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Wednesday 12 September 2007

Transformational leadership and its implications for the library profession

Debbie Dawson & Sally Lewis

Transactional leadership - focused on managing the status quo through transactions between leader and staff. Usually delivered by someone in a named leadership role. Focusing on individuals and development so performance contract can be achieved.
Transformational leadership - not necessarily attached to authority role - anyone can provide it. Some do it consistently, others around a particular purpose. Doesn't deal with status quo but with moving beyond current expectations into new territory. Ability to inspire and stimulate.
Both these styles are essential to a successful library. They're not the same; only rarely can the same individual excel in both of these. Both leaders must engage people: transformational leaders must engage hearts and minds for purpose of change.

Transformation threatens status quo though we don't know where we'll end up. "Change in kind, not just in degree" (Herb Kindler)

Consider incremental change when

  • the present system is adequate to support the desired vision and values
  • a backlog of cost-effective, incremental change options is available
  • the environment in which you operate is relatively stable and predictable (when was the last time this applied?...).

Consider transformational change when

  • the current system no longer yields acceptable progress toward your objectives
  • turbulent conditions require a fundamental change
  • you're prepared to address staff resistance re job security, maintaining competence in unfamiliar new system.

Not about what you know, it's about how you think.

Transformational leaders have: vision; courage; role-modelling; thinking-ability and intelligence; sense-making; decision-making; optimistic realism/realistic optimism; political savvy; self-management; patience & perseverance. Have to be alert, quick, sharp, and measured in their approach.

Courageous followers - Followers often see themselves as powerless and helpless, but can be powerful. Not afraid of hard work, taking on tasks to lessen load on team. Don't just mutely take orders, but challenge leader and contribute to team. Powerful - personal history, faith in self, influencing others, relationships they've established, power to leave organisation.

Will libraries nurture their transformational leaders?

Putting things in boxes and seeing things as one right way to do everything (eg literature search, perfect solution) vs requirement for courage to think independently and be assertive (eg courage to raise ideas, risk upsetting the status quo).

The requirement for transformations is unpredictable and ongoing.