by Kristine Lloyd
More than one dance partner has accused me of “leading” when, according to the laws of nature and jive, I’m supposed to be following. The end result is a lot of knee-bumping, toe-stomping and if you’re really unlucky, crash collisions on the dance floor. I wondered if my occasional forays into leadership could be described about the same way. A few weekends ago, I headed off to the AALL Leadership Academy to find out.
Thirty-four librarians from all over the country convened the weekend of October 16-17th at Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. Despite the hilarious artwork, namely a replica of Whistler’s mother with a sack of McDonald’s at her feet and a shake in hand, Hamburger U is a place for serious learning.
Our speaker for the 2-day event was Dr. Barbara Mackoff, a psychologist with expertise in leadership training. Dr. Mackoff is an excellent speaker and discussion facilitator, and she used a variety of techniques and exercises designed to challenge our thinking about leadership (apparently, “cult of personality” leadership is so 80s). We talked both about our specific leadership strengths and styles, and about how to effectively lead people with personalities markedly different from our own.
Launching points for much of our discussion came from the theories defined in pre-academy reading assignments. The most interesting was the theory of Appreciative Inquiry. Likely you have heard of it before, perhaps by a different name, as it is simply the idea of leading by a focus on positive change rather than a focus on “fixing” a problem. I brought this theory up recently in a discussion with my uncle who used to teach leadership classes in an MBA program. He relayed a story that perfectly illustrates the theory. Before retiring, he worked in management at a large Pacific Northwest corporation where for years the word processing unit in the company had a 6% error rate. This was quite good, but it never seemed to change over the years. Then one day, a new department manager took over and re-stated the statistic to report that the word processing department had a 94% accuracy rate and hoped to improve their success in the next year. The rate increased to 97% accuracy within the year. To me, this is a beautiful and simple illustration of positive versus negative focus, and it is something that can be applied to all aspects of life, not just work.
After an exciting and exhausting weekend at the academy, I returned to Seattle, my head buzzing with thoughts and questions about the meaning of leadership. A few days after my return, I went see The September Issue, a documentary about the making of the September issue of Vogue magazine. Yes, the clothes are fabulous, but the film also turns out to be a fascinating study in leadership. Watching Anna Wintour, referred to by one of her underlings as “The Pope,” make rapid-fire, unilateral decisions about what to include in the issue, underscored many of the leadership pitfalls we discussed during the workshop. Clearly she has vision, but what happens in an organization when no one ever questions that vision?
Thankfully, our organization has vision, and we are a lively group willing to question and challenge this collective vision. I met some wonderful, new people at the leadership academy, and I also returned to Seattle reminded that our own local chapter is full of experienced and innovative leaders, many of whom I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and learn from. I want to thank LLOPS and the Grants Committee for the generous grant that helped me to attend the Leadership Academy. It was a great experience, and it reminded me that my favorite thing about being a librarian is the people I meet along the way.