… charges, she doesn’t just walk. She leans in to talk to people to show she really wants to hear them, and she listens with her whole body when someone is talking to her. Her face is always open and she looks excited most of the time, but will be quiet and serious when appropriate. She speaks of inspiring concepts and actions. She relates to her subordinates, as well as peers. LEADERS – they are made of different stuff than others.
The discussion that follows is about what makes excellent libraries – EXCELLENT LEADERS – the primary factor in all excellent libraries. The world is filled with people who believe that their position on the organizational chart has provided them with a group of followers. Actually, it has only given them a group of subordinates. Whether the subordinates become followers depends on whether the person in charge acts like a leader.
There are a multitude of characteristics that make a person an excellent leader. However, space necessitates limiting this discussion to those that have been found to be the most prominent in excellent leaders. Excellent leadership requires an appropriate balance of all characteristics and the exclusion of none. YES, you have to do it all! People in leadership positions can develop these characteristics with some effort and commitment. “Each person must develop his own leadership. Leadership cannot be bought. It cannot be conferred. It cannot be inherited. It knows no divine right. It cannot be passed on by any process of succession. It is acquired only by the personal mastery of each individual aspirant.” Sterling W. Sill, 1977: “Leadership” Salt Lake City, Bookcraft
1. Lead by Example:
There is no substitute for leading by example. As adolescents one of the first things we learned was that often times adults would tell us to do one thing, but do something else themselves. We could not understand why we were told to do something that they would not do themselves. As adults, we are still bothered by leaders who tell us to do one thing and yet do something else. People will naturally follow someone whom they feel is able and willing to share the work load and the hardships. A director who does not work the circulation desk, shelve materials, conduct story time, and interact with difficult customers will never be able to inspire loyalty or commitment to her or her vision of an excellent library. A director, who is known for making decisions based on favoritism, rather than merit, will destroy any confidence subordinates have in being treated fairly for their hard work.
2. Involved/ Visible/ Accessible:
Followers have to know their leader in order to be inclined to follow her. Only through being involved with her workers (i.e., talking to them, being visible when things are going well, as well as when things are not going well, being accessible to people who need her leadership, etc.) can a leader hope to be known by her subordinates and influence them to become followers. People have no reason to follow some one they don’t know when the going gets tough. During the Battle of the Bulge, GEN Dwight D. Eisenhower visited with his troops and is reported to have said; “A commander needs to talk with his men to inspire them; with me it’s the other way around. I get inspired by you – the men who are going to win this war.” Being involved professionally with subordinates work provides a two-way benefit.
3. Quiet Confidence:
In a survey of senior Army commanders, quiet confidence was one of the characteristics they felt was important in an excellent leader. They thought more highly of officers who did not engage in a lot of fanfare, chest beating and personal horn blowing. Excellent leaders are recognized by their accomplishments and those of their followers, not by their talk. It is reported that on one occasion in the face of great obstacles, Joan of Arc said to her generals; “I will lead the men over the wall.” A general said, “Not a man will follow you.” Joan replied, “I will not look back to see whether anyone is following or not!”
Creating a system of leadership depends on the proper delegation of duties and authority to subordinates. An excellent leader knows how and when to delegate authority because she knows the abilities of her subordinates and how much authority they can handle. She also knows how to delegate in order to maximize the utilization of her resources to accomplish the library mission. Delegation is an essential and critical element in developing the abilities of subordinates. What better way is there to communicate trust and confidence and also develop responsibility in subordinates than to delegate meaningful tasks to them? One of GEN George S. Patton’s most quoted remarks is, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
5. Risk Taking:
Striving for excellence has the associated risk of failure. Stifling that practical risk taking attitude also stifles achievement. Success has to be oriented on achievement, not failure. Practical risks are inherent in all productive endeavors. If leaders expect their followers to be motivated to excel then they have to be challenged. If a person is not challenged then she is stagnating. Stagnation leads to dissatisfaction and boredom. Honest mistakes are a consequence of striving for excellence and must be used as a learning experience.
Competence, in strategic and technical skills, provides the leader with the prerequisite knowledge upon which to base sound and timely decisions. It also allows her the ability to conduct first hand assessment of her library’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as be a mentor to subordinates. Competence is the foundation upon which the excellent leader establishes her credibility as a capable leader.
There are too many examples and descriptions of leaders and leadership to all be included here, but I wanted to end with these words of wisdom from two well known and highly respected business leaders. In 1985 Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus published Leaders, from which I borrowed the observation that “Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right things.” Here are three more quotes on which one can begin to develop their own leadership.
Leaders are the most results-oriented individuals in the world, and results get attention. Their visions or intentions are compelling and pull people toward them. Intensity coupled with commitment is magnetic. And these intense personalities do not have to coerce people to pay attention; they are so intent on what they are doing that, …they draw others in. (pg. 28)
The actions and symbols of leadership frame and mobilize meaning. Leaders articulate and define what has previously remained implicit or unsaid; then they invent images, metaphors, and models that provide a focus for new attention. …an essential factor in leadership is the capacity to influence and organize meaning for the members of the organization. (pg. 39)
Leaders acquire and wear their visions like clothes. Accordingly, they seem to enroll themselves…in the belief of their ideals as attainable, and their behavior exemplifies the ideas in action. (pg. 46)