Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The AL Cannot be Lead

Some say you can lead the AL to a martini, but you can’t make her drink. That, however, is false. You can always make her drink, but you can’t lead her to the martini. That’s because the Annoyed Librarian cannot be lead. Also, it’s the AL and a martini. They’ll get together somehow.

Some librarians want to lead us all, or maybe they just want to be lead. They’re the ones who get all excited about marketing and management. The ones who give us motivational talks about how wonderful the world would be if we all just bowed down to their dubious genius. The ones who watch talks like this one (found via this blog , which is so HOT this week!). It’s 17 minutes of someone called Seth Godin "on the tribes we lead," and is offered, I suppose, for our inspiration. The video is 17 minutes, but I read the accompanying transcript in about 3, so you might consider doing that if you can tolerate it. However, I have sacrificed myself so you don’t have to.

And yes, you got that right, I said "someone called Seth Godin," because I’d never heard of him before. After reading this presentation, his brief bio, and his Wikipedia entry, I’ll never bother to hear from him again. He’s some sort of marketing guru, and apparently a darn popular and sought after one if you believe his bio. This merely confirms why I don’t pay attention to this stuff.

Sure, there are librarians who claim I’m not doing my job and keeping up if I don’t read marketing and management and other business-related books, but those people are of course mistaken. I don’t read them because most of them are garbage. I’ve looked at some popular ones. I’ve browsed the business section of my neighborhood library used book sale. I’ve tried, really. And what have I found? Self-help books, for the most part. Most self-help books seem to be targeted at the feeble-minded and weak-willed. Most business self-help books are targeted at the feeble-minded and weak-willed who want to make a lot of money. I could be wrong about this, but I have a feeling all the truly successful and powerful business leaders out there aren’t very motivated or impressed by this junk. They don’t need inspiration, they have talent. The business self-help books are for the losers who want to be inspired. If they were winners, they wouldn’t need to be inspired. They’d be out winning.

Godin’s current interest, apparently, is (are) "tribe(s)," and we’re supposed to find that inspiring. A "tribe" is a group of people who want some one to lead them and make them feel like they’re a part of something big, you know, like the Nazis. This might sound extreme, but Godin isn’t too particular about what the tribe does, as long as they have fun doing it. On his bio, he has a quote from Business Week about himself that he must like: "he’s as focused on spreading ideas as he is on the ideas themselves." That sounds about right. It’s probably because there’s not much here in the way of ideas.

The idea of leadership is fuzzy. "The Beatles did not invent teenagers. They merely decided to lead them. That most movements, most leadership that we’re doing is about finding a group that’s disconnected but already has a yearning. Not persuading people to want something they don’t have yet." Did the Beatles really "lead" teenagers? And shouldn’t we wonder what such groups have yearnings to do?

The talk is a bit disconnected, but later we get the "three questions." "So three questions I’d offer you. The first one is, who exactly are you upsetting? Because if you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo. The second question is, who are you connecting? Because for a lot of people, that’s what they’re in it for. The connections that are being made, one to the other. And the third one is, who are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it, not the mechanics of what you’re building, but the who, and the leading part is where change comes." Very challenging questions, indeed, and they beg as many questions as they ask. So your goal should be to upset people? How about if you just shout in their faces? That’s upsetting. And is the status quo always bad? Godin assumes it is, but there’s no real proof of that. Most people tend to like most things most of the time, and if they don’t then they just take a lot of drugs or kill themselves and we don’t have to worry about them. As for who’s being connected, I don’t really care as long as they’re not being connected to me.

It’s the third question that most strikes the demagogic chord, as well as just being vapid. Who are you leading? Are you leading anyone? Because you’re sure as hell not leading me. And notice that it doesn’t matter what any of these people in the audience are trying to "build"; it only important that they go out and "lead" and bring "change." Yuck!

The final bit is just creepy. I’ll quote it in full:

"You don’t need permission from people to lead them. But in case you do, here it is. [He no doubt senses they need his permission, because he’s their leader and they’re sheep.] They’re waiting, we’re waiting for you to show us where to go next. So here is what leaders have in common. The first thing is, they challenge the status quo. They challenge what’s currently there. The second thing is, they build a culture. A secret language, a seven second handshake. A way of knowing that you’re in or out. They have curiosity. Curiosity about people in the tribe. Curiosity about outsiders. They’re asking questions. They connect people to one another. Do you know what people want more than anything? They want to be missed. They want to be missed the day they don’t show up. They want to be missed when they’re gone. And tribe leaders can do that. It’s fascinating because all tribe leaders have charisma. But you don’t need charisma to become a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma. If you look and study the leaders who have succeeded, that’s where charisma comes from, from the leading. Finally, they commit. They commit to the cause. They commit to the tribe. They commit to the people who are there."

