Ladders to Leadership

Introduction | Leadership and Vision | Leadership Traits | Annotated Bibliography | Survey Responses | Self-Assessment  

Leadership and Vision

Leadership is a difficult quality to define and to assess. As General Patton once exclaimed: “I [have] it, but I’ll be damned if I can define it.” 1 This site offers definitions and characteristics of leadership in order to aid new, and perhaps even seasoned, librarians as they progress through their career.

Leadership, in its essence, is the ability to articulate a vision or a desired path of progress and to motivate others to strive for that vision. The common perception is that leadership is an art, not a science. Prominent authors avoid establishing checklists for leadership. There is no list of leadership skills, but there is a general consensus that there are certain traits that leaders should have.

The most important thing for a leader to have is vision. Vision, as described by Warren Bennis, is the “guiding purpose” and the “compelling goal”. 2 The vision is how the organization will be defined in the future. An example would be: “XYZ Library will be the premier library for the health sciences, both in size and scope of the collection, in the United States.”

This is not the same as establishing goals. Goals can be seen as intermediate steps or benchmarks, which are established to measure progress towards the vision. An example of this, from the XYZ Library would be: “In three years, our library collections will exceed three million volumes; and in 5 years our holdings will exceed four million volumes.” Goals are tangible, a vision need not be.

A vision indeed is meant to inspire. Along with the ability to articulate a vision, a true leader needs to be able to make the vision a shared vision. A leader motivates, drives, and inspires other members of the organization, and often those outside of it, to believe in the vision. That motivation and creation of belief must translate into effort in pursuit of the vision.


   . David R. Gayvert, "Leadership and Doctrinal Reform," Military Review 79, no. 3 (May/June 1999): 18.
   . Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1994).