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Excellent Leadership Takes Practice

by on January 15, 2013

Some people think leadership can be taught and others believe that you are born with it. To me, leadership is a skill that is learned. I believe this because of professional development opportunities that I’ve participated in over the past few years.

One of the most extensive programs I participated in is coordinated by the Colorado Association of Libraries Leadership Development Committee — the Leadership Institute (CALLI) for Colorado librarians. About twenty library workers from around the state are selected for this year-long program. Over the course of the year, participants meet online once a month and in person three times. Each of the meetings focuses on a different topic including change management, ethics, and communication. I was part of the 2010-11 cohort and am now a co-chair of the committee.

Now, what is leadership? This is a tricky question because leaders are found in all levels of organizations, and some have titles and others don’t. Leadership and management often are confused to be the same thing. A manager can be a leader and excel at management. But, being a good manager does not mean that someone is a leader. A leader inspires her team by being visionary (planning 5 to 10 years out), taking risks, and being influential. Good managers are necessary and provide a different role. They grow people, coordinate, determine resource allocation and plan for the immediate future (2 years out). This distinction is an important one to make.

How are we meant to learn about leadership and management? There are a variety of options to support all types of learning styles and that can be overwhelming.  To get started, pick just one: read books, read blogs, observe leaders you do and don’t admire, and participate in workshops. Some of my favorite books are: Leading from the Front by Courtney Lynch and Angie Morgan, Fun is Good by Mike Veeck, and Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.

Blogs can also be a great place to get information about leadership and management. LeadStar has great information for women leaders (as managers or as a peer leader). Ask A Manager also has excellent information. Allison Green bases her blog posts on questions from her followers. Green replies to the questions and then followers post their ideas as well.

I believe that everyone who comes into my life is there to teach me something. These encounters can vary in length. Supervisors are generally there for the long haul and provide great opportunity for observational learning. Notice how they treat you and others during times of achievement and times of challenge. Start practicing the behavior you like in them and notice when you are mirroring negative behavior. As with any skill, excellent leadership takes practice. Be a peer leader and start practicing now. Learn from everyone you meet along the way.

Workshops really recharge my batteries and inspire me to do more. The workshops can be anything from an hour session on social networking or a multi-day state-wide conference. CALLI is a long-term leadership learning experience, but short-term quick workshops will also inspire and motivate.

What steps are you going to take to become an inspirational leader? And, what are your favorite resources about leadership?