Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ALA Empowerment Conference, 2009

When my copy of American Libraries arrived and I scanned the information about the upcoming ALA conference in Chicago, the Empowerment Conference caught my eye. Sponsored by the Library Support Staff division of ALA, of which I have been a member for the last several years, the "mini conference" for support staff who supervise others appealed to me immediately. As both a Branch Manager at our Main Library Branch and the Circulation Supervisor for our Library System, I felt this could directly affect my day to day activities both in my branch and in my duties system-wide. I mentioned the Empowerment Conference to our Public Services Coordinator, Lisa McKenney, and she invited any Branch Manager who was interested in attending ALA this summer to let her know how the experience would benefit them and the Library System.

Nora Drake also responded to her inquiry and the two of us were selected to attend the conference. We arrived in Chicago Friday afternoon and were on our way to McCormick Place early the next morning, sans breakfast. After criss crossing the complex we finally arrived the Welcome Breakfast and conference kickoff at the HYATT REGENCY McCormick ( geesh!) only to find nothing left but coffee and crumbs of the breakfast. We did get to hear most of Prof. Gini's keynote address about "Lincoln's ten critical tasks of leadership"

The first session I attended was "Leadership = Vision + Communication + Empowerment: an overview with Alexis Sarkisian, who is a Library Marketing consultant. She discussed communication models and explained how leaders need to make sure that the message you are sending out is understood. It is the "senders" responsibility to get feedback from the "receivers" to elminate misunderstandings and assumptions. You don't "push" a message out, it is your responsibilty to be sure it is being sent in a way that people can understand or "hear" your message. She makes the point that leaders have vision and while leaders can be managers, not all managers are leaders.

The second session was Leadership for Library Support Staff lead by Kevin Dudeney from Austrailia. It was interesting in itself to learn a little about the Australian system, they take a 2 year required course to become Library Technicians. He began by talking about how we manage stuff, but lead people. He developed this course himself and focuses on the 5 practices of exemplary leadership:
  1. Model the way - earn the right and respect to lead, people follow the person, then the plan.
  2. Inspire a shared vision - express enthusiasm for the vision and it will spread to the team.
  3. Challenge the process - step into the unknown and look for opportunities to innovate.
  4. Enable others to act - make it possible for others to do good work.
  5. Encourage the heart - show appreciation of the teams contributions, teams can become tired, frustrated and disenchanted.
We saw his list of the differences between leaders and managers, a long list I might add, that most of us furioulsy scribbled away to copy since there were no handouts for this session. There was a discussion of the different types of power, such as legitimate power; reward power; coercive power; expert power; charismatic power; referent power; and information power.

After scrounging up some lunch and a chance encounter with Joe outside the building, Nora and I attended "Leading from any position: opportunities to contribute to your Library's success" with Maureen Sullivan who happens to be from Maryland. She also mentioned the communication issue, i.e. "What I think I said may not be what you heard" and the notion that even leaders need to know how to be effective followers. She focused on resonant leadership and how that is based on the relationship between the leader and those who work with them. Resonant leadership depends upon emotional intelligence which can be intuitive or developed. Emotional intelligence is based on the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. She points out that we must listen to the negative but don't focus on it. Focus on the people who are doing what needs to be done. Don't let negativity hold the organization back.

And we're just gettin' warm!

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