What is Your Leadership Style? Ask Your Colleagues!

Happy New Year! I’m currently enjoying a brief break from working on my master’s in education before classes start up again in late January. So far, I’ve completed 7 out of 11 courses!

The experience has helped fill in gaps that my master’s in library science lacked — that degree was all about library content (books, journals, databases), but surprisingly lacked anything about people. To me, libraries are *all about people* and that’s been the focus on this master’s in adult and continuing education.

This past semester, one of the courses I enrolled in was a management and leadership course. I don’t often take time to consider my leadership style. I’m a manager, but to me, any employee regardless of supervisory responsibilities can (and should!) be a leader.

Leadership Assignment

One assignment I worked on was a concept paper to examine my leadership style through the perspectives of colleagues and friends and then identify the leadership style of a “famous” person that I wish to emulate:

Use five original quotations from your friends or colleagues on how they see you as a leader: write a 3-page paper 1) describing the leadership you demonstrate in practice, and 2) compare and contrast your personal traits and characteristics with an effective public leader of choice (living or dead).

The text of paper is below.

Leadership Styles

Whenever I take a “find your leadership style” quiz, the result is usually the same: I never fall strongly into one category. So hopefully that means I bring in skills that touch upon multiple styles?

In browsing online for leadership styles, I first read Rooke and Torbert’s (2005) classification of seven leadership styles: Opportunist, Diplomat, Expert, Achiever, Individualist, Strategist, and Alchemist. I was not attracted to this classification, since several of categories indicate a leadership deficit. After doing some Googling, I found that many sites and articles reference the following common styles: Charismatic, Participative, Quiet, Servant, Situational, Transactional, and Transformative (Chen, 2006). I like this schema since it plays to people’s strengths.

Feedback from Colleagues

I wasn’t exactly sure what kinds of quotes I would get about my leadership style when I emailed my co-workers and asked professional colleagues on Facebook. I knew by me asking, I wasn’t likely to get anything critical; this is not an anonymous evaluation or performance review. I actually got “warm fuzzies” from a few of the comments.

I’ll start with the simplest:

“Have fun; it’s just work.”

This was from a current co-worker and I know where she was going with this one: As a leader in a workplace setting that is not life-and-death, I emphasize the “fun” aspect as it goes against the grain of the traditionally stuffy world of libraries. The library should be a creative and expressive place–even noisy, at times. The days of being a silent book warehouse are over. Libraries need to adapt and change.

A former student responded to my plea for quotes via a Facebook post:

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“I always felt that your leadership style suggested ‘one of us’ as opposed to ‘us vs. them.’ As an instructor, I never felt like I was assigned work, but more like I was taking part in something as a group. It was always a pleasure.”

Even before beginning the M.Ed. program, I knew my style was collaborative, but now I know the power of facilitating–I do not desire to be the sage on the stage. Each group member has something worthwhile to share, I like to build relationships with groups to tap into that.

Conversely, a former supervisor described me as:

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The part I focused on was:

“find[ing] it just as easy to do something yourself as to delegate.”

Although I have learned to delegate more in the past few years, I do have a hard time letting go. I have a picture in my head of how something should look and I can be a perfectionist in that regard. However, time has told me that reaching out to get additional perspectives is important and can help improve an idea that I already thought was “perfect.”  

A current co-worker stated:

“I would say you lead by example. You do what needs to be done, you behave in a manner which others seek to emulate, and your work ethic sets the bar for others to meet.”

This seems like common sense to me. I’m a person who likes steps and examples, so that’s my natural leadership style: modeling the way for others. In fact, that’s what frustrates me sometimes as a supervisor: If expectations and examples are laid out clearly, why do we fail?

My current supervisor focused on decision-making:

“Above all else, a leader must be able to commit to making a decision. Joe is capable of making decisive decisions, when needed, even in hectic moments.”

My first thought was, “I’m glad my boss feels that way!” because I don’t always. In my mind, I do a lot of back-and-forth when it comes to decision making (pros and cons, potential outcomes). I also feel strongly that you can also change your mind on decisions if presented with new information. I don’t call that “waffling” or “flip-flopping”: it’s adapting to changing situations.

Rachel Carson: Quiet Leadership

In regards to a leader I admire, I chose environmentalist Rachel Carson (1907-1964). Despite being able to facilitate and engage in transformation, I am, at my core, an introvert. After reading the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and watching the author’s TED talk (Cain, 2012), I started thinking about leaders who fall into the introvert category. Carson sticks out to me as a quiet leader. She did serious work that led to lasting change–much of it coming posthumously. She also didn’t seek the limelight.

Koehn (2012) describes Carson as a person “who preferred walking the Maine shoreline to stalking the corridors of power.” That is true of me: I like to get away and be outside. I want time to think about big projects before acting. Like Carson, I’m not a cage rattler, preferring to do my research and influence people with my findings. However, perhaps unlike Carson, I also recognize that a “just the facts” approach won’t work with everyone. You need to weave a story and touch both hearts and minds.  

With Carson, I’m struck by her “no complaints” lifestyle. Her family had financial difficulties putting her through college and was not able to finish her Ph.D. She cared for sick relatives, took in an orphaned family members, and had her own health problems. She often had to put aside her own work to take care of these matters. Work is important, but it’s not everything. I identify with this needed ability to be flexible with life and work.

People equate introverts with shyness. I disagree. Carson used her leadership skills to develop a wide network of associates (government, nonprofits, higher education) to help her with her groundbreaking environmental studies and stood up to the chemical lobby when needed (Koehn, 2012). I admire this ability to use quiet leadership to stand up for your convictions. Rachel Carson’s tenacity combined with modesty, preparation, and problem-solving are qualities I seek to emulate.


Post-Assignment Note

This assignment helped me see my leadership attributes through the eyes of my colleagues. It’s important to step back and see how others view you. In identifying a “famous” person whose leadership style I admire, I was attracted to Rachel Carson’s “quiet” leadership style. Perhaps predictable for a librarian, but a powerful style nonetheless.


References

Cain, S. (2012, February). Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Chen, S-S. (2006). Leadership styles and organization structural configurations. Journal of Human Resource & Adult Learning, 39-46. 

Koehn, N.F. (2012, October 27). From calm leadership, lasting change. The New York Times

Rooke, D., & Torbert, W.R. (2005). Seven transformations of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 83(4), 66-76.

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