Library Leadership

65. The Ideal Qualities of Library Leaders and Employees with Dr. Anthony Chow & Ashley Conte

Want to be an ideal library leader or employee? Today’s guests offer insights into just what that looks like. Dr. Anthony Chow, Associate Professor at The University of North Carolina Greensboro, and Ashley Conte, Librarian at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library, share research that examines what we all can do to up-our-game as both leaders and employees.

Transcript

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Adriane: 

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You are listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations and strategic insights into the profession. Want to be an ideal leader or employee? 

Today’s guests offer insights into just what that looks like. Dr. Anthony Chow, an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and Ashley Conte, Librarian at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library share research that examines what we can all do to up-our-game as both leaders and employees. You won’t want to miss it. Enjoy the show. Welcome to the show, Dr. Chow and Ashley.

Dr. Chow:

Thank you, Adriane. We really appreciate the opportunity to share our research with you.

Ashley Conte:

Yes, thank you for having us.

Adriane:

Oh, I appreciate it, and thank you for talking with me today because we’re going to discuss the ideal qualities of library leaders and employees, which is so interesting. 

Question #1: First of all, how did the work on this topic come about, and why is it important? 01:36  

Dr. Chow:

Adriane, I’ve been working on this for over twenty years, as a faculty member and teaching at the graduate level. I teach the core class on Library Leadership and Management. So certainly one of the things we want to make sure that what we’re teaching our students is not only valid but also contemporary. So I think one of the reasons I wanted to work on that article was to make sure that what we were teaching our students was spot-on.

Ashley Conte:

This work that Dr. Chow and I are doing now is actually an extension of the 2013 article that he actually wrote called, The Ideal Qualities and Tasks of Library Leaders. So like you said, we’re just keeping the research current because it’s important to keep assessing these skills, and the field is ever-changing.

Adriane:

Libraries are changing rapidly. Some leadership skills are specific to a given environment, yet your work shows that there’s a core set of qualities for successful library leaders. 

Question #2: What are these? 02:32 

Dr. Chow: 

That’s a good question, Adrian. We like to break it up into two parts, the leadership and management. What we found as the core principles of leaders are empathy, vision, flexibility, and communication. And that was really based on our 2013 work. We’ll talk about our new findings in just a second. And for managers, we found that really overseeing the organization in terms of operational procedures, being task-focused, and being approachable were the criteria, or variables that were most spoken of by leaders and managers and also their employees. 

Ashley Conte:

The interviews we found—what Dr. Chow said that the empathy, vision, flexibility, and communication were core. We heard a lot of vision and communication, specifically this go-around.

Adriane: 

Question #3:  So a lot of vision and communication, and this comes from your new work. Do you want to talk about the new work that you’ve been doing? 03:28 

Dr. Chow:

Yes, absolutely. So where the 2013 work was really a deep content analysis of transcripts from different types of library leaders, what we decided to do this time—one, update the work of seven years apart, was to really look at it from a 360° view. So that meant talking to leaders and managers about what they believed the ideal qualities are and also asking them about the ideal qualities of employees. Then we also asked their employees the same questions. So, we are really happy with this work, and Ashley did a great job doing a lot of the in-the-field data collection. I think our findings are pretty valid because they really are coming from every perspective.

Adriane:

Question #4: Can you talk about what the research looked like and how you got involved with this? 04:22 

Dr. Chow:

Basically we did interviews with select leaders across the state in different areas. Then we took those responses and created a survey that went out to additional library leaders, managers, and employees. And the primary findings—leaders focused again more outwards. They’re focusing more on creating the vision, motivating staff and driving the organization forward. Whereas managers, more discretely, are again looking at operational procedures, looking inward to make sure that they’re being task-focused and interacting and being approachable with the staff. Ashley?

Ashley Conte:

Yes, so the interviews were just with library leaders in the field, and all different types of libraries. We did want to give the employees, in all types of libraries, a chance to get in a word as well for what they looked for from their leaders, and even what they looked for from their co-workers. Like Dr. Chow said, we took what we found in those interviews and then we turned it into a survey where we gave the opportunity for a large number of library employees to raise and comment on these topics. We found that it works with what the interview answer said. So, they were stating the same things for leaders, and managers, and for their co-workers that leaders and managers were saying. So, it all wrapped very nicely in that 360° view.

Adriane:

Question #5:  So we all know a successful organization is comprised of both effective leaders and effective employees. What does your study tell us about the employees’ side of things? 06:06 

Dr. Chow:

Well, that’s a good question. What we actually found, building on what Ashley said, is that there’s actually some consistency as far as what each group thought of one another. Ashley, if you want to report out on what the employees talked about as far as what they’re looking for in leaders as well as what they’re looking for in co-workers, that’d be great.

