I was privileged last week to be invited to participate in a panel discussion at the first annual Texas Library Association Executive Leadership Immersion. This week-long event was aimed at seasoned library professionals looking to further hone their leadership skills. At the helm for the presentations was Dr. Julie Todaro, Dean of Library Services at Austin Community College and President of the American Library Association.
My panel mates were Sheila Henderson, Head Librarian at Austin Community College and longtime Texas library leader; and Darryl Tocker, Executive Director of the Tocker Foundation which provides much-needed philanthropic support to small community libraries across Texas. Our topic was to discuss the books and literature we turn to for our own personal inspiration and guidance on the topic of leadership and also how to draw from the huge amount of material published on leadership to create a toolkit for our organizations.
On the former question, I puzzled for days (Julie asked that we not confer with our colleagues so that our answers would be unique). I found as I puzzled that a truth emerged. While I find many books about leadership published to be useful and motivational, I seldom find them to be deeply inspirational. For inspiration I go to other books. I considered the qualities that I believe define leadership: Courage, Compassion, Honesty, Humility, and Vision. And I find that I draw true inspiration from reading about persons who deeply understand or exemplify those traits. As examples, for lessons in courage, I mentioned I am Malala, by Malala Yousefzai, who at the age of 12 and despite death threats spoke out about the importance of education for girls in Pakistan and who was subsequently shot by the Taliban, and at age 17 delivered a Nobel Peace Prize speech before the world’s leading political and intellectual figures. For compassion, I noted the book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Compassion by Father Gregory Boyle whose organization Home Boy Industries works with L.A. gang members trying to escape from their cycle of violence.
And so on. It seems important to me to consider who we as leaders look to for our guidance and inspiration and consider who those that we admire as leaders look for theirs.
On the latter question of how we make sense of the huge array of materials available on the topic of leadership, or put another way, what is in our tool kit, I suggested a few areas that I felt were important to cover, as follows:
- Organizational analysis and continuous quality improvement – I suggested Baldrige Excellence Framework: A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance (National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce, 2015). This is a resource we have used at TSLAC to investigate key quality process areas for improvement.
- Ethics – Because of the importance of being ethical as a foundational quality, I suggested The Ethical Executive by Robert Hoyk and Paul Hersey (Stanford University Press, 2008).
- Inspiration – Because leaders are expected to consider new ways of thinking and inspire others to follow, there are many to choose from, but I suggested Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek (Portfolio, 2011).
- Motivation – Employees are an organization’s greatest asset and keeping them motivated is crucial to success. I suggested Drive by Daniel Pink (Riverhead Books, 2011), which reminds us that intrinsic rewards are often more important to motivation than extrinsic rewards.
- Change management – Because change is a daily part of our work, especially in the information business, there are many sources, but I suggested a classic, Leading Change by John Kotter (Harvard Business Review, 2012).
- Trending – Because understanding how trends can and cannot be predicted and influenced, I recommended The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Random House, 2010) and also The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown and Company, 2002).
I could go on. Like many others I have greatly relied on the wisdom contained in Good to Great by Jim Collins (Harper Collins, 2001), understood the importance of organizational humility from The Courageous Follower by Ira Chaleff (Barret-Koehler Publishers, 2003), and The Servant Leader by James Autry (Three Rivers Press, 2001), and learned to analyze how we process information from Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).
And finally, I advised the Leadership Immersion attendees not to overlook the great online resources such as TED Talks, YouTube videos, blogs, and podcasts.
Thank you to Dr. Julie Todaro and TLA Executive Director Pat Smith for inviting me to participate in the event and for continuing to provide excellent models of library leadership.