So, you want to be a manager? Or, maybe you already are a manager and want to do the best job possible in your management practice. Then this show is for you. On this episode of Library Leadership Podcast I speak with Austina Jordan, Head of Access Services at the University of North Georgia, who helps us explore the essentials of management including ways to integrate adaptive leadership, set expectations, fairly apply policies, and even avoid common mistakes we can make as managers. Ultimately, we want happy employees. This episode will help us get there. References for Management in Libraries:
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This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re 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.
So, you want to be a manager. Or, maybe you already are a manager and want to do the best job possible in your management practice. Then this show is for you. On this episode of Library Leadership Podcast I speak with Austina Jordan, Head of Access Services at the University of North Georgia, who helps us explore the essentials of management— including ways to integrate adaptive leadership, set expectations, fairly apply policies, and even avoid common mistakes we can make as managers. Ultimately, we want happy employees. This episode will help us get there.
Enjoy the show!
Austina, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
Question #1: Thank you for being here. I am excited to jump right in today, talking about managing in libraries. You say that there are some myths and realities when it comes to managing. What are these? 01:36
I think the first real big thing I have learned in my own experience in the last few years working in management, is that people tend to think that it’s going to be clear and predictable, and that might just be the biggest miss of them all.
But, I also in my own professional development came across a book from Linda Hill called, Becoming a Manager. She had a really good chart in there where she talked about these myths and the realities about what it actually means to manage, right? Because there’s this thing—we have this idea of what it’s going to be like. And then we have the reality of it, right?
One of the things she talks about in there is that oftentimes we think that management is about authority, I’m over you. You will do what I say. But really—real clear effective management is where there’s interdependency between the manager and the employee, or the staff member.
Another thing is that when we think about the focus of management, I think a lot of times, people think that it’s really just about you and another employee. Or, say I have a team of—I think fourteen people on my team. I don’t directly supervise everybody. But, it’s not just about me and those individuals, but it’s about me and the rest of the team, and how we work together. So, it’s about management one-on-one, but also management and leading a team. And then trusting the people who are maybe—who report to me, then also supervise, that we are working together collectively. So, it’s not just about that singular relationship, but about the collective.
I think when we think about some of the myths and realities of management it is around some of the key challenges. We often think that we just have to cope with the complexity of things. This is one of the things that Linda talks about in her book. But, the other thing is that the reality of the situation is that we have to cope with complexity and with change.
Change is inevitable. Things are just always going to be changing. That’s just how it is. Then, lastly, another thing that’s important to think about is that we think often—we expect that management’s going to be very technical, and it’s very black and white. But reality is that it is technical, but there are also—as she discusses in the book, there are human and conceptual realities inside of what it means to be a manager. Because any time people are involved, things are complex. So, I think those are some things to think about in regard to the myths of management, and then also what it’s actually like in practicality.
Question #2: How can adaptive leadership help with the management process? 04:22
You know I’ve spent some time over the last year thinking about leadership. I started last August to further a doctorate in education. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership practices. One that’s risen to the top for me is this adaptive leadership model. I think that it’s helpful for management, for people who are directly supervising individuals in a team, because I think it gives a really good frame for how management can work out on a day-to-day basis.
I think four of the key principles of adaptive leadership are emotional intelligence, which more and more we’re beginning to realize that people who are good at being in leadership positions have really good emotional intelligence, and that they lead with empathy, and that we don’t have to be cold and divided from the people that we supervise, but that we can have healthy relationships with boundaries, and that we can recognize that, I’m a person and you’re a person, and we can work together. We’re going to make mistakes sometimes, but we can learn from this, right? And that we can build trust in the process.
Another thing I think is important about adaptive leadership is that it is rooted in having a culture of honesty. I think it’s really important when you’re a manager, when you’re in leadership that you lead with transparency and with honesty. Obviously, there are times when you can’t say everything you know and maybe only certain people within your team can know things at various points, but for a good leader to be effective, they’re going to take the time to have conversations with people that may be very complicated and difficult, but be willing to have those complex conversations.
