ASSOCIATES (2009, March, v. 15, no. 3)


Leadership for Library Support Staff – Part 2

Kevin DudeneyKevin Dudeney
NSW Department of Corrective Services

Researchers and writers describe leadership in many ways.

Each of the following perspectives can be of use in considering leadership for library support staff.

“The quality of leadership, more than any single factor determines the success or failure of an organization.”– Fiedler & Chemers (i)

For libraries within a community or organization, being managed well is no longer the only consideration. Staff have to adopt leadership practices to ensure that current user’s needs are being met and also adopt new and innovative ways to attract greater participation in the library, especially from the not so frequent library users.

“To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not know their existence. … When the best leaders work is done, the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.’”– Lao-tsu (ii)

Lao-tsu was a 6th Century BC Chinese philosopher. He knew it was better when a team achieved results through their own initiative, with the leader providing guidance, rather than have the leader issue instructions and control every aspect of the task.

“Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.”–Ross Perot (iii)

In libraries we manage our books, serials, and DVDs. However, the people who work in our libraries should be led.

“No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under leadership composed of average human beings.”–Peter Drucker (iv)

The idea that organizations require special men and women to lead them is wrong. Leadership is a skill that can be learnt and organizations have a responsibility to assist in developing its potential leaders.

Kouzes and Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge (v) state five practices of leadership:

Leaders should:

Model the way – two of the most important characteristics for any leader are honesty and integrity in the way they deal with people and the goals they are expected to achieve. Good leaders – lead. Members of a team will follow the person and then the plan.

Inspire a shared vision – leaders have a vision for future, of what could be. It is a leader’s role to encourage the development of a shared vision as people will not follow until they accept the vision as their own. However, it is more than just ‘talking up’ one person’s idea. Leaders need to understand the needs of their team members and have their interests at heart.

Challenge the process – Leaders are never complacent about the status quo and continue to look for ways to grow the organization. Leaders know when they undertake this change there will be experimentation, risk, successes and failures. But with the failures come learning opportunities.

Enable others to act – Leadership is a team effort, with trust and empowerment as essential elements in the relationship. When people are empowered, they begin to take risks and make changes, thereby becoming leaders themselves.

Encourage the heart – While undertaking any project, team members can become exhausted, frustrated and disenchanted and may even consider giving up. Leaders encourage their team members to continue. This can be done by individual recognition and group celebration, visibly linking rewards with performance.

In addition to the five practices already mentioned there is another one. Leaders need to be:

Visible – All leaders whether at work or in the community need to be seen. To become a leader requires a person to accept additional roles thus enabling them to adopt a higher profile. This provides a model for others to become leaders and with the above characteristics will allow everyone in the team to develop.

(i) Fiedler, F.E., Chemers, M.M. and Mahar, L. (1976) Improving Leadership Effectiveness: The Leader Match Concept, New York: John Wiley and Sons.

(ii) The Tao Te Ching or Dao De Jing, originally known as Laozi or Lao tzu, is a Chinese classic text.

(iii) Henry Ross Perot (1930-) is an American businessman from Texas, who is best known for seeking the office of President of the United States in 1992 and 1996. With an estimated net worth of around US$5 billion in 2008, he is ranked by Forbes as the 72nd-richest person in America.

(iv) Peter Ferdinand Drucker (1909–2005) was a writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist.” Widely considered to be the father of “modern management,” his 39 books and countless scholarly and popular articles explored how humans are organized across all sectors of society—in business, government and the nonprofit world.[2]

(v) Kouzes and Posner, The Leadership Challenge, Jossey Bass, 2002.