a reverse: an institution that already has an internal candidate in mind, but they have to go through the rigamarole of some bureaucracy and bring in a few token candidates to cover their posteriors. I know: I’ve been one of those tokens. If you are observant during an interview, and you ask a well-placed question now and then (yes, you should be asking questions of your interviewers just as they ask you questions), you can tell when a search committee is just going through the motions. Some committees can hide it better than others, but again, if you are attentive, you see enough to know.

But I have seen some of the other issues. For example, the desire to bring top talent but not being able (or willing) to pay for it; the location issue (which, personally, is not one that has bothered me much when I have been on the market. I’ve been more than willing to go to places most people probably would consider beneath them. In my case, if a job is good, I can make the place work. Paradise, on the other hand, can be shit if the job is bad); and search committees looking for pegacorns. No, not just unicorns, but full blown winged unicorns. Some of the job ads I’ve seen in the days when I was in the market…goodness gracious. Some institutions clearly have no shame.

I will note that I do fall in that “ripe for top management” positions demographic. Heck, to some people, I may be a bit “too ripe.” I’ve gotten questions once or twice such as “are you sure you want to work here?” or a variant when I have applied to other front line positions. My answer is as before: this is what I am passionate about, what I do best, so why take some higher steps up the ladder that would take me away from that?

A man’s GOT to know his limitations.” — Inspector Harry Callahan, from the film Magnum Force.

It’s not that I am not qualified or capable. It’s that I don’t want to, and if some see it as bad attitude, well, that is their problem.

Now my four readers might point out that I am a Coordinator now, which does involve some management. To that I will say it does, but it is more a leadership position. In very simple terms, I don’t just manage people. I lead a team, and I do so by example and being in the front line with my team members. And what little I know and have learned along my journey that can be offered I share as generously as I can. Because I also believe that one has to pay forward. I’ve had leaders who have inspired me, who have given me wisdom, advice, an example, help, so on. I would not be here without them. So, now I have the chance to do some of the same. That’s my nutshell definition of leadership, for what it may be worth to folks out there. All that and the responsibility to keep on learning.

So here are the musings of a librarian who has been around a couple of places and seen a thing or two. Take it for what it may be worth. Now, what I learn in this new role could be a topic or two in future posts. We shall see.

En la lucha. . . .


I came across a couple of items about bosses. One of them is a serious checklist, the other one may be a bit more tongue-in-cheek, but it still has some insights.

  • Bob Sutton has a checklist. He writes “Is Your Boss Horrible? A 10 Point Checklist.” This is a good list that I would say candidates out on the job market should keep handy and ask at least some of the questions in order to determine if they may end up working for a bad boss or not. I know I wish I would have had it when I was in the market for my first library job.
  • On a bit lighter note, the blog Retail Hell Underground has a list of “13 Lessons Every Boss Should Know.” If you read closely, there are some good lessons here that bosses likely need to mind. The second lesson on the list is pretty good: “If your employees are kicking ass on their own, don’t screw with them, especially if you don’t offer perks or don’t pay them shit.” So, bosses, don’t micromanage, let us do our job, especially when we are already doing it well. And especially if we are doing it very well in spite of the low pay, so on.


Bob Sutton recently wrote a column in the June 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review entitled “On Stepping Down Gracefully.” It is a small piece giving advice to managers and CEOs on how to step down from their high posts with grace. I found it interesting since I always say that a big mistake a lot of dictators make is that they do not know when to quit. I’ve joked with friends that, if I ever became a dictator, I would certainly not overstay my welcome. Once I’ve set up a nice nest egg in some nation without extradition treaties and good tight banking, and I’ve left the country in pretty good shape, I am out of there.

But joking aside, managers often do not know when to quit. And even when they yield to a new manager, they persist in hanging around and imposing their shadow on the new guy or gal. Mr. Sutton has some advice for those folks: don’t. In the end, when it is time to leave, people will remember how you left your organization, how you made your exit. As Sutton writes, “will you be remembered as a selfish narcissist or a selfless steward?” If you are a manager, you may not be able to fix any bad things you did during your tenure, but you can decide to leave in a good note and thus be remembered with some dignity and positivity.