Adaptive leaders—one of the other things important is that they have an eye towards development, not just for their team, but for themselves as a person. Right? So, I’ve never—I don’t think I’ve arrived as a person. A good adaptive leader is somebody who’s always willing to learn new things, and to hear new ideas, and not get stuck in their ways. There’s nothing worse than being in a workplace culture that’s so constantly idolized, Well, we’ve always done it that way. Well, it may be the fact that you’ve always done things that way, but perhaps there might be a new way now. And, there might be something that’s more effective.
The fourth piece of the adaptive leadership is a leader who has a really good sense of character, and they want to instill that same kind of behavior with their team. They want people who care about their actions and how they relate to each other. So, I think adaptive leadership—I think it’s helpful for management because they’re very practical, and I think they help to give a good frame for how these things work out in our day-to-day work lives.
Question #3: Adaptive leadership is so helpful. What expectations should we set as managers? 07:22
So, I think one of the key things for managers is that you are communicating clearly. I have recently jumped on the Brené Brown bandwagon and I have her—she’s got a thing on her website where you can print out word art. She has her little phrase that she uses that is, Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind. And, I think clear communication is essential for a manager. For themselves, but then also to expect clear communication from their staff, and from their employees. Then there’s a lot of other things that go into setting expectations. I think it’s important that we don’t assume things about the people we work with, that we don’t micromanage our employees.
And micromanagement is—I think it’s a word that people throw around. It’s this idea that people have—and I think it’s something that’s kind of a complex idea, and that one person’s version of micromanagement is another person’s version of, Oh, I was just trying to make sure that we were on the same page, right? So, I think that making sure that people are clear about how you’re going to check in on things.
In the same vein you are also being reasonable with your goals. I think that it’s important that you set goals that are realistic, and that you’re willing to reevaluate those goals along the way. Maybe you set a plan for your team for the year and you get six months in and you’ve had five goals and you’ve only accomplished one of them. So, maybe it’s time to hit pause and have a conversation about where you’re at. And maybe, are things not going the speed at which you thought they should because of other issues? But, I think having reasonable goals is important.
That also ties to time management. Time management is a huge struggle for everyone. There’s so many things that can distract us. Having a place where people feel like they can have conversations with each other in passing, and that they don’t always—just because a person is busy doesn’t mean they’re being productive. I think it’s helpful to help employees understand what your workplace expectations are in terms of how they use their time. Because sometimes sitting in the breakroom having a cup of coffee is where ideas happen. It’s not always replying to emails. But that sometimes, those human interactions are where the creativity can really happen.
I think another expectation is creating space for employees to give you feedback, and that it’s not always about me evaluating employees, but that they can provide feedback about how things are going, and that they can say things honestly. Sometimes people think—have this sense they have to be a certain way around their boss, right? It’s like, Well, no, let’s get back to that adaptive leadership, and the empathy, and the transparency. I think it’s better for people to have honest and frank conversations with the eye towards learning and growth, and having a culture where you’re working towards goals together. And it’s not me, the puppet master—but that we’re working on things together.
As far as expectations, I think we have to model the behavior that we expect from our teams and that it’s not like, We get to do this one set of things, and they get to do another, but that we’re modeling good workplace behavior, and that we are also working toward those expectations that we have for them ourselves.
Question #4: And we know that even with the best of intentions things can go awry. What do we do when conflict arises? 11:12
I think that as a manager it’s important to pay attention to workplace behaviors, and how people communicate with each other. I think it’s important that we not assume that just because everything looks like it’s okay, that everything is okay. I don’t think conflict is necessarily a bad thing. I think there’s healthy conflict, and I think there’s really toxic and unhealthy conflict. Knowing the difference between those two things, and that’s obviously going to be really situational—but, I think it’s important to acknowledge conflict is going to happen and that we need to deal with it. Sometimes conflict can lead to productive conversations.
The other thing, too—and I struggle with this even in my own work-life, is to not internalize that conflict and have it be, Oh, this person doesn’t like me. Just because someone disagrees with the way that you want to approach a project, or an idea—it’s not necessarily an attack on you as a person. It’s just that they may have a different perspective because they bring different skills to the table.
