Friday, 13 June 2008

Tom Forrest: Leadership for modern public libraries

Everyone in this room is a library leader
Late '90s: where are tomorrow's library leaders?
Leadership development was patchy
Framework brought an agenda and money for a strategic intervention which became Leading Modern Public Libraries
Three tiers: heads of service; senior managers; future leaders
Most important lesson: confidence, confidence, confidence
Self-confidence *and* confidence in the value of what we do (cf the problem of all the "what are we here for?" stuff)
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: "The fundamental task of leaders is to develop confidence in advance of victory"
Reader dev strong - information less so, especially our values/ethics around it
Finding confidence:
Purpose and values
Change behaviour to reflect them
Foster openness
Demonstrate respect
Turnaround principles:
Believe in people and their power to make a difference
Direct the energy taken up in negativity into positive actions
Make initiative possible and desirable
Start with small wins - taste success
New generation of leaders doesn't want/need to walk the same paths that current leaders *think* they should walk
Tying future leaders down is not the answer
Cut the crap: make it happen! (c.f. Greg Dyke)

Now, I like Tom. A lot. I'm a veteran of his Future Leaders program, and that led to me going with him to Bulgaria to talk about what we do in English* public libraries. A lot of this stuff is familiar to me, but that doesn't diminish its impact: he means it. We should all mean it too. The sad truth is that, too often, tools like Future Leaders are treated as no more than a box-ticking exercise. I certainly don't feel like I've been pushed, or given opportunities, appropriate to what I (and the other participants) started learning to do with Tom. This is the biggest leadership problem we have, imho: the current leaders of the profession are not sharing those opportunities out.

Tom also touched on his work with reader development, and how he feels he made a significant contribution to getting it on UK libraries' collective map. He mentioned the lack of an analogue for information, the reference function. That's a thought worth returning to at a later date.