Thursday, August 14, 2014

Management Book Review: Leaders Eat Last

Leaders Eat Last
by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat Last is a surprisingly bold book, with an author that is both forward-thinking (very TED Talk), yet also retro in philosophy. Simon Sinek maintains that as business leaders, we have increasingly looked at employees as statistics and cogs, instead of as human beings. Much of this new philosophy stems from layoffs and business practices of the 1980s (based on Reagan’s firing of air traffic controllers). This trend has led to leaders only looking at the bottom line. Their main goal, it seems, is to increase profit margins for their shareholders at the cost of taking care of their employees. Gone is the “Mother Merill” philosophy toward employees and its “long term greed” (be good to customers and they keep coming back to your business for years to come.) Rather, it is now all about how much profit you can make next quarter. This type of philosophy is creeping into companies and leading to poor decisions. Some of these decisions are what led to the Great Recession. He maintains that this needs to change and that there are very primal reasons we need to make these changes. It is better for employees, better for customers, better for business, and for our economy. 

True leaders have great responsibility and those that take it seriously will put their people first and their own ego last. They don’t force the organization in a direction that just benefits them and their bottom line, but one which benefits the organization as a whole. We are trained to look to leaders and trust that they will make the right decision on our behalf. When that trust is broken, chaos ensues, and that can lead to disastrous results.

The leader creates the culture of the company; they must have integrity and see their people as human beings, not just as statistics and output. Sinek places this as the top priority, which is really a return to the way most companies treated their employees before the 1980s, as people. 

This is a very powerful book that many business leaders and politicians should be reading. I have read this theme in multiple books from Thomas Piketty’s Capital, to Al Gore’s The Future. Having the main focus of making the numbers for the next quarter makes us toss everything else aside. With this mindset, we are only looking at the next three months. The decisions that we make last longer than a quarter; they last for years and decades. Short-sighted philosophies have long-term consequences. As Sinek points out in this book, this short-sightedness needs to stop. 

Favorite passages:
“What makes a good leader is that they eschew the spotlight in favor of spending time and energy to do what they need to do to support and protect their people. And when we feel the Circle of Safety around us, we offer our blood and sweat and tears and do everything we can to see our leader’s vision come to life. The only thing our leaders ever need to do is remember whom they serve, and it will be our honor and pleasure to serve them back. "

“A supportive and well-managed work environment is good for one’s health. Those who feel they have more control, who feel empowered to make decisions instead of waiting for approval, suffer less stress.”

"This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,” he offered. “All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a Styrofoam cup.” 

“The goal of the leader is to give no orders,” Captain Marquet explains. “Leaders are to provide direction and intent and allow others to figure out what to do and how to get there.” 

“For leaders, integrity is particularly important. We need to trust that the direction they choose is in fact a direction that is good for all of us and not just good for them. As members of a tribe who want to feel like we belong and earn the protection and support of the group, we will often follow our leaders blindly with the belief (or hope) that it is in our interest to do so. This is the deal we make with our leaders. “

“Building trust requires nothing more than telling the truth.”

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Your Library In More Places

I often tell people that I am a big believer in the magic of libraries. They provide inspiration and hope, no matter their size. Today, libraries can be everywhere. From the massive buildings that dominate a downtown landscape, to the small branches in malls where people shop, book machines on the walk home from school, and even on your smartphone, libraries are there. The biggest challenge is getting this message across. How do we find ways to tell this story to the local community? To get people excited about it, and ultimately change their perception and gain their support? I believe it is in this magic that we can spread that message. This misconception is an opportunity to surprise and delight. It’s our own shock and awe, and we can deliver that to our communities.

One of the key principles to this process is a motto from our Foundation: Your Library in More Places. The concept came up on a sort of whim. I have written a regular feature for the local paper about our library for several years. One of these articles was titled "Your Library in More Places." In this article, I discussed our book machine services and our efforts in renovating our libraries.

My main focus in the past few years has been outreach, specifically the library’s book machines and renovating our small rural libraries. It is amazing to see the impact these kinds of acts can have in these communities- a new library with state-of-the art services that they never would have imagined. Instead of dilapidated hand-me-down shelving, worn carpet, and old computers, they get the same new furnishings and finishes that are available in the larger branches. The custom carved book shelving, the early literacy computers, they are all there. It provides a big boost for the community to have these amenities and it demonstrates to the community that the library cares about them.

Book machines are the easiest and cheapest way for libraries to provide books and materials on a 24/7 basis in a remote location. We've provided these machines outside of schools, inside job centers, but most importantly, where books are simply not available. A lot of discussion today has been about how to get children school ready, as well as how to ensure children read at a third grade reading level by the third grade. Access to books is a key feature to that effort. There is much buzz about projects such as Little Free Libraries, but this alone doesn't address the problem of getting books into a community in the first place, especially in small rural towns. These machines provide 300 books to children on a 24/7 basis. They get such heavy use that we need to send staff out several times a week, just to replenish the machine. Most of these areas are without any resources and have no access to books or a library. Some of their schools do not even have libraries. It is in this way that we can provide the key ingredient to literacy, and in a way that has the greatest amount of access.

