Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
January 2004

Leadership and Management

This past week a reader from California wrote, "It must be difficult to find events or issues to write articles about. How do you find so many topics?" I told her that to find ideas I talk to my friends, readers, and relatives; I read a lot and then I hope for a confluence of ideas. My son suggested that I talk about teaching librarians. In The Steak n Shake Company Annual Report they talk about leaders as anyone who has a role in training, coaching, energizing, or developing associates. Change the word "associates" to "readers, students, or staff" and we have librarians. Effective and motivated leaders are better able to take care of the people who need the services of a library and librarian. One of the goals I have as a teacher is to help students gain the skills they need to deal with library users.

Since many routine and tedious tasks of the library staff such as filing and circulation have been taken over by computer library management systems, librarians have more time to deal with people. Anyone, professional or not, who deals with the public has an influence on the patron. Good leadership is an acquired or learned skill. Poor behaviors can be changed. As teacher I try to share my experience and relate it to the curriculum. I try to give the students an opportunity learn from others. One assignment this past semester was to visit libraries. The students had to not only visit the physical library, but talk with the librarian and then share the experience with the other members of the class. The idea was the students would be able to meet experienced librarians and then share that experience with others. In that way the students gain a larger universe of contacts.

Building on one's strengths is important for the student and the librarian. One of my teachers told us the way to prepare for his oral exam was to learn part of the subject very well and everything will fall into place. By studying part of the subject matter in depth we were able to learn our strengths and become articulate in the entire subject. A survey, by Marcus Buckingham, a senior vice president at the Gallup Organization, quoted in Working Women, October 2000 p. 50-51, says that just 15 per cent of American workers have the opportunity to use their strengths daily. Sixty-five per cent said they did not use their special strengths even once a week. Some of those employees are bored, upset or not doing what they can do best. Students are assigned open-ended papers so that they can discover their strengths. Sometimes this process of choosing a topic is difficult. Some students ask for more clarification on how to do the assignment. They ask, "How many pages are required? What do I want?" Few realize that the search for a subject is part of the process of mastery of the subject. It takes a long time for some to figure out their strengths. Librarians who are empowered to do a good job, should never be bored. There is just too much to learn. Students have to learn to listen to themselves both to play to their strengths and to learn how to gain new skills and strengths.

Work with the Team

Librarians build teams. Since they can work with any materials that people create, they need to build skills using reference sources and a network of contacts to find what cannot be found in written sources. They have to find both people who share their personality traits and those who complement their traits. I ask students to work together because 1) No one can know everything; 2) Different points of view add to the dimension of learning; 3) The amount of material needed to cover in one course is beyond the time available for any one student; and 4) Teamwork builds social skills that are useful on the job. Teamwork includes agreeing with your teammates, pointing out the shortcomings of a project, and building a project that is greater than the sum of the parts. On a sports team and a business team members learn to anticipate the thoughts and moves of a teammate. Saying, "No" is just as important as saying, "yes." One should not be a "Yes-man" or a "nay sayer."

When I was in graduate school, I learned that librarians need to create a community and be part a community. We learned to find out about the community we work in and to make a community. On my first job in a school library I started asking questions about the school, the students, and the community. I was living in a new town and I wanted know about students and their parents. Unfortunately the school administration had their own agenda. They wanted me kept in the dark. I knew after one day that I needed to look for a new job. Managers need to understand their people. Even if inside themselves they are straight-laced or quiet, they must make an effort to listen to staff and patrons. Managers need to receive and give opinions.

Be Fair, not Equal

All the parental training tells us that being fair is different from being equal. Being fair means we respect individuality. We understand that all people are not created equal. It is a disservice to expect everyone to be and think alike. One must be flexible to figure out what is best for the people with whom you deal. For one person the ability to work on a special project apart from regular duties is both a perk and a way of exploiting employee strengths and potential. For another employee flexible scheduling to give him/her the ability to deal with family responsibilities is more important than a monetary bonus. Determine which members of your team tend toward the analytical and which toward the emotional. Give them assignments to match their working style.