Ashley Conte:

So, what we heard from leaders is that when they’re looking for library employees, when they classify an excellent library employee, there are four qualities that were mentioned consistently. That is showing initiative, being self-motivated, being passionate about the work, and demonstrating a willingness to learn new skills. So not only did leaders look for these skills in employees, but employees also wanted these skills in their co-workers. 

We also found that a lot of the desirable qualities for excellent leaders and managers are also desirable for excellent employees. Because obviously, the employees of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. Also, there’s this mentality that you can really be a leader no matter your position in the library or the information organization, as long as you demonstrate those qualities.

Adriane:

Question #6: Fantastic. So you interviewed both leaders and employees. You got their takes, and then you combined the work into creating really a comprehensive picture about the qualities that we can all exhibit to make the libraries be the best they can be. What are the implications of all these findings? 07:47 

Dr. Chow:

Adriane, as you well know the leader is really the heart and soul of the organization and of the culture. One of the reasons I really love teaching Leadership and Management is because that’s such a pivotal role. So, the implication is that good leadership lays the framework in which to help with future performance. We hope that this research will give both current leaders and managers a leg-up in terms of comparing and contrasting their own style, and then the same thing for employees. And as Ashley well said, the current students and employees of today are the future leaders and managers of tomorrow. So, we hope the research will give everyone a leg-up and a chance to accomplish better leadership and management for the benefit of all.

Ashley Conte:

Absolutely. We are hoping that that will trickle down and just create an overall better work environment which then leads to a better library experience for all patrons. At the end of the day we do all want to provide library patrons the best service possible. So that’s definitely a way to do it, culture and work environment, for sure.

Dr. Chow:

I wanted to add too, Adriane as you know a far majority of leaders and managers are not given a whole lot of training, right? They end up being given the keys to the kingdom and not really being sure on what to do. We hope that this article will be a very clear roadmap for people that might find themselves in that situation.

Adriane:

Question #7: The article is very clear—gives specific qualities that we can strive for. I was wondering, does anything surprise you about the research as you did this? 09:38 

Dr. Chow:

I think one, would be the consistency. One of the things that we thought of when we were thinking about the research design is, I wonder if what the employees are going to say they want from their leaders and managers is going to differ widely. There’s a saying in research called redundancy. When you see redundancy you know that you’ve hit a degree of validity and reliability. 

So, I think honestly one of the biggest surprises was the consistency that we saw from all sides. That was why we called  it 360°, or data triangulation. I guess what it tells us is that we have a great deal of confidence that these findings are pretty valid, at least in North Carolina, right? Ashley?

Ashley Conte:

Yes, absolutely. That did surprise me as well. I guess one of the major things that surprised me was how much of an overlap there is in terms of qualities between leaders and managers, and then the employees as well. And that an employee can, very much, take on those traits that we really associate with leaders and managers, things like creating a vision, motivating others—typically that’s thought as, oh, well, the leader will do that. But what we found was that’s also very much a role that an employee can take on, and that what leaders look for in employees as well. So, that was also surprising and, a good surprise.

Dr. Chow:

And I wanted to add—Ashely, too that when we teach our students that’s always one of the fundamental questions, you know, how do we become successful? And I think these findings, especially when it comes straight from leaders and managers can really serve as almost a checklist. So, if you want to be successful then look at these qualities and emulate them.

Adriane:

Question #8: I think people are definitely going to want to look at your findings. If they do, where should they go to find these? 11:39 

Dr. Chow:

Well, we’re going to hope to be accepted. We haven’t submitted yet to the Journal of Library Management of LAMA, which is the Leadership and Management Division of ALA.

They published the 2013 article. We believe they’re going to publish the follow-up as well.

Adriane:

Question #9: Very good. We will watch for that. Anything else you’d like to share? 12:00 

Ashley Conte:

Just that libraries evolve all the time and that I expect what is required of library leaders will also evolve with it, which just makes this topic so important to regularly talk about and evaluate through work like we’re doing in research and also through conversation. So, podcasts like this certainly help keep the important conversation going.

Dr. Chow:

Yes, well put Ashley. I think the word I would use is agile and versatile. What we’re finding

with the qualities we’ve identified is that if practiced it can help move the organization forward in a rapidly changing environment. I think that again, as you well know Adrian, things are changing and are going to continue to change. It’s critical that these ideal qualities are in place so that leaders are asking the right questions, employees are letting the leaders know what may need to change—that communication is critical. 

Adriane:

Question #10: They certainly are changing fast. These core qualities of those of us who run libraries, who operate libraries can really help us spring-board into the future. Do we want to sum those up? Can you remind me as we start to wrap up the show, what were the skills of the leaders, the managers and the employees? 13:25 

Dr. Chow:

Sure. What we like to do as leaders is look outwards. Managers look inwards. Leaders, what we found again, is vision. The ability to motivate staff and lead the organization forward. So those three really are critical. And then for managers having and following operational procedures—that’s really a level of consistency there, being task-focused, and then always being approachable to staff. So those three for managers, and Ashley, want to finish up with the employees? 

