Library Leadership: Trait Development, the Gender Continuum, and Our Responsibility to Grow Self-Aware Leaders

I just completed a leadership analysis paper for one of the classes I am taking on Learning & Leadership for my EdD in same. The primary class text is Leaders and the Leadership Process: Readings, Self-assessments and Applications (Pierce & Newstrom, 2008), and it provides a great exploration of the different theories relating to, and dimensions of, leadership. the text combines syntheses of the literature with representative scholarly articles addressing various facets of leadership - I highly recommend it.

There are some interesting discussions going on over at the LSW Friendfeed thread about library leadership and over at Andy's blog post addressing library measures of competence.

I've got another post brewing about my own self-assessments and what I think they mean, and what I need to improve on my own tendencies, but for this post, I'm thinking about the feminine-masculine leadership trait continuum. Masculine traits include being aggressive, autocratic, task-oriented and goal-oriented, and a focus on "getting the job done," whereas more feminine leadership traits include advocating participative decision-making, relationship building, connectivity, yielding, and "affective expression for the welfare of others." [Gershenoff & Foti, "Leader Emergence and Gender Roles in All-Female Groups," Small Group Research 34.2, 2003].

I find it interesting to note largely that successful leaders in the business world tend to possess more masculine traits, or what is referred to as "androgynous" traits - the ability to adapt and blend feminine and masculine leadership traits according to the situation.

In my experience as a staff member, a librarian, and most recently a manager, I have found libraries to be largely characterized by feminine traits. I dont know if this represents our more interconnected units and tendency toward group work teams, or if it is largely a result of the profession being dominated by females for so long. What I have seen, though, is an extreme discomfort with task-oriented leadership, an inability of leaders possessing more masculine traits (and I'm one of these) to adapt and become more androgenous in their leadership traits, and a severe dependence on participative decision-making and concern for the welfare of others to the point that decisions are not made (or are so lagged as to become moot), and difficult decisions are postponed in favor of continuing affective connections to the detriment of the goals of the organization.

Certainly, goal-attainment, instrumentalism and task-orientation are not the only methods for a successful leader; and research demonstrates that reliance solely on such masculine traits leads to ego-tripping and autocracy (Pierce & Newstrom, 2008). We are all aware of this, and this seems to be one of the largest complaints about masculine-style leaders and managers - heavy handedness, inconsiderateness, callousness, and disregard for others' opinions or input all come up often in complaints about library management. On the other hand, a reliance on solely feminine leadership styles has its own downfalls, notably "subservience and neurotic complaining." (Pierce & Newstrom, 2008, p. 97) - both traits that *also* come up often in discussions about problems within the profession!

How, then, do we encourage the emergence of leaders who work on developing skills in blending the two styles? The masculine-feminine style continuum is not the only facet of leadership, but it is the one that strikes me as the duality that creates so much of the frustration with management, discussions of competency and accountability, and decision-making in librarianship. People naturally tend to a particular point on the spectrum. Unless a person scores as androgynous, which affords them the strengths of both the masculine and the feminine, and possesses the flexibility and sensitivity to determine their actions and reactions based on the situation, how do the rest of us train ourselves?

In my own particular situation, I know I have to engage in regular critical reflection and solicitation of feedback from my staff, colleagues and superiors to ensure I am maintaining a good balance. This is not easy. Being a manager is not a magical panacea. I don't have all the answers. And I need to keep an eye not only on my department, my library, my profession, and my colleagues, I need to learn to be in a constant state of self-assessment. It makes me wonder - does this critical reflection just come naturally to all the other managers and leaders I admire? Does having to work so hard to ensure balance mean that I am not intended to be a leader? It would be much easier to just "be myself," as we are so often told to be, but to be quite honest, I am pretty sure that my pantsless, comfortable beauty-base-zero manager-self is not the best thing for my organization or my people. But critical reflection is a lot of work. And sometimes it's damned uncomfortable when I see who (and how) I am, and it is so far from where I want to be.

How, though, do we engage in this sort of critical reflection and behavior monitoring profession-wide for our managers and leaders? I got lucky, and have had some wonderful managers and mentors who did more than slap me around when I got out of hand; they nurtured and mentored me. But not all of us have such self-aware and compassionate bosses. ACRL offers Immersion and its many tracks for instructors - what equivalents do managers have? Where is our LLAMA equivalent? (I don't know that the Harvard Institute or the TRLN version are a valid equivalent, with multiple specific tracks.) I have come to the conclusion that this sort of exercise is extremely valuable for me in my own development; could it be generalizable? Or am I the only dolt who doesn't engage in this subconsciously and without effort?

What are we doing not only to find our leaders, but to develop them? And not just in terms of get-them-into-ALA-committee-work development, but "help them determine their strengths and weaknesses, and address them" development? At the 2011 Emerging Leaders program at MidWinter, it was repeated ad nauseam that "this is not a leadership institute," and we should be aware of that so that we were not disappointed that the experience would be largely "active leadership experience" (read: group work on behalf of a division, round table or committee). That is fine, but where are our leadership institutes? Are we hoping people figure this out on their own, and develop the skills we need for effective leadership? Are we hoping they luck into excellent managers or leaders with the inclination and time to develop them for us? Are we hoping that tossing people we think have leadership qualities into group work will hurtle them ahead? This seems short-sighted and an abdication of our professional responsibility. Whose responsibility is this? How do we grow self-aware leaders to ensure our productive future in vibrant organizations?

And yes, I'm now seriously considering topics on leadership in academic libraries for my dissertation. I've become slightly obsessed with the idea of learning to be a leader, as opposed to the trait (or "Great Man") theory of leadership being only intrinsic. I wonder about the gendered trait divide in library leadership, and how that affects our organizations. I wonder...


Anonymous said…
A colleague recently wrote her Ed.D. dissertation on feminine leadership in academic libraries. If you haven't come across it already, it might be useful to you. Here's a citation and a link: Jones, Marie F. Academic Libraries as Feminine and Feminist Models of Organization (Johnson City, Tenn.: East Tennessee State University, 2008)

Good luck with both your degree work and your self-reflection.
Colleen said…
Thank you so much! I'm just starting to gather literature, and that looks right up my alley. I appreciate it :)
Anonymous said…
hi, new to the site, thanks.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this post, it is great

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