Leadership and Advocacy

7 09 2007

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how important it is for libraries to court library advocates. Library advocates include anyone who’s willing to proselytize on behalf of libraries. Someone who goes out of their way to point out how a library can solve the problem at hand.

This is one of the most effective forms of advertising…we trust our friends and people we know far more than we do any marketer. If my friend Sharon tells me that her shoes are killing her, and I tell her about these new Brand X shoes I just got that feel like I’m walking on clouds all day… well, that certainly holds a lot more weight than if Sharon just saw an ad for Brand X.

What I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about is how consumer advocates are made. Why, for example, do so many people drink the Kool-Aid over at Apple? A great deal of it is about consumer advocacy, but where does it originate? I know I personally advocate for Mac computers every time I hear a friend or relative complain about the poor usability of Windows boxes. And yesterday, I did what many Mac users did… I watched Steve Jobs’ keynote. In fact, I make a point of watching every single keynote that Steve Jobs puts out. Even if it’s for a product I don’t personally use or plan to use.

No doubt about it, Steve Jobs is a phenomenal entrepreneur. But he’s also a very savvy leader. There’s something in the way you feel when watching a Kool-Aide Convention that makes you even more excited about the company than ever before — something about that unassuming personage up there, with the faded jeans, black turtleneck, and white sneakers — that makes you want to buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Steve Jobs excels at turning people’s natural reaction of “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I do to get in on this action?” Those of you versed in management will recognize this switch… the switch from “quid-pro-quo, replacing it with belief in a higher cause”*. That, my friends, is called Transformational Leadership (for more on this theory, pick up a copy of Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge)

How can we turn librarians, and library workers, and ultimately our patrons into proselytizers of library services? If a patron’s sister is trying to figure out how to pay for her daughter’s college education, how can we get him to say “I bet they have something on that at the library?”

I hear all the time how librarians need work on our management skills, but management is not the same thing as leadership. Every librarian needs to be on board the leadership train!

Things Librarians should keep in mind when contemplating leadership:

  • Leaders may be born, but they can also be made. It is possible to train yourself to practice good leadership skills – those skills that empower your colleagues and patrons to “buy in” to the mission of the library
  • Leaders do not have to be in a position of authority – they can lead from within. Successful leaders inspire others, empowering them to do their part in the “quest for achievement of [a shared] vision.” *

Hey, if you want to learn more about leadership, I hear there’s this great place called a Library where you can check things out for free!
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*Both these quotes are from “Authentic, Compassionate, and Empowering (ACE) Leadership: Transforming Labor and Restoring Leisure,” a paper by my Leadership for Community Change professor, David W. Springer, PhD, written for the UT Austin Humanities Institute 2006-2007.

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