Cawthorne, Jon E., "Leading from the Middle of the Organization: An Examination of Shared Leadership in Academic Libraries." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 36.2 (March 2010): 151-157.
Read via ScienceDirect.
I had some serious mixed feelings when I read this article because, to be honest, a lot of the ideas it presents fall under the "that's nice in theory" rubric. When it comes to the idea of shared leadership, the idea is a bit separate from reality. In simple terms, shared leadership is when the top manager involves the subordinates in the decision-making process. Given that more often than not, said manager already has a decision made when he/she pretends to involve the subordinates, I take the idea with a big grain of salt. In fact, the author of the article noted that at least one respondent commented that "even in the context of shared leadership, the top leader already made a decision" (155). So as you see, it is not just me who thinks this is often the case. In fact, the commenter goes on to say:
"'In general, there is little correlation between what we say we want to do and what we actually do. Also, when we meet to make decisions, sometimes the dean has already made one (the decision) and he sees our job as that of supporting his decision, no matter how much it diverges from our mission, stated goals, previous plans, or benefit to the patron'" (155).
I think that statement speaks volumes, and I don't think I can add much more to it other than to say I agree since I have been in such situations with a fairly high degree of frequency.
The article basically looks at middle managers. I am just going to make some brief notes to remind myself that I read it because if I write too much, it's probably going to come across as a bit too skeptical (to put it mildly).
- "Clearly, it is critical that libraries meet the key individual developmental challenges such as recognizing that middle managers are in positions of leadership in academic libraries" (151). I don't think we can argue with that. Seems pretty self-evident, even if it does not always work that way.
- "As academic libraries address change management through team building and strategic planning, there is a need to understand the extent to which middle managers believe they share decision making as leaders who implement the vision set by senior management" (151). Again, not much to argue with here. Sounds nice. I just ask if those middle managers are really positioned to influence decision making.
- "Accountability, which consists of owning the consequences that are inherent in one's role, internally defined, and cannot be delegated." This sounds simple enough.
- "Equity, which includes mutual recognition of the unique contributions of each individual." This sounds very good in theory, but I wonder how often we have cases of the left hand not knowing what the right hand does.
- "Partnership, which involves a mutually respectful and trusting relationship among individuals who share a common goal. Partnership is based on honest communication." I will say that honest communication should be the key concept in that idea.
- "Ownership, which centers on a personal commitment that an individual makes to work outcomes of their work and to the mission of the organization."
The method: 22 academic libraries in the study population with a final tally of 115 middle manager respondents. Of the 115, only 77 responded. Survey done via Survey Monkey. By the way, I am starting to notice Survey Monkey is becoming a tool of choice for a lot of LIS surveys as of late.
- A bit of insight or a realization: ". . .senior leaders may not possess sufficient and relevant information to make highly effective decisions in a fast-changing and complex world. In reality, middle managers may be more highly informed and in far better position to provide leadership and influence the accomplishment of organizational goals" (155). This may be because middle managers still keep a foot in the trenches, so to speak. The problem happens when the top leaders refuse or neglect to listen to the ones who actually know what they are talking about because they actually experience the situations on the ground. Just a thought.
- "This study reveals a perception among middle managers in academic libraries that not all ideas for change are treated equally" (156).
- "If ideas that come from all levels of the organization are not considered equally, then to what extent are all decisions credible to bring about change in academic libraries?" (156).