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In-the-Trenches Leadership

by Rachael Weigmann on June 14, 2016

Anyone who has ever been in a managerial position has experimented with handling conflict and a variety of personalities. From an autocrat to an “in the trenches” type of leader, I have seen the various personalities and reactions that are activated when one has to exercise their managerial obligations. In her article “Top Skills for Tomorrow’s Librarians,” Library Journal’s Executive Editor Meredith Schwartz collaborated with library directors to see what leadership attributes future managers should have. Good communication, teamwork, and excellent interpersonal skills are the types of leadership skills that seem to work best.

Communication/People Skills

For a manager, it is important that employees are given well-articulated direction and that they are supervised with respect. Sean Casserley of Johnson County Library (Kans.) says that communication skills are especially necessary in “giving and receiving professional critique, conflict resolution, and active listening.”[1] If one does not have people skills, they should not be in a managerial position. There is always room for growth, and your employees just want to be heard. How can your employees feel valued if you are not actively listening and participating in conflict resolution with them?

What works for employees, though?

Charles S. Jacobs’s book Management Rewired explores the scientific evidence of which manager-employee dynamics work and which do not: “Rather than hand objectives to the employee, the manager should ask the employee to set them” and “Rather than tell the employees how to fix a problem, the manager should ask them what they think they should do to fix it.”[2]

Jacobs suggests/recommends managers to allow employees to participate more in alleviating problems. Instead of instructing employees to do something, a manager should ask them for input. Inviting an employee to be part of the decision-making process diminishes the boss/staff divide and allows the employee jurisdiction. In turn, the manager now has a supporting role in making sure that the employee alleviates the issue. Jacobs’s chief idea is that managers allow their employees to be involved in participative management. While the manager gives the final say, it gives the employees a chance to express their perspective.

What makes a leader?

In her article “Leading without a Title,” Bridget Kaigler suggests that work ethic and disposition make a leader, not a title.[3] All too often in our profession, it seems people are so quick to sign their degrees after their names, but I believe it can be viewed as a pretentious gesture. I am proud of my education, but it takes people with different jobs to run an organization—ultimately, I just happen to be the information services librarian.

Kaigler writes: “[L]eaders pull-they don’t push. Leaders pull through influence. They influence others by giving them a voice. If you listen to their concerns, they will listen to yours. Leaders pull by acting as a team facilitator. Others push by acting as a dictator. Working in a team-based organization has benefits. As a team, everyone works together to get something done.”[4] Dictators like to jerk around their authority and do not think of “their” staff as a unit; however, it is by working as an alliance that respect is harbored by your colleagues. When one finds themselves working in a team-centric organization, they feel valuable because their input is indispensable.

Final Thoughts

When I was in library school at Indiana University-Indianapolis, a “Library Management” course was required. Now that I know my management style a little better, as part of my library’s management team, I really wish I could retake that as a refresher course. I strive to be an “in the trenches” manager. By understanding how my department works, I have a better sense of the issues and desires of the patrons. Although I am the manager, I make a conscious effort to treat my colleagues like colleagues, and I value their opinions and feedback. After all, are we not all here to make sure that this organization runs smoothly and above all else to serve our public?

[1] Meredith Schwartz, “Top skills for tomorrow’s librarians,” Library Journal, March 9, 2016.
[2] Charles S. Jacobs, Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science (New York: Penguin, 2009), 82.
[3] Bridget Kaigler, “Leading without a title,” Strategic Finance, March 1, 2016.
[4] Ibid.

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