How to get librarians’ attention on leadership development?

Having completed a research project on leadership development, I certainly believe that this is a very important issue for librarians as well as for libraries. Yet, I find it difficult to promote this idea to my peers.

The word “leadership” seems to be an uninteresting term for librarians. We often equate leadership with management, especially senior management. For most librarians, it just sounds so boring, remote, and irrelevant to our daily work. And, “leadership development”? It’s even worse! What does that mean? It sounds like a management jargon that could mean many things or nothing. The term easily slips over the surface of your mind without leaving any traces.

Librarians, if you can give me 5 minutes of your attention, I want you to know:

  1. Leadership ≠ “boss-ship”. As information professionals, in various contexts we find goals for our groups, then work with others to achieve those goals —- that is leadership. In this broader sense, all librarians are leaders.
  2. Everyone can learn to lead more effectively. For library leaders, your specialized professional knowledge is a big MUST. However, it is only a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition. You need a lot more. Leadership capacity is a complex combinations and interactions of many knowledge, skills, attitudes and mindsets.
  3. Leadership development is about time, opportunities, and combinations. Leadership capacity are developed through many learning opportunities, big and small, throughout your work-life. It is not only about attending a leadership program or sitting through management training, but more importantly, you develop from various sorts of work experiences. Another key component that boosts your growth is learning and support from other people in your work-life.
  4. Leadership development is personal. Leadership skills are also life-skills. That is one of the reasons why leadership development is different from staff development, that many of us library workers are familiar with. To develop leadership capacity also makes us a better person, a more effective individual in managing our personal lives.

I believe leadership development is important for all librarians. It has different emphases for senior managers, middle managers, and front-line librarians. Knowing how leadership is developed is naturally more relevant for early-career librarians; because the awareness can help them better prepare their career growth. However, even for librarians later in their career, learning to lead is still a good investment of time and effort, because leadership quality has values beyond one’s work life (see my point #4 above).

I would like to see librarians not being put-off by the term “leadership development”. I would like to see more libraries use “leadership development” in their planning and operation documents. If you have any thoughts on how we can achieve that, do share with me!


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