Having spent all day yesterday in the MLA MEMO legislative session planning forum, I found the Influencing Politicians blog post from the Changing Minds Blog right on. He says that politicians like things that make them look good — doesn’t everybody? Long ago, while working for the Air Force, a commander’s favorite line was “make me look good.” Great advice, and I’ve found it useful . . . concentrate on making my boss look good, whether that’s a middle-manager, a board of directors, or ultimately the stock holders or tax payers. Doesn’t matter as much how I look as how the boss and/or funders look.

Thanks to Stephen’s Lighthouse for pointing out, which includes the Changing Minds Blog. Great common sense stuff, all pulled together in a neat package. Really useful index of topics on management, everything from job analysis to storytelling, two topics very close to my priority list lately.

Leaving with dignity

Most job training programs give lots of attention to getting a job — finding the right job, writing a resume, getting and succeeding at interviews, and negotiating terms of employment. No skills are offered in leaving a job. Yet, as surely as most workers have multiple jobs through their careers, they will leave just as many. I think that the indicators of character and professionalism in how someone leaves a job are just as valid as the person’s actions when newly hired.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this in the last year as I’ve changed jobs and several family members, friends, and professional colleagues have also left one job for another. I’ve had deep discussions with a number of people about leaving a job. The classiest exits I’ve seen are well-planned and executed. The leaving employees invest time and employ appropriate counsel in accepting a new job and planning their exit. They treat the losing employer with utmost regard in delivering a timely and respectful resignation notice. They treat the colleagues they are leaving and the time they spent working together with value and let them know it. (even when they don’t mean it)

On the other hand, I hate to see employees leave a business with a “stick it to ’em” philosophy. They wish their former employer no good will, and in truth hope they’ll fail. Why on earth would you want anywhere you worked to fail? I would hope that continued success for my former organization is due in some small part to residual effects of my contributions. Besides that, as I go on my merry way, part of my resume is my former employer, and I would want to continue to look good for having worked there. And as for my former colleagues, the good ones I’d like to hire or work with again. And as for the others, I don’t want them undermining my efforts.

The same goes for mutual decisions that an exit is best for the organization and the employee. Some relationships are just not a good fit. And even if it’s not a mutual wish, it’s going to happen. Get over it and take the high road. Make it look like it’s your idea. Keep the complements and thanks genuine and the complaints unspoken. Set the example and hopefully the employer will do the same.

Some employers have exit interviews. Someone asked me this year what they should say. I said, if I were them I’d say it was one of the best places I’d ever worked. They don’t really want to know the dirt, or the bad feelings you may harbor. You’re history from the day you hand over your resignation form or letter. Anything you say is only sour grapes. And remember, the hand that accepts your resignation and hears the exit interview gives your next and possibly several more recommendations. Remember the good things, and forget everything else as soon as possible.

No one can afford to burn bridges. If the next job doesn’t work out, and lots don’t, you’ll need your professional network to find the next next job, and the next next recommendation. And besides, who wants to hear all the negative baggage you’re carrying around. Reference the analogy of when you point an accusatory finger, there are 3 more pointing back at you. Bad-mouthing a past employer may raise questions about your ability to fit in. And most importantly, in almost all jobs, as a new employee you’re on probation for the first few months. Don’t suggest that you might have been the problem in the bad fit of your former job.

And what if you find out you’ve made a mistake? Well, reference paragraph 2 of this post about planning before the resignation letter is written. Once in another career I had an employee who wanted to rescind a resignation. After considerable deliberation at the management level, we discouraged the employee from staying. From the moment a resignation is offered, accepted, and announced, the organization is moving on. Management immediately takes action to offer other employees new opportunities afforded by the vacancy. Leaving a good job is a huge decision. I’ve experienced the 2:00 a.m. panic attack accompanied by a determination to sneak into the boss’s office and tear up my resignation. But that doesn’t work (at least it didn’t for me). Resigning is pretty permanent, and time to move on.

