1. When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to go into space, be
weightless, do fascinating and science-y things. But I didn’t know how you got to BE an
astronaut, so I didn’t ever follow through.
Instead, I’m a librarian. And I’m an administrator, a leader, and a manager, all much younger
than anyone expects. I surely didn’t know how you got to BE those things, more than the
astronaut gig, and yet here I am.
So how’d I get here? I’m 35, so it’s not that I earned it by slogging through trenches, struggling
up ladders, or waiting out my elders, as some conventional wisdoms would ask you to believe.
Instead, I just did it.
I recently told a good friend that when people tell me I do great things, I’m usually bafﬂed. I
just do my job, choose to be authentically myself, and reach for my goals. Good things happen
to me, and bad ones, too. And I don’t think that’s explicitly about leadership skills or traits – I
think it’s about understanding your skills and traits, and what it means to lead, good and bad,
and knowing who I am in that regard, good and bad.
2. But I don’t want to just start by talking about myself -- that’s less helpful to you than asking
you to think about what you know already and putting it into a new context. So I’d like to ask
you do a small exercise -- the ﬁrst in a series of what I promise will be painless ones -- to
help frame up some of that context with you. These exercises will all be private, largely -- I
may ask a few volunteers to share answers, or to have you all do an A or B multiple choice
answer thing, but largely these responses are for your use. Don’t worry about being forced to
share them and thus feel awkward about answering.
Now, hold on to those. We’ll come back to them.
3. Okay. So. Let’s dig in. Leadership is not management. We will talk about management later -- Colleen will discuss change
management just after lunch, and we’ll both hit at some of the hard work of personnel management this afternoon.
Leadership is something else entirely. I can think of no better graphical demonstration than this: JFK is, in this image, giving the
famous speech in which he proposed that we put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
Let me read a piece of that speech. “Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom
and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the
Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of
which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice
President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where
we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time
for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national
decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never speciﬁed long-range goals on an
urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulﬁllment.”
He continued, “I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the
Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and
months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an afﬁrmative
position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we
should decide today and this year.”
Those are the words of a leader. A well-informed man, studying costs, beneﬁts, and potential directions, threats and possibilities,
and making a decision on direction, which he recommended in the strongest possible and most compelling terms he could
muster, linking his proposal to his arguments and making a case for the future.
Whatever you may think of NASA, we must all recall that it worked, even after his untimely death. We did put a man on the
Now, the gentlemen on the right are the ones who made it happen. They’re NASA’s project managers. They took the goals of
the Congress and the President, the nation’s funding, the scientiﬁc challenges and opportunities, and put astronauts on the
Their jobs were distinctly different from Kennedy’s. That’s not to say that he didn’t manage details in preparing his speech and
presidential agenda. And that’s not to say that the managers at NASA weren’t leaders in their own rights. But the two jobs are
4. Simply deﬁned, “Leadership has been described as the “process of social inﬂuence in which
one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common
task”. or, "Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making
something extraordinary happen."
Management is “the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and
objectives using available resources efﬁciently and effectively.” or “Management comprises
planning, organizing, stafﬁng, directing, and controlling an effort for the purpose of
accomplishing a goal.”
They are overlapping skills, but they are not the same. For example,
My secretary is a great process manager. My head technical services clerk is an awesome
project manager. Niether of them are leaders. Neither wants to tackle vision, strategy, or
communication, but they can manage details and workﬂows like the professionals they are.
Some of librarianship’s biggest names are excellent leaders. Some of them are also terrible
managers, more interested in the grand idea and futures thinking than the nuts and bolts of
implementation, people management, morale management, and sustainability that are the
hallmarks of a great manager.
For any project, idea, or organization to succeed, we need both roles to be ﬁlled.
5. • Do we have enough leaders in librarianship:? Managers? Do we have more of one
than the other? (I think In libraries, in my experience, we have both managers and
leaders, but not enough of either, and in too many cases, managers have ended up
in leadership roles, or leaders are pushing forward without enough management
• Why do you think that is?
6. In practical terms, strong leadership provides the framework within which library staff can do
their jobs. That’s it. That’s all.
Easy, right? Well. The challenges come in when leaders envision a framework that’s HARD. A
framework that pushes boundaries, studies challenges and rejects them, and attempts to
move things forward toward impossible goals. Like, say, putting a man on the moon. So
sometimes leadership means we succeed, and JFK exhorts us to go to the moon, and then we
send Sally Ride up on a shuttle and library directors create sustainable and innovative
But sometimes leadership means that NASA closes down the shuttle program and
McMaster’s University Librarian ﬁres most of its librarians and replaces them with postdocs.
Leaders move us forward – so you better be sure you like where they’re taking us.
Which is why I’m so glad you’re all here, willing to listen. Sometimes our leaders speak for us
because no one else is speaking. Sometimes people ﬁll leadership roles because no one else
will. Sometimes that works out great, but sometimes it’s an overt disaster. The more that
people understand their own power as leaders and their own value as librarians, the more
certain we can be that the paths we will all walk down are going to take us somewhere we
want to go.
7. So, what, exactly, is leadership? “Provides the framework” is totally lame management-speak, I
know. So here are the pieces, as I see them.
