March 17, 2018

Leading by Noticing | Lead the Change

(Editor’s Note: LJ’s Lead the Change program will be offered in eighteen additional cities in 2013 and will be in the Rochester, New York area on March 28. The upstate/western New York program is being hosted by the Rochester Public Library and Monroe County Library System and will take place at the Greece Public Library, Greece, NY. Patricia Uttaro, the director of the Rochester Public Library & Monroe County Library System in Rochester, shares a few thoughts here on the importance of leadership. )

I’m always talking with people about leadership, and how I am worried about the lack of interest so many in the field of librarianship have in becoming strong, effective leaders. During a conversation recently with a fellow library system director, I tried to articulate what I consider the single most important quality of an awesome leader. I talked about the ability to see and make connections outside the library arena, to look at something that succeeds in another field and imagine how it could be adapted to libraries. I talked around the concept for a long time, then my colleague said, “But what do you really mean?”

What I was grasping for, what I was dancing around, was the concept of noticing. Of paying attention. And then doing something.

Some people approach their jobs in one dimension—they cannot, or will not, think outside their own department, or library, or office. Others are Idea Hamsters—they churn out cool, crazy, interesting ideas, but they lack the will, or conviction or, perhaps, the resources or permission to make their ideas a reality. An awesome leader notices those crazy cool ideas and clears the way to allow staff to manifest those noticings.

But where do you go to notice things? Here are some ways and places I find inspiration:

  • Read widely. Read all kinds of magazines. Get a news aggregator like Zite and have a varied collection of top news stories fed to you every day. Read the magazines while you stand in line at the grocery store. Read the news headlines on Yahoo. Subscribe to trendspotting newsletter like Springwise or Gizmodo.
  • Talk to people. Talk to your patrons, talk to your staff. Talk to the little kids in the children’s area, talk to the teens in your library. Talk to your neighbors, and the friends your kids bring home. Find out what is important in their lives.
  • Watch a little TV. Tune in to Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel once in a while to see what’s up with the young ones these days. Check out the History Channel and MTV. Immerse yourself in pop culture for a few hours a week.
  • Listen to music. Listen to a wide variety of music, and get to know the musicians. Music can truly open your mind and lead you places you never expected.
  • Get to know your staff. Talk to them and find out what makes them sizzle, then remember it and celebrate it when you can.
  • Spend time on social media. It is incredibly easy to share things there. Facebook does some interesting things with marketing based on your friends and pages you like, and, while it can sometimes be intrusive, I often find myself exposed to things I never would have encountered anywhere else.

Leadership is about noticing and then taking action. It can be as simple as noticing a skill in a staff member and clearing the way to allow that person to use their skill in a way that benefits the organization, or it can be as complicated as noticing that traditional performance indicators for your library are declining and launching a project to completely revise the way you measure service. Either way, it means being aware of what’s happening around you and applying it to your organization. It’s not easy, but it sure can be fun.


Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley ( is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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