In my first post, I talked briefly about our first day at CALLI, where we met with Pat Wagner and learned a lot about leadership. That day was an incredibly eye-opening experience for me.
I’m a children’s librarian. I have a Fitbit. I spend my day moving around and it’s pretty easy for me to reach 10,000 steps in a day in the normal course of doing my job. On storytime days and other regular programming days, it’s not abnormal for me to dance like a crazy person with a room full of toddlers for 30 minutes at a time. (I promise this is all related.) The point being: I move a lot. And I like moving. Sitting for a whole day is really, really hard for me. Staying engaged for that long is even harder. So when I tell you I was completely engaged for 8 hours listening to Pat talk about leadership and thinking about how I fit into my organization, I hope you will understand how amazing that was for me. Granted, Pat is the kind of excellent presenter who had us all move around, get to know each other, and have small group discussions. So it wasn’t just sitting and listening to a lecture for the full day–we engaged, we talked, we made connections. But I’ve never been to a presentation where I’ve been so engaged for so long. And, for me, one of the most mind-blowing things we talked about was the organizational map.
The Organizational Map
The organizational map is a way of looking at how different people think in an organization. Pat was careful to point out that none of these ways of looking at the world is wrong, and none of the levels are more important than the others. They are all necessary in an organization, but it’s also important to understand how your leader/supervisor/employee/peer/etc. may see the world differently than you do. Here are the three levels and what the pros and cons of each of them can be:
- Task Level. In a library, this is the librarian level, as well as the technical and clerical level, of work. This level focuses on the immediate problems and needs of the organization. People in these positions are cataloging, interacting with patrons, running children’s programs, ordering the books, working in circulation, and much more. The pros: these are the people doing the day-to-day work of running the library, making the patrons happy, and getting things done. The cons: people in these roles sometimes see themselves as the only people doing “real work” in the organization, and the tendency to put a band-aid on problems, rather than seeing and fixing the root causes of them.
- Managerial Level. This level sees the bigger organizational picture than task level employees. These are the supervisors and managers in an organization. People who are excellent at this level tend to be rarer than people who are excellent leaders. Great managers elicit the best from people and see capabilities in their team that team members don’t see in themselves. They’re also in charge of resource allocation, putting systems into place, and maximizing efficiency. They are in charge of stepping back and assessing when new services are proposed, checking in with other departments, and bringing teams together to meet organizational goals. Pros: great managers can make teams more productive and happy. Cons: can become “rule focused” and think of rules as more important than people.
- Leadership Level. This is the biggest picture thinker in an organization. The job of the leader is to anticipate and see with a telescope. Pat said the leader is “making up the future.” They tell lies and make those lies come true. The leader thinks in terms of years ahead, and has to make decisions based on what they guess is coming down the pipeline. They have no idea if the future they envision is actually coming to pass, but they have to act based on it any way. Pros: innovation and thinking outside the box. Cons: The risk of making the wrong call and leading your organization down the wrong path. The ability to be out of touch with reality and the people you work with.
Thinking about organizations, myself, coworkers, and managers in terms of the organizational map helped me look at my role and the library as a system in a whole different way. One of the things we talked about is that what leaders do doesn’t always look like work–it can look like fun. Going out to lunches with the movers and shakers in the town, leaving the library during a crisis in order to go to an important city council meeting to argue for more funding, and spending a lot of time out of the library building support can make some employees feel abandoned and (again, back to the task-minded person) like they are the only ones doing the “real work” in the organization. But what Pat pointed out is that all of these things are part of the leader’s strategy to help you keep your job and to make your workplace relevant for years to come.
Another eye-opening piece of the conversation was how invisible and behind-the-scenes true leadership and management can be. You, if you are a task-minded person, may feel that your supervisor never says yes to your ideas. Your supervisor’s job, on the other hand, is to evaluate your ideas based on how they impact the entire organization. So while s/he may love the individual idea, s/he may know that another department will hate it, or that the organization doesn’t have the staffing or resources to support it long term. So s/he has to balance your needs and wants against the needs/wants/politics of the entire organization.
These different ways of looking at the world, and the way an organization works, are guaranteed to cause friction sometimes. But it definitely made me think about my own reactions to things that have happened in my workplaces. As someone who is very much in a task-minded role, and has been for my entire working career, I’ve tended to think a lot about how decisions impact my role specifically, but not necessarily the wider impact. It’s something I definitely plan on working on in the future.