If we step away from concerns about not seeing forests for trees and look, instead, for the hidden roots to projects like the new San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) Leadership Academy, we discover encouraging stories about leadership, patience, and how long projects can take to reach fruition.
One traceable root begins with SFPL City Librarian Luis Herrera who, through his previous work as President of the Public Library Association and the California Library Association and in his current position as Chair of the Public Library Association Leadership Taskforce, has long supported leadership training initiatives. Another slow-growing root came in the form of Maureen Sullivan’s introductory Infopeople Eureka! Leadership Program “Exploring Library Leadership” workshop in 2006; she was so surprised by the level of discourse springing from a session offered exclusively to SFPL staff that she handed the large sheets of class notes over to Herrera while the two of them were at an out-of-state conference in autumn 2006. The notes returned to San Francisco in Herrera’s hands, along with the beginnings of SFPL’s Leadership Academy. Herrera convened a meeting of the workshop participants before the end of that year, contacted Sullivan so she could conduct a series of focus group discussions with managers and staff throughout the organization in summer 2007, and rolled out the first offering of the Academy in November 2008—something he hopes to offer to staff on an annual basis.
Current participants are meeting once a month for four months in day-long sessions led by Sullivan; invited to hour-long informal coffee groups with SFPL administrators to discuss leadership issues; and, in an activity similar to what Infopeople’s Eureka! Leadership Program Institute graduates are engaged in, will be completing projects which help develop their skills while making major contributions to the library for which they work.
“It’s actually exceeding my expectations. When I talk to people who are participating, they are so jazzed. The expectations are high that we’re off to some systemic changes in the organization,” Herrera said during a conversation last week. “Every (Library) division is represented with the exception of one—Finance, which was short staffed…Within those divisions, we have folks from the page level to the middle management level. We have librarians, we have technical assistants, we have custodians, we have security personnel, and we have engineers. That’s as broad as it gets.”
Brian Castagne, who works in SFPL’s Project Read literacy program and is among the members of the Library’s first Leadership Academy cohort, calls Sullivan “exceptional” for what she is offering and notes that the program offers both the comfort and encouragement of learning from others who are in the program and the challenge of moving beyond the routines of working within one library work unit: “I’m in a transition period,” he acknowledges, “more self-reflective. Perhaps I’m challenging my first response to things, my immediate response…listening and processing other people’s viewpoints, learning how to slow down and thoughtfully expressing ideas…Almost everything I do is a work in progress.”
Orkideh Sassouni, a Deaf staff member of SFPL’s Deaf Services Center, also is finding that exposure to colleagues throughout the organization is broadening her awareness of how a large library system like SFPL operates. She also, she says, is learning how she might, as a member of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Deaf communities—learners of American Sign Language, interpreter students, researchers, Deaf senior citizens, Deaf international visitors, and others–assume a positive leadership role: “Prior to going (to the Leadership Academy sessions), I didn’t realize the hierarchy of the organization and how it all fit together—how things are organized…I’ve realized that all of us have the same problems…it’s all about communication.” Echoing ideas expressed by San Diego County Library Training and Web Services Manager Polly Cipparrone in a separate conversation, she spoke of wanting to serve as a bridge within Deaf communities and within the library—a role she already is beginning to play through her activities as an American Sign Language instructor on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus in Petaluma and positions she has held elsewhere, including with the archives department at Gallaudet University.
And, as always, the winners are obvious: all of us who, seeing what Herrera, Sullivan, Infopeople instructors, and others are accomplishing, learn from these examples and help perpetuate them.
Developing leadership skills, as San Diego County Library Training and Web Services Manager Polly Cipparrone is discovering, is a continual process with plenty of surprises and opportunities.
Having been a longtime participant in Infopeople’s Master Trainer group, Cipparrone leapt at the opportunity to take workshops through Infopeople’s Eureka! Leadership Program and then attend the “Eureka! Leadership Program Institute” in San Diego earlier this year. She has, since finishing the onsite work at the institute, been working with colleagues to shape a project which will continue her development as a leader while making a major contribution to the San Diego County Library: helping to implement RFID (radio-frequency identification) service in several library facilities as a collection management tool and to streamline the entire process through which library members and guests borrow library materials.
“My project is to be an internal and external customer care agent partnering with our branches and our support services to help make the transition using RFID to affect the changes within the branches,” she said during a conversation earlier this week. “I’m trying to make it clear that I’m not there with a point of view, but to help bridge a gap. It’s really more of a communication thing.”
The project will begin with three branches participating, she noted: “Ultimately, the success of those three branches is going to filter out to the rest of the organization, so it’s really important that people feel that they were heard…so we can expand that experience out to the others.”
Among Cipparrone’s surprises was the realization that leaders play an important liaison role within their organizations: “I think that prior to Eureka!, my feeling was that somehow…you had to follow a certain path and you needed to improve things.” As a result of attending the Eureka! institute and remaining in contact with other program participants, she has become “more open to other points of view and seeking other opportunities…It’s not as if it is some amazing conversion process, but the fact that you’re with similarly engaged people at various points in their career and that we can reflect on who we are and where we might go–the institute provided those tools and those connections.”
