Is Leadership Right for You?

“Leadership has long-since subscribed to the belief that the best way to reward and keep the keepers is to give them other people to keep watch over. It’s just the way the weird world of work works.”
– Jodi Wellman, Forbes Article, What If You Don’t Want To Be A Leader

This past week I presented the first in a three webinar series on Leadership in libraries for the Panhandle Library Access Network. The opening webinar was titled: Leadership – Challenges and Rewards. In the early part of the webinar, I took aim at the idea that everyone can or should be a leader. In fact, leadership has some serious downsides for anyone aspiring it and I listed five downsides of leadership. Here is one for example:

1/ Leaders are Exposed

A leader assumes responsibility for the team’s actions and accomplishments, but there are many factors they have no control over.  Often, leaders have to make decisions in the face of limited information.  Whether it is bad luck, environmental conditions, mistakes by team members, or just simply running into more talented and eager competition, the leader often gets more of the blame for their decisions than is warranted by the actual circumstances.  A leader’s mistakes are often out there for the whole organization to see.

Although it is challenging, leadership does have many upsides. So the webinar also presented six simple steps for those at the start of their leadership journey.

The text for the webinar is available right here at the Efficient Librarian. The recording of the webinar is available on the PLAN web site.

Join myself and Adam Davis, PBCLS Director of System Services, for the second webinar, Leading Diverse Groups and People this Wednesday March 11, 3 pm EST, 2 pm CST. The webinar is free, so go ahead and register today.

The Zen of Bridgewater

“The traditional relationship between “leaders” and “followers” is the opposite of what I believe is needed to be most effective, and being maximally effective is the most important thing a “leader” must do.” – Ray Dalio

Although I have been a librarian for over twenty-two years, it still amazes me that certain books can have a deep impact on our view of the world and ourselves.  This is happening to me right now with a remarkable book called Principles by Ray Dalio.  

Ray Dalio founder, co-chairman and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates, has written a book that seeks to encapsulate the amazing culture that he built in his company.  Bridgewater is designed as an idea meritocracy, where seeking the truth is paramount to all else. It is believed that a culture which prizes openness and vigorous debate above authoritarian structures is the key to success.

Dalio’s views on leadership were so intriguing to me that I wrote an article to explore them deeper. The excerpt below discusses why Dalio believes that leaders should not be afraid to ask questions.

Dalio places a high premium on asking questions.  While some leaders may hesitate to ask questions out of concern that they may look ignorant or uninformed, Dalio believes that asking questions is, “necessary in order to become wise and it is a prerequisite for being strong and decisive.”  Taking it even a step further, he believes that leaders should not hesitate to seek out those who are smarter and wiser then themselves, and even let staff who are better equipped in an area take the lead.  Ego and self promotion have no place in a true meritocracy.  As Dalio states, “The objective is to have the best understanding to make the best possible leadership decisions.”

Read the entire article and let me know your thoughts on this challenging approach to leadership.

Moments of Kindness

For my staff newsletter this week I tried something different. In addition to the usual updates about system-wide projects and County Commission items, I included a short piece on kindness. The feedback was strong, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share it here.

In this day and age, it seems like our society is more politically divided than ever. Thankfully, libraries remain one of the few non-partisan institutions supported across our communities. I believe part of that reason is that we are an organization built on kindness. This kindness is expressed by our willingness to help anyone who walks in our doors and by providing our residents with books and other items for their educational and entertainment needs. While we demonstrate kindness every day to our members, it is equally important to share this kindness with our colleagues. Kindness is free to give and its benefits outlast the moment in which it happens.

Yet, as we move through our day, kindness can seem elusive. When things go wrong, it is easy to point fingers and criticize others. In times when our emotions are raw, the temptation to say or write hurtful things can be tempting. In those times it is important to press pause and take a breath. If we remember that our colleagues are human and trying their best, our response can be more measured. At that point we can offer a helping hand and an encouraging word instead. Our strength comes from the bonds of teamwork and trust. Kindness is the glue that holds all this together.

So I invite you to spend a few moments writing a kudos to your colleagues. Thank them for their hard work and support. You may even want to nominate someone or a team for an ERA to recognize their outstanding work. Small moments of kindness create peak experiences that truly make someone’s day.

To that end, I thank you all for the work you do every day to connect communities, inspire thought, and enrich lives. Your combined efforts help make our library system the best place to work.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

The Secrets of Strong Cultures Revealed!

For the past month, I have been studying the O.C. Tanner Institute 2020 Global Culture Report.  It contains valuable insights for leaders everywhere:

Below is a summary of my top takeaways from the report.

  1. To create a better overall employee experience, organizations need to focus on high-impact, daily micro-experiences that define an employee’s life at work.
  2. Micro-experiences connect employees to purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, well being, and leadership.
  3. If you want to build a thriving workplace culture, create great micro-experiences.
  4. Great workplace cultures generate energy that fuels people to innovate, to wow customers, to draw in the best people, and outperform competitors in virtually every aspect of business.
  5. Diagnose if burnout is a problem in the organization and then find the cultural issues causing it.
  6. The outdated leader-knows-best style and lopsided power structure are not working. Encourage a model of shared leadership with their teams.
  7. Build connections by utilizing regular one-to-one conversations between leaders and their team members.
  8. Successful teams feel a strong sense of autonomy and psychologically safe.
  9. Actively listen to understand your people—don’t ask for feedback just to “check the box.”
  10. My biggest takeaway: Extra time spent at work with employees improved company performance, while extra time at work spent with people outside the company didn’t make a difference.  While CEOs are expected to be the public face of their company, the reality is that interacting with and supporting employees is a more effective use of time.

Thanks to Peter Bromberg, Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library for bringing the report to my attention.  Read the full O.C. Tanner Institute 2020 Global Culture Report for free online or in a downloadable pdf version. It is not a long read, but well worth it.

Let’s Be Frank – Leadership Is Not For Everyone

Do you think anyone can be a leader?

A trend I see across leadership courses and books is the assumption that anyone can become a leader if they want to be one.  I concede that everyone should at least be good enough to lead their own lives.  However, leading other people is a skill that perhaps some people will never master.

For the next assignment in the Write of Passage course, we were asked to write an article that challenged conventional wisdom.  So I decided to take on what I consider a flawed  core assumption of many leadership courses.  As I wrote:

“The core flawed assumption may best be expressed with a quote from John Maxwell:

“If you want to be a leader, the good news is that you can do it. Everyone has the potential, but it isn’t accomplished overnight. It requires perseverance.” John C. Maxwell

My two questions are these: Why do we assume that everyone can be a leader?  Also, why are the psychological burdens of leadership rarely discussed?”

boring meeting

Read the rest of the article here, and feel free to share your thoughts on the topic in the comment section.