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.

Librarian Personality Types, sans Legos: A Look at Real Colors and StrengthsQuest

My satirical look at librarian stereotypes and personalities using Legos got me thinking about the real thing.

Last week, the division I work in at the university (Information Services: library, academic technology, management information systems, infrastructure & networking, user support, and web services–some 50+ employees) held a staff retreat. Normally, I’m not big on staff retreats. If there are roleplaying games, “trust” falls, or kumbaya songs, I immediately tune out. You’ll see why in a bit.

To get us thinking about our work environment, strengths, and how we interact with co-workers, a facilitator was brought in to administer the Real Colors personality assessment. Real Colors takes the 16 personality types from the Myers-Briggs test and boils it down to four temperaments. Each is assigned a color: gold, blue, green, and orange.

What’s Your Color?

In finding your color, you first examine a series of pictures assigned to each color. After that, you read textual descriptions of the colors, and wrap-up by answering 10 multiple choice questions. You receive a score for each color, ranging from the low teens to mid-40s. The higher the number, the more dominant you are in that color. This is a copyrighted test, so I can’t provide all of the details, but here are some takeaways:

What do the colors mean and how are they applicable to librarians?

Gold: practical, well-organized, punctual, rules, authority, uncomfortable with change. To me, this screams cataloger or circulation worker: where rules and authority are key.

Blue: insightful, caring, compassionate, patient, loves to talk, avoids conflict. I could see many children’s librarians and some instruction librarians filling this category.

Green: curious/asks questions, independent, research-oriented, logical, questions authority, avoids discussing feelings. Reference librarian, anyone?

Orange: competitive, performer, enthusiastic, rule breaker, bored easily. Typified by entrepreneurs. So maybe some forward-thinking library directors belong to this category? It tends to be a small group for our field.

Many of my co-workers scored 40+ in one particular color and teens for their lowest color. A few of us, like me, didn’t have such a wide spread. I came out to:

Green 38 / Blue 32 / Gold 27 / Orange 23 – I’m choosing to read this as an adaptable person who can work well with people of all color types.

After scoring, we were then placed into groups according to our color and examined the meanings more closely. Here’s where I realized that a green personality like myself dislikes group work and staff retreats: greens are independent! (although I do consider myself a team player).

The facilitator asked our groups questions like, “How do you organize your sock drawer?” Many of the gold personalities (being organized) arranged socks by color or type (sounds like a cataloger!), while some orange personalities (rule breakers) didn’t even have a sock drawer at all–or did not care.

In another example, the facilitator asked: “If a friend asked you for advice in buying a camera, what would you say?” The green group (reference librarians!) basically treated it as a reference interview: What kinds of things do you want to do with your camera? How much are you looking to spend? Have you seen the Consumer Reports? – all hallmarks of a green personality.

Approach with Caution

Because this test boils down personality types to just four colors, it’s important to remember that although you may be dominant in one category, everyone possesses qualities of each category. Case in point, the facilitator asked me: “What would you do if you won the Powerball or MegaMillions lottery?”

My response:

I would quit my job on the spot!

Now I like my job and my place of work, but a typical green personality response would be to look at all of your options and to invest the money wisely. Evidently, a little of my orange personality seeped into my response: life is too short, do the things you want to do if you have the money to do it! Being Mr. Library Dude is good, but being Mr. Lottery Winner sounds better. 🙂

Discussion wrapped up with how we can communicate better with people of different personality types. This is key. It’s not “bad” to be a certain color: we all have strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has something to bring to the table. Understanding how people think and feel is important.

Focusing on Your Strengths

I think a lot of people can be turned off by personality tests because of negative qualities that might be assigned to their personality type. There’s also the risk of being pigeon-holed as a particular type of person. One test that goes in the opposite direction is StrengthsQuest/StrengthsFinder, from Gallup.

