Thursday, July 06, 2006

Leadership and Management

Recently, a librarian manager discussed with me his managerial philosophy. Managing people has always piqued my interest, as I see it as a combination of teaching, parenting, and coaching. Incidentally, I came across a fascinating article, Leadership or Management: Expectations for Heads of Reference Services in Academic Libraries, from Reference Librarian which nicely delves into the issues that we were discussing. (The same Volume: 39 Issue: 81's issue offers other articles related to the topic of library management).

In the organizational hierarchy, the most difficult position is the “front-line manager” who are the lower-level managers who supervise the operational activities of the library. Although it can be seen that they serve as the link between the management and the non-management staff, it can be construed that they are often squeezed into unenviable positions, making decisions which pleases neither the top nor the bottom.

Unaeze argues that management and leadership are not the same. While management plan budgets, organize the staff, solve problems, and provide stability, leadership requires establishing direction, motivating people, and producing change. A list of traits are analyzed, such as courage, decisiveness, flexibility, and time management.

I’ve had some super bosses but also have had mediocre ones. As important as Unaeze’s points are, my experiences offers some observations of management from the employee's perspective.

(1) Humour – Laughter often brings out the best in us. I find that using humour – even if the punch line fails – generates morale and eases the burden of the workday. The best bosses I’ve had (as well as teachers) have been those who took the time during breaks to come out and crack a few jokes, talk about the missed penalty, or just how wonderful a movie Back to the Future was.

(2) Trust – Managers don’t always need to be judicial. Sometimes, discrete should be traded in for a good chat with employees. It fosters trust. Of course, confidential discussions will be always be at risk, but as the saying goes, with high risk comes high rewards.

(3) The Human Touch – The best managers I have had are those who show their vulnerabilities. Cynicism, despondency, animosity are what makes us all common. I am often touched after personal chats with the supervisor, or when he or she spills a few personal anecdotes about the roadblocks that he or she faced along the way. With humility comes communication, and with that, a better, more motivated team.

(4) Hardwork – Even if the manager is not working on a task, he must appear as if he is, just for the sake of the team. Motivation and example come from the top, and if the leader doesn’t show it, then the staff is doomed to follow. I once had difficulty cutting some tape for urgent delivery from a busy retail bookstore. The manager brusquely took it out of my hand, sheared it with her own teeth, then resumed whatever task she was doing. Job done, problem solved. The experience left an indelible impression in my mind; it helped me realize that managing isn’t just about conceptualizing and brooding in a spacious office.

(5) Generosity - As the author Robert Kiyosaki once said, if you want to make money, you also have to give away money. And do it all without the expectation of any returns. Hence, I truly believe the best managers are those who are not shy to divulge "secrets of the trade" to others, and I most admire those who take on mentorship roles. In a profession which relies on information exchange and dissemination, what better way than to multiply your own information gathering talents?

1 comment:

Dean Giustini said...

Hi Allan,

Some of the most powerful lessons in my work has come from observing other librarians, or thinking about the intangible qualities that made them effective leaders.

This is one of the benefits of doing a professional experience: observing, thinking, writing.