Delving into Leadership Development Programs | Leading from the Library

When we find ourselves in leadership positions, but also find that we lack some essential skills or would like to build upon our existing knowledge, many librarians turn to leadership programs. A new book shares research and insights into what makes those programs tick.
Steven BellWhen we find ourselves in leadership positions but also find that we lack some essential skills or would like to build upon our existing knowledge, many librarians turn to leadership programs. A new book shares research and insights into what makes those programs tick. Like that of many academic library leaders, my career path has included stops at library leadership programs. There is no dearth of them; many are organized and managed by library associations. Academic institutions offer them as well, some in cooperation with associations, such as the Association of College and Research Libraries' (ACRL) Harvard Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians (LIAL). When I took a position as a college library director, one of my first development moves was to attend the ACRL College Libraries Section program for new college library directors, College Library Director’s Mentor Program (CLDMP). It gave many aspiring leaders one-on-one executive mentoring by matching them with a seasoned college library director. In addition to three days of training, it was an opportunity to bond with other new directors and join a network of more experienced ones. The program gave me more confidence in my leadership abilities and a support system to help me grow as a leader. Sometime around 2002, I also attended a Harvard program for academic administrators. I was the only librarian there, so it made for a rather different learning experience but one that helped make me a better leader by exposing me to new ideas, practices, and colleagues. One of the other newbie directors in my CLDMP cohort was Irene Herold. Through the years we have shared a number of leadership experiences, including stints with ACRL’s College Libraries Section and on the ACRL Executive Board. Herold had more than a passing interest in leadership. She went on to take positions of increasing leadership responsibility in academic libraries and is now the University Librarian at the University of Hawai′i at Mānoa. Along the way Herold earned a PhD in Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions from Simmons College and made leadership development the focus of her doctoral research. Herold did a deep dive into library leadership programs, which led to the publication of a new book, Creating Leaders: An Examination of Academic and Research Library Leadership Institutes. It includes a review of 18 academic librarian leadership development programs from 26 past participants for an examination of whether they develop leadership. Herold was kind enough to share what she learned about library leadership development programs with me in a recent interview. Both those who’ve participated in the programs and those thinking of participating will be well informed by Herold’s research.
SB: How did you first get interested in leadership development programs as a research topic? IH: After attending CLDMP in 1999, I was at a regional meeting in New England and hearing about the then-projected retirement wave for 2015. I asked myself what I could do to help mentor the next generation of leaders. I created a proposal for a statewide librarian mentoring program, which later expanded to include a staff job shadowing program for New Hampshire’s College and University Council’s (NHCUC) Library Directors Group. At that point I did not question the value of the program, nor consider doing any research to develop the content. I just modeled it after the CLDMP. I headed this program up for several years, before handing it off to a NHCUC colleague, wanting this not to be “Irene’s program” but something more sustainable. When I accepted my first dean’s position, I negotiated to attend the Harvard ACRL LIAL program and was a member of the 2003 cohort. My last experience as a participant in a leadership development program was attending the 2009 Women’s Leadership Institute, sponsored by multiple higher education associations, of which ACRL is one. When I started my PhD program in 2007, one of the requirements was to do two research projects of peer-review quality—[though] they did not have to be published. I started by focusing on mentoring, looking at evaluations first of the NHCUC program I created and later at the CLDMP. I presented early findings on mentoring during sessions at the 2008 New Hampshire Library Association, a 2008 meeting of the associate university librarians of the Ontario Council of University Librarians, and at the 2009 Dartmouth Biomedical Libraries annual conference. My research on mentoring caught the attention of Larry Hardesty, one of three program directors for CLDMP, and he invited me to serve as an evaluator of the program for an [Institute of Museum & Library Services] grant. I examined evaluations and reports from mentors and participants, writing a report about the program. When it came time to do my first research project for the PhD program, I built upon this experience and examined over 1,800 email messages on the closed CLDMP Listserv for leadership content. I concluded that the conversation minimally touched on leadership, but much of it applied to management. From this it was a small hop to my dissertation topic of whether a library association–sponsored leadership development program develops leadership in its participants. Can you give me a picture of today’s environment for library leadership programs? How many are there and who tends to offer them—and do we know anything about who attends