Ashley Conte:

So, what we found for excellent employees would be: initiative, self-motivation, passion, and a willingness to learn new skills.

Adriane:

Those sound great. That sounds like the perfect team that any one of us would want to work with, doesn’t it? 

Dr. Chow:

Now, it’s always harder than it sounds, but at least we’ve got that part down.

Ashley Conte:

Easier said than done, but…

Adriane:

Question #11: Right, sure, but knowing those basics lets us develop those. Do each of you have a favorite management or leadership book, and why? 14:34 

Dr. Chow:

Yeah, I guess one thing we must confess is that Ashley was a student of mine in Management so I think we have the same two books. So, I’ll let Ashley start with the first one.

Ashley Conte:

So, I wouldn’t be a proper student in Dr. Chow’s Leadership class if I didn’t mention, First, Break All The Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in collaboration with Gallup Press. These authors give really great examples about how top managers improve employee satisfaction, and increase employee motivation. They provide what they call a measuring stick, twelve questions that can measure the strength of the workplace. Questions like: Do employees know what is expected of them? Which is really great stuff to know. 

They also provide some insights like: selecting for talent; how to define the right outcomes; and encourages managers to focus on employees strengths. 

Dr. Chow:

I also wanted to say that one of the reasons why that’s a required reading is because it was done by the Gallup organization. The sample size was 80,000 and again it’s not someone’s opinion but rather a response to a strong data set, and really coming straight from what they would call the world’s best leaders and managers.

Adriane:

Data-driven.

Dr. Chow:

Yep, data-driven, exactly. And, for me, Raving Fans. Not everyone likes Raving Fans. It is a bit dated, 1993. But it was an allegory written by Blanchard and Bowles. It is also required reading in a lot of Leadership and Management programs. Raving Fans really looks at the three secrets. And again, although it’s a bit formulaic, as you know Adrian, Leadership and Management is very difficult. 

So we leave you the twelve questions that you can take from First, Break All The Rules, and then the three secrets from Raving Fans, is at least a decent formula that’s always served as a check and balance to see how you’re doing. 

But, the three questions are setting an ideal vision, the second question is to discover what your customer wants. And the third question is delivering Plus One. So, those three are critical in any good leadership and management because, ideally you have the ideal vision. You know where you’re going, which is secret one. You customize it based on valid data from the people you’re trying to serve, and then secret three is critical because it’s delivers Plus One—and basically what they mean by that is that you must deliver only what you can do consistently, and with excellence. And then the Plus One grows very slowly so you can always achieve that balance, understanding that very frequently when we try to be exemplary to our patrons and customers we overextend ourselves, and ultimately not deliver on any of it.

Adriane:

Thank you for those recommendations. And, it sounds like books like these can help us fill in our outline of what the ideal qualities are. Once we know that, we can draw upon resources to fill in the blanks about what that looks like. I really like that.

Ashley Conte:

Absolutely.

Dr. Chow:

Absolutely.

Adriane:

Question #12: So, in closing, what do libraries mean to each of you, personally? 18:06 

Ashley Conte: 

So working in a library, in any library really, it’s just a very compassionate field filled with very kind people who make it their mission to help others. So having just completed my Masters in Library and Information study, I’m still really honored to be welcomed into this community and to have a career that feels like a calling, rather than just a job. So, I guess libraries for me, it’s definitely a calling.

Dr. Chow:

That’s great, Ashley. I’ll say that I have a continued love affair with libraries. I remember fondly going to libraries all my life, and as a child spending a lot of time there, doing all sorts of things. Obviously I think very fondly of it as I was pursuing my PhD, and all of the time in the academic library—and then finally, my children. I have three children, my youngest who is seventeen now — the relationship we have with our public library is phenomenal. 

I think a lot of people misconstrue, sometimes, that people who can afford to buy books just buy books and don’t go to the library, and that’s completely not true. I would buy some books from Barnes & Noble and then I would check out forty books each for my children to just get lost in a whole new world, and completely for free. 

Then the last thing I’ll say is I’m on the Committee for Advocacy for ALA. The role that public libraries serve in terms of equalizing the playing field and serving all those people that need us. It is really one of the best organizations in our community. 

It’s a real privilege to teach people like Ashley who are the future of our field, but more importantly I really feel that the strength of our library is where you’ll find the strength of our community. We have to keep fighting the good fight as unfortunately many of the decision-makers have that Google bias, that internet bias. We just need to keep supporting libraries and recognizing their role in society, in many ways, is more important as we go more and more digital access.

Adriane:

Thank you for those thoughts, and thank you for being on the show with me today.

Ashley Conte:

Thank you for having us.

Dr. Chow:

Yes, thank you Adrian. We really appreciate the opportunity again and it’s been a privilege getting to know you and talking to you about all of these findings.

Adriane:

Likewise. Thanks again. 

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at https://libraryleadershippodcast.com/, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening, we’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors. 

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