Get Buy-in

When I was a camp counselor, I learned how to get the group to do what I wanted and make them think it was their idea. We had options of activities. Some were good choices and other made no sense. My job as a counselor was to focus the choice to the more appropriate activities. When I asked the group what we should do, I always gave alternatives. This was not a free-for-all gripe or comment session. It was a working meeting with a definite goal. People want to feel part of the group. Build a team that has a mission. There should be long and short term goals. People need power or control of the situation. When people know what to expect, whether the event is positive or painful, the event is either better tolerated or better enjoyed. Managers, team members, students, and teachers need to know the needs of their fellows. They need to ask each others about the motivations. Create an environment that meets those needs. Find out how short term goals help them reach the long term goals. Find out what you need from each other. As a manager you have certain powers over the business process. Share the power so that staff and patrons will feel more motivated. Do not always give the final answer. Sometimes the search for the answer is more important than the actual answer. For the professor, teaching the process helps the student find the answer long after the class is over.

Say "Thank You"

In the past two days I got some great "thank you's" from people. One was from a librarian in another city who asked about a book. Since I had the book on my shelves, I was able to answer the question easily. Another thanked me for having a nice web site. I appreciate getting acknowledgment and validation for my work. I spend a lot of time posting information on my web site. It is a great feeling to get appreciation from someone. When the someone is a person I see and talk to very often it shows me that I am not being taken for granted. You should always thank(1) managers, colleagues, team members, and anyone else who helps you. A note saying, "Thanks for a job well done," is sometimes better than a monetary reward. Of course a check given with a smile, mention of appreciation from the big boss helps, too. We have all heard stories of well-compensated employees who quit because they felt overworked and under appreciated.

Take Responsibility

Listen, reward, and be pleasant, but never lose control. Be sure to let your staff or students know who is the boss. Students need to know that administrative powers are beyond the control of the teachers. Managers need to know when to trust the decisions of employees and when to intervene. Managers need a no-tolerance policy for toxic behavior. Fighting and other time-wasting activities should not be tolerated. Yaakov Salomon (in "The Three Most Important Words", March 4, 2001) gives advice on relationships. He says(2) that the most important words in a relationship are, "I was wrong." Salomon says, "No matter what the context of the association -- a spouse, a colleague, a sibling, boss, committee, a friend, perhaps even parent -- admitting you were wrong can add an immeasurable dimension to the connection. It is refreshing, honest, disarming and frequently unexpected." An admission of responsibility carefully delivered makes a big difference in a relationship. Of course there are times when the person hearing the apology cannot handle it. If you as a manger or teacher have established that you are in charge, admitting to an error restores some equilibrium in a relationship. Being wrong is hard. It admits a human frailty. We have strong defense mechanisms to create excuses and reasons for mistakes. I am not telling you to confess to every lapse that you have made, but be ready to accept responsibility for your actions and be ready to make amends. Sometimes despite the best efforts events beyond your control contributed to the failure. No one is always "right."

Don't confuse taking responsibility with getting off the hook. We have to learn from mistakes and how to prevent them in the future. Approach being a manager and a leader as a professional activity. Plan to be nice and appreciate people and actions every day. Do not let others suffer because you are having a terrible day. Do not be a mind reader and do not expect people to read your mind. Listen to what people need from you and tell them what you need form them in clear unambiguous language.


My son is right that teaching is a hard job, never-ending. The agenda behind completing assignments is not always obvious to the students. Some assignments are purposely vague so that the student may explore ideas the teacher could not imagine. Sometimes a teacher or manager knows the first steps and the goals, but not the steps in between. Everyone has a role in your education, those who teach you and those who learn from you. Make it a never ending goal to constantly search for the truth, guide others, and learn from everyone.

May this be the year that Ben Zoma's saying from Perke Avot 4:1, "Who is wise, he who learns from everyone," takes on increased meaning in your professional and personal lives.


1. Giving and receiving praise is a topic for another article. We have to be careful to word praise and criticism carefully or the words could backfire, cause resentment and even physical harm. As parents we learn to complement the job, not the person. Say, "Great job!" not "What a fine boy you are!" Haim Ginott in Between Parent and Child (New York, Avon, 1969) has a whole chapter on the proper way to give praise and criticism. Read about the boy and the ashtray before you say, "You are such a good boy."

2. The article is about marital relationships, but the ideas are appropriate for any kind of personal, business, or professional relationships.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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 ©2004 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised January 8, 2004