Redefining Leadership

Zola Maddison /

WebJunction’s Community Manager, Jennifer Peterson, led our recent webinar, Incubate Leadership @ Your Library. Peterson, a 2011 Library Journal “Mover & Shaker” and Association for Rural & Small Libraries board member, has certainly been recognized by the field as a library leader. However, her approach leadership is somewhat unconventional. It is influenced by her long-standing interests in life-long learning and mentorship, resulting in a definition of leadership that can support active, tolerant individuals and organizations ready meet and lead the changes in their environment.

When thinking about leadership, Peterson encourages us to first take stock of our own learning using a 'Learner Biography'. This tool is intended to capture the growth and life-cycle of our own learning in both our careers and personal lives. It includes our experiential and formal learning opportunities, links to our mentors, our impactful learning experiences, and offers an opportunity to place structure to these experiences by applying objectives and measurable outcomes to our learning goals.

As we heard from webinar participants about the kinds of learning that has been most impactful to themselves and their teams, a clear link between learning and leadership qualities began to emerge:

I share with my trainees how I have created my PLE [personal learning environment] over the years virtually;
Hands-on learning holds the most change for me;
I train frequently and I always tell my participants that I learn from them each time I teach a class--even if it is a class I have taught several times;
When we train, we need to remember to touch all types of learning styles; not just our own style.

Peterson defines leadership as, “not a role, it is an active verb—and it can come from all sides and positions.” She challenges us to reconsider our libraries as public institutions ready to step into a leadership role for our communities, and outlines Sharon Morris’ five qualities of emergent leadership, or the ability to bring new qualities of leadership to our work and community: listen, be verbally engaged, generate ideas, be informed, and be firm but not rigid. When asked, “what qualities of leadership do you think are most important”, webinar participants listed many qualities that can be applied to ourselves and our libraries:

•    Kindness
•    Trustworthy
•    Compassion and understanding
•    Trust and understanding
•    Open-mindedness
•    Visionary
•    Humor
•    Flexibility; has a plan but can roll with changes
•    Humor definitely and listening to both sides or views before responding.  Be open and patient
•    Lead by example
•    Ability to find a middle ground or compromise between two ideas
•    Leading from the middle, without positional authority, adds validity when you mentor others.
•    Being willing to listen and be flexible to change with the times
•    Knowing when to compromise and when to be firm. There are moments when the leader does have to put the foot down.

At the cross section of learning and leading is mentorship. Peterson expands our view beyond simple ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ mentoring to consider semi-formal, semi-structured, or facilitated mentoring, group mentoring, co-mentoring, and e-mentoring as new approaches that bridge learning and leading from all levels and all sides. To become active leaders, we need to develop supportive learning relationships that allow us to exchange information, ideas and expertise.

For more ideas on learning, leading and mentorship, see Jennifer’s slides, recommended reading, her webinar and other resources on the archive page. WebJunction’s new participant guide for this webinar can be used as an archive viewing guide, and is also available on the archive page.