Monday, September 12, 2005

Some thoughts on leadership

A post on leadership? I have been seeing a lot on leadership as of late. Some of it comes as a result of Hurricane Katrina's disastrous aftermath and the lack of leadership from certain so-called "leaders." This is also a topic that is present in the literature of librarianship. Some topics you may find in the literature of librarianship include, but are not limited to: the need for leaders in the profession, the need to groom new librarians for leadership positions, and separating and distinguishing leadership from management. And by the way, manager does not automatically equal leader and viceversa. Actually, at times, I am thankful for that little detail. Many good leaders can get ruined by being shackled in a management position. I think the many example of bad hierarchical bureaucracies, in some libraries, as well as other professions, are more than enough of an illustration.

A leader does not wait. True, money may be tight, and society continues to devalue what we do, but we work and move forward in spite of the obstacles.

The observation has been made that many major associations and organizations are nothing more than the same folks taking turns at the same leadership positions. The Filipino Librarian asks about this, and I will too now: are there really so few librarians with leadership potential, or willing to take on leadership roles? By the way, as a brief aside, I found his post through the 5th Carnival of the Infosciences. If you are a librarian, or in an infosciences field, you should be following the carnival. The 6th edition is currently being hosted by the thoughts are broken.

So, back to my small post. I would ask though how welcoming are the major associations to potential new leaders. Sure, I have seen the appeals here and there advocating service through committee work. I do wonder how many new librarians go through that route. Here's why I wonder. Many new librarians are people with experience. They may or not have library experience, but they bring in a wealth of experience from workplaces, the military, and life (a.k.a. as the School of Hard Knocks). Many likely bring leadership potential that could serve our profession well. But if they see some of the organizations as indeed nothing more than certain individuals taking turns, why bother? I don't know about some readers out there, but I personally left cliques behind in high school. Add to this the "politics" of some organizations (and I don't mean right or left; I mean the actions of organizational politics that seem nothing more than squabbles), and it turns off a lot of good people. My guess, and it is only a guess based on experience, is many librarians may choose to exercise their leadership in a more quiet way. They do so in their institutions, in their communities, on their campuses, and on their special libraries. They may stay away from the larger professional organizations, and they make a difference where they are needed.

Last week, General Wesley Clark (ret.) was blogging over at the TPM Cafe. I usually just scan some of the political blogs, but what he wrote on leadership simply caught my eye and made me think a little. While he was writing in the context of Katrina, he made some good observations on leadership. He wrote, "I learned and taught that leadership means lifting people up; challenging them to push themselves to succeed where they before thought success was out of reach." This is what teachers, educators, and librarians, the good ones, strive to do in their classrooms, to lift people up, to reach out to others whether to dispel ignorance or heal pain and suffering. Very often these leaders are quiet leaders. No one acknowledges them. The news will not carry their exploits, yet they lead by their actions and their example. These are the people who make a difference where it is needed. Usually, if you ask them, they will point to someone else they see as a leader, rarely if ever at themselves. And I will add that they usually do not accept excuses or nonsense from others they may see as part of a problem.

So, when it comes to it, what have I learned? Hmm, I do believe in leadership as inspiring and lifting others. Someone once said that the "trick" to leadership is to get others to do the things you need done. One of my colleagues defines it as the "Tom Sawyer School of Leadership." She recalled the part of the Mark Twain novel where Tom gets neighborhood kids to whitewash the fence for him. I get the feeling that colleague of mine will write a book someday on the topic. In the meantime, I think leadership involves a little of that, a little of lifting others, and more of a desire to inspire others. The inspiring part goes along with working. A good leader leads by example, by his/her actions. When I was a composition teacher, for instance, I would not assign a writing task that I could not or would not be able to do myself. If I asked my students to keep a journal, I would keep one myself and share it. One has to note also that such leaders are busy people. They are busy working and helping others. I think we have a good share of leaders in librarianship. It falls now to the high powers that be in organizations and the managers in institutions to show them how to serve and what is needed. Not "groom" them (you "groom" your pet), but sincerely bring them in and allow them to do what they do best. Or, the directors and presidents can continue taking turns, see their organizations gradually become irrelevant while the leaders go on without them to do what really needs to be done. Just a few thoughts.


vonjobi said...

"...their organizations gradually become irrelevant while the leaders go on without them to do what really needs to be done."

i was speaking specifically of our situation here in the philippines. i didn't think that what i wrote would be applicable to north america.

in any case, i think we need to look outside our profession (as you did with gen. clark) to learn more about what it means to be a leader.

i just started reading john maxwell's books on leadership and he defines leadership in one word: influence. and no, one does not need a title to be a leader, just as long as you're able to influence others.

and that's why i think blogging is good for our profession. we can actually influence others even though we haven't been elected to any positions =)

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Actually, a sad fact is that a lot of organizations in North America, not just those in our profession, fit the description of falling into irrelevancy. The education field is a very good example, and I can point you to a couple places if you have any doubts. I happen to think that blogging is very good for our profession. There have been a couple of pieces out there about blogging being mostly negative. I have seen those comments in education blogs. Librarians as a whole seem to be more positive, at least if Meredith's survey (Over at Information Wants To be Free)holds true.I could not agree more that we can influence others with our writing, at least, I hope the old saying of the pen being mightier holds. Thank you for stopping by.

vonjobi said...

yup, there seems to be a negative impression of bloggers. probably because of their role in the last election. it's a good thing that we haven't had that kind of problem here and that most blograrians seem to be more civil than the political bloggers.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Indeed, a lot of the librarian bloggers seem to be very positive overall. I have found that I have learned a lot from reading their works, yours included. Thanks for sharing and stopping by, and keep on blogging.

Dave Hook said...

This post has been included in Carnival of the Infosciences No 8