Archives For Leadership Traits

Still Stunned

Kevin King —  November 17, 2016 — 1 Comment

shutterstock_116560858The 2016 Presidential Election was ten days ago and I am still stunned. Immediately afterwards I imposed a media blackout on myself and took a Facebook sabbatical because I did not want to see any headlines. My stomach was messed up and I woke up often in the middle of the night worried about the uncertainty of a man in the White House who did not remotely share any of my values. I felt alone. I wanted to be alone. I am willing to bet that these feelings were not uncommon.

Eventually, I realized that although it was understandable to want to withdraw, pulling people closer was actually healthier and a sign of a good leader. Executive coach Mary Jo Asmus recently wrote on her blog that,

It’s time to pull closer to people.

There is no better time than now to pay more attention to the people around you. Start with your loved ones, including the ones you’ve distanced yourself from during this divisive time. Move outward to friends and neighbors. And of course, be present to those who rely on you at work to lead them through their fears, anger, and disappointment.

Asmus goes on to list four things you can do to help the people feeling stunned and powerless during this post-election time. Leaders can easily adapt what she has written to help their teams cope.

  1. Care for yourself first – During times of crisis or turmoil, great leaders need to become symbols of stability and strength. This means before going to work, take care of yourself first.
  2. Be present and vigilant – Now is not the time to hide in your office. It is important to check in with your team. Asmus writes, “This is not about who won or lost, and not the time for you to express smugness or dismay. It’s the time to notice and just be there for others.”
  3. Listen to understand – Leaders that promote a trust-filled environment understand that there are times when you need to listen to someone even when you do not agree. It is important to be sure you are listening to EVERYONE on your team, no matter who that voted for last week.
  4. Have compassion – It is going to take time for many to move away from sadness and move to action. Likewise, some on your team may even want to enjoy the results of the election a little longer than you would prefer. It is important that you have compassion for both no matter which candidate you supported.

Our world is entering a time that will consistently challenge both our emotions and ability to lead. Great leaders will take on that challenge and find ways to pull their teams closer together to not only provide a sense of safety but to also inspire the team to take on the responsibility of making the library a safe haven.

open book with title: Leading Without Supervising

I’m not a supervisor. Or a manager. Or even the cruel or gentle taskmaster of one student employee. But, in some respects, I feel I’m a leader in my professional life.

From my own experience, and from watching others in action, here are some elements I’d call “leading from within.”

Taking on leadership positions

Want your voice heard on policy decisions? Being an officer on a committee is frequently the path to that goal. In that role you may have a tad more clout in shaping discussions.

Enjoy organizing, hate evaluating? Both ongoing organizational groups, as well as ad hoc projects, need people to create expectations and shape projects. The payoff? Earning significant input into processes and outcomes.


Are you asked for input? Rejoice! Your opinion may be the one that makes something a whole lot more marvelous. (Or it could be ignored. Such is life.) My biggest challenges? I’ve got two. The first is working on only responding when I’ve got something useful to say. The second is responding when the issue seems unimportant to me, but is obviously important to the person asking for input.

Offering a friendly shoulder

Personal life? Professional life? Some elements inevitably intertwine. Fellow employees may seek someone who’s not their boss, and may not even be someone they regularly work with, as a sounding board for issues. Earning this kind of trust feels terrific. And knowing you’ve cultivated the shoulders of others to lean on, as the need arises, is a comfort.

Are there downfalls to choosing the route of subtle leadership? Yes:

Feeling left out?

Yeah, too bad. Designated leaders do earn the inside track on many matters.

Feeling a slight unease

Though I’m too far along in life to feel much true embarrassment for any decisions I make that don’t kill kittens, I have, more than once, endured a sort of squinty look from official leaders, usually accompanied by a questioning tilt of the head, when I say that management was never in the cards for me.

Being a nosy body

When you’re not a leader, but brimming with brilliant (brilliant, I tell you!) ideas, you may be perceived as offering your opinion on (a.k.a. sticking your nose into) too many issues. Which leads to the next point.

Needing to learn patience

I’ve learned to wait longer than I used to before noting a non-urgent perceived problem. Generally, that problem is being addressed somewhere in my organization.


Yeah, there’s that. But other non-monetary rewards may be offered or available if your value is noted.

I do feel there are some specific benefits to leadership without supervision. One is the ability, as even a longtime employee with “high level” expectations from management, to participate in frontline service. Having the experienced and the freshly passionate working together is to everyone’s benefit. Those who’ve been around have great breadth and depth of information. Newer people notice new angles and directions.
Perhaps the leading from within choice best fits a person with dilettante tendencies. Hey! I can’t lead! I think. My mind, which I acknowledge has only so much capacity, overflows with ever-tumbling thoughts and ideas that cry to be examined and acted upon. And I even follow-up on some! I feel certain that daily oversight of others and big picture thinking could make the whole shebang just explode.

Stay Classy!

Kevin King —  October 27, 2016 — 1 Comment

Currently I’m attending the Michigan Library Association Annual Conference in Lansing, MI and one particular theme has struck me over two days. In the few sessions I have attended some form of the phrase “stay classy” has been declared to the attendees. 

This got me thinking that this is something leaders need to think about more often. It is so difficult to snicker at an idea or look down upon people who do not agree with you. How hard is it to just be nice? The result will almost always be someone more open to your response. You never know, a great discussion could lead to the next great initiative. 

So remember, not looking down on others will make you a more innovative leader. Stay classy my friends. 

Agents of Chaos

Kevin King —  September 30, 2016 — 1 Comment

img_0078Dr. Michael Stephens (, @mstephens7) is an agent of chaos. I have heard him speak numerous times and his consistent message is that as librarians, and leaders, we need to allow as much chaos as we can stand. Successful libraries open themselves up to chaos to inspire curiosity, creativity and discovery. This in turn will make libraries more relevant to the communities they serve.

How open to chaos are you? Do you freak when your perfectly laid plans fall apart? Does your anxiety in these situations affect your ability to lead? Being able to embrace the situation when things fall apart is a sign of a good leader.

Invite some chaos in your life. Your response to chaos is up to you, but more often than not it will lead a more vibrant and exciting library.

Email Fails. Talk.

Kevin King —  September 20, 2016 — 2 Comments

stop-sign-e1337976595845-2Good organizations communicate. Healthy organizations communicate face to face more than email. When you want to dispense important information to your staff, making the time to deliver the news on a personal level is much more effective than electronically. The possibility of your team missing information is much greater when your only source of communication is email. Leaders who commit their time to make sure important information is discussed with the team show that they are devoted not only to the institution but also to the individual.

Finally, email is NEVER the medium to use when delivering information that could be bad, uncomfortable or disciplinary. You owe it to your team to set up the time when you can be available to not only discuss the issue, but be there to answer questions and be empathetic.

Healthy organizations promote personal, trust-filled communication on all levels. Just remember – Email fails. Talk.