Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You can learn about mentoring and management from Harry Potter and G.I. Joe

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There may be some spoilers in this post. It is not about the plot, but about several lines at the end of the book between two characters. It mentions a great deal about power and responsibility. There are some great lines about leadership and responsibility in the book.

“I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

People know the right thing to do, but being in a position to make the right decision and knowing that right thing is difficult.

“I was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it. I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it.”

A desire to run things to prevent others from doing harm. Save others from bad managers and bad situations.

“You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.”

There are far worse things than trying something new and failing.

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present.”

Create a work environment so that people are excited about their jobs. Most jobs are drudgery. If you can create an environment so that people love what they do, that will have untold benefits.

In mentoring future leaders, one must identify several different traits. Sometimes management is bad for someone. This is particularly true for libraries. Most of the time, librarians went into their field to work with books, people, and technology. As I have said before, management is a different career field. Intimate knowledge of a particular library function is useful, but it can also mar your perspective when going into management. This ends up as a display of favoritism as well. I remember an episode of G.I. Joe where the commander left the base on a mission. He didn't place anyone in charge, but three people were in authority. Cobra, the enemy, played on this and attacked. It resulted in a counter-attack that was uncoordinated because the three people could not work together. In the end, the commander returns and Cobra is defeated. There is a speech in the end in which he identifies three different types of people that are unsuitable for management; there are three categories:

1. Those who have the ability, but not the desire
They love their jobs. They are great at their jobs. They could move up easily. They don't want to. This happens often in the library profession due to the second job factor. Many librarians are getting into the field from other jobs. Jobs in which they had to deal with bureaucracy, politics, and getting the dollar for the company versus getting the help for the customer. Of course, library's have their fair share of politics and problems, but people don't necessarily have to deal with them if they are not in a management position. They can continue to do the job they love first hand. They don't have to deal with immature employees, turning straw into gold, dealing with unrealistic public expectations, or making decisions that will affect the future of the library. They can be librarians instead of managers.

2. Those who have the desire, but not the ability
This one is tough. These also have the potential to be the worst managers. Often, if you have a bad experience with a manager, it may be one of these people. They often politic more than they produce. They can be very selfish in their decision-making and are recalcitrant to changing their decisions. They read too much into leadership books that say you must make the tough decision and stick to it. They won't turn the car, even with the cliff approaching because the map said it wasn't there. They don't like to be mentored, and sometimes feel they have nothing more to learn. These are tough ones to turn around. These are the ones in which I feel like the Catcher in the Rye.

3. Those who don't have the desire, nor the ability
They want to be librarians. They love the library field. They may not be the best in dealing with people, or only want to deal with people they like. They don't like management or managers. They may even feel like management are shysters.

This may be a silly exercise, but I am always surprised how much one can learn from teaching children life lessons. I think if we followed more of what we learned as children, we might become better people.

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