Posts tagged ‘leadership’

Being Indispensable

You get paid to go to work and do something of value. But your job is also a platform for generosity, for expression, for art. – Seth Godin

I read Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin about a year ago. I meant to review it right away, but perhaps it’s better that I didn’t because now I’ve had some time to chew on it and digest it. I love the basic concept – the idea that people (regardless of their position) need to commit to being indispensable linchpins rather than mere cogs in the machinery of their organizations.

I read a few articles and things that Godin wrote about this book, and he seemed to think the chapter on Resistance might be the most powerful. It is powerful.  But the idea that resonated most strongly with me was his discussion of emotional labor. Being a linchpin is about more than just completing a list of tasks. You have to put in the emotional effort to turn your work into art, into a gift. It’s how you add the value that only you can add, and what makes you indispensable. And he’s right – it’s a big investment to make, but the emotional labor pays tremendous dividends for your organization and the people you encounter in your work, not to mention yourself.

Emotional labor is hard. Really hard. But I find that the more emotional labor I exert, the more energy I seem to have. When I start phoning it in and just doing the job, I’m exhausted at the end of the day even though I haven’t worked as hard. It seems like a great paradox, but it’s not that hard to figure out  – one path feeds your soul and the other doesn’t.

I also love what Godin says about optimism:

Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow. And all artists have this optimism, because artists can honestly say that they are working to make things better.

This is why organizations under pressure often crack. All parties can see that their current system isn’t working, but they’re unable to embrace a new one because they’re certain that it won’t turn out perfectly, that it can’t be as good as what they have now. Organizations under pressure are stuck because their pain makes it hard for them to believe in the future.

I know a lot of people and organizations experience this. We fall into the trap of waiting for the “perfect” solution. Our inability to tolerate failure or even uncertainty holds us back. Godin again:

What does it take to lead?

The key distinction is the ability to forge your own path, to discover a route from one place to another that hasn’t been paved, measured, and quantified. So many times we want someone to tell us exactly what to do, and so many times that’s exactly the wrong approach.

The higher the stakes, the harder it is to take that risk, to go off the map. I found this book was a good reminder of how I want to approach my life and work on a day to day basis. It’s not a perfect book. The chapters are broken down into short chunks and stories that don’t always gel into a cohesive narrative. But you could turn that weakness into an advantage; read a chunk or two at a time for inspiration – your daily kick in the butt.

I was given an extra copy of this book, and I’d like to give it to someone who’d really like to read it. If you’re interested in a free copy of Linchpin, leave a comment on this post by noon on Monday, February 14th (Pacific Time). I’ll do a random drawing on Monday to determine the winner.


February 11, 2011 at 12:25 am 7 comments

Places of Realized Potential

Over the years I’ve read a number of books on leadership and/or management. One of my favorites is Max DePree’s Leading without Power. It’s not the best-written book out there, but several of the lessons have stuck with me year after year. Considering how many leadership books are utterly forgettable, that’s an accomplishment! This book is geared towards non-profit organizations, but many of the lessons have wider application.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in the context of libraries, and what I’d like to see in the future. DePree nails it in his first chapter, when he talks about organizations as “places of realized potential.” Here are the characteristics he identifies:

  1. A place of realized potential opens itself to change, to contrary opinion, to the mystery of potential, to involvement, to unsettling ideas.
  2. Places of realized potential offer people the opportunity to learn and grow.
  3. A place of realized potential offers the gift of challenging work.
  4. A place of realized potential sheds its obsolete baggage.
  5. A place of realized potential encourages people to decide what needs to be measured and then helps them do the work.
  6. A place of realized potential heals people with trust and with caring and with forgetfulness.
  7. People in places of realized potential know that organizations are social environments.
  8. Last, a place of realized potential celebrates.

I love this concept, and I think it applies really well to libraries, both in our internal dynamics and in the way we serve our customers. Whatever our service models look like (and they are bound to change over time), I think we realize our potential as organizations by helping our customers to realize their potential. We’re in the possibility business!

