(This model would not have had an opportunity to be tested without the ongoing financial and emotional support of the staff and board of the Central Colorado Library System and our first 24 guinea pig librarians. Eternal thanks and appreciation to all).
What is the difference between management training and leadership training? I began to ask myself that question after participating as a workshop presenter in several leadership programs. Although the brochures talked about leadership, the curricula addressed the same issues as management classes: conflict management, marketing, staff management, finance, etc.
Also, the class structure was the same as the typical high school or undergraduate college class , i.e., participants would listen to an array of experts come in and tell them how to be leaders. Each expert had their favorite model that was the "truth". There were many speakers and panels of speakers. Often, there was a good dose of political savvy and community awareness in the content of these classes. Sometimes, individuals got to work on a project in teams or took psychological tests. Sometimes, they had a project to do in their workplace.
The rooms were rarely set up so that participants could interact with each other comfortably, except at lunch. There was little time for breaks, which seemed to mean "important work is being done here."
I found it amusing that despite this regimentation, the participants I interviewed nearly always commented positively about the friendships they managed to make during the program and how much they learned, not from the speakers, but from each other.
This fit into my experience as a trainer and as the manager of an international information service. The Office for Open Network, founded in 1975, is a community of explorers who share ideas and information; my partner Leif Smith and I are merely traffic cops.
Most of the leadership programs seemed to aim at professionals and managers wanting to know how to climb the next step of the career ladder. The programs were very good, but I could not understand how they were different from any excellent managerial training.
My idea of leadership training came from remembering the powerful influence of people who were iconoclasts, inventors, explorers, and other cultural change agents. My leaders create their own set of rules that sometimes shatter the institutions they served. Frankly, some of my favorite leaders are dangerous characters, and following them is the adventure of a lifetime. Right now, many leadership programs seem to want to create leaders who will protect the status quo. To me, this is a contradiction.
The breakthrough came from my friend and mentor Ronald Gross, a well-respected author and international gadfly of the education establishment. Ron had started traveling around in the person of Socrates, and he told me the extraordinary results he was seeing when he started asking audiences questions, instead of giving them answers.
This encounter helped me recognize a different way to create an environment where leadership values and skills could be discovered and practiced.
1. Working adults attracted to a leadership program have already attended more workshops than they can remember and have probably run more than a few. They already have decades of information on leadership. They are the people other people come to for advice. They have something important to contribute.
2. They probably spend most of their time focused on their own field and are up to speed on much of the professional literature. They subscribe to journals and go to conferences. However, they might not have a chance to be exposed to information and ideas outside their field.
3. They were most likely to find value from discussing ideas with their fellow students.
4. Leadership is different than management and requires different skills in many settings, even though many of the skills do overlap.
1. The program is based on a process of intellectual self-discovery, similar to what one might experience in a well-run university colloquium with a group of scholarly peers. Students spend most of their time in class writing and reflecting in small groups (five or six people at most) on questions that address root (radical) issues about their roles, professions and institutions.
2. Students have a chance to lead their own groups at least once and to make presentations to the entire group.
3. The readings and ideas come out of disciplines outside their own field, and focus on seminal ideas and authors in a variety of fields.
4. Many different models are presented, and participants learn to synthesize their own lifetime of learning and to test their premises.
5. Intellectually, nothing is sacred. Participants are encouraged to develop their own ideas and to question authorities, including and especially the person in the front of the room!
So far, I have been very pleased with the results. I have used this model and variations of same with nurses, government workers, teachers, college administrators, civic leaders, parents, community activists, blue collar workers, scientists and executives in nonprofit organizations. The nine library leadership institutes we have conducted (six in Colorado, two in Iowa and one in California) have received outstanding marks from participants. It is not uncommon for participants, who include everyone from experienced directors and administrators to rural library volunteers, to tell us it is one of the best, if not the best, program they have ever attended. More importantly, most participants report immediate positive behavior and attitude change that they take back to their workplace.
1. It is "sheer heaven" to have the time to talk with "quality" people about challenges in the workplace.
2. Most of the authors are not familiar to most of the participants; participants value the exposure to new ideas. They feel intellectually challenged.
3. They have a chance to practice techniques for eliciting the best from their staff, peers and those in management and leadership positions, in a safe environment. They can experiment and fail.
4. Their own ideas are validated. Ironically, the small groups repeatedly end up duplicating the conclusions of the academic and popular "experts".
5. They start taking more chances in their workplaces.
6. They find it easier to make important decisions relating to their professional life, including leaving "safe" positions.
7. They become more interested in cutting edge technology and abstract research.
8. Supervisors, peers and employees report positive changes in their behavior.
9. They feel refreshed and renewed in their personal and professional lives.
The model, as you might have gathered by now, is very simple. You do not need an expert to run this program.
My own best experiences in education are when I am respected as a thinking person with something to contribute. My years as a college teacher and trainer, working with adult learners, has reinforced my belief that most adults flourish in such an environment.