I think it’s important to deal with the conflicts, to look at the root of the conflict. I think we need to manage our expectations around those communication practices where we deal with conflict so that we have boundaries about how we’re going to get through those things. This reiterates what I already said, but a disagreement is not the same thing as fighting. In a workplace where ideas are being shared, and where we’re working on things to achieve goals together, I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes we’re just going to disagree, and that’s okay. Obviously at some point a decision has to be made about the direction, but working through those disagreements can actually help a project and make things be more creative than if we’re like, Well, I just comply and go along, because I don’t want to disagree with the group.
Then to remember that we’re all grown-ups here–that we’re all at the workplace together, and we should be respectful in our disagreement. Using things where we cut down on each other—there’s no space for that in a workplace, from my professional viewpoint. We have to be respectful in the workplace, and to treat each other with dignity. I just think that’s really important.
The other thing when we think about the toxic side of that—why people fight at work. I think a lot of times people have—there’s other things going on in their lives outside of work that spill over, and then maybe other people catch the backlash of that. Giving employees the space to be transparent in their own way like, I’m having a really hard time at home, or I got in a fight with my parents, whatever. But, that we recognize sometimes outside forces make us do things that we regret—to work through giving people space to say like, Hey, I’m sorry. To acknowledge when something bad happens, but to be accountable for that. I think those are some things to think about.
Sometimes people—the insecurity issue, and then the power and control, right? Who’s in charge here? Sometimes people think, try to be—their behavior is negative because they’re trying to assert their authority within a team setting. I think it’s important to know why there might be conflict, and how to resolve it. It goes back to the clear communication.
Question #5: How do policies help in the management process? 15:02
Policies are really important. There’s not a whole lot of people who like to think about policy. I think it’s important that policies be clear. It’s not enough to just have a policy manual—you’ve got to know what’s in that manual. You’ve got to know how you’re accountable to it and how your employees are accountable to it. And they also need to be responsible for knowing those policies.
If you just have a policy manual that sits on the desk, and no one looks at it except once a year to review it to update it, that’s not really useful. Basically it’s your in-house laws. It’s how you hold each other accountable, and how you begin the process of setting clear expectations for workplace behaviors. Things around leave policies, and how people report leaves, and absences. It’s not really exciting and fun to read policy, but I think it’s important that it gets read on an annual basis. I always revisit it with employees. Remind them where the handbook is. I want to be familiar with it, but I often will give them—if someone asks me a question I’ll give them a little bit of a hook and say, This is an introduction to this, but remember you can find that yourself, too in the handbook.
Within an organization—my university, we’ve got an employee handbook, but then we also have a policy manual within our division about how we do things. Consistency is really important. If you’re going to have policy you’ve got to follow it, and you’ve got to follow it the way it’s written. You can’t follow policy for this person, and do it slightly different for this person, right? You need to be able to interpret it, and to know what it looks like in a practical way, not just like it says, X, Y, and Z, but how does this work itself out in a practical real way.
Question #6: When it comes to professional development and mentorship, what should we think about to enhance our performance as managers? 17:07
It’s very important that we start out with a posture of growth and adaptation. That we not be stagnant. I like to go to conferences. I like to take classes. It’s one of the reasons I went back to grad school to work on my doctorate. I haven’t been in school in over twenty years, and I’m discovering that I really enjoy being a student. I don’t know if I want to be a student for the next twenty years, but for this time period I’m finding that it really is allowing me to flourish intellectually. But, it’s also opened up some windows for me to think about things in different contexts. If we want to create a learning organization, a place where people are learning together it’s important that we are also willing to learn. It’s not just like, You need to go do these things because you are early in your career. But, we should always have an eye toward growth.
In terms of the mentoring thing, I think it’s important that we seek to mentor others, both within our organization and then outside. But then also, that we ourselves have someone who we can look to for mentoring, whether formally, or informally. I probably have about four people who I—some people I go to on a regular basis, some people I only ever talk to, maybe once or twice a year. But, those conversations I have with them are pivotal. They are encouraging. It’s almost like they help me reset my compass. To remind me of the things I value, and the things that got me into being a librarian in the first place.