Sutton was offering a free PDF of the article via his blog (there were only 100 copies. I managed to snatch one. By the time of this writing, they may be gone). However, you should be able to still find the article via your local library.


Ken Haycock’s recent post on “Building a Better Manager” recently made the rounds in the librarian blogosphere. It does seem a lot of the fuss was over Mr. Haycock’s unfortunate use of the word “sissy.” Yes, the usage was unfortunate. No, the world will not end because he lacks sensitivity. Anyhow, I read the post, and I was not really impressed. It is mostly a list of leadership platitudes, the kind of thing you find in any run of the mill business leadership book. By his admission, he is using Google results for his list of manager behaviors. Again, if this is what passes for leadership thinking in our librarian profession, I am not impressed.

Around the same time I read that post, I had read a post on “What Makes a Creative Director a Great Leader” via the Idea Sandbox. The post is geared at more creative types, but as the author writes, “the ideas go beyond that of just a Creative Director.” If I had to pick a post for my professional brethren to read on leadership, this would be the one I would pick between the two. More often than not a lot of the good thinking I find on leadership is outside librarianship. I don’t know what that says about our profession, nor do I pretend to say, but if nothing else it does indicate we can learn from other fields of endeavor. We just have to be selective about what we choose to learn. The list of items is worth reading. Here are some of the items just to give readers an idea. The good leader:

  • “Understanding not just what someone states they need, but to look further to what they really need.”
  • “Treats people with respect and dignity.” (You would think this is common sense, and yet in many cases, library managers do need to be told this. If nothing else, the good amount of pseudonymous blogs where librarians afraid of retaliation go to in order to vent should give a hint this is a problem).
  • “Knows when to help clear a path… and when to stay out of the way.”

So, skip Haycock’s post and read the one about creative directors instead.

And a bonus item, via the Anecdote blog, “Tom Peters on Stories and Leadership.” It is a brief quote basically on empowering all workers to be able to take initiative. Have a look. Anecdote’s ideas on storytelling and the workplace are something that I find interesting. I think some of it may be applicable to our profession and libraries, if we could find ways to do it right other than just portraying the happy moments and retelling things that go with the established lines. But for me that is food for thought for another time. Meantime, I am jotting it down so I can remember.

These are some items about work and jobs that I have found thought provoking and/or useful. These are things I have shared individually now and then with others via Facebook or Twitter (though I am not a big Twitter user). I wanted to compile some of these things I have been reading lately to have them for reference purposes. Maybe I am also compiling them to spur further thoughts for blogging down the road.

