Leadership Development: Staying Attuned to Your Talented, Diverse Workforce
After a decade of serving as a dean of libraries, and earlier as a faculty member in a graduate program, one of the most important cornerstones of my leadership philosophy is that I can never stop learning. Leadership both requires and forces one to learn. I frequently hear myself saying when faced with a new problem, “Just when I think I can never be surprised, I am”. Higher Education is moving and changing rapidly, and we constantly are confronted with new challenges for which we need to possess or discover the skills to meet. My “tool bag” of accumulated experiences and wisdom never fails me in my day-to-day work life, but I also find that I am always adding to it as new challenges arise and I consider how to best resolve them.
As I continue to learn over the years, I have found unequivocally that my best resource is people. The knowledge I draw on most frequently I have acquired through watching, talking with, and listening to smart and skilled people on all levels. Certainly, wading through the wheat and chaff of conference presentations and leadership tomes is relevant and necessary, because they are essential vehicles to stay current and discover how others think, but there still is no substitute for working with and learning from people you admire and respect.
Learning from others is why diversity is important. I have been privileged to work at a variety of institutions: public and private, large and small. I have been equally fortunate to work with and learn from people from a wide variety of backgrounds over the years. Some have been peers, others I have mentored, still others have mentored me. There is no substitute for talking and listening. This may sound like something that does not need to be said, but in a rapidly growing culture with a lean staffing model, can we always make time for what could become essential conversations? The answer is: we should if we can. This is also why getting outside of our own institution and out into our professions is key: people do think differently elsewhere, and I think it helps to keep the humble perspective that there is always more to learn that we can then apply in our day-to-day worlds.
What all this means is that I sometimes feel that I am the sum total of everyone I have met in the workplace, and I like that. What it also means is that I often have small epiphanies of gratitude for things I have learned from colleagues that I use over and over again, and I regularly re-appreciate their agile brains. It also is true that as leaders of particular areas or departments, we cannot and should not know every last detail of every operation we oversee, but we should hire talented people and appreciate those who keep the knowledge that keeps us going. I try to do these things whenever possible, and take the concept of internal customer service seriously.
In this vein, one of the best books I have read recently is, The Mindful Leader: Ten Principles of Bringing out the Best in Ourselves and Others, by Michael Carroll. It concerns working and leading in the moment: pursuing organizational goals while also attending to the here and now. For me, the “here and now” is people.
Deborah Prosser, Dean of Libraries