From Midwinter to Annual: Lessons Learned in my 2012 Emerging Leader Experience
By Laksamee Putnam, Science Librarian, Albert S. Cook Library, Towson University, Baltimore, MD. View her online portfolio.
As a member of the 2012 Emerging Leaders program, I had the opportunity to participate in an amazing learning experience over the course of the last year. Emerging Leaders is an ALA program in which a cohort of early career library professionals is selected to meet en masse twice during a calendar year: first during ALA Midwinter and a second meeting at ALA Annual. A day-long symposium is held biannually and during that time participants engage in a series of discussions and lectures focused on leadership. During the Midwinter meeting, the cohort is split into small groups of about five people. Each group is assigned a task by a sponsoring library group to be completed and presented at the group’s second meeting, at ALA Annual. The tasks range from creating a website, to distributing a survey, to providing suggestions to aid a library group’s work flow. The Emerging Leaders program goals are to train and empower participants by placing them into “problem-solving work groups” and allowing participants to “network with peers, gain an inside look into ALA structure, and have an opportunity to serve the profession in a leadership capacity” (American Library Association). The most significant aspects of my experience in the Emerging Leaders program stem from the presentations during our leadership symposiums and the technology lessons from my team project. The highlights of my experience are featured here.
The primary facilitator for our program was Kathryn Deiss, ACRL Content Strategist. Her presentations served as an enlightening and practical touchstone that brought together the Emerging Leaders as a cohort and as individual teams. Before we began our semester-long projects, Deiss discussed intentional leadership with our cohort.
Intentional leadership is based on the premise that a truly effective leader is a person who holds the overall goals and mission in mind for any project, and who understands how to excite their group into producing exceptional results. Deiss affirmed how intentional leadership is necessary for the future of libraries. The definition of librarianship and the changing role of librarians have been the focus of numerous ALA programs. Searching for programs using the keyword ‘change’ in this past ALA Annual 2012 Scheduler returns results from all divisions of the library. Programs on topics such as succession planning, the library’s involvement in the Arab Spring, and library support of open access, all demonstrate how information professionals are taking librarianship outside of traditional areas. With changing times, leaders with a flexible vision for the future are indispensable. At the ALA Midwinter 2012 Emerging Leaders session, Deiss described seven views of leadership from Lee & King’s book Discovering the leader in you. Briefly, the seven views are:
1. Genetic – Leadership is “in the blood” and an inherent part of what makes a good leader.
2. Learned – Leadership is a skill that must be taught and practiced in order to be effective.
3. Heroic – A leader is someone who does courageous deeds, above and beyond the expectations of others.
4. Top Only – Leaders are the people who are in charge and dictate what everyone else does.
5. Social Script – Everyone eventually finds themselves in a leadership position just by going through life.
6. Position – The idea that you are a leader because of your title (director, dean, etc.).
7. Calling – The idea that some people just feel compelled to be leaders.
Our perceptions about who or what leaders are influence how we approach any team activity. Deiss had our Emerging Leaders cohort discuss the various leadership views, our experiences as leaders, and where we felt our leadership style fell. It became clear through our discussion that leaders do not fall under only one of the seven categories; leadership is complex and something everyone can participate in regardless of their current role. Deiss’ message regarding intentional leaders holding on to an overall vision and working together with their teams toward a goal made my upcoming project seem less daunting and more of an adventure. It was a great way to start our team projects.
My team project was sponsored by the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA). Our team consisted of five Emerging Leaders and two officials from LLAMA: Janine Golden, LLAMA President, and Kerry Ward, LLAMA Executive Director. We were tasked with surveying library and information science (LIS) students to gather data about their awareness and current perceptions of LLAMA. Detailed information about our project can be found on the project website.
Overall, what I took away from my experience stemmed from the technology that made it possible for our team to coordinate our project remotely, both synchronously and asynchronously. In a relatively short amount of time (six months) we created a survey, sent it out, analyzed the findings, and presented the information. The effort was truly only possible due to the determination of my teammates. However, our work was also enhanced extensively by the use of Google applications. While our group used AdobeConnect and telephone conference calls to communicate verbally, we primarily used Google Project (currently the shared folder feature in the Google Drive space) to house all of our documents. After setting a time and date for a synchronous meeting, we would meet virtually to edit, critique, and discuss our progress; we then designated work to be completed before our next meeting. Google Form was used to create the survey and for data collection purposes. Google Docs was used to write introductions, letters, and basic poster content. Google Presentation held the graphic representations of our data after we had created pie charts and graphs. Google Sites was used to create the project website. Utilizing these Google tools allowed us to worry less about the technical aspects of our projects and focus more on the content. While there were certain limitations to each of the various programs, the benefits far outweighed the restrictions.
Prior to presenting our survey findings at the Emerging Leaders poster session during ALA Annual, Kathryn Deiss facilitated the second leadership symposium. This presentation focused on the collaboration process. Teamwork played a key role in our projects and Deiss directed a critical eye back on our year by allowing us to discuss the strengths and problems of being in a group. With our project fresh in mind, our cohort could reflect back on how our team performed, what we did well, and where we could improve. Participating in this session cemented in my mind that leadership is not just about influencing others, but also being conscious about letting others influence you. Deiss used the nine influence strategies produced by management consulting firm, the Hay Group, (People-triggers) as part of her overall lesson about leading together. Briefly, the nine influences are:
1. Empowerment – Making others feel value by involving them in decision making.
2. Interpersonal Awareness – Identifying other people’s concerns and addressing them.
3. Bargaining – Gaining support by negotiating a mutually satisfactory outcome.
4. Relationship Building – Taking the time to get to know others.
5. Organizational Awareness – Identifying key influencers and gaining their support.
6. Common Vision – Showing how your ideas align with the overall goals.
7. Impact Management – Choosing the most interesting, memorable, or dramatic way to present ideas.
8. Logical Persuasion – Using logical reasons, expertise, or data to convince and persuade others.
9. Coercion – Using threats, reprimands, or pressure to get others to do what you want.
I found the strategies enlightening because Deiss acknowledged that they could be viewed as manipulative if used incorrectly. However, if you are a truly flexible leader, you know how to persuade as well as allow others to persuade you. Listening to Deiss and my cohort discuss the benefits of collaboration, acknowledging the problems we all face when working with others, and outlining strategies to ensure success, left me with a sense that the program had come full circle. The cohort could now step away from our year together with a little more experience and a lot more confidence in our ability to lead.
The combination of symposium lectures, facilitated discussions, and hands-on project work made my time in Emerging Leaders a worthwhile endeavor. The program is constantly taking feedback from its participants for continued improvements. I look forward to seeing the work of future cohorts and recommend that anyone new to the library career path consider applying. I intend to extend the experience into my career path. My future involvement with ALA committees and local library administration will be enhanced by an improved understanding of the importance of intentional leadership and strong team collaboration. I am not sure if I can call myself a leader just yet, but I will close with a few wise words from Warren Bennis, an American scholar in the field of leadership studies, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.”
American Library Association. “ALAConnect Conference Scheduler.” American Library Association, 2012. Web. <http://ala12.scheduler.ala.org>.
American Library Association. "ALA Emerging Leaders Program." American Library Association, 2012. Web. <http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/leadership/emergingleaders>.
Bennis, Warren (2009). On becoming a leader. New York: Basic Books. Print.
Lee, Robert J., and Sara N. King (2001). Discovering the leader in you: A guide to realizing your personal leadership potential. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. Print.
People-triggers. “9 strategies for influencing others.” People-triggers. 18 Dec. 2010. Web. <http://peopletriggers.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/9-strategies-for-influencing-others/>.