Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘leadership/management

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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Once again, I have put aside enough posts on the topic of bad bosses to make a post about it. These are mostly food for thought. I am sure someone could write some substantial post on bad bosses as they related to libraries and library administration, but I personally don't feel like doing it at the moment. A common theme in some of these posts seems to be what can we learn from those bad bosses.

  • Lifehacker asks "How Do You Deal with a Bad Boss?" It is an invitation to their readers to comment, but it is also discussing a bit about entitled Working for You Isn't Working for Me. The book may be something to consider reading at some point. A key point here is knowing what it is about your boss that irks or bothers you, then find a way to cope, or as I say, decompress after work. 
  • The Effing Librarian tells us to "Prepare for the Scottish Librarian Invasion." It deals with a story of certain library administrators basically deprofessionalizing their staff and a few other boneheaded things administrators tend to do that demoralize their workers. A must read. Effing Librarian also has a short one on why he is a bad librarian. This was one I could identify with, and it has been something I have been wanting to write about. Maybe it goes back the idea I have seen in some circles where, if a librarian expresses little to no interest in a "leadership" position (read: management) due to having bad experiences with management, then he must have a bad attitude. I have pondered a bit of that before, but not sure what else to do with it.
  • Bob Sutton, one of my favorites on this topic, asks "Do You Learn More From Working for a Bad Boss than a Good Boss?" He is making the point that bad bosses force you to learn about situations and yourself. After all, when the boss is good and all is well, you are not really as reflective. This may be worth some thought. Mr. Sutton also raises a very good question, which I think would make a nice writing prompt for me one of these days: "What is the most important thing you ever learned NOT TO DO from working for a bad boss?"
  • I saved this piece not so much for anything deep but because it has a draft memo for when you have to convince your boss to let you go to a conference. (via The Liminal Librarian). Then again, if you have to convince your boss why your professional development is important, how it will better serve the organization, and how it is an investment in you as an asset to the organization, then you may have bigger problems.

And for the random reader who may be interested, here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this rambling series.

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Being employed means that I work for somebody. Notice I did not say "self-employed." I read someplace that the definition of work is having to do something you would rather not do in some place you would rather not be in the company of people you would rather not be with. Now my current work situation is not that extreme, but as I tell people who ask, some days are better than others. I have recently read a few more items dealing with issues of workplace and management, so I wanted to make some notes here with a bit of quick commentary.

The links:

