Identifying the Presence of Ineffective Leadership in Libraries

This peer-reviewed article appeared in the most recent edition of Library Leadership & Management. From the paper:

Most research and commentary about administration and management, particularly in scholarship devoted to libraries and librarianship, focuses on defining and celebrating the elements that constitute effective leadership. Articles, books, and websites abound extolling the praises of best practices such as open communication, staff development, and ethical leadership, as well as statements of strategy, focus, and vision. The assumption, then, may be that ineffective leadership represents the absence of these factors that make for successful administrators and managers. This paper will propose that there are “etiologies of ineffective leadership,” 1 i.e., a set of causes that can be readily identified that define ineffective leadership and management in libraries. This paper will suggest that ineffective leadership can be defined by the presence of certain elements. An adherence to negative values – not treating others as you would expect to be treated, moral disengagement – defined as “disregarding or minimizing the injurious effects of ones actions” 2, and micromanagement are all factors that can be identified when evaluating ineffective leadership.

An unwillingness to involve stakeholders in decisions and the inability or unwillingness to think institutionally are readily identifiable indicators of ineffective leadership as well.


Notes from The Hopeful Workplace webinar

Earlier this afternoon, I attended a webinar by Joan Frye Williams and George Needham entitled “The Hopeful Workplace.” It was as entertaining, inspiring, and thought-provoking as their keynote at last fall’s ILA conference.

Below are my notes. The session is archived and available at no charge, if you want to view it. If you have questions or thoughts, please leave them in the comments.

The theme (for me): Instead of doing more with less, do different with less.

Set meaningful goals

  • Make your goals something that people will be proud to accomplish (i.e. things that make a significant difference).
  • Look for meaning beyond the library –> connect to what gives people hope. Don’t set particular goals to make other people happy. They need to have meaning.
    • Example: clearing the cataloging backlog in six months is a goal, but is it meaningful to anyone but the technical services staff? It can be if you frame it as providing access to materials that patrons might otherwise not be able to use.
  • Goals should be clear. Ask yourself: “What does success look like?” Connect them to things that people care about.
  • Be ready for when things go right. What happens if you’re successful?

The Will To Get There

  • Will is commitment/energy. Frame it as “Here’s what’s in it for you…”
    • Think about how change will effect people’s day to day work, both within and outside your department/library, then find the win for each audience.
    • View the changes from the perspective of your department, other library departments, your patrons, and your governing body.
    • You need other people to follow your lead. Otherwise, you’re just a lone nut with a crazy idea. [LB note: Watch Derek Sivers TEDTalk on How to Start a Movement because it illustrates this point better than I can explain it here. “Lone nut” is his phrase, not mine, although I like it a lot.]

Hope thrives in an environment that reaches consensus

  • Consensus IS NOT complete agreement
    • Consensus occurs when the people involved:
      1. Believe the process was fair
      2. Understand how the decision was reached
      3. Believe they had an opportunity for their opinions to be heard
      4. Are willing to support the decision with positive comments and actions, even if it isn’t in their direction.

The Way to Get There

  • You need a plan
    • Hopeful plans are flexible, with multiple paths to reach the goal
  • Begin with your assets –> appreciative inquiry
    • What do you have to work with?
    • What are you really good at?
    • What is uniquely ours?
  • Instead of saying, “Yes, but…”, use “Yes, and…”
    • “Yes, but…” is argumentative and kills the forward motion of the conversation.
    • “Yes, and…” adds information (or your opinion) without blocking or killing what came before it.

Focus on results

  • Get beyond workload. The end result is what’s important. You are accountable for your results, not just the ingredients.
    • For example, patrons (and your board) don’t want to hear about all of the steps it takes to order a book and get it on the shelf. They just want their stuff.
    • When things go wrong, focus on what you can do with what you have to get results. Don’t shift blame and don’t dwell on how great things would be if you didn’t have to overcome this obstacle.
  • Learn from mistakes
    • Plus/Delta –> What worked? What can I change?
    • Ask yourself, “The next time something like this happens, what can I do differently to improve the result?”
  • Use stealth, guile, and disobedience
    • Think sneaky, find a way to beat the system
    • Complaining about how things aren’t working kills hope. Brainstorming your way around obstacles gives you strength.

Maintain some level of control (But don’t become a control freak)

Total lack of control leads to hopelessness, as does total control by those in power.

  • Set clear role expectations
    • “This is the outcome we want. We need your help to achieve it. Your role is integral to its success.”
  • Communicate openly
    • People need information in order to make good choices. Don’t prolong or sugar coat bad news and don’t lie. It’s much less painful and hope sucking for people to deal with bad situations immediately.
    • Active, inaccurate grapevines flourish in the absence of open communication. Better to admit you don’t know the answer than stay silent. If you stay silent, the grapevine will often assume you’re actively plotting against them.
  • Give people the authority to seek alternate routes
    • Empower people to try something else if normal pathways are blocked. Agreement on goals is key. There is usually more than one way to reach the goal.
  • Give public recognition when goals are reached
    • Good performance should be recognized. Spread recognition around. Show how everyone’s work contributes to positive results. Support each other. Allow team members to acknowledge the contributions of their teammates.