Coherent approach to personnel: Leaders have to answer the question “Who are we? What
do we value in our colleagues, our team, and our approach to organizing our work?”
Strategic vision: Leaders answer the question “Where are we going? Do we have goals? What
Change management: “How will we get there? Are we prepared? ”
Decision-making paradigms: “Who will decide? Who gets a say? How much inﬂuence does any
Morale and attitude management: “How will we feel about it, whatever it is?”
External presentation and representation: “What will everyone else think of us?”
What else? What else to leaders in libraries need to do?
9. There are more ways to lead than I could possibly cover, and I am in no way an expert on any,
let alone all, of them.
I informally surveyed about 30 early and mid career librarians and asked them what they
wanted a bunch of people talking about leadership in libraries to know about approaching
leadership. Here’s their list.
10. Lead from the middle, whoever you are, you have power of some kind, because
you as a person have skills, values, and abilities that have meaning. You just have
to leverage them.
Lead by words. Sharing an enticing vision is, well, enticing. People follow
dreams, because we want to believe that Yes We Can.
Lead by doing. If you can provide proof of a concept, you will earn respect.
People respect accomplishment.
Lead by supporting others. The leader isn’t always the person with the idea, but
often is the person who makes it possible for the ideas of others to be realized.
You are your team.
Lead by creating the environment. One framework that matters is a workplace
culture that allows for change, growth, and success, and a leader can cultivate
and build that.
Lead by recognizing others. Acknowledgement of what people have
accomplished, and creating value around accomplishment through your choices
of recognition, is leadership.
Most of all, they wanted everyone to realize that leadership can be ﬁerce, or kind,
or collaborative, or maverick. Leadership can be collaborative or individual, quiet
or soapbox-y. Leadership comes from you, whoever you are.
11. And so. The people I talked to are all right. Leaders can be any of those things,
or all of those things, or some of those things. So if you want to lead, I would
suggest that your ﬁrst step is knowing yourself. Where are you in the spectrum
The answer to that doesn’t really matter to the outside world, but it matters in
that you have to know your strengths if you’re going to use them well. You also
need to know your weaknesses so you can either avoid or bolster them, or, more
practically, ﬁnd a good team to do the parts you suck at.
13. So, I’ve talked about what leadership is, and what leaders do, and why that
You’ve thought about what you admire, who are are in your organization, and
what your leadership strengths are.
Now I want to talk about two intangibles of leadership that I hope are hallmarks
for the future of librarianship: Trust and transparency.
John Glenn went from that hallway onto a spacecraft that, looking back, appears
to be made of tin foil and transistors. Hundreds – thousands – of people worked
on those craft, made and ﬁxed mistakes, and contribued to the project. They
had good managers, and good leaders. And the astronauts trusted that the
whole thing was going to ﬂy. And it worked.
14. Our libraries also work on trust. Healthy ones, anyway. Because, here’s the thing:
Leading only works if people follow you. People will follow you if they fear you,
but punishment is a miserable motivator. People will also follow you if they
respect you. And what is respect if not trust that your track record will hold true?
Even if you have an acknowledged authority, a proven track record, and a strong
believable vision, if the staff isn’t on board, you’re screwed. And to get them on
board you need their trust – either in you, or in the vision.
In short: Don’t be an asshole, and model the behavior you would hope for in your
15. And so how do people know all those things that allow them to trust you?
Because you show them.
That’s the king and queen of Belgium in the third row up, to the right of the
pointing guy, watching one of the apollo launches. I know that conspiracy
theorists still say the moon landing was a hoax but by and large the world trusts
that we did it. Part of that trust is because we showed people. We invited them
to watch. We broadcast it. We made it available.
Why do otherwise professionally?
16. In many, and I would argue most, cases we have nothing ot lose by sharing.
Budgets? Are they a secret? WHY? What part of your process is so secret you
can’t share it? Are you ashamed of it? What would happen if you told people
how you allocate money? Is it possible that if they understood how you make
decisions, they might trust you more?
After the ﬁrst six months in my current position I told my team that my operating
principle is that I will say yes unless I must say no, and that I deﬁne “must” by
considering our mission, our goals, and our resources. And I’ve been consistent
in that. They trust me. And they expect a yes, but respect a no, because they
understand how I make those decisions. Someone, upon hearing that, once
asked me if I ddin’t think that was a misstep – telling the team. Because now that
they knew how I made decisions, they could manipulate the system, and thus
me. I just stared at them. If my decision-making process is something I’m proud
of, and it’s based on mission, goals, and resources, how precisely would
someone manipulate me? If their idea is good, I say yes. If their idea compels me
to say no, I say no. Knowing that doesn’t give them some strange power over
me, it just makes them more comfortable asking me for things because they
know how I will treat them when they do.
Of course, there are some areas where perhaps people don’t need to know.
Legal ones like personnel issues. Things waaaay outside their pay grade that will
just confuse the issue. My internal emotional reaction to criers, liars, and time
wasters. How often I censor my language. But nearly everything else is fair
17. But not all worlds are perfect worlds. So let’s open this up to discussion and