Following our highly engaging event Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries on Friday the 14th October in the RCSI, we have split our recaps and reflections into a series of three blog-posts to be released over the coming days. Today’s recap on the keynote speakers was written by committee member John Wheatley.
Former governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan
, got the day’s event off to a start with an engaging and light-hearted talk entitled ‘Getting the best out of others’ in which he spoke about his philosophy of leadership and its application in the workplace. While the impenetrable fortress of Mountjoy Prison may well be a far cry from the leafy environs of the likes of Maynooth or the Royal College of Surgeons on Stephen’s Green, the principles of leadership, nevertheless, are similarly applicable in the library context. Staff members, prisoners, students, the general public – all are stakeholders. John
emphasised the importance of maintaining respect for all stakeholders: subordinates and – in Mountjoy’s case – prisoners alike. A disconnect is all too often apparent between senior management and entry-level, front-line staff members. Humility, both intellectual and social, is key to removing this sense of disconnection. Leaders must understand that every single member of staff has a role to play and should be treated with dignity. He stressed the need to adhere to the principle of fairness and to behave consistently. “Nobody likes criticism!” On the subject of constructive criticism, he expressed doubts as to its merits, questioning the ultimate value in telling someone that they’re “a thundering eejit, but…”.
“Instead, we should strive for a collective improvement in performance and agreed targets without resorting to individual criticism.”
The talk was rounded off with an appeal for a more human style of management, a common sense approach. Simply by smiling and being nice to colleagues, the work environment can become much more enjoyable. In the library sector which increasingly reflects a corporate-like ethos, it’s easy to forget the importance of harmonious relationships built on mutual respect and understanding.
The next speaker to take to the stage was Kate Kelly, Director of Services of the RCSI Mercer Library, who spoke about the role of leadership in transforming vision into reality. Beginning her talk (entitled ‘Beyond vision: making it real’) with the assertion that leadership is not linear, but fluid, she elaborated by linking leadership to innovation. The capacity to turn vision into reality is a defining characteristic of great leaders, or, to quote Warren G. Bennis, “Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet be be heard”. “Soft” or “people” skills and emotional intelligence were cited as amongst the most important leadership skills needed in the workplace today. As library and information professionals, there is an understanding that we need to re-associate the word “library”. Information technology has had a transformational effect on the traditional library and imparting vision to embrace change is key to the library function retaining its relevance. By facilitating an environment conducive to experimentation, the culture of leadership in the organization can promote a “healthy anxiety” which can allow for the emergence of leaders at all levels.
Leaders must be able to articulate the vision of an organization and, rather than planning, must take strategic action, effectively bringing the operational and the strategic together. Rather than equate strategy to planning, all action should be strategic. All action becomes strategic when there is organisation-wide buy-in to a defined strategy. This buy-in is achieved through influencing, risk-taking and engagement. Vision, thus, becomes reality rather than the vague, over-arching aspiration of a mission statement.
“Begin with the end in mind” and “Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans” – two quotes worth keeping in mind!
It is the leader’s role to add detail to the “bigger picture” by assuming a role that rejects passivity and implements ownership and accountability. Inspiration can be taken by scanning the environment, especially outside the sector. Kate also spoke about how library buildings can act as physical manifestations of the vision of the organisation. Implicit in this analogy is the library as the epicentre of organisational activity: the symbol of and catalyst for change.