After taking a series a multiple choice questions, this survey instrument identifies your top five strengths from among 30+ categories. I did this test with my department colleagues to see how our skills complement each other. Here’s a look at my top five categories as an example:

  • Adaptability: go with the flow attitude
  • Input: likes to collect and archive information (sounds like a librarian to me!)
  • Empathy: is able to sense the feelings of others
  • Individualization: can figure out how people who are different can work together productively
  • Consistency: keen sense of treating everyone the same

What’s nice about StrengthsQuest or StrengthsFinder is that it also generates an “action plan” that highlights how you stand out, plus questions that you might want to ask yourself to help maximize your strengths. This test is great to do in large departments. If you work in an academic library, this might be a tool to use with your student employees to highlight their strengths and to help them develop their skills.

So if you’re thinking of doing a personality test for your library, give Real Colors or StrengthsQuest/StrengthsFinder a try. Of course, being a green personality type: I researched the issue and gave you a couple options to try. That’s the reference librarian in me.

Image, Public Perception, and Lego Librarians

I love seeing how the public and the media portray librarians. Whether it’s the shushing/conservative stereotype, “naughty librarian” stereotype, under-appreciated & over-worked public servant (this one is NSFW-but one of my faves!), dealing with inept patrons, or even ones that combine the brainy stereotype with sexiness – I eat it up. I wonder if accountants or architects feel the same way when they see their field portrayed?

Entering Pop Culture

So, how do we know when librarians have hit the big time? Lego has introduced a Lego Librarian – part of its minifigures series line. This line of minifigures is an eclectic group. Series #10, which the librarian belongs to, also includes a warrior woman, sad clown, and a paintball player among others. In fact, the librarian is the only viable career option in the set! How cool is that?

There are 150+ minifigures, only about 10 require a college degree, so the librarian is in rare company!

Here’s the Lego Librarian [screen capture from the Lego website]:

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The official Lego Librarian, part of Minifigures Series 10.

OK, so it plays into several librarian stereotypes…but I would expect nothing less. The Lego character must be easily identifiable to the public: “Oh yeah, THAT is a librarian!” So, what do we have?…

  • Female? Check.
  • Glasses? Check.
  • Cardigan? Check.
  • Sensible hair? Check.
  • Book? Check.
  • Coffee cup that reads “Shhh!” Check.

Oranges and Peaches

The creators went to some lengths to add a bit of fun. There’s even an inside joke in regards to the “Oranges and Peaches” book. It’s a reference to the 1995 movie Party Girl starring Parker Posey as a library clerk. In the scene below, a patron asks for Darwin’s Origin of Species. The Parker character mistakes it for “Oranges and Peaches”:

A Biographical Story

The Lego Librarian comes with a brief bio. Again, it plays into some trite stereotypes, but it’s fun:

Books are just about the Librarian’s most favorite thing in the entire world. Reading them can take you on exciting adventures in far-off lands, introduce you to new friends and cultures, and let you discover poetry, classic literature, science fiction and much more. If only everybody loved to read as much as she does, the world would be a better place…and quieter, too! The Librarian feels that it’s extremely important to treat a book with the proper respect. You should always use a bookmark instead of folding down the corner of the page. Take good care of the dust jacket, and don’t scribble in the margins. And above all else, never – ever – return it to the library late!

It’s no surprise that the Lego Librarian is female. It should be. We’re a female-dominated profession. It makes sense. But I wanted to have some fun, so I decided to to see if I could make the librarian version of me – Mr. Library Dude. It was not hard.

I grabbed the Lego computer programmer minifigure. He’s wearing a sweater vest and glasses. Doesn’t that scream male librarian? I actually think I have that EXACT sweater vest! I added an iPhone (those who know me never see me without mine) and I invented the Mr. Library Dude Lego Librarian:

This is Mr. Library Dude.

This is Mr. Library Dude.

Lego Librarians on Parade

So besides the official Lego Librarian version and my knock-off, how might we portray other librarians in Lego form? Or what other ways are we perceived by peers or the public? I decided to take a stab at it and had a bit of fun. Maybe you even know a few of these. So here’s my satirical take. What would you add?

Note: Naturally, the LEGO images below are popular with children. Please be forewarned: there is a bit of cursing below.

Update: By popular request, I have added a children’s librarian. Look for the chicken suit!

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”  🙂