Commentary: Extraordinary Leadership

It’s official! Our Good Witch is leaving the Emerald City to take up residence in Lotus Land. We wish her well. Apparently it’s not all a bed of roses in LL but then again, this Witch has a bookmobile full of experience after dealing with shenanigans in the Emerald City. But I digress. She will be missed, and more importantly how will she be replaced? She is the only one of her breed (MLIS-accredited) in the upper echelons of the City. Now what? Who will the Wizard go to for guidance and knowledge on all things bibliomatic? There is no one left to lead the City. OF course there are the pretty boys in suits with their monkeys. Which leads this ranter to the following question:

Why do the information professionals and librarians in the regions surrounding the Emerald City continue to believe that the Wizard and his munchkins take on the mantle of leadership? Because that is what a national institution and its key people is supposed to do isn’t it?

Leadership – let’s look at this for a moment shall we. Taking the cheap and easy way out – Here’s part of the Wikipedia entry for Leadership – “Alan Keith of Genentech said Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.” Extraordinary, eh?

Further down is what I found to be directly applicable – the difference between leaders and managers/administrators. Where do our friends in the Emerald City fit?


  • Administer
  • Ask how
  • Focus on systems
  • Do things right
  • Maintain
  • Rely on control
  • Have a short term perspective
  • Accept the status quo
  • Eye on the bottom line
  • Imitate
  • Emulate the classic good soldier
  • Copy
  • Innovate
  • Ask what or why
  • Focus on people
  • Do the right things
  • Develop
  • Inspire trust
  • Have a longer term perspective
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Eye on the horizon
  • Originate
  • Are their own person
  • Show originality
Do the math. I have not seen a lot of the leaders anywhere in the Emerald City. We know and we’ve been told the Wizard is NOT going to speak truth to power to his colleagues. Nor is anyone going to speak to the Wizard and deliver the truth to him either.

So WHY do the information professionals, and not just in the Emerald City, but across this entire country, have any confidence that the Wizard is going to take on the mantle of leadership about libraries and information centres and speak truth to power anywhere to anyone? School libraries are pretty much history across most of this country. The economy means fewer taxes to support public libraries at a time when public libraries are bursting with clients demanding a gazillion services. For some reason there is some pandering and fawning by the academic librarians; while the special libraries that are not federal government just don’t give a hoot as they work to justify their existences to bean counting managers.

Librarians/information professionals in this country need to accept the truth that the Wizard isn’t going to come out from behind his curtain. We need to find ourselves another champion.

And the key problem with this lack of - what is it that the Government’s University calls it now – “talent management” – the key problem is that the Emerald City won’t seek out the “talent” they have under their noses and develop it. They’d rather hire “managers” than work and develop trained, experienced, professionals with potential.

This is worrisome to many both inside and outside the Emerald City. The Good Witch is leaving. And it is sad on so many levels. It is fully expected that some “manager” (more than likely in a pretty suit) will take the post because goodness knows the information professionals can’t be mentored, coached or even taught how to be pretty in suits and keep the curtain closed on the Wizard. Extraordinary indeed!

And to the Good Witch: Wave your wand and use your magic wisely in Lotus Land.

(The comments above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CASLIS Ottawa or the Canadian Library Association.)

1 comment:

Deane Zeeman said...

In response to a recent anonymous posting on leadership in the federal government information management arena, I offer the following analysis of ways in which I believe leaders at LAC ...

- Innovate: The RK Initiative is an innovative answer to the challenge of ensuring that the record of government, including both unpublished and published materials, is managed to track decision-making for the benefit of Canadians.
- Ask what or why: "What is government information?", "Does it make sense to include published information?" are questions being asked and answered. Leaders have developed a compelling argument that addressing the issue holistically ensures that the right information is managed. This message has significant support at senior levels across government and could be used by smart managers to position their service as a key enabler of government.
- Focus on people : Leaders at LAC have used fora such as the Federal Libraries Forum and Managers' Discussion Group to regularly inform about the progress of the RK Initiative for the past 18 months. Dialogue has been almost totally lacking; if people won't discuss, we can't make them. Apparently "leaders" in the federal library community just didn't think it was interesting or relevant to them until it was way too late.
- Do the right things : Leaders at LAC have responded to the issues raised by the Auditor General's report on managing information and to concerns expressed by DMs; they have developed innovative solutions; they have consulate broadly with decision-makers; they have worked with partners. Their goal is to affirm the ongoing need for federal library service by embedding the idea in government policy.
- Develop : Leaders at LAC have encouraged dialogue with federal librarians (without much success) and have put up with an astonishing amount of disrespect and plain aggressive rudeness while trying to move collective thinking about the future of library service and the possibility of a new service paradigm.
- Inspire trust : This is a two-way street. Leaders are not gods; they are open to discussion. But they do not automatically accept the status quo. Government needs managers who really listen to a hypothesis, who pull down or step around the barrier of "professionalism" that may be making it difficult to hear the message, who act like public servants and consider the Big Picture rather than focusing on narrow parochial, sectoral issues.
- Have a longer term perspective : Leaders at LAC are projecting 5, 10 and 15 years out; looking for ways to ensure continued relevance of information service in the digital age.
- Challenge the status quo : There is no question that leaders have been doing this; it's the reason why there is so much push-back!
- Eye on the horizon : Leaders at LAC are plugged into senior committees and are aware of other horizontal initiatives and pots boiling in central agencies; they are constantly positioning library services to be relevant in an environment which is pushing change, efficiency, effectiveness and, most importantly, money saving.
- Originate : Leaders' response to the churn in the government policy and service environments is to propose new ways of doing business.
- Are their own person : Not all leaders at LAC may have a background in information management, or be trained librarians, but they are experts in understanding government, know how to position issues to achieve horizontal improvements, and are committed to this portfolio.
- Show originality : Leaders at LAC have demonstrated a strong ability to think outside the box and propose solutions that can take library service to the next level.

And additionally ...

- Show grace under pressure : Leaders at LAC are striving to bring their best game on a daily basis, despite constant undermining and disrespect from the very group they are committed to supporting.
- Demonstrate courage : We own what we think, write, talk about. We do not indulge in anonymous public rants.

Deane Zeeman, MLS
Gestionnaire par intérim, Secrétariat pour la coordination des bibliothèques fédérales * A/Manager, Federal Libraries Coordination Secretariat
Bibliothèque et Archives Canada * Library and Archives Canada
550, boul. de la Cité * 550 de la Cité Blvd
Gatineau QC Canada K1A ON4
(819) 934-4358 | (819) 934-7534
Gouvernement du Canada * Government of Canada