Follow The Leader? – Sometimes!

Have you ever noticed that life presents analogies that are useful in understanding work. I’m finding that commuting to work is offering more of them about 21st Century Librarianship than usual. Like the near blizzard on the second day of Spring.

It was still dark, the pavement was a black mirror, the golf ball size snowflakes were blowing straight at my car like the Enterprise at warp speed, and visibility conditions were the worst I’ve experienced in a long time. Fortunately the pavement wasn’t slick because it wasn’t below freezing and the snow was melting on contact. The visibility was horrific. What do you do? Follow the tail lights of the car in front of you, of course. Maybe not the best strategy, but under the existing conditions it is better than not seeing the road ahead at all. It’s also better than pulling off the road and never getting to your destination.

You’ve probably figured out where I’m going with this analogy, but let’s explore the details and ramifications anyway.

When you are unable to see the road ahead clearly because of the conditions which exist for you – maybe less than adequate visibility, glare from distractions, ineffective wipers – you have to do something to keep moving ahead. Does the person leading the way in front of you have the same conditions? Some are the same, like the driving snow in their face and the road surface – the external conditions. But, their internal conditions may be very different, like better vision, better wipers, better tires, better familiarity with the road’s turns, and more confidence about their ability to cope with the driving conditions.

On the other hand, maybe the person in front of you has worse internal conditions – really bad wipers, ineffective defroster, unfamiliarity with the road, less experience – and following them will prove disastrous. But, initially you follow because they are in front, and when the opportunity presents itself you can stop following and move into the lead yourself.

The same situation applies to moving forward with your 21st Century Library.

The external factors that affect your community and library are pretty similar to every other community and library. The economy is bad and not getting better any time soon. Competitors providing information to your library customers are everywhere. Resources are scarce, although that’s not a new situation. Technology advancements are continuing like a speeding train. Library customers are becoming more information literate than ever before, and demanding more technology-based services.

Your internal conditions are unique to your library. You may or may not be able to clearly see the path ahead, have the vision necessary to know the right way to go, or have all the resources necessary to meet the challenges in front of you. You may need more technology expertise among your staff. You may need more support from your community funding decision makers.

So, until you get to a situation where you feel confident in your conditions and capabilities, it’s OK to follow the leader. In order to keep moving ahead, go where the leader goes. Implement the technologies and provide the services that other leading libraries are, until you can clearly see that you can do better leading yourself – leading your own library into your 21st Century future. Kind of like the song Life is a Highway – your choices are to drive it or sit on the side and let the world pass you by.

It’s OK to follow the leader, sometimes. But not for too long, because then you lose the confidence and capability to lead yourself, and your library.

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