Lessons for Library Leaders from a Brigadier General

I’ve always felt there are similarities between the library environment and the military environment. Before you snort too loudly at that, consider that both environments have lengthy histories, widely-held traditions, are somewhat stigmatized within society, and operate according to principals, values, policies, and rules that are being questioned but are difficult for many people to give up.

We in the library environment can learn so much from other similar environments, including the military. We are both going through significant shifts, and the leaders within both of our environments are learning new ways to lead — as well as new ways to follow. Library leaders — and those who’d like to be library leaders – have a look at this TED video of Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal as he explores how and what he’s learned during the past few years that’s shifted his view and practices of leadership:

  • that what we grew up doing we’re not doing anymore
  • that the generational differences and new technologies have forced him to be reversed mentored and to be more transparent
  • that he doesn’t just use instant messaging, chats and tweets to communicate but to lead and to build relationships
  • that relationships are the sinew that hold the force together; for library leaders, relationships are the sinew that hold the organization together. If you aren’t good at building relationships, then get good.
  • that a person isn’t a good leader because they are right, but because they are willing to learn, and learning involves failure
  • that a good leader lets people fail and not feel like failures

As he says, what happens isn’t always fair, in the military or in libraries, but if you are a good leader the people you counted on will help you out — and those that count on you will know that you are doing your best.

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