Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘leadership/management

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.


I picked this up pretty much because our boss made us read it in preparation for a webinar that Maureen Sullivan was going to present. For good or ill, I got stuck covering the reference desk at the time,  but if the interview in this article is anything to go by, then I don't think I missed a whole lot. Overall, the article is like others dealing with the topic of leadership in libraries. This type of article usually boils down platitudes, positive thinking, and theoretical stuff that more often than not will not work in the trenches of the real world. I debated whether to blog about it or not, since more often than not, when you disagree with the establishment, someone from that establishment may well get offended or testy. I don't have enough in here to make a full blown essay I could include in The Gypsy Librarian, but I have enough to jot down, so it's in this scratch pad.

Anyhow, here are some quick ideas from the article, with my responses.

  • We get the spiel about the need to establish trust in an organization. This is necessary so people can be open and frank in the organization without worrying about retribution. The thing is that retribution often will follow if you are too frank, and I did find Ms. Sullivan's attitude about the idea of retribution a little dismissive. She refers to "the myth of retribution, because most people who talk about it really can't cite specific examples of where it's actually happened" (12). I wonder if it has occurred to her that maybe some people might not want to cite specific examples for fear of said retribution. However, the deal is that often retribution is nothing blunt or extreme. You may not get fired for something you do or say, but there are hundreds of little ways that your superiors can make your life impossible if you get uppity. And those are not so easy to document or prove, so I would not be so dismissive as to call it a myth. Many of us often remain quiet just to make sure we can keep working another day.
  • Sullivan brings up the idea that leaders need to tell their stories. This is something that interests me as I wonder what is our library's story. If we were asked, what would we say?
  • She brings up the constant complaint of the younger (and I use that label with some caution) professionals who just want to jump in, change what they think needs to be changed, and how they find life difficult because their organization may not be ready or willing to go along. I always find this a reason to be skeptical because the organization usually ends up painted as the bad guy, as the place that will be stale and antiquated unless the new hot shot's ideas are implemented right away regardless of consequences. The reality of this is that often the new folks are a little impatient. They are often unwilling to learn their organization's full history, wanting to simply do what sounds hip and neat without thinking of the consequences. The mantra of "we've always done it this way" is pretty much the smokescreen. More often than not, X or Y may not have been done already for a reason that, had the new guys actually bothered to ask around, is likely practical or makes sense. Or something was tried already, and it failed already. What is that saying about beating dead horses? You know, at the end of the day, those who have a little more experience and have been around the block once or twice once in a while actually know what they are talking about. So, new guys, save the aggravation, learn the ropes, think a little, then and only then, go argue for your changes and ideas. Will it take time? Yes, it will, but things well done usually do.
  • Sullivan mentions the Emerging Leaders of ALA. I have had a couple of thoughts on the subject (here and here), so I am not going to expound more than necessary on the topic. Only thing I will say on this and on the whole "you need to be involved in the profession" mantra is that it works nicely if both your library and your campus (for academic librarians) actually support such participation and are committed to helping you grow as a professional. You can't seize opportunities (or some opportunities at least) unless you can actually afford to do so. No funding, no travel. It's pure and simple, and it is something that the higher ups and the professional organizations' elites consistently and constantly miss (or more likely choose to ignore since if they did not, they would have to then at least discuss it). In addition, Sullivan herself has to concede this when she writes, "and sometimes, there isn't the kind of support that a lot of these folks need from their managerial leaders" (15). Certain people can say all they want that librarians need to be gung ho and take their professional development in their hands. Well, again, if I lack access to certain opportunities, is that really a fair playing field?
  • A question that is never answered by the article, but it was the one that stuck with me the most was that of power. The interviewer argued that librarians, as a whole, want power (as part of the ability to make decisions affecting their organizations and destinies). But what happens when you DO NOT want power? For one, leadership and power are two very different things. Two, some of us just do not care for management in any way, shape or form. I am an instruction and reference librarian. It's what I do, and it is what I do very well. More importantly, I am sure the powers that be would not want me as a manager. Unlike most library directors, I am NOT conflict-averse. If I have to tell someone off, I have no problem doing it. If I have to make a decision, I stick by it (unlike a good number of managers I have known who have more waffles than a Waffle House). My problem as a manager would likely be that I would be too honest and blunt, traits not welcome in library management. Leadership? That is a whole other question. I tend to prefer the leading by example and by stewardship style, which means having some discretion. And it involves simply asking what can I do to help, then actually doing it.

There are a couple other things I could say, but these notes are getting long already. Maybe some things are  better left unsaid. Or maybe I still need to think a couple more things over. Or maybe, I just want to move on. Anyhow, there it is, for what it may be worth.

