Library Managers — It is Time To Let Go

When I had a significant ‘0' birthday a few years ago my family bought me a ticket to tandem jump out of a plane. This for a woman who is scared of heights — and yes if you are wondering they do profess to love me! As they also bought one for my daughter there was no backing out as one parenting motto I have always kept is never pass on your own irrational fears to your children. So it was show no fear on the day in question. The day of the jump was sunny with minimal wind so it was all systems go. There is always the photo opportunity at the door of the plane as you stick your legs out into nothing at 14,000 feet and my daughter’s photo is of her smiling — mine is of me screaming and hanging onto the door, terror had taken over. But I did jump (or to be truthful the skydiver strapped to me jumped) and to do so I had to let go of the door.

I am sharing this with you as library staff have been sharing their stories with me about their perceived or real sense of the library world as a world of micromanagers — the Branch Librarian, the Circulation supervisor, the Library Manager — all who portray leadership styles which focus on control, process and administration and also often second guess any decisions or actions their team members take. In fact their greatest strength appears to be to point out the weakness in the argument or to highlight mistakes or to strike down an idea because we have already tried that. And this was highlighted for me by this blog post by the Leadership Freak.

So how do we as the Managers in question move our management style to one that develops our team members, supports innovation and become more effective as leaders?

  1. Trust: In my experience to be comfortable ‘letting go’ I needed to trust who I was handing the control to and also to have a clear understanding of decision points and to have agreed check in points. This is true in managing any team too. First step is to clearly communicate the outcome of the task and accept that there are many alternative ways of achieving that outcome other than your ideas. Be very clear about the stakes that are on the line for the project — both for you as a Manager and for the team. And then launch the trust aspect — trust your team / staff to do the job you have passed on to them. Set up agreed check in points through the project so that you feel comfortable that the job is being done and have an agreed timeline. If your default style is micromanagement and control you will be very uncomfortable at this point but it is important for Managers to cultivate a mindset of coaching rather than telling to support meaningful change in our libraries. This starts with the leaders and we must practice embracing uncertainty to embed a culture of innovation in our industry.

2. Keep it simple: Another practice I have observed in libraries is the practice of embedding process upon process to address ineffective team behaviors. This also gives an impression of micromanagement and can purposefully slow down an organisation. For staff who are creative, have ideas and are passionate about what they do this adds to the frustration. So deal with the behaviors, have the difficult conversations with the individuals who are exhibiting the behaviors and invest in calling out the behavior when it is exhibited. Ask for feedback regarding duplicated or inefficient processes and communicate with your team what the process is meant to achieve. This could be a great project to let your staff run with — how to achieve the process outcome with minimal process!

3. Be Clear: Be very clear about the drivers for ideas and change that you are looking for and will accept. It all starts with the customer — needs to be the start and the end of why we need to build a culture of innovation. And to find the simple idea that will deliver real value and improve our customer’s experience. So make the decision making framework very clear, very simple and then a clear and simple project management framework to allow staff to work through to the outcome. Factor in check in points with you at all the key project decision points to allow you to give input, slightly pivot the project if needed and always to point out the key strengths of the project team and to refocus on the outcome if needed. Lisa Kay Solomon has some very interesting points on this in her blog about embedding innovation into everyone’s day job.

4. Pull back — but slowly: So you have reflected on your management style and admit to a tendency to micromanage now you need to get more comfortable about letting go — at least a little. Do some self reflection about why you micromanage. Be honest about any insecurities that you have that is feeding this tendency. Get feedback from a trusted peer and start a mantra ‘My way is not the only, or even the best way’ . Yes, I know that is a surprise but micromanaging every detail really does limit your team’s development and means that your focus is on the little picture instead of the big picture.

5. And finally- Just Let Go. I am confident your team will learn to step up to the challenge you set them and as you will have built in greater accountability along the way with less of your interference their performance will shine. I landed safely on the ground after an amazing, terrifying experience and I am sure you will too.



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Jane Cowell

Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics