Lead to succeed: a final reflection

The last of our series of blog-posts ties together the visions of  leadership in Irish libraries presented by our inspiring speakers at Lead to Succeed and is written by CDG Chairperson Marta Bustillo. 


This year’s annual seminar and AGM of the Career Development Group sought to present a variety of views on leadership from librarians at all career stages, as well as from non-librarians. We invited John Lonergan, former Governor of Mountjoy prison, as our keynote speaker and we also had Kate Kelly, head librarian at RCSI; Siobhan McGuinness, 2016 winner of the Career Advancement Award from the Special Library Association’s Leadership & Management Division; Hugh Murphy, Senior Librarian at the Collection Management Division in Maynooth University Library, and Marie O’Neill, head of library services at Dublin Business School. All of them came at the issue of leadership from very different angles, yet a number of common themes seemed to emerge from all of the talks, which I would like to reflect upon in this post (slides available at links above & on our Slideshare).

At a time when even the need for libraries is being put in question, and when library staff are increasingly being replaced by so-called ‘open libraries’, effective leadership will make the difference between a thriving and well funded library, or no library at all.

hughmurphy-7Hugh Murphy asked: “a leader of whom? In what?” These are unequivocally the core questions we should ask of ourselves and of our profession. If we want libraries to flourish and play a central role in society, we must provide visionary leadership that can demonstrate the value and relevance for the future of what libraries offer and what librarians are trained to do. However as Marie O’Neill highlighted, where are our role models for leadership? Do we know sufficiently about the history of our profession to understand who our leaders were, and what they contributed to the world as we know it now? How many working librarians can actually name the founders of our profession and why what they did was important?

As a profession, we have remarkably little knowledge of our own history, of our own successes, and find it particularly difficult to adopt a style of leadership that works for ourselves and for our institutions. This of course could change if, as Marie suggested, we introduced modules on the history of our profession and on developing leadership into the LIS curriculum. Nevertheless, we would probably still come up against what could be considered as character traits of librarians: the unwillingness to ‘blow our own trumpet’ and the preference for keeping a low profile. As Kate Kelly highlighted in her talk, the ‘vision thing’ is difficult to achieve, particularly, it seems, for women, in a profession predominantly populated by women. It requires influencing and persuading ‘up, down and sideways’, something that librarians are rarely trained to do.

Responsibility, integrity and vision

johnlonergan-12John Lonergan defined leadership very clearly when he said that it is about taking responsibility for everything that happens in an organisation. It requires integrity, vision, the ability to get the best out of others and the humility to acknowledge mistakes. Without integrity, nothing else will work because staff won’t know what is true, what is expected of them and whether leaders can be trusted to stand by them when things get difficult. Without vision, staff won’t be enthused about their work and will not contribute their most creative ideas. Leaders must be committed to getting the best out of others, fostering an equal and respectful atmosphere at work, making good use of the expertise that staff bring to their positions, recognising the achievements of their employees and investing in their personal and professional development. When they fail to do so, this translates into high staff turnover and losses for their organisations. Finally, leaders must have the humility to acknowledge mistakes in order to foster a trusting relationship with employees, one which encourages staff to report the failures as well as the successes, and to try even when they may fail.

Ultimately, as Hugh Murphy pointed out, managers choose whether to be leaders or ‘power mongers’. One possible way of ensuring that leaders get the best out of their staff is by applying the concept of Appreciative Inquiry, defined as a system that ‘advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is, in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.’[1]coffeebreak-3

The CDG’s seminar was meant to start a conversation about leadership in Irish libraries, and certainly our five speakers achieved this very successfully. Now the question is where we go from here: what do we need to do in order to encourage leadership at all levels, to train leaders and to foster a culture of leadership in our libraries?

Watch this space – we hope to organise more events in the future that explore the concept of leadership and train future leaders.

[1] Bushe, G. R. (2013). Kessler, E., ed. ‘The Appreciative Inquiry Model.’ The Encyclopedia of Management Theory. Sage Publications.

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Lead to Succeed: envisioning leadership in Irish libraries

Following on from Tuesday’s keynote recap, our second post below on Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries on Friday the 14th October in the RCSI is written by Committee member Andrew Moore and describes the remaining three speakers urging the Irish Library community to embrace leadership in all its forms. 


