Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How I Lead

Donna Lanclos published a short piece yesterday about being a leader. It's a great. short read if you have time to read it. In it she talks a bit about the JISC Digital Leaders program, and says that during the program she "will be resisting any requests for to-do lists, or top-tips around practice." And while I agree that approach is sound, I'm still going to offer a list of things I've learned - some of them the hard way.

Here are some leadership traits and behaviors that I think should be universal:

  • You should have responsive leadership/management style. This is my phrase for how I describe adapting my style to the needs/strengths of each member of my staff. There is no one size fits all way to lead and manage. You'll have people who are amazingly self-directed and you pretty much just need to get out of their way, with occasional check ins. You'll have people who *think* they're amazing, but they aren't, so you'll have to keep them focused without killing their enthusiasm. You'll have people who have been treated badly in the past and you'll need to help them find their enthusiasm again. You need to tailor your management style to each person.
  • I've talked about this before, but you need to be able to admit mistakes. You're going to make them. It happens. I made a joke that someone took seriously, and I was absolutely mortified later when I realized what I'd done. I apologized and we found a way forward, but it all started when I admitted the mistake.
  • It's all well and good building consensus and getting people on board, but sometimes you're going to have to be able to make unpopular decisions. Maybe it will be money. Maybe it will be lack of personnel. Maybe it will be something coming down from administration. Maybe you'll even have to fire someone. I'm as transparent as possible, explaining everything that leads up to a decision. And let me tell you - this was a hard lesson to learn.
  • Another hard lesson was learning to own my strengths and weaknesses. I cannot be all things to all people, but I tried at first. I really tried. I cannot recommend the Gallup Strengths Quest enough for this, because not only did it help me understand my strengths but it also gave my staff a common vocabulary.
  • One thing that wasn't as hard for me was being able to handle change. Yes, I'm kind of talking about this in a generic "things always change" kind of way, but I'm also talking about change as in a specific "people move on" kind of way. At my current library, there are only two full time employees - and I'm one of them. Everyone else who works here is a part time employee, which means no benefits and no more than 29 hours per week. And that means I have a fair amount of turnover. Is it inconvenient when people move on in the middle of the semester and leave me scrambling? Sure it is. But it doesn't mean I take it personally. In fact, I've helped more than one person in my employ find a better gig when it was better for them.
  • This phrasing comes from Jake Berg, but it's so important: the chain of yelling goes up, not down. It's not that you'll never correct people (I wrote about that previously), but when things go wrong I take the blame and if it's not my fault it goes up the ladder. 
  • Your most important duty as a manager and leader is to run interference so your people can get shiz done. That's why I picked the gif above to accompany this post - it's the thing I spend most of my time doing. Making things easier for our students and for our faculty, for the staff outside of this department and most especially for the staff inside of this department. One thing from Lanclos' post that really stuck with me was the title of her post: "Being a Leader Isn't About You." The reasons I became a library director are complicated, but I always knew it wouldn't be about me once I got in the captain's chair - and I was right.

If you're considering moving into a leadership role, whether it's leading from the middle or from an administrative role, you have to be yourself - but be the best version of yourself. The things I put in that list are general qualities and skills, but I really believe they make me a better leader. That and the fact that I never give up trying to improve.

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