“Stand up if you are a leader of anything,” was Kate Irwin-Smiler’s opening to the session. Of course, the question quickly raised by someone in the audience was whether our leadership was in our own estimation or whether it was based on our title. (Lots of laughter here.) Then she asked us to sit down and those who are followers stand. This interactive exercise led into Kate Irwin-Smiler, Reference Librarian at Wake Forest University School of Law and Sara Sampson, Assistant Dean for Information Services & Law Library Director at Ohio State Moritz College of Law’s presentation “Leading from Where You Are.” Both women talked about how they are leaders and followers. Sara Sampson pointed out that although she has a traditional leadership title, she is still a follower as she follows more experienced deans and the dean of the law school who is also a leader and a follower. They pointed out that being a good follower can give you the skills to become a good leader.
What is a leader?
People who think creatively and are passionate about what they do. People who think about problems and work to fix problems. – AALL Leadership Academy 2014
People who realize you have to work through other people to achieve results. They bring people together to make things happen. – The Introverted Leader
Sampson found that there are lots of different definitions of leadership and those who write about leadership do not agree. Some believe leaders are born with certain traits that help them become leaders and others define leadership by what they do: they innovate, they take charge, and they make decisions. She concluded there are many ways to be a leader and the definition needs to be broadened.
Different Types of Leaders
Even official, formal leaders like the President of the United States or our AALL Board cannot be effective unless they have followers.
Then there are leaders like those in Selma who stood up to the leaders with official powers of the state and they got some of their objectives accomplished.
Sandra Day O’Connor was a trail blazing leader. Just by her presence on the court, she led the way for other woman to be on the Supreme Court. She had to do her job and do it well for others to follow.
Rosalind Franklin whose work on the structure of DNA was overshadowed by others in her field was a leader too in that she continued with her work despite lack of recognition. She was a thought leader.
Pope Francis is a leader, not only because he is head of the Catholic Church but because he is quietly keeping the focus on issues like poverty over a long period of time.
The Pope, Mahatma Gandhi and many in the law library profession are servant leaders.
The facilitating leaders of our profession make connections between people with needs and resources. These people are often quiet leaders who are integral to the success of an organization.
Collaborative/negotiating leaders work across departments or across the university.
Mentoring and sponsoring leaders not only advise mentees but also give critical, honest feedback, make connections, open doors at higher levels so that the mentee can succeed.
A cheerleader leads by touting other’s success, showing how important their work is to the organization.
How Library Staff Can Lead In Your Library… a Brainstorm List
- Managing programs
- Chairing committees
- Trusting others to do their job
- Giving people what they need
- Using creativity
- Facilitating opportunities
- Using different language that does not diminish what we do
- Bridging the gap between the library and other departments
- Participating in teams
- Providing institutional knowledge to others
- Raising issues that need to be addressed
- Identifying problems and proposing solutions
How to Be a Responsible Follower
Whether or not you choose to be a leader, here are ways of being a responsible follower:
- Managing up
- Engaging at work
- Being prepared and participating in meetings
- Sharing ideas in a respectful way
- Leading yourself and your reactions
- Being willing to do what others will not
- Investing in work relationships
- Lightening the leader’s load
- Thinking about what people will need and having it ready in advance
- Knowing when to push for your ideas and when to let go
- Realizing that dissent is a gift