Why am I thinking so deeply about this tonight? Well, unless you’ve been under a rock in the last few days you know about the Green Bay Packer dilemma. Allegedly, the storied QB Brett Favre (in his words) “prematurely retired.” While he did it at a time of exhaustion and stress, he did it. His second thoughts are causing a huge chasm in the green and gold tundra and mortal pain in the hearts of us faithful followers. Will Number 4 play green and gold? Should he? Is his personal and the Packer management’s dilemma any different than any business?

Open source – why?

Once upon a time technology was an awesome mystery and we were amazed just to watch what it did. We put those geeky gods who made it work on pedestals and carried their coffee. Technology made any job that involved keeping track of stuff easier.

Libraries were particularly thankful for automated procedures that tracked the hundreds of thousands of pieces of stuff that we entrusted on loan to thousands of people. We were so mystified by how it worked and thankful that it did that once we found a program and learned how to use it (another monumental task) we didn’t want to think about picking out something different or learning new tricks to use it. Besides that, librarians are by nature collectively a cautious bunch who don’t welcome a great deal of change.

So, a few vendors developed logistics type software to manage library materials and procedures and everyone was happy. The vendors didn’t do a lot of research and development and library systems didn’t change much.

During the next 20 years, technology changed the way we managed business and lived our lives. Since I’m a late arrival librarian, I wasn’t in libraries during the early technology implementations. I was involved in automating processes in several other businesses, also related to keeping track of and assigning accountability to things. I automated processes in hospital logistics and later on in grocery store sales operations. In both cases, the end results of the processes and procedures were not so different than libraries’ implementation of technology management systems.

While technology vendors in many areas have made refinement and development a priority and the systems in use now don’t look much like the early legacy systems, library automation systems have changed not so much. While most businesses do not tolerate clunky procedures or incomplete responses, the performance and results of library automation systems does not come close to other systems. Library automation systems cannot deliver the kind of interactive performance that is standard in most other industries. Furthermore, library automation vendors do not deliver the responsiveness in customer service that libraries need to remain viable in a competitive economy that sometimes marginalizes the value of library services.

There are reasons for library automation vendors’ failure to deliver desirable performance or service. First of all, I don’t think that libraries initially asked for a lot. Furthermore, with minimal profits to be made off from libraries, I don’t think that development of library systems was very lucrative for systems developers, and there wasn’t a lot of competition out there. Effective customer support doesn’t seem to be a priority and in recent years, company mergers have resulted in fewer viable choices for libraries to go where the service is better.

Enter the realm of open source options, where “they” becomes “us.” My library’s options for automation services do not have to be driven by what my vendor offers. There are choices my organization can make where we could potentially have more influence in the development of service-point utilities. And most importantly, there are other options for my organization to consider in deciding who would really understand and respect us as a customer for their services.

MINITEX is sponsoring workshops this month to allow libraries to look at open source options for integrated library systems. At the first session this week the room was packed with library managers and system administrators. The sizes and capacities of our organizations varied considerably, but we hold in common a desire for better systems and service than legacy library vendors provides.

My friend DL did an excellent job summarizing the first session on Koha, which means I don’t have to . In his summary, he discusses the question on whether buying open-source from a vendor isn’t just another vendor. Yes, it is, but with a difference that there is a different relationship with an open-source vendor. The underlying program is as open and available as we wish it to be, constrained only by our own limitations. Indeed, my systems geek has already downloaded his own copy of Koha to experiment with and learn from.

Will all of us who are educating ourselves through the open-source workshops rush out and implement a Koha or Evergreen based ILS? Most likely not. We have varying abilities and budgets. Some have the capacity to dive right in, others will build cooperatives, others will make a decision to remain status quo. But through our discussion, we’re becoming better informed and more discerning about the potential for library automation solutions to equip us to provide the most cost-effective and best possible customer service and access.

Another day in the life of a librarian

As I’ve said before, when something comes up twice in a short period of time, it’s appropriate to take notice of what the universe would like me to learn. Not sure what this one means, but it’s worth recording. This post also comes under the “never a typical day” category (wait, I don’t have that category — yet).