Have reasonable expectations of success

  • Don’t set goals unreasonably high (“We’re going to provide the fastest reference service in the world to our patrons.” Really? Probably only if the Internet goes down all over town).
  • Borrow appropriate strategies from other sources, particularly outside the library community. How are other community organizations providing services? What models are companies using?
  • Analogies are useful. Find familiar comparisons to get your ideas across. Don’t use library lingo to explain programs, services, or operations to people from outside the library profession. Use their language.
  • Get support from successful role models. Develop relationships with people in organizations who are doing interesting things (both within and outside the library community). Offer yourself to others if you think you can help.
  • Not all surprises are bad. Look for the pony (upside) of unexpected situations.

Connect to others

  • It’s hard to be hopeful when you’re all alone.
  • Seven steps to making connections
    1. Civility — Maintain a civil workplace. Lead by example by treating everyone with respect, regardless of position in the organization. When disagreeing, do so with respect by separating the content from personal and avoiding ad hominem attacks (“I respectfully disagree” vs “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”)
    2. Generosity — Make yes your default answer. Replace “This is badly written” with “There are some good ideas here, but it needs some work. Let me help you.” In your head, start your sentence with “I’ll be part of the solution by…”
    3. Flexibility — There is always room for equally opposite decisions. Practice saying (and meaning), “Today, it’s your day to be right. We’ll try it your way.” Remember that achieving the goal is important. There are many ways to get there. [LB addition: Also remember to pick your battles. Ask yourself if this is the hill you really want to die on.]
    4. Self-care — You can’t do right by others if you don’t do right by yourself. It’s your job to make yourself comfortable. It isn’t your boss’, your spouse’s, or your kids’.
    5. Teamwork — Trust one another as a team. Trust needs to be earned, but don’t go into situations expecting to be let down. Give trust a chance.
    6. Laughter — Find ways to make it fun, but don’t force it. Keep your sense of humor when everyone else is losing theirs.
    7. Gratitude — Say thank you. Let people know that you appreciate their efforts.

Draft Minutes from Leadership Forum Talk Table at ILA Annual Conference 2011

Attendees: Christina Stoll, Jill Sodt, Nancy Maloney, Kate Hall (ILA Executive Board liaison), Betsy Adamowski, Mary Wilkes Towner, Ted Schwitzner, Tina Louise Happ, Jeanne Hamilton, Melissa Henderson, Laura L. Barnes (Forum manager). If I missed anyone, please let me know in the comments.

We went around the table and each attendee identified a need or issue that they would like to see the Forum address. Below is a list of those needs/issues, with possible next steps:

  • Increase student awareness of ILA
    • Develop speaker’s bureau/database that could be marketed to UIUC and Dominican.
    • Encourage libraries to participate in Alternative Spring Break by hosting a student from one of the library schools.
  • Facilitate peer mentoring
    • Develop expertise list/referral database so librarians can ask their peers for assistance with management/leadership issues. Could be done in cooperation with the Best Practices Committee.
  • Personal leadership/career building
    • Program at Reaching Forward/Reaching Forward South on leadership from any position, which could also be presented at the next ILA Annual Conference.
    • Quarterly regional meetings, perhaps held as dine-arounds at different locations throughout the state on the same date. Could suggest a common topic for discussion and share notes from the discussions on the blog.
    • Develop calendar of professional development opportunities and library related meetings around the state
      • Consensus that this might be something that should live on the ILA web site, although we can also post training opportunities to the blog.
    • What does Illinois library leadership look like? Blog post/web page/program at conference (or all three).
    • Host an Illinois Library Leadership unconference prior to the 2012 annual conference
    • Develop a forum presence on WebJunction Illinois
  • Encourage ILA members to become involved with forums and committees (agreement that this is an association task, although the Leadership Forum can lead by example)
    • Have a volunteer/involvement form on the ILA web site
      • Laura B. will bring this to the Board at the November meeting
    • Have committee/forum tables at Annual Conference
      • Laura B. will pass along to Conference Committee
    • Host new members reception at Annual Conference
      • Laura B. will pass along to Conference Committee
    • Develop talking points that volunteers can use to show how their involvement with ILA benefits their libraries
      • Laura B. will bring this to the Board at the November meeting

Immediate Next Steps

  • Post minutes from Talk Table and ask for feedback.
  • Set a date for first ILA Leadership Dine-around.
  • Talk to Cyndi Robinson about the possibility of an unpreconference (pre-unconference?).
    • Done at Annual Conference. Cyndi indicated that she’d need to arrange space, probably at the conference hotel, but that she didn’t think it would be a problem.
  • Solicit ideas for Forum sponsored conference programs for 2012.
    • Leading from any position
    • Using TED for as a leadership tool
  • Find out what needs to be done to set up a space on WebJunction Illinois.
  • Generate content for the blog.
    • Post ideas include: examples of leadership in Illinois libraries; interesting leadership resources; book reviews; TED video discussions. PLEASE VOLUNTEER TO WRITE A POST!!!
  • Items for the ILA Board to consider at the November meeting
    • Add a volunteer/involvement form on the ILA web site
    • Develop talking points that volunteers can use to show how their involvement with ILA benefits their libraries
  • Items for the 2012 Conference Committee
    • Have committee/forum tables (like Advocacy Committee table at 2011 conference)
    • New members reception at Annual Conference
    • Leadership Unconference