The article's citation (in case anyone wishes to read it):

"An Interview with Maureen Sullivan: Leadership in Academic Libraries." Texas Library Journal (Spring 2010): 12-16.


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Tim Brown, of IDEO, TED Talk

The above video is part of the TED series of talks. I took some time this morning to finally listen to it; I had it clipped in my feed reader for a while. I found a couple of his ideas intriguing, and I found myself wondering how some of this is applicable to librarianship. Now, I am sure a lot of the twopointopians (to borrow the terms from The Annoyed Librarian) would be all over this, so to speak. But I am not talking about just playing for the sake of playing which seems what they often embrace (at times at the detriment of other important library services, but that is a whole other conversation). However, play and creativity should have a role in the work that we do. In fact, it is something I have pondered at some point.

So, these are some of the points Mr. Brown made I found interesting:

  • The idea of starting a company where the employees are friends. This is not an easy thing to do. Even in a small library environment, i.e. one with few workers, it is not always the case that they are friends. Heck, they are barely colleagues in some cases. Now, Brown says that you would want a company where the employees are friends because friendship is a short cut to play. This is because an environment where there is friendship can be one that provides a sense of safety and trust, and with those, then there is security to play and take risks.
  • Playfulness helps us get to better solutions.
  • Brown made a remark about first graders being able to do construction play (build things in class with blocks, etc.). I am not sure how accurate that is anymore given the awful testing climate schools have these days. It seems like play keeps getting removed from schools at earlier stages. And don't even get me started on the schools that minimize or eliminate recess. As the kids get older, the schools take away the things that are useful for constructing and creative play. Librarians barely keep a sense of play, and it seems that when they do, it is not exactly the most effective or constructive.
  • Building quick prototypes gets material faster to clients/patrons. Role play comes into play as well, say for dealing with services.
  • Play is not anarchy; it is that idea where I have issue then with some of my professional brethren, who think that pretty much anything goes for the sake of play. And yes, you should be able to play and experiment. But play does have some rules; watch kids playing: they often follow certain scripts even at their most creative. This is specially applicable in group play. The negotiation of the play rules is what leads to productive play in a group context. 
  • There are also rules of when to play. We transition (or need to learn to do so) in and out of play.
  • "You can be a serious, professional adult, and, at times, be playful." Cool quote. And I like that he used the word professional given how the latest trend in librarianship seems to be questioning or putting down the idea that librarians are professionals (like this guy; but again, that is another conversation). 

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This is just a set of links on leadership that I have been saving to ponder upon regarding leadership and management. While I personally do not have an interest in becoming a manager, I do have some interest in the topic of leadership.

From Dumb Little Man:

From Bob Sutton's blog Work Matters:

  • "The Power of the First Follower." Sutton makes a very good point: if there are no followers, then there are no leaders. It is an intriguing idea. Sutton is also linking to a lecture Derek Sivers in this post. 

From Lifehacker:

  • "Make Sure You're Not De-Motivating Your Team." The Lifehacker folks are highlighting this article from HBS Working Knowledge Series. The article does say something that should be common sense to employers and managers: it takes more than money to keep your workers motivated. From the Lifehacker post, "instead, team leaders need to get out of the way and stop de-motivating employees with mindless policies and poor management strategies." Sound familiar? As an aside, HBS Working Knowledge has a list of their best articles of 2009 here that may be of interest. 

From Library Bytes blog:

  • I am not a big fan of discussions of leadership in librarianship. Seems to me people in my profession often like to look at the theory, but they do not practice what they preach. I also tend to be apprehensive because such discussions often degenerate into just seeing what can be taken (or stolen) from business literature instead of actually thinking it through then applying it to librarianship. Anyhow, these are some brief notes as a "Thought of the Week."
  • "Innovation and Leadership." This is mostly a link to a presentation Helene Blowers gave on the topic.

From ACRLog:

  • "It Helps to Have Presence."
  • "The Involved Academic Library Administrator." This is an idea that I have strong mixed feelings about. On the one hand, some involvement is ok. Once the administrator starts micromanaging and meddling too much (when he or she should be actually administering), it becomes a problem. You want to stay in the trenches, do so. Once you become an administrator, do the job you were hired to do and let those of us who actually know what is going on in the trenches do our jobs. Part of you being a leader (or at least a manager) is having the faith in us to do our work. 
  • "Run Your Library Like a Circus." Another piece I am a bit mixed about. At least the title; the ideas in themselves are not bad.

Other items:

  • Here is an edition of the Leadership Development Carnival I need to go through. Looks like there are some good posts there.
  • Michael Casey offers "a few thoughts on crisis leadership." 
  • CW from the blog Ruminations on "Learning from Experience." She was reading the book Crucibles of leadership: How to learn from experience to become a great leader by Robert J. Thomas, which is mentioned in one of the other posts listed here. 

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September 2020


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