NELA 2014: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction

Stand Up and Shout: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction, Zach Newell and Peter Struzziero (Monday, 4:30pm)

Peter and Zach presented a polished talk on some of the challenges of being a young leader in libraries. Peter is the director of the Winthrop Public Library (MA), and Zach is the Humanities Librarian at Salem State University (MA). In addition to their experience in NELLS (the New England Library Leadership Symposium), both have been involved on several committees at the local, state, and regional levels; this is one way to acquire leadership experience as library staffs shrink and the middle management level disappears. With little or no middle management, the route to the top is quicker, but people aren’t always excited to step up; they may fear they’re underqualified, or they may not want a different job than the one they have. However, Zach and Peter pointed out, younger/newer librarians can use other experiences and committee work as leadership training, and they can learn on the job by listening and observing.

Being a library director is “a different job from librarianship” – you’re removed from the “front lines,” and have to deal with things like union negotiations, staff issues, the budget, statistics, old buildings, new websites, and new programs. As Zach said, “We never stop to admire a job well done, because it’s never done.” (While it’s true that we’re always working toward our goals, I do think there’s time to appreciate progress and achievement.)


  • Building relationships is essential; communicate with staff and with others in the town and community, even/especially when you don’t need anything from them.
  • Get involved in the community. Be a familiar friendly face. Go to Town Hall meetings.
  • Take risks to make positive change.
  • Recruit good Trustees, and build a Friends group if there isn’t one (or if they all quit on you…)
  • Get involved in your town library board (if you live in a different town than the one you work in)
  • Collect before-and-after stats to illustrate progress; “the proof is in the pudding.”
  • Consider the future of libraries, but also YOUR future.
  • Look at job postings for library director jobs, even if you don’t feel ready yet. See what skills and abilities are required. (“You may be ready now, even if you don’t feel ready. You never feel ready.”)
  • There are lots of places to acquire MBA skills without actually getting an MBA. Try edX,, and TED talks; ask for informational interviews. There are also NELA and ALA (ALSC, YALSA, NMRT) mentoring programs.

Tweets from the session:


Citations and references:

Are you a library leader? What’s your #1 tip? Share in the comments.

NELLS exercises and evaluations

Throughout the week at NELLS, we did a number of exercises and self-assessments. I have shared three of these below (PDF). They were all valuable exercises, in that they cause you to think deeply about your experiences, inclinations, and preferences; also, by examining how you work best, you can consider how others work best, how your styles might differ, and how to manage those differences to achieve a positive outcome.

Leadership self-assessment: This assessment tool helps identify areas of strength and areas for development*: the categories include communication, professional ethics, decision making, planning, solving problems, entrepreneurship, team building, coaching, leading change, motivation, empathy, social skills, self-awareness and regulation, and supervision. The questions, over four pages, are “I” statements, with a 1-5 scale from “seldom” to “frequently” for answers (e.g. “I explain ideas and concepts so all can understand”).

Conflict_management_style_assessment: This assessment tool consists of 20 questions with two possible answers each (choose a or b) over two pages, with scoring key on third page to determine your conflict management/negotiating style(s). Answer the questions before consulting the scoring key. Consider how you might work best with someone whose conflict management or negotiation style is different from yours.**

Risk-taking in organizations: This is less of an assessment exercise and more of an opportunity for reflection; it is two pages of open-ended questions.

*”Areas for development,” not “weaknesses.” The old familiar SWOT model of analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) can be replaced with SOAR: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results. With this model, organizations can avoid getting bogged down in the negative and what has happened in the past by focusing on the positive (what is working) and on the future (what do we want it to look like, how do we want to function, what do we want to offer).

conflict_management_styles_graph**One of the best discussions of the week came out of this exercise, when we regrouped to discuss our results. Someone who had one conflict management style asked those with a different style how best to approach them to deal with conflict in a positive way. Recognizing that your co-workers – no matter where they are in the organizational hierarchy – may have a different style from yours brings a new level of awareness to the process of conflict management and negotiation.

In the photo at right, the circled numbers in green represent the results of the NELLS group. Though many of us scored high on two management styles (collaborating and compromising, for example), these numbers reflect only the highest scores. “Collaborating” was the most prevalent style, followed by compromising, competing, avoiding, and accommodating.