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Who are the Jon Stewarts of Libraries? Call out our Superbosses!

by on December 7, 2015

Steven Bell, in his September 2, 2015th article in Library Journal,  “Library Superbosses Lead by Creating Careers/Leading from the Library,” defined the superboss as a leader with a keen ability to recognize tremendous talent, then develop it to create new library leaders who can strike out to and achieve their own “great things.”

Bell analyzes the work of Sydney Finkelstein, author of “Jon Stewart : Superboss” and consults Richard Dougherty, President of the consulting firm Dougherty and Associates,  former Director of University of Michigan Libraries, former professor in UM School of Information, and Past ALA President.  He concludes that a library leader who creates an environment in which staff wants to work and the community is eager to use the library could be considered a good or remarkable leader.  Superbosses, however, recognize that their “leadership legacy is much more about the success of those you influence and their accomplishments than anything you might achieve on your own.”  Superbosses see themselves as a “link in a chain” in great library leaders of the past and the future—naturally passing on the wisdom and opportunities that were passed down to them from former leaders and mentors.

Jon Stewart groomed and developed Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and John Oliver in the comedy industry.  Who are the superbosses in libraries?With input from Dougherty, Bell recognizes superbosses in academic libraries including:  Susan Nutter at North Carolina State University, Wendy Lougee at University of Minnesota, Jim Neal at Columbia, Betsy Wilson at University of Washington, and Jim Mullins at Purdue. Also noted were Hugh Atkinson of the Hugh C. Atkinson Award, jointly sponsored by ACRL, ALCTS, LLAMA, and LITA, and the lesser known Ralph E. Ellsworth, former Director of Libraries of the University of Iowa.

Who are our superbosses in public libraries? I can point to a few superbosses in my career, who still invest the time in mentoring front-line library leaders like me:  Trudi Somerfield selected me for my first leadership position.  When I began working for her, I was an enthusiastic, children’s librarian focused on the “big picture.” She taught me to take care of the details by sending me off to Continuous Quality Improvement Training.  Chang Liu, Director of Loudon County Public Library, had many of us in “Chang’s Army” at Arlington Public Library.  She is still open to my calls and offers sound advice.  Micki Freeny, former Director of Prince George’s Public Library in Maryland and administrator in DC Public Library, will take the train all over the DC Metro area to deliver her encouragement and solid truths.  Have you ever seen Eva Poole, Director of Virginia Beach Public Libraries, without a smile on her face?  She recently gave me a morning of encouragement and inspiration in my career endeavors.  While I only worked briefly with her, Jennifer Giltrop was a change agent who generously guided co-workers, steering many to development opportunities. In addition, you can take any of her advice to the bank!

Bell challenges us all to bring a little or a lot of superboss to our leadership by recommending subordinates for leadership development, creating opportunities for them to tackle tough tasks, allowing them to achieve and to fail, and supporting them as they pursue a higher level position—leaving our legacy by growing the next generation of library leaders and superbosses.

I’m fired up to become a Superboss.  I owe it to those I lead and to the superbosses in my life.  Who is your Jon Stewart?  Call out the superbosses in your career!

Bell, Steven.  “Library Superbosses Lead By Creating Careers | Leading from the Library.”  Library Journal , September 2, 2015.  http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/09/opinion/leading-from-the-library/library-superbosses-lead-by-creating-careers-leading-from-the-library/#_

Finkelstein, Sydney.  “John Stewart:  Super Boss.” Harvard Business Review.  July 30, 2015. https://hbr.org/2015/07/jon-stewart-superboss


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