Trainer-teacher-learners and other current and prospective leaders who are observing the process through Cipparrone’s eyes can also benefit from her experiences in that they provide a contemporary example of how effective continual learning models can be. The combination of onsite workshop attendance, follow-up meetings, the intensive institute, and a project which pulls everything together is a great example of how Infopeople and others are seeking ways to reinforce what learners are acquiring in contemporary training sessions. And it doesn’t stop there: participants are now in contact via the Eureka! Leadership News blog and webinars like the one that Cipparrone and Eureka! institute alumna Genesis Hansen presented this week on the topic of “Free Online Tools for Project Management”—yet another way that Cipparrone and her colleagues are gaining leadership experience while creating content which is useful to others.
Next: Infopeople and the San Francisco Public Library Leadership Academy
We don’t have to look very far to see that leadership is an issue which is much discussed and often promoted within libraries and the communities they serve—possibly because so many of us sense a leadership void in so many of the organizations and political entities we encounter.
The great news here in California is that positive, vibrant, creative initiatives are underway. Infopeople is currently repeating its very successful Eureka! Leadership Program, which includes a series of workshops, a week-long leadership institute, and other events designed to provide inspiration and experience to current and prospective library leaders. Participants such as San Diego County Library Training and Web Services Manager Polly Cipparrone, who attended the initial round of workshops and then attended the institute, are now working on their final projects designed to help them develop their overall leadership skills while making major contributions to the libraries for which they work.
There are also fine examples of library leaders cultivating leadership qualities among their staff: San Francisco Public Library City Librarian Luis Herrera currently has a four-month leadership academy running at the Library and has brought in training consultant Maureen Sullivan, who taught one of the initial Eureka! workshops, to oversee the project; Anne Cain (County Librarian, Contra Costa County Library system) also stands out as an example of a library leader inspiring leadership skills in her staff through her extremely strong commitment to training—something which appears to extend through the entire system and which begins with a month-long new staff orientation program designed to give every employee the best possible start at the beginning of their employment within the system.
If we move a little beyond the physical and virtual settings of libraries, we find tremendous resources from writers including Peter Block, whose Flawless Consulting reminds us that leaders work within organizations as internal consultants and outside of organizations in the more commonly recognized role of external consultant. We also find eminently readable material in a variety of sources including Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s The Leadership Challenge and Warren Bennis’s On Becoming a Leader—wonderful because they tell stories in the words of other leaders rather than remaining mired solely in the world of theory.
Many of the Infopeople “Building Leadership Skills” workshop materials remain accessible in the Infopeople past training materials archives. Infoblog articles on the workshops provide additional information. And registration for “Building Leadership Skills” workshops scheduled through mid-2009 is continuing on the Infopeople site.
Next: Polly Cipparrone and an Update on Her Eureka! Leadership Project
One of the best two-for-one deals for current and prospective library leaders is Pat Wagner’s “Building Leadership Skills: Developing and Leading Projects” workshop. Part of the Infopeople Eureka! Leadership Program series, it will be offered in California libraries through December 17, 2008; remains available after that on a contract basis dependent on the instructor’s availability; and has materials already viewable online in the Infopeople past training materials archives.
Attending the session held in the main library in San Francisco earlier this week (Monday, December 1), I was struck not only by how much useful guidance Wagner packs into that one-day class about how to collaborate to create successful projects, but also by the way she transfers what she knows to those attending the workshop. There is almost an aesthetic pleasure in watching how, as a leader herself, she inspires the best in people who join her in the learning process. As a trainer and a leader, she facilitates an experience involving tremendous amounts of teamwork, with a fine combination of seriousness and humor, in a way which leads the observant participant to see the workshop itself as a successfully completed project.
Through exercises in which we discuss case studies examining problems which are common in the project management process—at every step combining what we learn from Wagner with what we already know, and adding in copious amounts of what we learn from each other’s experiences in a variety of library systems—we gain confidence. The understanding that we have the skills to be successful participants in developing and leading projects. And an appreciation for the idea that success comes from well defined processes rooted in realistic expectations. You don’t seek perfection, Wagner suggests, “you do what you can do. That’s life.”
The heart of the afternoon session is an extended period during which workshop participants assume and discuss roles played by people in a project where the final product is a printed budget request to be submitted to a governing body. As the discussion continues, the magic begins to happen: Wagner almost completely recedes from being the center of the learning process and each of us works through a series of questions which prompt us to consider not only what we would do in the roles we have assumed, but how what we do affects all others involved in the project.
Among the lessons learned intellectually as well as viscerally is one Wagner summarizes near the end of the day: “being a good project manager means that the people working for you make the right decisions.” And if, by the end of the day, we haven’t completely absorbed that lesson, it is not for lack of effort on the part of the instructor or the workshop participants. Which probably is the most memorable lesson of all.
N.B.: Registration for the remaining scheduled offerings of “Developing and Leading Projects” (Fresno, 12/10/2008; San Jose, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, 12/12/2008; San Diego County Library Headquarters, 12/16/2008; and Los Angeles Public Library, 12/17/2008) and other Eureka! Leadership Program offerings is continuing on the Infopeople website under the heading “Building Leadership Skills”; each workshop is priced at $75 per person.