Behind the Scenes: ALA Leadership Institute

We’ve all probably got an opinion or reaction when we hear the word “leadership.” Maybe we think, “oh that’s just not for me,” or “I want to be more successful at making change,” or perhaps “I think I’m doing a pretty good job but could always use more pointers” or even “I’m not a manager so this probably doesn’t really apply to me.”

If it’s all or none of the above, you’re in the right place.

In August, ALA held an inaugural four-day Leadership Institute in Illinois. Forty participants from all types of libraries and all kinds of positions were invited to participate on an application basis. Six YALSA members attended.

Stay tuned to hear from others through YALS, as well as other upcoming publications that will share their excitement about the powerful experience.

Today, we’ll hear from Librarian Allison Mackley with Hershey High School in PA:

KC: So this institute was all about leadership. Can you talk about a few points you plan to take back to your library and/or community?
AM: One of the most important goals that I have as a leader is to generate leadership opportunities, so others can increase their own capacity. Creating an environment in which other find the conditions to lead creates shared leadership and an culture in which each person’s efficacy is fostered and honored. Related to this, I also want to bring back the ability to embrace disequilibrium. There are differences among people in any situation, but if we can maximize those differences to create a culture in which differences are valued, people will thrive. From the Institute, I learned that I need to pay attention to the people who are asking questions. I need to closely watch interactions to detect patterns. I need to create a balance between giving enough pressure to encourage innovation but not too much so that it creates stress. Most of all, I need to be self-aware and open up my “public self” enough to improve communication with others and to be understood.

KC: What about points to take back to the larger YALSA community?
AM: Maureen Sullivan and Kathryn Deiss taught us that “Challenge is the crucible for greatness.” One of the greatest challenges for such a large community, such as YALSA is to build a strong participatory culture. Leaders should create opportunities for others to engage in the process of building and enhancing culture. This type of work creates commitment rather than compliance. Members should work on future-focused solutions and know that when we do work with others, the possibilities for learning expand exponentially.

KC: What if anything, can you pass on to YALSA members that didn’t have the opportunity to attend the Institute, do to develop their leadership skills?
AM: YALSA members can work on curating their brand, whether it be in person or online. The lessons at the Institute taught us to do this in the following ways:

* Interpersonal Skills – Building relationships is foundational to effective leadership.
* Self-Concept and Confidence – Understand your own self, strengths and areas for development.
* Active listening skills – Have patience in trying to understand others and create a dialogue to get to the underlying meaning of what others are saying.
* Clarity of Expression – Be clear and succinct about your ideas, what you want to do, and how you want others to interact with you.
* Managing emotions – Know what you should give attention to and to what degree your emotions should play a part.
* Self disclosure – Small disclosures about yourself help develop relationships.
* Respect Your Values – Know your values and be able to access them when making tough decisions.
* Find the bright spots – in yourself and in others.

KC: Was your understanding of leadership changed as a result of this experience? If so, in what ways?
AM: One important questions that was posed at the Institute was the following: When you say, “Yes,” what are you saying “No” to? This single questions not only changed the way I think about how I spend my time and energy in both my personal and professional lives, but also made me think about the decision-making process that happens when you choose to be a leader. As a leader, it is essential to seek to understand different perspectives before making a decision. If you say, “Yes,” to a program, a policy, a procedure, a staff member, or any decision that impacts culture or community, a leader must take into consideration the other sides. This does not mean that saying, “Yes,” is a poor decision. It means that having the ability to say, “Yes,” comes with a responsibility to honor yourself, others and the environment in which you lead.

KC: Any recommended resources you can share?
AM: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel Pink

KC: Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
AM: I have spent a lot of time thinking about invitations and being intentional regarding leadership. Many leaders fall into their positions because we are invited by others who believe in our abilities. Other times we are intentional about our leadership choices because we embody the self-awareness, vision, values and balance to do so. It’s difficult to say which situation ends up with the best results, but in a world where we all face changing demands and expectations, our Institute leaders taught us that if we can create environments that are humane and support people in their choices, we have been successful as a leader. Ultimately, leaders should create a positive culture and community. It is within this environment that possibilities become realities.

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