Starting with Myself

Monica Harris —  March 19, 2013 — 1 Comment

When you’re trying to learn to be a leader, where do you start? What is the most important thing to focus on first?

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the week-long PLA Leadership Academy in Chicago. The Leadership Academy was terrific for many reasons, but that first night was rough. I was sitting in a room with the other 23 participants and our mentors, anxious and unsure of what to expect.

Adam Goodman, of the Northwestern University Center for Leadership led us all in our first real activity. One by one, he asked us to stand up and share why we were there. The first librarian gave an admirable answer about what she could give back to her library and community. Adam interrupted.

“I’m not interested in your library. I’m interested in you. What are YOU going to learn? Why are YOU here? I don’t want to hear any of you mention anything about libraries in your answers.”

Librarian after librarian stumbled over this as we went around the room. As the very last participant to stand up and give my answer, I’d had lots of time to think about exactly what I was going to say – BUT it was still extremely difficult to separate Monica the leader from Monica the librarian. I managed to get through it without mentioning the “L-word”, but it was interesting to think about why that had been so hard.

The next morning while debriefing our experience, another Academy Fellow mentioned that working in libraries is often like a religious calling, and that separating your own wants and needs from the greater good of the organization and community feels unnatural and even wrong. Adam Goodman’s point is that to discover your strengths and skills as a leader, you need to learn to do exactly that. Look at yourself as an individual to become the library leader that you need to be. This activity set the stage for the intensive training we did all week long.

Think about that for a moment. What do you want to get out of being a leader? Why is leadership important to you? What skills do you have that make you uniquely suited for your position and how can you share that?

Monica Harris


Monica Harris graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with her MLIS in 2004, and was named an Library Journal Mover and Shaker in 2010. She is currently working as the Deputy Director of the Schaumburg Township District Library in Schaumburg, Illinois and she teaches about library innovation for San Jose State University's iSchool. You can follow Monica on Twitter at @showlola

One response to Starting with Myself


    I recall my own PLA Leadership activity (pre-conference in Portland) and having that same feeling that wanting to be a leader is not about what you can give back to the library, but what in yourself you think is suited to leadership. People are often suspicious of the ones who want to lead, and my experience in the leadership learning fields are that they are populated not by people who want to lead, but by those who have been elevated into leadership positions and are trying desperately to cope with the belief that they are now leaders. Other people who have navigated these waters already are very kind about helping people through the rapids, but sometimes a cold dash of water will wake you and start you swimming.

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