I’ve been here 8 months, and throughout this time we have not had enough technology staffing. There have been days when there are no scheduled technology staff and nothing has gone down (yeah!). In truth, I’ve been comforting that little worry in the back of my mind with the knowledge that I can hopefully handle anything, drawing on my past experience as an automation librarian.

So, last Friday when Pine City called and said their Internet was down and our PC guy was off, I looked around and discovered that the closest help at hand was at the end of my own arm. I hopped in the van and headed north and fairly quickly had them connecting to the Internet. I congratulated myself and was back in the office in just over an hour.

Today, when a similar help-desk call came in, this time from Wyoming, I had exactly the same help available (0). I was beginning to feel a little spooked. In my first 8 months I’ve not had any “Internet down” calls, and now I have 2 in less than a week. So, again I hop in the same van, head out on the same highway, but this time headed south. This time the problem was not so quickly apparent, but I wiggled and jiggled, and reset connections, and powered down and powered back up. And voila — all is well.

So, I’m feeling quite thankful that I’ve brought a wide range of experiences to draw on, and maybe the lesson of the universe is not to let any of my skills get rusty.

Oh yeah, the other part of this post is how atypical any day in this career field can be. While my raison d’etre is to provide leadership, I am often surprised by what I end up doing when I’m planning on doing something else. Besides being a de facto geek twice in the last week, on Saturday I got a crack at being the Bookmobile driver. What a gratifying experience — to bring the world of the library rolling down the street to a town full of waiting patrons. I wrote about this humbling experience on the library blog. And to memorialize that first Bookmobile trip – a photo:
Bookmobile in Onamia

Get your wiggles out

I walked into work this morning, and there was a sign on our library door “Storytime cancelled today due to illness.” When I asked “how come?” I learned that Vickie, our most excellent children’s storytime leader, had been at the hospital ER last night and was too ill to come in today. She had tried her regular subs and found no one available, thus storytime had to be cancelled.

Well, as the new Director, I thought — disappointing children and their parents is not a good thing to happen on my watch. So I walked through the library and offices, asking who wanted to take me up on the “opportunity” to read for storytime. No takers!

So, as my grandma would say, “the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm.” I started out my career as a teacher, so this was not foreign to me. What was difficult was pulling together a storytime in a short time — but I was told the well-prepared Vickie had the lesson plan, complete with books, finger-plays, songs, and a video, all neatly piled on a cart. As encouragement, Carla said that she’d be right there for me guiding me through as my technical assistant.

So, just prior to 10:00 I went to the children’s area to greet the kids, who kept coming and coming. The floor seating area was covered with attentive little ones, and still they kept coming. We lost count after 50; they don’t stay still to be counted.

Well, aided by Carla we went through the planned program, moving from finger plays (put your hands in your lap), to stories about marsupials (it was Australian animals day), to picture puzzles (the kids assured me I draw good). Somewhere in the middle of the get your wiggles out song, I discovered we were ALL having a wonderful time.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the office, I had temporarily foisted my 10:00 appointment off on my able assistant director and technology staff. The appointment was with a network security guy, who was gathering information on our needs to prepare a proposal. Pretty heavy stuff compared to storytime.

But what is really important? Planning for secure computer networks to serve the growing technology demands or literacy training for 50+ pre-schoolers and their parents/grandparents/care givers.

Such is the life of the public library. Constant demands for a wide range of programs and services by a diverse clientele. Not enough time or resources, but somehow we get it done.

And the kids left with big smiles on their faces. And the computer network guy got all the information he needed. And although I was late to get to the start of the state library association meeting, I know I did what I’m called to do — and I had a very good day!

New perspective

A new job! What a humbling experience. As I accepted the master keys to virtually everything in the building from my administrative assistant, I felt the weight of the responsibility of my new position. On the other hand, shortly thereafter, on my way back from the bathroom I lost direction and momentarily forgot where my office was. That’s the kind of couple of days I’ve had this week, one moment answering questions about how I would like something done, the next being totally baffled by the most basic task, like how to listen to my voice mail.