It's also important to keep ahead of national technology trends and apply them to local community needs. E-books, digital maker spaces, and other technology are key pieces to the library's immediate future. Throughout a community, if someone looks at their smartphone for information, a library app can be there, complete with e-books, magazines, videos, reference materials and research. Even tutoring help is available! Now more than ever, libraries have the tools to show up in unexpected places and demonstrate their value.

It is a critical time to be involved with libraries. People are increasingly without resources when they most need them. Libraries provide community space for children and adults alike, to have access to books in any format, free access to that knowledge, learning, and reading. We provide that advantage. I've always thought that libraries will exist as long as curiosity exceeds one's budget. Whether it is reading or information gathering, libraries play a role no one else can. Libraries are a beacon of hope in so many communities throughout the country. There are those who seek magic, and libraries are the place to find it. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Management Book Review: Multipliers

Review below also appeared in the latest edition of the California Library Association Management Interest Group Newsletter LEAD.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

by Liz Wiseman & Greg McKeown

The book Multipliers, in my mind, falls into the category of servant leadership: encouraging employees to give their best, providing the resources they need, and getting out of the way. Authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown take this a bit further to create a better definition of the concept.

There are two kinds of managers, multipliers and diminishers. The main goal for multipliers is to get employees to think for themselves, come up with creative solutions, and harvest their potential. It’s not about the manager or the leader, but about the employees who are making things happen. Intelligence and capability can be multiplied in this way, without getting more staff or more resources. Diminishers, on the other hand, make everything about them. They have the great idea; things must always be done their way. It’s much like the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. The employees cower and hope to get transferred, or work somewhere else very soon. These employees don’t give their best; they focus on getting away. The authors are very detailed on how to become a multiplier, how to identify a diminisher, and remind us that anyone can have both traits without intending to do so.

There are five key disciplines for a multiplier:
  1. Attract and optimize talent
  2. Create intensity that requires best thinking (remove fear of failure and create safety for best thinking)
  3. Extend challenges
  4. Debate decisions
  5. Instill ownership and accountability

There are also tips to identify talent:
  1.  Look for talent everywhere
  2.  Find people’s native genius (they might not realize they have it)
  3. Utilize people at their fullest
  4. Remove the blockers
  5. What do they do without effort, better than everyone, without being asked, without compensation?

This book helped hone some already believed truths. It provides a more concrete idea to help an organization act smarter, be more efficient, and have employees who love what they do. I really enjoyed the read and felt it provided a clear path for me to follow, as well as pitfalls to avoid.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

More Straight Talk #clanoise

I recently wrote an article for the California Library Association Management Interest Group Newsletter LEAD covering the program that I moderated at this year's annual conference. I'm posting it below.

More Straight Talk by Jeff Scott, County Librarian, Tulare County Library

I had the honor to host another Straight Talk program with some of the best library minds in the state, Directors: Jose Aponte of San Diego County Library, Julie Farnsworth of Pleasanton Public Library, Robert Karatsu of Rancho Cucamonga Public Library, Jan Sanders of Pasadena Public Library, and Rivkah Sass of Sacramento Public Library, were captivating as they discussed the trials and tribulation of today's modern library director.

I really enjoy putting this program together. Library directors are always so willing to tell their story and to help others. Often, people can be too intimidated by directors, particularly with a group as prestigious as this one. However, they are all incredibly down-to-earth and willing to help. My thought behind providing this program was that I hoped it would not only inspire those new to the profession, but would also demonstrate how human these directors are; they started out just like everyone else. I gathered some notes from the program which were particularly poignant for me.

Don’t Follow the Crowd

In their own way, each director had advice on being innovative. Jose Aponte said it was important to look outside of the profession, in some cases getting out of the profession for a time to gain perspective. It leads to a different outlook and attitude when coming back. Robert Karatsu said that the only way to know the future is to change it. If we follow everyone else, we will always fall behind; by taking our own path we can create something new. Julie Farnsworth said that those drawn into being a director must possess a heart-pounding drive to do good things. All members of the group reminded us that politics make strange bedfellows. In order to get things done you have to look to the people to make alliances with and put party politics aside.

Say Yes

It's important to look for opportunities, be willing to say yes, and build a culture of the same, according to Rivkah Sass. It‟s important to be fearless and be willing to move backwards or sideways in a career in order to make the big leaps forward. I particularly liked Jan Sanders point when she said, “Dragons be damned” emphasizing the importance of pushing through despite heavy opposition. Robert Karatsu further expanded on this by suggesting it is important to stir things up.

One is the Loneliest Number

All of the directors reminded us that it can be very lonely at the top. It's important to know oneself since the ego will be often bruised. One of the most frustrating things, brought up by Julie and Jan, was how the slightest phrase can be taken out of context and twisted. Rivkah had the best comments on the topic stating that words can be twisted, making you out to be a monster. It's important to have a trusted circle. It's also important to be a good poker player.

The real point of this program for me is to allow library directors to speak directly and honestly about how they got where they are, what others can do to be successful, and where the profession is going. While others may panic during budget cuts and a changing climate, these directors have seen it all. The benefit of this experience can be very calming for those new to the profession or experiencing tough times for the first time. I always appreciate their honesty. Even with the same questions, each time it takes a different tack, the less formal the better. Straight Talk is a straight answer about the library field, past, present, and future.