them? There are a wide variety of library leadership programs. [In] my book…18 of them [are] written about by 26…contributing authors. While my focus has been on those for academic librarians or programs that included academic librarians as welcome participants, there were many programs that my book did not examine. There are programs for early-career librarians, midcareer librarians, advanced-career librarians’ exploration of upper administration positions, and programs for those holding director/dean positions. Some are focused on particular criteria, such as type of library (medical, theological, small college, etc.), while others consider diversity and gender. Programs may be offered by individuals or groups of individuals; institutions, such as Harvard and Stanford; associations, like the Tall Texans and Sunshine State programs, which are sponsored by the state library associations of Texas and Florida, respectively; regional groups of cross-type libraries; or by groups of associations, such as the Women’s Leadership Institute. Some programs are institution-based, the Library of Congress’s, for example, and only for those who are employed by that institution. Just as there is a wide variety of programs, there is also variability in the application criteria. Some [programs’ participants] are self-nominated/self-selected. Others required an application and were competitive and highly selective. Still others required a nomination to be invited to apply. Some had essay requirements, while others asked for an outline of a project to be undertaken contiguously with the program. I wrote about ways to think about which program may be right for an individual in “How To Develop Leadership Skills: Selecting the Right Program for You,” in Library Issues, November 2014, 35, No. 2. In that article I encouraged consideration of the potential participant’s learning style, time considerations, and desired outcomes. Not all programs cover the same materials, although many have similarities, and the techniques, such as using a particular theory, exercises, or method of instruction, and approaches—large group, small group, individualized, face-to-face, virtual—–are also different. So there’s tremendous diversity in the programs–almost a case of something for everyone. I imagine that higher education institutions spend a considerable amount of money sending their library leaders to these development programs. What are they getting for their investment? Did you learn anything about the impact of leadership programs on those who attend them? Honestly, this is an area that still needs further research. From my preliminary conclusions, most return on investment is perception-based. Institutions that send librarians to programs most likely will get in return a leader who is more confident, has a pool of best practices from which to draw, a broader understanding of at least one leadership theory and its application, and a network to turn to for reflection on ideas or approaches. For this book I did not design a research study from the ground up examining the impact of leadership programs, but this would be the next logical step to move beyond self-reporting and anecdotal evidence. Are these programs better suited for a particular individual, or will anyone benefit from them? Does it matter where you are in your career as far as getting the most out of the programs? The programs aimed at early-career librarians did not appear to be focused on leadership development. They were more about exposure to managerial pathways and how to progress in a career, such as from entry-level to project or committee chair, or department chair. Some of these programs measured their success by whether the participants five or ten years postprogram had changed their job positions to one with more responsibility. There did not seem to be direct causality with program participation, nor among a control group of nonparticipants and their career progress for comparison. There was no examination of the bias of self-selection for participation in such programs, as it could be that individuals who would tend to see themselves as leaders participate in such programs. Midcareer programs again focused on exploring the managerial skills necessary for moving up, although some included leadership theories, [though] perhaps not overtly identified [as such]. The now defunct Snowbird Institute comes to mind as such a program. Programs like the ARL Research Library Leadership Fellows Program, now renamed the ARL Leadership Fellows Program, which is for those in assistant/associate librarian positions to explore the top position, also concentrated on exposure to what the head academic librarian’s world would be like for those contemplating such a move.… Any leadership theories were embedded in practice and not an explicit part of the program. In direct response to your question, depending upon individuals' expectations for the program, they could benefit. Making sure the program is for those who are in a similar point in their career will increase the likelihood of participants’ expectation of benefit. Since overwhelmingly in the studies to date, the value of a cohort with whom to network is the most reported perception of benefit, I would say anyone could benefit from participating in a program. Let’s say I want to advance in leadership and I could use professional development, but my college or university won’t send me. What else can I do to improve my skills as a leader, particularly if I want to advance my career? There are many published resources for self-study, from books that provide a survey of leadership theories, such as Peter Northouse’s Leadership: Theory and Practice, to those that focus on one theory in depth, like Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee’s Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion. If [you are] looking for essays specific to library leadership, then Peter Hernon and Nancy Rossiter’s Making a Difference: Leadership and Academic Libraries may be useful. One of my favorite leadership approach books is Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, with its accompanying workbooks. I also find anything by Patrick Lencioni to be useful to read, plus he has written workbooks to accompany some of his texts. Of course, John Kotter’s works on leading change. Forming your own study/discussion group is another way to improve your leadership skills. Hearing how others think about and may apply a theory can provide a broader toolkit for a developing leader’s career progression. Seeking out a mentor who already holds the position to which the person aspires for sponsorship can also be helpful. Many of our institutions have in-house management and leadership training opportunities. Why would I want to attend a library leadership program if I can get that training at my own institution? There is a benefit to having a program [in which] you can confidentially check concepts and approaches, as well as the additional benefit of having a new network of colleagues in similar situations and stages of development, where one will have no fear of being perceived as incompetent if they are asking questions. Given there may be few librarians on your campus if you are at a small or medium-sized institution, and therefore less likely a cohort could be formed that would be directly helpful, being exposed to broader ideas and experiences may be more beneficial to your home institution. Sometimes we do not know what we need to know, and a program that forces participants to think beyond issues at their home institution may be of enormous value. Given what you learned about the programs, can you share what their top strengths and weaknesses are? What do they do well and not so well? There is no singular answer to this question, as each program has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. I encourage people to read Creating Leaders: An Examination of Academic and Research Library Leadership Institutes to form their own conclusions. Strengths, weaknesses, what the programs did well, and areas for improvement are [things] I asked all of the contributing authors to include in their chapters. They also were asked to speak to their own experience and perception of leadership development as a result of participating in the program. Each chapter provides a history of the program, a summary of its curriculum, a literature review, and what leadership theory or best practices were in evidence or garnered from the program. Some of the contributing authors did studies of career movement, evaluation analysis, or surveys of participants several years past when they participated to examine if there was any effect on their leadership development from participating in the program. Will going to a library leadership program make me a better library leader? In the end, as with many things in life, that really depends upon the individual’s expectations, effort, and application of what is learned. Certainly the 25 other contributing authors to Creating Leaders: An Examination of Academic and Research Library Leadership Institutes felt that the answer to this was yes. What advice would you give to a librarian who wants to attend a library leadership program with respect to choosing a program, given all the different options? Where do you start on making that decision? There are many criteria upon which this decision could be made. In my book I provide a chart that gives an overview of each program. You can tell at a glance which are targeting early or executive-level audiences, the format, and the length of the institutes. The book also summarizes theories and curricular approaches used in each reviewed program. In addition, potential participants will want to consider their own learning style and whether they would benefit most from a short duration, highly focused experience or something spread out over a calendar year providing time for reflection and application. Are applicable experiences important for the librarian, or is learning about other models enough exposure? If you consider yourself to be an introvert or an extrovert, which would be more invigorating or exhausting: a large group or small group or online program? Which would push you to work against type and expand your leadership skills and knowledge, as we cannot always lead in our preferred environments? Finally, is the potential participant looking for exposure to new ideas and concepts to develop their understanding of leadership, or looking to do self-examination about areas in their own leadership to develop? Some programs are designed for exposure to concepts and others to application.
I want to thank Irene Herold for responding to my questions about leadership programs with her expert insights and for exposing us to what she’s learned about leadership development programs from years of experience. When it comes to leadership programs, there are many options—and choosing the best one to attend may be a difficult decision. Based on what I’ve learned from Herold and my own history, I’d encourage both aspiring and experienced library leaders to attend one of these programs. Gaining exposure to leadership theory, case studies, role-play, and more could all add up to good leadership lessons. As Herold shared, you can’t underestimate the value of connecting with other leaders and building your leadership network. But don’t take it from me. Get yourself a copy of Herold’s new book on leadership programs and determine the path that best meets your needs.    

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