Yesterday I started the next phase of my career as the Director of the East Central Regional Library, a consolidated library system comprised of 14 branches (15, counting the bookmobile) north of Minneapolis and St. Paul. While it’s been a long time in preparation, it seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. My interview with the hiring committee was July 20th, followed by the waiting, then the offer, then the deliberation and acceptance. Four weeks notice with my previous employer flew by, two weeks off filled with a family vacation, and all of a sudden – here I am!

Sunday I packed all the household goods I could into an SUV and headed north two hours from my home for over eight years. A “For Sale” sign now sits in the front lawn — as friend AJ is fond of saying “good luck with that.”
Reality check

For now, home is a very small basement apartment a new acquaintance was kind enough to rent to me on a month-to-month arrangement, in hopes that when the house sells, I will find a more permanent home.

Basement seems to be a recurring theme. In the morning I leave my basement apartment (well really, it’s the lower level of a walk-out rambler) to go to my office in the regional headquarters, which is in the basement of one of the libraries. My previous corner office had two huge windows. For the moment, my new office, which has no windows, is cheery with flowers sent by the predecessor director and his wife, the Friends group, and friend MB. Besides that, there is a coffee gift basket from my new staff. When the Board President came in today, he was quite impressed.
My welcome

As if starting a new job isn’t stressful enough, I’ve walked into a library world in the midst of an automation system crisis. The libraries have resorted to pen and paper procedures after a system failure over two weeks ago. We’re bringing a new system up, through the Herculean efforts of an incredibly committed and hard-working staff and SirsiDynix. In fact, I spent the afternoon of my first day in training, learning the circulation system, along with many of the branch managers.

As I’ve talked with our leadership team, we’ve all agreed that it’s the beginning of a new era. And I’m sure will provide much inspiration for this Blog. Stay tuned ;^)

Useful mess?

Watching CBS Sunday Morning yesterday, my ears perked up when I heard the words messy desk as a story lead-in. Keeping storage spaces organized has always been a challenge for me. When I was being hired for my current position, my former supervisor warned my current director of the piles of stuff on my desk – I call it “file by pile.”

The Sunday Morning story featured one worker with a similar filing philosophy, who said they could find anything just by going down from the top of the pile an appropriate distance to coincide with the span of time since the document was created. I find things the same way, and often so quickly that many of my colleagues have been amazed at how organized my chronologically ordered stacks of papers are.

CBS newsman Andy Rooney was cited as an example, as he displayed his desk, which makes mine look really neat. Andy suggested that someone who’s too organized is not productive. The story went on to quote a study that found employees with a messy desk as being 36% more efficient than their counterparts who are neater.

While the majority of busy, successful acquaintances have desks that are less than tidy, there is a hypocritical attitude toward those with messy desks that suggests that you can’t possibly have confidence in someone who doesn’t know which file drawer perceived important information is in. Zoom in on a Presidential press conference from the Oval Office, with W seated behind a shiny (empty) desk. If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what can be said of an empty desk?

A colleague whose life presently seems to be spinning out of control said, “I’m keeping up on my filing; it feels good to be in control of something.” Good thought. So maybe the confidence to let things go is a corollary to being confident in life.

I’ve been doing a lot of desk cleaning lately, as I prepare for a major life change. I have gone through everything on top of my desk, and found that by the time I got back to it, all those agendas, and notes have lost any lasting value. Maybe that’s the key – just pile it up until you can throw it away.

Leadership as musical enablement

While playing organ for a worship service this morning, I carried the analogy begun in my previous post even further.

Whenever I play organ in a church, I hear my German Lutheran Grandpa Walter’s voice — indeed his spirit often is near me. He used to complain mightily about the organist in his church (who, incidentally, was my beginning piano teacher.) He said she played too loudly, “only for herself,” he claimed.