  • Bob Sutton has a great post on "You Better Start Treating Your People Right, or the Best Will Be Leaving Soon." I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Sutton's idea that you have to treat your workers right. It seems horror stories of how corporations treat their workers like cannon fodder abound. The library world is no exception. Just take a peek at the library mofo blog, and you will find a parade of stories of bosses who treat their workers like dirt. Sutton makes a great point, which I would like to quote for my rare reader here: "But if you have treated people like dirt during the tough times (for a horror story, see here), have been inept about how you have implemented tough decisions (see here) or have simply been clueless about your people's perspective during these tough times (see here), you may have been able to keep great people working for you during these tough times and to hire some of the best. You can be sure, however, that they have told their friends about how much your company or you suck.  They are waiting for things to get better, and perhaps encouraged by the signs the labor market is coming back, are probably doing their jobs extra well these days to enhance their reputation for that coming job search.  So you may be fooling yourself into believing all is well when it is not." That last part is something that I can certainly see: your good workers may be just be doing extra well now so you, the boss, can give them a good reference when their time comes to go into the job market. Sure, the economy may be tight, and you can't give raises or financial incentives, but even if you were able to give money, money is not everything if you are treating your employees in a poor manner. Mr. Sutton's post is something every manager, including library administrators, need to read.
  • There will be times when you could get blamed for something your colleague did. So, here are some things to do "when a colleague's mistakes affect you." Sometimes you may need to help out, but other times you may have to confront, and always remember to protect yourself. This was an old lesson I learned when I first became a public school teacher: document everything, and cover your ass. In essence, no one is going to protect you, so you have to protect yourself. You don't need to brag, but you do need to make your contributions known and clear to the organization. That reality has not changed. (h/t to Lifehacker.
  • There may also be times when you will be in charge of a team. Or you may have just moved into management. Here is "Motivating Your Team–What to Do (and What to Avoid)." (via Dumb Little Man). 
  • When you have a day off, it means a day off. It does not mean you check your e-mail or call the workplace. It is your day, take it off. Period. If you need a reminder of how to take a day off or what to do, here is "How to Really Take a Day Off From the Madness of Life." This is a reminder to take some "me time" now and then. I will admit that I am not as good about taking time off as I should, but when I do, I do unplug completely from work. And when I leave the library at the end of the day, the library stays behind. After all, I do need to keep my sanity. (via Dumb Little Man). 
  • Here is more advice to workers: "How to Make Yourself Indispensable at Work." I think that some of the advice in that post is common sense. Unfortunately, for some people, you do have to tell them basic things like minding their manners and acting in a civil manner towards others. The first item on the list is very important: do your job and do it well. Personally, I think that is basically the goal in my life. Thus I hate the classic interview question of "where do you see yourself five years from now?" or some similar question. My answer, the honest answer, is that I want to do be doing my job and doing it well. And before anyone questions me about saying it is my "honest answer," take an honest look at the job interview process. You know both sides will use little white lies now and then during the process. At least, for that question, I tend to be honest because if I get negative feedback on it (namely, I did not lie to them and tell them I want to be a manager or other), I probably don't want to work for them. By the way, I think reading this post goes along nicely with Sutton's post above. (via Dumb Little Man; man, they do put out some good stuff, huh?). 
  • Here is another one from Bob Sutton. He is pointing to a Forbes magazine column on getting rid of jackass clients. Up front, I will say that this is not always an option in librarianship. Whether you are in a public library that has to let everyone in (and it usually takes some extreme incident before some jackass gets banned) or an academic library where either some students or certain faculty can display jackass behavior (and you can't really ban them unless the behavior is so egregious it borders on dangerous), you will have to keep a good face and march ahead. This is probably why I will never be a library administrator or manager. I have no tolerance for jackasses or assholes. If I run the library, and you behave like a jackass, you are gone, even if it means I have to call the cops to get you out. Life is too short to deal with jackasses, as Shaun Rein, author of the Forbes piece, points out. Jackasses do damage to your organization. This is very applicable to libraries. If your library develops a reputation of being the place where rude people hang out, where disruptive and loud people are regularly present, and so on, rest assured your best clients will take their business elsewhere. Stop coddling misbehavior in the name of being welcoming or open to all.
  • I have not had the chance to watch this yet. Dan Pink on "Overcoming the 'Candle Problem' and Rethinking Motivation." (via Lifehacker). 
  • And more advice for workers: "9 Qualities That Will Rock Your Career." (via Dumb Little Man). There is some very good advice here on traits that good workers should possess and cultivate.
  • And as if things were not bad enough, it can be harder to get hired during a recession (but not due to the reasons you may think). The post, via Crooks and Liars, discusses a Wall Street Journal article that says "Only the Employed Need Apply, Companies Say." This caught my eye because some of what is discussed is pretty rampant in the librarian profession. When it comes to hiring, especially as of late, libraries will prefer the most experience possible (even if the job is actually advertised as entry level), and in particular, a lot of libraries will try to cram two or even three job descriptions into one job. As Susie Madrak, writing for Crooks and Liars, says, "the other annoying thing that happens during a recession is that employers start demanding all sorts of unrelated skill sets in one person (figuring they'll get them to do two jobs for the price of one)." Just take a look at some of the library job postings out there. When you see something like desire for cataloger who is fluent in Persian and Farsi, can do library instruction, and supervise student workers, you know they either have an internal candidate already lined up (but they have to advertise the job anyways due to some bureaucratic rule), or they are trying to get one candidate to do three different jobs. In such a case, I think Madrak's advice is good, even if you think turning down the job in this economy is a bad idea: "I'd advise you against taking a job like that even if it's offered – no matter how bad the economy is, it's not worth the heart attack you'll probably get." Or, don't take a library job that sucks, to borrow the term coined by the Annoyed Librarian
  • A couple more tips from Bob Sutton. First, he points to a cool quiz on "Does Your Work Matter to You?" (link to the quiz itself). Second, he points to the blog Unemploymentality blog. I have to take another look at that blog, maybe add it to my feed reader. 
  • From the Anecdote blog, here is "Building a Collaborative Workplace with Stories." It is a presentation you have to view online. 
  • The folks from Anecdote also remind us that "Saying Thanks is Important for Collaboration." I say that saying thank you any time it is needed should be a given.
  • Bob Sutton also has some thoughts on business language that makes him squirm. It makes me squirm too, and the sad thing is I am seeing a lot of that language sneaking up in librarianship. In some cases, it is no longer sneaking up; it is becoming part of the landscape, and no, it is not a good thing. This reminds me a book I read a while ago, that I need to look over again: The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit by Lois Beckwith. 