As a librarian, who also happens to be a manager, sometimes I can feel like all I do is do management stuff. I have to remind myself, I do this stuff because I like the work of the library. I think it’s just really important that we make space for ourselves to learn. And that we also make space to learn together with our staff, and the leadership team. In our library right now we’re reading a book together, and I’m really excited about that. Because, I think you build trust when you’re learning things in common, together. Making space for that is essential for a healthy and effective workplace.
Question #7: We should always be leaning into that growth. I like that you talk about that. I like that you’re sharing so many positive things that we can be doing in the management process. Sometimes though we make mistakes, right? What are some of the common things that we can fall into as managers in that realm? 19:39
The job I’m in right now as Head of Access Services—I started in October of 2019, just a few months before COVID unraveled everything for everyone. I was really trying to set some goals for myself. One of the ways I was trying to set some goals—I was thinking about, What are some mistakes other people have made, right? Because I think that we can learn—mistakes are not always a bad thing. They can feel like it in the moment but, I think that learning from other people’s mistakes can be helpful.
I appreciate people who are transparent in telling their stories about when they’ve messed up, or when they had a sidestep. I think that it’s important that I in turn be transparent about my own experiences and the mistakes I’ve made. I ran across—there’s a really good website called The Balance Careers. They had this really clear top ten mistakes that they say management makes when managing people, right? I’m just going to read them because they’re so good, and they really helped me frame and think about some goals for myself. These are mistakes. What’s the opposite of this?
The first mistake they say is that people fail to get to know their employees as people. They’re people. They’re not just employees.
They fail to provide clear directions.
They fail to trust their employees.
They fail to listen and hear their employees.
They make decisions and then ask.
They fail to react to problems and issues that will soon fester if they’re ignored, right? So, that goes back to the conflict thing. Sometimes managing conflict is—people don’t want to do it and so they just ignore it hoping it goes away. And it’s this festering thing, it just gets worse.
They try to be friends with employees who report to them. Having clear boundaries is really tricky. What does it mean to be friendly with your employees, versus being friends with them? That is—I don’t necessarily have the answer to that, but it’s something that I think a lot about.
They fail to communicate effectively. And, they purposely withhold information.
Then the last two things they talk about—not treating all employees equally. You cannot play favorites, you just can’t. It’s never good.
The last one is that they talk about throwing employees under the bus. That is just—it’s interesting they talk about not trusting people. I think when you throw your employees under the bus and you make them the scapegoat, it just communicates to everybody on the team, whether it’s the person who got thrown under the bus, or the bystanders that you will do things no matter what the consequences to try and make yourself look like you’re not at fault. There’s never going to be a good outcome when that happens. Never.
This list has been really helpful for me to think about how I can create a workplace where people want to come to work, and where they feel valued and trusted.
Question #8: Such a clear and helpful list. Thank you so much for sharing that. Ultimately we want happy employees. What would you say makes this most likely? 23:10
A lot of times people think big salaries will make people happy, and I think while people’s compensation is important, there are some things that might be more important in a lot of ways. Clear and timely feedback, nobody likes to have someone say, I need this thing by Friday, and then they get it in on time, and then crickets, right? If you give someone a deadline, you should then commit to saying, I’m going to give you a response to what you’ve provided within 48 hours, right? Two work days. Just so that they have some sort of expectation.
It’s important to encourage your employees. It’s also important if you need to give feedback to them, that’s maybe going to be perceived as negative, that you do it in a kind way that sets the expectation about where things went wrong, and that they know though, that you’re saying that with an eye towards helping them grow.
I think it’s important that we make space for people to try stuff. Brenè Brown talks a lot about this where people maybe don’t take a risk because they’re afraid, Well, what happens if I fail? Are you going to fire me? I think if we can create space for people to fail and to succeed, that’s going to be really valuable and allow people to be creative.
Having a workplace for people to have flexibility and where they are appreciated and where they’ve got autonomy to some degree, right? There’s certainly going to be organizational expectations about what can, and can’t happen. But, I think when people are given you know, I need this thing done. I’m going to let you an opportunity to think about how to make it happen, rather than me prescribe the fifty steps that it’s going to take to get from the idea to the end product. So, I think those are some effective ways that can help people flourish in the workplace, and to grow as individuals.