January 31, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Blazing Trails, pt. 5: Finding our compass

This post is part 5, of a series. Earlier parts are here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Following up on the last post a bit…I want to make sure I’ve given proper weight to the possibility of a future library that is not built around print books. Books are a huge part of library identity. To many people, books ARE the library. Have you ever been on a library interview panel? What’s the standard answer to the “Why do you want to work here” question? “Well, I love books…” (aside to interviewers: if you’re applying at a library, that’s pretty much assumed. Tell me something I don’t already know. At this point, I’d almost rather hear someone say “I’ve never liked reading, but…”). Books are so intertwined with libraries, and so many people still think that books=printed books, that I wonder if losing printed books will mean losing our identity completely.

Over the past year or so, I’ve seen some thoughtful and provocative discussions of libraries and identity coming out of library land. Some of them inspired this series. There are brave librarians and leaders already out there, scouting the territory, They are taking a look at the rough terrain we are traversing, and the rougher terrain ahead, and trying to establish a compass by which we can navigate.

Kim Leeder made a good strike forward over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe (and if you aren’t reading that blog yet, you should be), asking “What is the real core of our work?” As it turns out, looking at our job duties doesn’t necessarily provide the answer, but Kim looked past the job descriptions and settled on knowledge as being at the root of what we do:

I see no work in librarianship more real than the collection, protection, and dissemination of Knowledge, and the empowerment of others in means to acquire it….The internet, while making information more widely available, has simultaneously obscured true Knowledge and increased the importance of our real work.

This distinction between information and knowledge is a very important one for librarians, and the beginning of what separates us from other programs, services and industries that might appear to be replacements for us down the road. If we think our jobs are just about information, we are already lost. There are too many alternatives out there, and most of them are easier to use and faster to adapt to changes than libraries. I don’t think we can win on that front. But if you go beyond just connecting people to information, and look at the purpose behind it, then you start to make some progress.

John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor tackled this question a little over a year ago, and came up with the Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians, which is a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. To them, our purpose is “preserving the integrity of civilization.” I like the sound of that, even though I have to admit I’m not 100% certain what it means. Well, “preserving” is straightforward enough, but “the integrity of civilization” could mean many things. Sounds like a noble undertaking, though, doesn’t it?

When I had the great good fortune to hear Jennifer James speak at the Eureka! Leadership Institute a couple of years ago, she spoke at length about civilization (and please forgive my paraphrasing if I get anything wrong – I’m working from 2-year-old notes). Signs of civilization, according to James, are access to information, increasing inclusivity, and alternatives to violence/knowledge. She also said “civilization is the long process of learning to be kind.” (Let your brain bend around that for awhile: “civilization is the long process of learning to be kind.” Beautiful!) So, civilization requires access, inclusivity, and knowledge? Hello, libraries! We already do this. We are good at this. This is at the core of our profession. So yes, I think we are uniquely positioned to “preserve the integrity of civilization.”

James posits that there are four basic stages of adaptation: technological shift, where energy is concentrated and definitions are changed; economic shift, which is about using that energy efficiently; demographic shifts, which lead to increasing inclusivity; and cultural shift, which is where we bog down. Cultural changes happen more slowly and generate more resistance, because they involve the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. James says that we have to find people who can tell a new story and show the possible future. We resist transformation because of fear. We need compelling stories to combat fear. She thinks librarians can tell those stories.

It seems to me that we are looking for the intersection of knowledge and creativity – this is our “due north” and the point by which we orient all of our other decisions and explorations. As Andy Woodworth said:

I get up every day and encourage curiosity. Whether it is educational or recreational, I am a literacy facilitator, a creativity generator, and intellectual advocate all rolled into one….It is public service in the cause of the common good….An institution where you can explore freely, inquire openly, and learn unbounded by the shackles of others. A construct where you can see the near infinite landscape of human knowledge and revel its depth and breadth. A place, I believe, where people can let themselves go and become the person they were meant to be.

Hell, yes!

You may have noticed that the intrepid explorers I’ve quoted really avoid making predictions about HOW libraries will do their work in years to come. They focus on the core beliefs that underlie our work. That’s not an accident, and it’s not a cop-out. After looking at the profession with a critical eye, these folks have come to the conclusion that the values are what will last – the expression and physical manifestations of those values can change (and will have to change) as often as we need them to in order to keep serving our communities in vital and viable ways.