As I’ve thought about his critical comments, I now know that the duty of the organist is as accompanist to guide the worshippers through their experience, and lead them in song. They are not there to put on a concert, there are other venues for that. The organist introduces the song, sets the tempo, outlines the melody, undergirds the dynamics, and then gets out of the way to let the people sing. One of my favorite things to do (in a congregation of good singers when the hymn is well-known) is to drop down to a whisper or maybe even drop out altogether for a verse or a section of a capella singing. The organ, with its myriad of hidden orchestra components, frames the entire program. With a prelude, the organ centers the attention; in soft, hushed tones it underlies the prayers; through modulation of keys, provides bridges between progressive elements of the liturgy, with trumpets, it soars with joy; all the while providing the infrastructure upon which community worship and singing happens.

Aha — organizational leadership! Good leaders set the tone, provide the accompaniment, and get out of the way so that others can accomplish their purpose. And, if the leader is a good one, does it all not for their own glory.

So to wrap this analogy to a beneficial conclusion, and not go on ad nauseum ;^)
A good library leader:
1. Builds a staff with diverse skills
2. Brings the staff together in teams
3. Blends some teams together as appropriate for tasks
4. Selects compositions/programs for appropriate times/places/audiences
5. Guides teams through the composition of projects
6. Determines planning and pace of programs
7. Enables others to be all they can be (darn, there’s that military influence in my background coming out again)
8. Does not detract from purpose through self-aggrandization

I know a number of library leaders who share my passion for music, specifically organ — Lars, Judy, Fran, Jane, Linda, are a few that come quickly to mind. Bet they already know this.

Leadership as a harmonious blending

Avocation: a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment : Hobby Merriam-Webster online dictionary

My first career in music became my avocation quite a while ago — which was the best thing that ever happened for me, since now I find therapy in making music. But when I quit music as a career field, I missed the rush of conducting a performing organization and the feeling of satisfaction in bringing the best interpretation forward through my conductor’s baton. I would point at one group, and they would add their voices; gesture to another section and they would whisper their accompaniment; while I lifted the soloist to bring out the melody.

I recouped some of that feeling through playing the organ. At my fingertips, I had the instruments of the orchestra at my beck and call. What fun, to mold a composition to my individual style. My right brain was challenged, and balanced the left brain logic and analytical thinking I was doing at work.

Somehow, while practicing today, “work me” invaded “personal me” when I realized that playing the organ is a microcosm of organizational leadership. Just as I set up various instrument combinations on each manual, with complementing voices and timbres, I look for complementing skills and attributes in staff teams. Where I use couplers to bring various voicings on the organ into other settings, I bring additional resources into various work projects that I’m leading. Adding a higher pitched stop adds a brilliance, and adding more bass to the pedal gives a stronger foundation.

Managing the infrastructure

My favorite movie is Field of Dreams, in which Ray Kinsella/Kevin Kostner builds a baseball field that enables his vision to become reality. The baseball field provides the infrastructure to set the scene for the players to come out of the cornfield to make the game. Shoeless Joe Jackson/Ray Liotta said “If you build it, he will come.” And when Ray built it, he and others did come.

That’s what good management does; it enables, creates, and maintains infrastructure and environment. It’s the playing field where good customer service can happen. Infrastructure is everything from facilities to personnel to technology and other tools. In libraries and library service agencies (like ours), the people who provide the services are our most valuable asset.

Working for the military, I learned that there are 2 critical tasks in management – take care of your people and make the boss look good. Get those 2 things down, and your career is secure. Screw it up and look for another job. It’s really a pretty basic concept. Take care of the people and make their environment one in which they can take care of the business. Take care of the boss, and the boss’ll take care of you – and everybody’s got a boss, whether it’s the CEO or the taxpayers.

Take a look at a business (whether a library or a coffeeshop) where you get good service. I’m pretty sure the employees are happy and fulfilled. Their surroundings are clean and up to date, their tools work, expectations are clear, and they have a good sense of team spirit. That’s what the good manager does – makes sure all those environmental and human factors are in place.