Question #9: We definitely want people to flourish and grow in the workplace, so I’m glad you shared those. Is there anything else you’d like to share? 25:28
I think that it’s important for people to—people who are wanting to enter into management, and then maybe those who are seasoned managers, is to be kind to themselves and to recognize you’re going to make mistakes. But when you do make a mistake, own up to it. It’s astounding to me how much people appreciate a person who’s in leadership who’s willing to acknowledge their mistakes, and that they don’t hide behind them, or try and blame someone else or rationalize like, Yeah, I made a mistake. I didn’t do what I said I was going to do, or I missed a deadline–just to be patient with yourself, and to trust your judgement, but also be willing to allow people to speak into your life, and to allow people to speak into your growth as a person, and to surround yourself both inside your organization, and then outside with people who are going point you towards your values and the things that you want out of life.
A lot of people like to talk about things like,This is my professional world, and this is my personal world. The fact is that stuff’s going to overflow into the other regardless, as hard as we may try to have very clear lines. You can’t separate the two completely. I think it’s important to set boundaries for yourself, but then also to acknowledge that things are going to change along the way and to be flexible and to be willing to hit pause when you need to. There are periods in life where you just have to keep plodding along, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other.
Question #10: Do you have a favorite management, or leadership book, and why? 27:30
I’ve got a few things I want to share. I love the Harvard Business Review—that you can get a handful of articles for free each month—or I think for a pretty nominal cost you can actually get a subscription for them. It is super practical. Everyone of their articles are written by people who are experts in the field. They just are really good communicators, and the articles are really approachable. I have found everything that I’ve read there to be really helpful and practical.
I also really, really like the website, Ask A Manager.org. Somebody pointed me to that several years ago and it’s really interesting. It’s super practical, and she has a lot of really great advice. It’s written by a woman named Alison Green. People send in questions to her and she answers them. She’s done a lot of writing in a bunch of different business publications, but her website is super—it’s just really interesting and creative, and she’s very insightful.
Then this summer I actually took a class about value and ethics in leadership. Actually the textbook for that class—I don’t know a lot of people that would come on to a show and rave about the textbook, but this textbook was so interesting. It’s called, Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light Over Shadow, by Craig Johnson.
It was really helpful in terms of helping me understand the complex nature of what it means to be a leader and how that relates to management. Just because people are leaders doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a manager. Some people would even argue that not all managers are actually leaders. But, I think this book helped me recognize that you’ve got to make connections between your values, and your ethics in the workplace. You cannot separate the two.
And then again, anything Brenè Brown writes I will read. She’s been really influential and helpful for me to grow as a person, and I think that she is doing a lot of really good work around helping people understand shame and vulnerability in the workplace, and how to have healthy workplaces.
Question #11: Those are great resources, thank you so much for sharing them. Austina, in closing what do libraries mean to you, personally? 29:45
I have been working in academic libraries for over fifteen years. I actually started out as a student assistant my senior year of college. I just always have—I love that libraries create a space for people to discover, and to connect with ideas that are going to move them toward their goals, and the things they want. I think that having access to information is increasingly important. But I think one of the things, especially as an academic librarian, it’s not enough to have access to the information, but I think one of the things that librarians are working really diligently at is helping people learn how to contextualize that information. Because, I think being able to contextualize the information you have access to is central to your growth as a person in life. That is a skill. I tell students all the time like, You may not think that what we’re talking about right now is going to help you beyond this research paper but you will use these skills. They will transfer into the workplace.
People who are lifelong learners are going to be successful employees, and successful in professional and personal endeavors. So, I love that the library is sort of symbolic of lifelong learning. You have one in the K-12 environment. You have one in the college environment, and then we have public libraries, right—where people can go regardless of their station in life. So, I think the symbol of lifelong learning is what it is really about for me.
I think that concept of lifelong learning is a great way to close out this episode, Austina. It has been so wonderful to talk to you, and you’ve given us all a path through some lifelong learning concepts here that we can use in our own management practice every day as leaders in libraries. So, thank you so much for being on the show.
Thank you so much, it was a pleasure talking with you this afternoon.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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