As Clay Shirky said about newspapers:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

In fact, Char Booth says that the one “librarian as _________” metaphor that may be able to encompass our identity for the time being is “librarian as shapeshifter.” We take on roles as needed in order to fulfill our larger purpose, which is not to save libraries (although I believe that will happen, too), but to serve and protect our very civilization.

See? Noble! And not dependent on printed books, either.

And now that we’ve established our guiding principles, we can strike out in all kinds of directions without losing our way.

August 9, 2010 at 2:33 am 3 comments

My new mantra

Do you ever read or hear something so timely it just about knocks your feet out from under you? One of my mentors, Kathy Gould, posted something on her blog two days ago that did that to me. She was talking about leadership and management lessons she learned from her own mentor, and a simple phrase that he taught her was “What I accept, I approve.”

Read that again. “What I accept, I approve.”

It’s a really simple statement, but SO true and SO powerful – it’s rocking my world right now. I’ll probably post more about this when I’ve processed a bit more, but I wanted to make sure and share it now.

There’s more great stuff in that post, including a nice distinction between role-vested authority and earned authority. Do yourself a favor and go read the whole thing.

May 12, 2010 at 10:38 am 2 comments

Reference: it’s not just for libraries, anymore

You know those ads for KGB? I avoid tv commercials as much as possible, but even I haven’t been able to miss these (full disclosure: I first noticed them because they feature Sean Gunn of Gilmore Girls fame). But every time I see them I have this little moment of frustration, thinking “This is just text-message reference, for a fee. Libraries do this for free.” Well, some libraries do, anyway, and that’s a problem.

Libraries traditionally have not been very nimble organizations – we don’t have the response speed we need when new technologies are developed, so we are slow to take advantage, even of those things that are right in our wheelhouse. Which means that while libraries are still struggling to get on board with SMS  and IM for reference, Aardvark is launching an iPhone app that allows people to ask questions of other users and get responses back within minutes. People are crowdsourcing questions on Twitter instead of calling their local library reference desk. As I pointed out awhile back, it doesn’t matter if we provide “better quality” or more authoritative answers if no one is using our services because there’s something quicker and easier that meets their needs.

Of course there’s a financial dynamic involved – it would be great if libraries could all afford to keep a developer on staff, creating apps and finding ways to adapt new technologies for library use, but that’s just not realistic. But I think the bulk of the problem is in our organizational culture. We are trying to adopt the new without making any sacrifices, and it won’t work. Trying to do everything just results in slow and cumbersome organizations. As leaders and managers, we need to prioritize those things that will keep our organizations relevant and able to serve effectively and efficiently in our communities, and make the tough decisions about what to let go.

October 1, 2009 at 1:57 pm 2 comments

A new style of leadership?

I came across a good interview with Clay Shirky, where he talks about how social media is creating a demand for new kinds of leadership. I’m not sure it’s the style of leadership that’s new; I think what’s new is the demand. Either way, there’s a shift happening. A couple of good quotes:

There’s a temptation among most managers to view social media tools and crowdsourcing as simply a sort of novel set of instruments, kind of like, “Oh, here are some new tools for us to get our job done.” But this isn’t just about laying our hands on some new tools. These crowds are people. …

It really does involve a degree of openness on the part of existing organizations that we haven’t seen before. In fact, if you’re a manager of a traditional organization looking for control, you will have trouble in this Web 2.0 environment. …

The other question about the new type of leadership is how to get a group of people to all agree that a shared vision is something they’ll pursue even if they don’t agree with every particular.

Go read the whole thing – it’s not too long. [via PopTech]

September 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm 2 comments

Changing the definitions

Jonathan Morrow gets it right:

The people we pay attention to aren’t the masters of doing what’s “right;” they’re the misfits who have the courage to be wrong. They take whatever everyone else is doing in their industry and turn it inside out….

What I’m saying is you need to realize “right” and “wrong” exist only between quotation marks. Everyday, the world decides their definition, and everyday, we have the opportunity to influence what that definition becomes.

Revolutionaries don’t just burn the rules. They write new ones. In destroying the standard, they create the standard. It’s creative destruction at its finest.

June 30, 2009 at 9:57 pm

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"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce