Leading for Flexibility

One advantage of working in small groups, institutions, and organizations is the ability of that group to be flexible. In many of the conversations about Library 2.0, the ability to accept change and adapt quickly is at the top of the list of desirable traits. By their very nature, smaller groups can move quicker because there are less people to convince, train, and drag along. Decisions can be made easily and more informally since smaller also means less red tape.

Five Weeks to a Social Library has a preliminary program up. We are open to the possibility that things may change and we have produced our “program” in a medium that is easily changed. This is not a slick, 100 paged booklet containing only about 20 pages you need. Our only program is online and we can edit it at any time. Fabulous.

Anytime we make a decision, from who is presenting or what direction the project will take, a flurry of emails between 6 people or an online chat occurs. We make decisions fast because we can. We are flexible because we are few.

How can large organizations be flexible despite the red tape and multiple reporting levels? I think flexibility in larger organizations comes down to one thing: leadership.

Leadership at all levels, not just those who have manager as one of their job duties, though flexibility does require that managers be good, strong, and encouraging leaders to their staff, can stretch a large organization into a nimble gymnast. Personal leadership among employees is important so that change at any level can be faced with an eye for new opportunities and challenges.

Managers have to be good enough leaders to know what the strengths of their employees are, develop those strengths, and allow their employees to create projects involving said strengths. This is easier said than done in many organizations, but actually allowing the use of skills is another post all together.

Is one of your employees good at graphic design and does your library lack a marketing coordinator? Why not let that employee take a couple classes and create marketing materials for the library?

Does your library have an expressed need for technology or current issues training and you are unsure how to fill the gap? Maybe there is someone already in your library who can teach technology or coordinate an issues discussion group, but who lacks the time in their current workload.

The questions could go on, but leaders who recognize needs, find solutions, and act on them quickly are employees who can make your organization more flexible. The key emphasis in the previous sentence is “act on them quickly.” It is not enough to recognize and find – one must also act to be a flexible leader (or a leader at all, one could argue) and a library that can act quickly will be more nimble than their counterparts.

Being a drone instead of a queen, does not mean that you can not contribute the flexibility of our organization. Do you have a talent that is underused at work? Talk to your manager and see if you can develop a new project for yourself or ask to take a class. Introduce change into your organization by changing yourself. The hardest challenge for those at the bottom is patience in the process. It is what makes me want to pull my hair out daily, but I have faith that this ship will one day make waves.

Libraries must be flexible to survive. I have said it before, but it bears repeating. To be flexible, I strongly believe that we must also be leaders both inside our institutions and in our communities. What are you doing to hone your own leadership flexibility in your library and encourage it in your staff?

–Jane, where are we going and why are we in this basket?

4 thoughts on “Leading for Flexibility

  • October 11, 2006 at 12:13 pm
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    I’d add one critical feature that I think is essential for developing this kind of flexibility. The senior leaders have to be willing to trust the decision making that occurs at all levels, while understanding that they remain ultimately responsible for the successes and failures. If I felt that I had to review and ratify every decision that happens in my library, it would seriously gum up the works. The goal here is to push the decision making as far forward as possible to the people who actually have to implement it and live with it. But if something blows up, and the Provost calls to complain, I’m the one who has to be willing to take the hit. I’ve come to believe (over nearly 20 years of being a library director) that creating an environment in which smart people will take risks because they know I’ve got their back is one of the two or three most important elements of my job.

  • October 11, 2006 at 12:41 pm
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    Well said and I would venture to guess that your employees are very happy.

  • October 11, 2006 at 5:38 pm
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    That’s my hope, although on any given day I suppose I’m still probably an idiot to work for…

  • October 12, 2006 at 2:05 pm
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    I doubt it. 🙂 My boss works along those same lines, and I love it.

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