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Roy Tennant wrote a list of "The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology." What caught my eye on this were the items dealing more with people. Maybe it is because I am not a "techie" librarian like a lot of the celebrity libloggers are. Or maybe because I tend to think that your technology is only as good as the people you have running it. The idea of good people managing your library's technology has been on my mind lately, and if I was passing this on to my boss, I would especially highlight the following items from the list:

  • "Maximize the effectiveness of your most costly technology investment — your people." Mr. Tennant makes a good point about making sure you have good resources for your people. Don't bog them down with cheap or less than the best equipment. But I will also say to turn that equation around. Don't go around skimping on good people either. You need to hire good people to manage your technology. Just like library administrators have a specific skill set, which may or not include technological prowess, tech people also have a unique skill set, and it is one not all librarians or library staff have or desire to have (and I say this in terms of temperament, not unwillingness to learn). If you know you are going to need a good systems analyst or similar, hire one. Don't try to skimp by tossing the responsibility to another overworked professional in your library who may not have the full range of skills or the temperament to do it. And don't say "they can learn it" when you define "learning it" as just hand them a folder and hop to it. That's not right.
  • "A major part of good technology implementation is good project management." Indeed. Again, this goes to the idea that everyone has different skills. It also goes back to the idea that you need good planning, and that you need to be proactive, not reactive. In other words, plan ahead and don't wait for the crisis to happen.
  • "The single biggest threat to any technology project is political in nature." I think what Mr. Tennant wrote here pretty much speaks for itself. To administrators, he asks: "Are you willing to throw your political support behind it? Are you willing to invest the resources required to make it a success? Will you marshall the entire organization to support, promote, and use this new site or service? If not, simply don't bother." As I always say, put your money where your mouth is, otherwise, shut up. 

Anyhow, my quick two cents. I may add to this later, or probably just add it along to another post with a few other things about library managers.

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A couple of things have been buzzing in my mind lately. One issues about bad bosses. The other a recent post I read that librarians who do not want to be managers, let alone appreciate bad ones, and complain about it somehow have a "bad attitude." I have been wanting to reply to that for a while, but as usual, time has been tight. But I hope to get to it eventually. Bottom line: I happen to be one of those librarians, and if it's a problem to you up in your ivory tower, tough.

In the meantime, these are a few things I have been reading and picking up on my feed reader. I hope I can draw on some of this to write something more thoughtful later.

  • From the blog Dumb Little Man, here is "How to be a great boss." The third item on his list, "delegate–then stay hands off" is one of my favorites. Nothing annoys me more than a boss who thinks they are "helping" with "suggestions" after they assign you a task. Tell me what you want, then stay the hell out of my way. When I am done, I will let you know. Micromanaging is not going to get it done any faster unless you want to do it yourself.
  • This is not so much about bad bosses, but it is something for bosses to consider nonetheless. From Mashable, "Friending your employees: What are the rules?" The rules are pretty basic. I think overall, the best answer may well be no. And if you are an employee, and your boss asks to friend you, you may want to decline. At any rate, people should know by now to be careful what they post online given the potential someone you don't want to see it may see it anyways.
  • I keep finding over time that a lot of bosses simply do not know how to manage a meeting. This is something that interests me, maybe because I have been victimized by one bad meeting too many. I could tell you all sorts of horror stories, and they usually due to some manager who just does not know how to control or run a meeting. From Dumb Little Man, here is "How to get more from Live Meetings." 
  • Lifehacker has an interesting post on "Why the manager's schedule blows creative productivity." I have had bosses guilty of this: have no understanding of what us creative types do and the kind of time we need to do it in. For instance, "when managers schedule makers into midday meetings, they kill creative productivity in real but not-obvious ways." I know at least one manager who does this consistently. It's a miracle I get anything done.
  • Bob Sutton speaks a bit more on "You know your boss is a certified asshole when. . . ." He is expanding a bit on the issue of asshole bosses and collateral damage that he wrote about previously. Sutton also highlights an article he had published in Harvard Business Review (June 2009) on "How to be a good boss in a bad economy." I have to look it up sometime and have a look.
  • Via Copyblogger, here are "7 types of people everyone wishes would just shut the **** up." I include this here to go with the post about meetings noted above. This is because you often see these asshats during meetings, and they tend to be people that the boss fails to control or manage. And speaking of certain people, Sutton discusses the "Sir, we don't actually do what we propose. We just propose it" syndrome. And I know just that type of person.
  • Bob Sutton recommends a book called I Hate People. The post is here. I have added it to my TBR list. Not just about bad bosses but also about those not so nice coworkers.
  • This sounds like some meetings I have attended. For bosses, maybe decision by committee, or trying to please everyone to get the precious consensus, is not the best way to go. Here is "what would happen if the Stop sign was invented in 2008" via Public Sector Marketing 2.0 blog. 

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