Leadership – what is it really all about?

I have been reading some great memes and reviews of people’s 2007 in various library blogs and was going to do the same for my first post.  However, my Christmas and New Year were nothing to write home about and I find myself more and more looking to the future in a wide variety of areas, so decided to do the same here.

I have been working in public libraries since I graduated from university in 1985 (just need a Bachelor’s degree in Australia to work as a librarian).  Of my 22 years in libraries, I have worked full-time for 13 and now half-time for 9 since I had my children.  Now that my youngest is about to start school, I am thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my career, which until the last year or so was on cruise control.

I spoke to my Library Director seeking advice about working towards my future and he asked me to consider what I wanted to  do.  I have some thoughts about where I would like to go, but the one thing I am sure of is that it will involve leadership in some form.

I have been a leader of some sort throughout my career.  I have not always lead well as some of my past co-workers could well testify, but I have learnt well.  I am not officially a manager at this stage of my career, but have been so long with my library and in a wide variety of roles, including managerial, that I take on an unofficial leadership role and am sought for advice, opinions, assistance on a regular basis.  Not that I do anything to undermine the existing leadership.

So I got to thinking about what I should do to develop my leadership skills, which got me thinking more about leadership.  What is it?  What skills make a good leader and what extras make them great? Having said that, I think that it would be awesome beyond all belief to be considered a good leader, I have no illusions about being great.

Then, whilst watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a favourite of my kids and I, my daughter asked me if Leonardo was the leader because he was the eldest brother.  A natural assumption from my 8 year old.  However, he is leader because of other abilities, including recognising and utilising the skills of his brothers.  As his brother Michelangelo pointed out, he also had the hardest job because Raphael could leave the thinking to Leonardo, Donatello was free to dream and Michelangelo was free to clown because their big brother Leonardo took on all that responsibility.  If you know the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you will understand.  Wow, wisdom on leadership from a kid’s cartoon!

I have also learnt much from my friends in the blogosphere, musing about their leadership experiences.  They are far too many to list here, but to you all I give thanks – you have given me a great start.

So what have I been learning about leadership from all these musings?  Here’s the very shortest beginnings of what I know will be an ever growing list, from which I hope to keep learning.

A good leader:

  • knows people
  • is able to follow
  • is able to take the lead when required
  • is able to motivate those being lead
  • is able to lead without being obvious about it most of the time
  • never asks staff to do something they wouldn’t do
  • sees the big picture
  • is able to dream
  • gets the job done
  • brings the best out of the people they lead
  • can utilise the people they have for the best results for everyone
  • is responsible
  • takes pride in their team
  • gives credit where credit is due
  • is always learning
  • adapts to change
  • is able to inspire people
  • takes risks
  • is committed (or ought to be 🙂 )
  • also serves
  • has integrity

And why do I need to know this?  Because I plan to be working in libraries for another 30 years or so and can’t and won’t stay at this level for the rest of those days.  For me to progress further, leadership is one of the skill sets I will need to develop further.  I have a good foundation, built on pain, experience and the patience and teaching of many good staff and managers – all to whom I give my sincere apologies for my mistakes and my heartfelt thanks for the lessons they taught me – many without knowing they were doing so.

And knowing the pain that can be and is involved in leadership, why would I want to go down that path?  Because of the great satisfaction that also comes out of doing it and doing it well.  It truly is a joy to lead a team who works well, beyond expectations and enjoys doing so.  That’s not easy to come by, takes a lot of hard work but is so worth it in the end, when you see the awesome results that can be achieved.

And so I look to you now too, to add to my short list.  What leadership skills or abilities do you see as being key to a good or great leader.  I am sure that you have also had some inspirational leaders in your lives, what lessons did they teach you about doing it right?  Can it be done right?  Can it be learnt or is it inherent?  Please contribute your thoughts in a comment and we will see how this list develops.


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  1. Most of this excellent post now appears as an article in the PALINET Leadership Network–naturally with full attribution and a link back to here. Thanks for allowing me to use it.

  2. Thanks Walt. I don’t know what else to say but thanks for reading and for your comments and your continued encouragement.

    • Karna on January 7, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Maybe you should think of applying to do the Aurora Institute Michelle
    Maybe you could get your work to pay for you.

    Sherrey Quinn of Libraries Alive is involved with it though ALIA

  3. Great suggestion, I will look into it. Thanks for the comment too, its much appreciated.

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