I recently had the good fortune to attend the ALA Leadership Institute held in Itasca, Illinois, August 5-9, 2018. Thirty-six librarians from school, public, academic, and federal libraries across the United States and Canada converged in an intensive 4-day training led by past ALA President Maureen Sullivan and library and leadership consultant Kathryn Deiss.
The Institute was highly interactive and engaging. We covered different theories of leadership, including intentional leadership, adaptive leadership, reactive vs. thoughtful leadership, fundamental skills and traits of leaders, and many more facets of what is required of leaders. One of the key aspects of leadership that spoke to me was the need to reflect and develop a vision of what kind of leader you are trying to be. Maureen and Kathryn provided us with the tools and time to help us devise an idea of what that looks like for each of us.
We also discussed the necessity of interpersonal competence as a key leadership trait, including effective communication, an understanding of our authentic selves and how much (or how little) we should aim to share with our colleagues, and trust inside of organizations. An interesting component of effective communication is to be aware of the “Ladder of Inference” that each of us uses to help us understand the world around us. A short interpretation of this theory is that each of us: 1) select specific facts that makes sense to us from all of the available facts; 2) add our own interpretations and meanings to those selected facts; 3) apply our own assumptions of what those facts mean based on our previous life experiences; and 4) come to hold specific beliefs or conclusions of what that means. All of this happens invisible inside our heads, and the only two times it’s visible to people outside of ourselves is at the bottom of the ladder (where all facts are visible) and when we act or speak out on our beliefs or conclusions (which Maureen and Kathryn had helpfully added to the ladder). As leaders, we need to take the time to ask ourselves if what we think is true is actually true, and we need to help others we’re leading take the time to ask themselves this question as well.
The highlight of this program was the homework that we did before attending. Each participant wrote a mini-case of a leadership situation that they were facing. Throughout the institute, we were grouped into teams of six in order to give suggestions to each case writer for how to handle the situation they described. We did this six times, and each time we reflected on the situation utilizing a leadership theory or practice that we had just learned about from Maureen and Kathryn. The brilliance of this practical application of theory to our library work was that everyone left with a new brain trust of professionals who were deeply committed to helping each other grow as leaders.
The Institute also delved into many other topics, including: power & influence, community engagement, strategy, innovation & change, and leadership development. We all left with a two-inch binder full of articles and a bibliography of selected readings to continue our leadership journey.
I must say a giant thank you to the Arizona State Library, Archives, & Public Records for the scholarship that made my attendance at the Institute possible. Next year’s application process will be open in January, and I highly recommend that you submit an application to the Institute if you are looking for a leadership experience that will provide you with a toolkit to guide your professional practice for many years to come.
Business Librarian II, Pima County Public Library