Emphasizing Organization-Wide Leadership Development

August, 2019

At my library, we’ve taken the step of encouraging our librarians to include aspects of leadership development among the foci of their professional development this year. Our initiative builds on the experience of the University Library at the University of Saskatchewan, as described by Mierke & Williamson (2017):

The strategic decision in early 2008 to invest in leadership development for all employees was one of the most impactful decisions that has directly contributed to the library’s culture shift. Utilizing both internal and external organization development expertise, the [Library Leadership Development Program] was designed for the library through feedback from employee focus groups. This feedback helped to identify and understand some of the key issues, and the LLDP curriculum was designed to address and build organizational capacity to address these issues. Core to the program is the philosophy that anyone can be a leader; one does not need to be in a formal managerial position in order to be a leader. Employees can lead from where they stand. (p. 9)

Consistent with the Saskatchewan case, we’ve sought to convey that the practice of leadership is not confined to those who hold supervisory positions within the organization, but rather is pervasive throughout it. In order to help our librarians engage more productively with their role as leaders, as the fall semester got underway, I led the group through a couple of exercises.

In the first exercise, I asked participants to take a 3x5 card and write down three words that they associated with leadership. I had them submit their cards anonymously and I entered them into a spreadsheet for quick analysis. Then we discussed the general themes that surfaced in the data. After the session was done, I did a bit more work to consolidate common themes that had been articulated via different language.

Overall, this exercise revealed a tension in leadership between commitment to organizational mission and concern for those that are led. Commitment to the mission manifested itself in the form of vision, the assumption of responsibility, drive and busyness, and making strategic decisions. Concern for people, on the other hand, revealed itself through servanthood, compassion, and two-way communication.

In the second exercise, I had each librarian take a quiz entitled, “Are You a Library Leader?” (downloadable here). The ten questions that made up the quiz are listed below. Although some of the questions were phrased with reference to the academic library context, the tool could very easily be adapted for use in other organizational settings.

    1. Are you active as a member of a committee?

    2. Are you an active administrator of a library software system?

    3. Are you involved in evaluating the performance or merit of other library employees?

    4. Are you responsible for enforcing a library policy?

    5. Do others come to you for advice or guidance on work-related issues?

    6. Do you approve purchases or otherwise help manage the library’s finances?

    7. Do you contribute to planning for the future of the library or a part thereof?

    8. Do you have any discretion as to what work activities you’re involved in and how or when you perform them?

    9. Do you influence the behavior of others—faculty, staff, and/or students?

    10. Do you oversee at least one person directly?

After participants had completed the quiz, I didn’t have them turn in their responses. Rather, we engaged in discussion about the intensity of their leadership role within the library. If anyone had answered all quiz questions affirmatively, they would have had a leadership intensity score of ten. I don’t think anyone actually got that score; responses represented in the room probably fell between two and eight. The point is that all of our librarians had some leadership role. I articulated this notion with the following statement:

If we understand leadership as being a matter of influence rather than position within organizational hierarchy, we can see that every one of us is responsible for leading the library. All of us contribute to shaping the organization’s culture. All of us have the power to elevate or drag down others’ performance.

Toward the end of the session, I reasoned that all of us have—and need to continue to develop—a set of technical skills. In libraries such skills may pertain to reference, instruction, cataloging, acquisitions, collection development, systems, etc. But no matter how sharp our technical skills may be, we also need to excel in leadership, guiding the way that we manage ourselves and influence the work of others. Therefore, when we make choices regarding conferences, webinars, readings, and other learning opportunities, we ought to do so with regard to technical and leadership skills.


Mierke, J., & Williamson, V. (2017). A framework for achieving organizational culture change. Library Leadership & Management, 31(2), 1–16. Retrieved from https://journals.tdl.org/llm/index.php/llm/article/view/7216

Want to learn more about leadership development and related topics?

Click the buttons below to see relevant entries in my bibliography, SmithFile.