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Speakers included Siobhán McGuinness, John Lonergan, Kate Kelly (RCSI), Hugh Murphy (NUIM) & Marie O’Neill (DBS).


siobhanmcguinness-3After a short break…Siobhán McGuinness gave her presentation entitled “Learning and developing leadership: opportunities, influence and motivation.” Siobhán gave real world examples of how she has forged a professional profile winning national library awards in career development. She stressed the importance of being “bold and brave” at the level of new, and mid-level management positions, within libraries. She then gave evidence of her recent achievements winning a prestigious award in career development, the Career Advancement Award from the SLA (Special libraries association) Leader and Management Division. Despite a temporary setback in her career, she has continued to liaise with her professional network; by having a library mentor, being involved on committees and teams, attending conferences, having a lively website, as well as blogging and tweeting about events. It is abundantly clear that Siobhán fully understands how to actively promote yourself as an important voice in the library profession. She gave sound advice:

 “No matter what your rank – we are all leaders”

and recommended that all junior library staff should break the mould of what a librarian is, or should be: turn your obstacles into opportunities, exert influence, set challenges and deadlines. That Siobhan had achieved all these things, and more, made her advice prescient, she clearly knew what she was talking about.
 
Hugh Murphy, Senior librarian at NUI Maynooth then followed with his talk entitled “Leaders, managers and power mongers.” Hugh delivered his talk with great humour as well as providing some food for thought regarding theories of leadership in libraries. He began by showing that culturally and professionally we have a problem with the term ‘power’ in Ireland. Historically a “Great Power” suggests colonialisation, invasion, occupation, and culturally it suggests exerting pressure on the weak by the ‘powerful’. Power is therefore ‘bad’ in cultural terms, and as a profession, librarians are prone to shy away from power.
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Hugh stated that very few people are born leaders, and that he himself was wary of becoming one, but after attending a “Future Leaders” course he learnt about it in detail. He now leads a team of over 25 members of staff. He then gave examples of some negative aspects associated with leadership: ‘Role blur’ (information overload); ‘Energy theft’ (when a negative comment can deflate a meeting); and Gender politics and power. He then went on to describe one of the key skills of being a leader, the ability to be ‘self-reflective’ as well as to demonstrate ‘capacity and view’ and show empathy. He characterised librarianship as not being a ruthless work environment, in comparison to being a lawyer. He however countered this by asking if consensual management is any good if something goes wrong, and that therefore, leadership is a vital component of effective management.
 
marieoneill-1The ever engaging Marie O’Neill, Director of DBS Library, ended the day’s talks with a lively session which really made us all question our roles as leaders, and if we were doing enough to show leadership in libraries. In her talk  “Developing a leadership style and brand,” Marie discussed some of the problems of library training;  and that there is no recognised framework for the education of library leaders in Ireland. She asked those present the provocative question:

“Do we fully embrace leadership?”

Marie then went on to point out how our profession is detrimentally associated with the anachronistic image of introverted, shy & retiring type; a ‘cat-loving-cardigan-wearing’ librarian stereotype! She questioned if we are doing enough to break this association. She then gave an impassioned call for greater self-motivation, as librarians too often are satisfied with “generic management approaches,” and are anonymous in terms of political lobbying. She added that the library profession is doing too little too late, with closures and mergers in Ireland and the UK, and that although CILIP has issued an “Impact Toolkit” to help us counter these threats, the “horse may already have bolted.” She concluded by admonishing librarians for not putting our heads above the parapet, as we are not taught to be adversarial – and recommended that we begin developing leadership in Irish libraries by having a debating competition and debating cup!

Lead to Succeed: the keynote speakers

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.


29993061444_f8dcc7f8da_zFormer 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.
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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.

Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries

Need an inspiring library event to ease you into Autumn? The CDG is proud to present this year’s seminar/AGM in association with the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Library – Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries.
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This half-day seminar will focus on sharing experience and knowledge in Irish libraries with a focus on leadership in times of change. It will be opened by keynote speaker Mr. John Lonergan (former Governor of Mountjoy Prison) who speaks passionately on social-justice issues, the importance of maintaining a work-life balance and community-building within your organisation. We’re also excited to announce speakers from four different Irish libraries and further details will be released here over the next few weeks.


When: Friday 14th October 2016 9.30am – 4pm

Where: RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland), 123 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin


Lunch will be provided and you’re welcome to head off after or stay on for the LAI CDG AGM 2016 with reports by committee officers on a busy year of events and activities as well as our plans for the future, and of course our ritual networking in the local pub!

Get your tickets now so you’re not disappointed!

Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries/CDG AGM 2016

€12 for students/unwaged
€20 for LAI members
€30 for non-LAI members
(plus booking fee)

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