Want to be a better library leader? What qualities do you need?

As a librarian, I am very sure that you can easily find many many books that try to answer this question. Yet, without reading any books, I am also quite certain that you can name a few qualities of good leaders; how about:

  • communication skills?
  • integrity?
  • vision?
  • self-awareness?
  • system thinking?

Leadership capacity is fluid and complex; there is no single definitive way to describe it comprehensively. You can find different scholars and authors giving you different lists of leader qualities, like many shopping lists that look alike yet also different.

Within librarianship, one such list is the Core Leadership Competencies. It contains 17 competencies in 4 groups. In my work, I started with this competency model, and built my version of leadership capacity, adding some items of personal qualities and leader roles.

I would invite all librarians to take a look at my leadership capacity model in this way:

  • the conceptual structure describes leadership capacity using 3 types of qualities: competencies, personal attributes and ability to act out roles. In other words, it is not a one-dimensional shopping list.
  • the elements I identified in the model resulted from the study with Hong Kong academic librarians. One can expect that, if I repeated the study with librarians in another region/context, the elements may be different; but the conceptual structure should still hold.
  • These elements are like building blocks that construct your capacity profile. Each of you may focus on specific elements that you can reflect on. No one can be good at everything. This model does not suggest that you need to develop ALL of these qualities. The key is to prioritize, to choose a focus to assess yourself and to invest on growth.
  • The model is not meant to be a definitive description of leadership capacity, but rather a practical tool for purposes such as personal growth, career planning, staff development, and strategic planning. You can use it as a set of vocabulary to describe leader qualities; and the descriptors (the elements) and their scope are flexible for revision and customization.

To turn the model into a tool, I am building a questionnaire that librarians can easily fill out to create their own Leadership Capacity Profile. It is going to start small, but I hope it will turn out to be something useful for librarians in different parts of the world.

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