  • Bob Sutton’s book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, has been on my TBR list for a while. I enjoyed his previous book, The No Asshole Rule very much, so I am looking forward to the new book. So until I can get my hands on the new book, Professor Sutton points to a pretty good summary of it (warning PDF). The summary is pretty much something that I think is worth sharing more, and I wish I could put it in my office door. However, I don’t think some of the locals would appreciate the honesty. And by the way, simple concepts like a boss who watches your back and knows when to get out of way are often missing in librarianship as well. Mentioning that though often gets the managers of Librarian Blogsville in a snit.
  • Dumb Little Man offers advice on “How to Stay Motivated When You Hate Your Job.” We all have our good and bad days. For some, the bad days may outnumber the good. In this economy, you may not have the luxury to just pack up and leave a job that you hate. You may have to hang in there a bit longer. So these tips should make things bearable until the moment when  you get to your release date and can leave that bad job.
  • When leaving a job, you definitely should not burn your bridges no matter how good or bad the job was. As tempted as you may be to just tell the boss to take the job and shove it, that is not a good idea. Odds are good you are going to need him or her as a reference. So leave in good terms. Lifehacker did a post on “How to Quit Your Job With Your Contacts, Credentials, and Class Intact.” Basically, you be the classy one taking the higher ground.
  • Via CNN Money, “Top 10 Myths About Job Interviews.” One common myth they discuss is that interviewer may be fully prepared. Sure, you prepared hard for an interview, but guess what, it does not mean the interviewer did the same. I can certainly attest to the fact that many interviewers simply did not do enough preparation to interview with the candidate. I have also been stuck in places interviewing where minimal preparation was made (usually part of some hiring committee where things like questions to ask a candidate are just hastily put together at the last minute). Still, if you are interviewing, it does pay to be prepared. Don’t slack off just because they do. You get to do better and shine. A hat tip to Lifehacker.
  • Something that bosses often forget is minding the little details. Things as simple as saying “thank you” often escape bosses and managers. The folks at Anecdote say that “Thanks is Good Business.” They also point out to a book, The Upside of Irrationality, that I am going to add to one of my “Books I Want to Read Lists.” And by the way, a half-assed “thanks” is not that much better either.
  • The Effing Librarian (who has sent his blog to the Great Ether in the Sky) had a post that also looks at interviewers’ lack of preparation in a more humorous way. The post is “Why Would I Hire You. . . ” Mercifully, he did archive the stuff.
  • Another thing that I have observed is bosses who get a bit hysterical (to put it mildly) if heaven forbid a worker says something that is less than flattering about their workplace. The temptation of these bosses (who often do not understand how social networking works) is to just try to clamp down access to the Internet and get all restrictive. Not the best approach. Mashable offers some tips on “HOW TO: Handle an Employee’s Controversial Online Behavior.” I am not saying your employees should have carte blanche to court controversy, but a sense of balance and perspective is in order. Besides making things too restrictive simply means your employees will seek out ways around the restrictions (say using a smartphone), and it will likely lower morale in the workplace. Related to this, also from Mashable, bosses may want to read “HOW TO: Avoid a Social Media Disaster.
  • Laura Crossett of LIS..Dom offers some notes “On Reading Cover Letters and Resumes” from the point of view of someone doing the hiring.
  • Now this is something you don’t hear about much in job seeking literature and advice, considering your future coworkers. This is another one of those signs you have to look for when you go interview someplace: the people you may end up working with. The key is to ask about the people in that workplace. So, from It’s all about the ecosystem, here are “5 Questions to Ask Before Taking a Job.” They focus on the people in the prospective workplace. I do find the questions intriguing; however, at least in librarianship, I am not sure how a candidate could get away asking some of these without some consequence. Librarianship is a small profession (or acts like one), so asking about people may seem a bit personal for some employers. However, I do find the questions to be very honest and direct. I only wish more potential employers valued honesty and directness instead of the usual dance of phony questions (like the “where will you be 5 years from now” or some “creative” hypothetical) that often encourage lying or at least circumvention. A hat tip to Lifehacker.
  • On a different direction, another simple thing to consider when  you are in the job market: local taxes (if any) and cost of living. Librarianship is a profession where you have to be very mobile to find a job. It will be to your advantage to know about cost of living before you go forth so you have an idea if a salary advertised is actually worth the move. As for taxes, something as simple as a place with no state taxes may make a difference too. I may not like Texas on a lot of days, but I do like there is no personal state income tax. Via Free Technology for Teachers, a couple of hints on “Comparing Taxes and Cost of Living.” Remember just because a job may say, for instance, $45,000 a year (and I am being generous. You should see some of the shameful salaries some libraries advertise), it does not follow you can live on that if the salary offer is in an expensive place.
  • Leadership is a word that gets bandied about quite a bit in Librarian Blogsville. The distinction is not always made between “leader” and “manager,” which is something I have considered before (here, here and here for instance. In addition, this blog has a tag on leadership and management). Over time, I have discovered that one has to tread lightly when discussing such topic. Again, this goes back to what I mentioned earlier about Librarian Blogsville denizens who happen to be managers getting in a snit because you raise a question or two. At least in one occassion, the few comments I attracted was someone trying to defend management and taking offense (because heaven forbid they have the humility to admit that the possibility of poor management is there). At any rate, the post I want to jot down now is this one from ACRLog on “Humility is a Form of Presence Too.” We could use some more humble leadership these days.
  • Escape the Ivory Tower has a piece on “Do You Need a Job or a Calling?” Yes, there is a difference, and if you are going to be happy and do well, you need to learn what that difference is and why it is significant. While the post is mostly applicable to academia (and mostly to folks in doctoral programs), I think there are some insights even us in librarianship can use as well.


April 2020


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 441 other followers

%d bloggers like this: