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How does a library leader manage him/herself when someone else is the library manager? That was the first part of the question posed to me by a colleague yesterday. How does the leader, in such a position, maintain that internal flame of creativity? How does such a leader lead in practical terms?

My own go-to resource, when faced with a matter that requires a political frame in which to examine how best to synthesize a way forward where paths appear to divide, is Socrates.  (If you know all matters of library management are political, then you can probably manage–not knowing this already, however, is no preclusion to your blossoming as a leader–albeit, a leader who best learn that all library management matters do, indeed, have a vein of politics threaded through.  Thus the big[ger] bucks). Socrates, unlike a manager, did not direct, supervise or set performance standards. Socrates asked questions, and not just random questions but questions that demand reflection, imagination and a willingness to experience some level of personal ambiguity or discomfort on the part of the person who works to find the best response to each such question.

The nonmanager leader in the library needs to learn how to frame such questions. The best questions a leader poses bring the management forward; they don’t push a personal agenda, coerce, or belittle management as it is. The best questions focus management attention on how to synthesize the leader’s new, perhaps strange (to the nonleader) vision with political reality.

And what do managers who are fairly certain that their forte is administrative rather than visionary have to offer such leaders to forestall their disaffection with outgrowing the library that needs their guiding light? Cetainly the top of the possible heap of responses to that one is a willingness for ambiguity and mild intellectual discomfort (conditions from which no one dies and unfortunately too many recover with no after effects).

Managers and leaders rarely stumble unconsciously into a healthy symbiotic relationship. It takes conscious–and conscientious–work on the parts of both to synthesize how to manage and move a library forward.

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