Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Management is easy, it's like having 50,000 bosses

I read three great articles about management yesterday. Two from Library Journal and one from the Sites and Soundbites blog. The general theme is the difficulty in being a manager and the difficulties caused by managers. Managers will cause a majority of a library's problems (or any organization) since the decisions they make influence everything. That's why my tag line is,

"An executive is a person who always decides; sometimes he decides correctly, but he always decides."

The inherent problem is when you make the wrong decisions or you make decisions based on your ego. Who does this benefit? How will I do it? Who are you thinking of when you are making a decision? Is it what the community wants, your staff wants, or something that you want? In the end, the average employee has one boss, but a good boss answers to 50,000 people.

I don't agree that it is an impossible job. In fact, it is a very rewarding job. You aren't gathering small accomplishments here. You can make a huge impact. It comes from stuffing your own ego and doing what everyone wants. Figuring what that is, gathering resources, and implementing is the tough part.

Do you know your community?

The pressure on the library director is knowing the community. Making a move, starting a program, speaking with community members, all, of which, are part of establishing that relationship. Most librarians are liberal. Many of the ideals of librarianship set forth by the American Library Association are liberal in nature.

Some of the problems with library directors in trouble stem from a lack of understanding in relation to a conservative base or a group that they may not understand or agree with. It may have nothing to do with the library director's viewpoint, but if concerns are not addressed, things tend to blow-up.

A few years ago Jo Ann Pinder was fired by the Gwinnet County Library Board. This drew a very heated discussion from the library world and from a conservative group that pushed her out. There is a great deal of detail here and here. She was fired without cause. Some would say she was unfairly fired, others would say that she didn't listen to a growing community group that criticized her direction.

Who is right here? It isn't for me to say. It makes me wonder as to whether some library directors look to serve the community or look to serve what they think is serving the community. If there is enough people to push through something like this, it begs that question.

Which brings me back to The Impossible Job post:

"The principle is valid. However, few administrators or the members of their governing authorities have the tolerance and flexibility needed to maintain the balance of power and still make the right policy and operating decisions. Few have learned how to navigate the troubled waters when administrators disagree with their bosses on the board. Yet I remember a strong director who was faced with board opposition to acquiring video formats because it competed with a local store wisely agreeing to acquire the library collection from that store. The discount in purchasing locally was a bit lower, but everyone was happy."

What is worth it?
We can also discuss the fotonovella controversy of the Denver Public Library. This actually prompted our own review and the major vendors also reviewed the content they made available for libraries. The Phoenix Public Library dealt with a very serious controversy regarding the library's filtering. Again, it forced us to review our policy. Is resistance to this need worth it? Is the complaint valid or unreasonable?

Library directors have their own set of feelings about how things should be. The question becomes is it worth it to resist this demand. Do you stand on principle or do you make the change because the community demands it? If you are not on the same page with the board or the public, then you are perceived to be out of touch. If you do nothing to address known concerns, it will only lead to a big blow-up.

It takes engagement whether it is the public or your own staff Slow Leadership: Why People Resist Change:

"If you would take the time — and be honest and sincere in your efforts — you could ask people for ideas and be assured they will come up with most of the solutions required for them to do their best, both for themselves and for the good of their team and organization. Asking employees improves their self-esteem, motivates them, and empowers them. They take ownership for finding solutions and making change. Asking communicates: “I value you as a person. Your opinion is important to me/us/the team/the organization.”

"I will bend like a reed in the wind."
OCLC talks about Environmental Scans and what the library needs to be doing in the community. We talk of strategic plans and ways to integrate the library in the community. The truth of the matter is that we need to provide the collections and services the public wants instead of what WE think it wants.

From Library Journal: Check Your Ego at the Door

"The ego, we concluded, can be a very damaging thing. Inflated. Overbearing. Egos create rules for rules’ sake. Egos complicate procedures and keep good people down. Egos squash good ideas and can take the best of an organization and turn it on itself."

It should be more of a discussion as to whether the staff is available to provide such a program. Once the personal opinion of a director thinking what he or she wants to do, rather than the community, problems occur. Why don't you do this? Why don't your provide that?

The reality is, every complaint, every concern must be addressed. It must be addressed in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the issue and a response or review, then follow-up. It shows that you care about everyone and when librarians talk about every reader his/her library, this is when that principle matters the most.

Why would you want to deal with all of that?

It isn't for everyone. Many librarians went into their field from other jobs. Their hope was to escape the politics that may be more prevalent in the private sector. If that is the case, they would hate management.

It's worth it if you want to make change on a larger scale. My library can make moves for the community's biggest needs. It is interesting on that type of programs we put out on a specific need and how many other organizations begin to put that out, or put it out at the same time. It demonstrates a need that is identified and where organizations can collaborate. If you are creative, like working with people, and have a high stress threshold, management is for you.

It isn't an impossible job. It is a job that requires delayed gratification. Working towards building a new library takes years. New programs, new services, building changes, technology changes, all take planning to develop, fund, and implement. Knowing where to get money, knowing where to re-allocate resources (including staff), and the ability to influence others and be influenced by all will lead to great success. I have been fortunate enough to be able to build one library, renovate another, and in a few years, build a new main library. It is an impact I can see that is much faster than average. It is that success that makes the job really wonderful.

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