Also, I do believe we may be coming to the end of the age of experts. We need, instead, leadership that is resourceful and flexible, with the ability to retool almost continuously.
Many professional communities are in crisis, the result of decades of pervasive intellectual isolation and smugness. Hopefully, programs like this can rewaken individuals to the rewards of adventure, of risk-taking and creation.
What is your model of leadership; how well are you living it?
Currently, I prefer to limit the interactive program to 25 participants, however I have done it for groups as large as 60 at a time. The short program is one or two days long; the longer program has run from six to eight days, spread over several weeks.
The interactive program ideally is held at a location where people stay overnight. It is very intensive, with classes running from 8 am to 9 pm the first day and from 8 am to 5 pm the second day. The evening of the first day is a two hour performance class, which even "shy" participants find lots of fun; it has the benefit of immediately improving individuals ability to speak in public, a key component of leadership.
For the longer programs, I interview all applicants before they are formally accepted; this takes place during a five minute phone call. This is mainly to screen out people who think this is a management program or who are being sent against their will by overly enthusiastic bosses. It also sets a positive tone for the program and models the kind of influential behavior I hope participants will imitate.
The room is set up with five small tables with five chairs around each table. There are one or more flip charts, a side table for snacks and materials, and a table and chair for the facilitator (which participants affectionately call the Tour Guide/Traffic Cop). By switching the groups around mathematically, everyone has a chance to sit with everyone else, to lead their small group and make a presentation by the end of the program. The longer program requires a short paper and a presentation to the class.
(Most exercises last about one to two hours; there are short breaks throughout the day, with one hour for lunch and two hours for dinner and an evening break at 5 pm; the evening program reconvenes at 7 pm and runs for two hours.)
This schedule is subject to change, as I continually learn better ways of doing things.
A bibliography and a handout is sent to participants before the program to prepare them.
1. Usual logistical intros; everyone stands up and introduces themselves.
2. Introduction to Eliciting the Best from Others and Ourselves
In the small groups, each person has a chance to tell a story to the others about something important that happened to them in their life, personally or professionally; one way to describe this would be as a peak moment. The others listen and encourage the person to describe the event.
When every person is finished, the leaders at each table help each group synthesize a model of what nonverbal and verbal behaviors worked the best to support others. This model is shared with the larger group; each leader makes a presentation. This is repeated for each of the subsequent exercises listed below.
Groups are switched.
3. How Are We Living Consciously as Leaders
In this exercise, we address professional fears. Individuals are asked to write up a scenario about what would they do if they were fired in the next six months and their institutions were eliminated.
Groups are switched.
4. The sacred cows of their world.
In this exercise, which most previous participants have said is one of their favorite, the small groups examine the issues of what keeps us from professional change. The small groups are asked to ruthlessly discuss the sacred cows - what each person holds above discussion and criticism and what the profession and field seems to hold above discussion and criticism.
Many people coming into the leadership class say something about their reluctance to speak in public. In addition, I notice that everyone who participates, with rare exceptions, could use some assistance in improving their speaking skills. Since leadership is measured in part by successful influence, almost all leaders need the best presentation skills. This program, even after a long day, is energizing and fun.
Using a very simple theatre game, participants break off into pairs and threes, and learn how to effectively coach each other into better performances. Instead of criticism, everyone receives positive reinforcement. Frankly, since everyone is making a fool of himself/herself and laughing a lot, no one seems to mind trying new things. Participants are usually astonished at how quickly their skills improve.
Groups are switched from previous day.
5. How To Sell
Each group at each small table is given a scenario to sell. Typical example: "You must raise money for your school to develop an outreach program to a new immigrant population" or "You are going to get your board to go along with a new way of compensating employees." The small group must come up with a specific idea, service or product to sell, identify the key person who needs to be sold on the idea, and develop a sales plan. Each plan is then presented to the group for evaluation.
Groups are switched from previous day.
6. The Future Librarian (or teacher or doctor or school, depending on the audience )
During a terrible plague in the year 2000 that started at ALA, all librarians and library workers die. In the year 2050, there are no more libraries or librarians, but the current leadership decides it needs and want them. So, the class takes a time machine to the future. Each small group is given a description of a community that wants a library. Example: "A community of 10,000 people who live under the ocean", "A farming commune in Montana" or "A city of 100,000 that lives and works in one building in downtown LA". The small group has define the community and its needs, and describe the structure and duties of the library. Money and technologies are not restrictions.
The presentations have been uniformly imaginative. We then discuss what these future visions have to offer us in the year 2000.
7. The Community Leader
Leadership needs to extend outside of the community, otherwise, other people will continue to make important decisions that affect the community without their input. In this exercise, the small groups map the networks individuals inhabit and discover who is being left out and why.
8. What's Next
As a final exercise, each person prepares and presents a brief description of what they plan to do next to apply the learning and reminders from class.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information.