This guy is describing a population of thoughtless morons with meaningless lives who want to join a cult. "Waiting for you to show us where to go next"? Um, no, we’re not waiting, at least not those of us with a healthy skepticism and the capacity for critical thought. Challenging the status quo? Pol Pot challenged the status quo. Oh, and they "build a culture" with a "secret language" and handshake, a "way of knowing that you’re in or out." Are these divisive "leaders" really anyone you’d want to be around? Secret handshakes and ways to make sure you know who’s a part of us and who’s a part of them? It either sounds like a club from the Little Rascals or some sort of evil cabal. Isn’t this what those Priory of Sion people are supposed to have? And mean girls forming cliques in grade school?

Then comes the Jim Jones part, so prepare to drink your kool-aid. They connect people, because what people want more than anything is to be missed. They don’t want freedom or security or wealth or fame or a great pair of shoes or a fast car. They just want to be missed! It’s so sweet, and also so pathetic. You, too, can be a leader by telling your coworker who blew off work the day before, "hey, we missed you." That is, if you have "charisma." Oh, and "commitment." Commit to the tribe! Commit to the cause! Bow down before your leader! Join hands and chant your mantra! If we all join hands, then we’ll know who we’re missing when they’re gone! And we can hunt them down and assimilate them! There is no "I" in team!

I’m begging you all, please don’t be inspired by this stuff, and if you are, don’t try to lead me. You see, I’m not looking for a charismatic leader to come along and make me feel like I’m a part of the secret in-group. On the contrary, I’m highly suspicious of such charismatic leaders, and in general think their shenanigans should be exposed. So, aspiring "leaders," please keep your charisma and your secret handshakes to yourself.

Don’t lead, because the AL definitely won’t follow, and don’t follow, because I sure won’t lead. And if you’re a library demagogue who wants me to join your cabal, don’t even walk beside me, because I don’t want to be your friend.



  1. RadicalPatron says:

    AL, I share you skepticm about the self-help tribe.

    I do, however, believe in putting fresh ideas out there. You may be interested in my blog, The Radical Patron. I’m not part of the library profession and offer concrete ideas, critiques and kudos for public libraries.

  2. Tsk Tsk says:

    Sorry AL, you godwined yourself, thus ending any conversation, per Internet protocol.

  3. chickenlittle says:

    Great post AL!! I also can’t believe the plethora of management garbage on the shelf today. Do people actually believe this crap? Unfortunately in Library Land many do. I have a small solution for many of you “rebels” wanting to pass the time in your next “management meeting”, its called “Keener Bingo”. Make up a bingo chart of all the new ridiculous management “touchy feely” terms such as empowerment, Web 2.0, change management, etc. Of course put in extra squares for someone who is “kissing butt” or “sucking up” to the boss! Play on your own or with other like minded free thinking “rebels”. It will mean hours of fun at your next management meeting. Of course don’t have too much fun or your managers will think you actually enjoy these meetings!

  4. Great post AL!!!

    I for one cannot stand any changes: be they in management, technology, schooling, dealing with patrons, etc.

    Having said that, I hope that the AL will soon take down this blog and starts mailing out mimeographed newsletters.

    The only real way to take it to the man.

  5. BTZ, how does “I won’t be lead by silly demagogues” translate into “I can’t stand changes”? Just curious.

  6. Dr. Pepper says:

    I for one enjoyed Tribes. Here’s an interesting exercise. Take the management books you’re reading today, look at historical figures – compare and contrast. Yes management books are filled with business bullcrap jargon – but the underlying principle can sometimes be valid. Look beneath the surface.

  7. la gringissima says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only one out there in Library Land who thinks Seth Godin is a twit. And yes, I have read his books. No, I don’t oppose change.

  8. If you don’t oppose change then you cannot be one of the Annoyed Librarian Acolytes.


  9. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Fabulous post, AL. I’ve heard lots of blather over 30 years, most of it in my corporate job. “It’s a new bandwagon! We’d better hop on!!” In my experience, this sort of drivel appealed to the managers who couldn’t manage/lead and their subordinates who didn’t know the meaning of work. I won’t be led either, AL. I will however partake of a martini made with Hendrick’s gin anytime I’m offered.

  10. AL, have you read “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene? His are the only self-help books I’ve found worth the paper they’re printed on. He mentions something similar to this Godin fellow in Law 26, only under more honest terms, in a segment called “The Science of Charlatanism, Or How to Form A Personality Cult in Five Easy Steps.”

  11. AlwaysWanted2B says:

    I am old i have been around. I have lived through doing more with less, Theory X, Y, Z of management, leading from the middle, managing your boss, and all that nonsense. Most people just roll their eyes when yet another management or leadership paradigm comes out. I will listen polity and then go have a margarita.

  12. Dances With Books says:

    Another great post AL. For ages, I have been saying most of the management self help crap is exactly that. And I never saw the big deal with people like Godin, except every other twit librarian guru just goes gaga over them and their books. Of course, I look at it as being in the wrong line of work. I should come up with some catchy touchy feely, self-help mantra, write a book, get on the speaker circuit, and make a fortune. Even if I know it is all bs, there are plenty of weak willed morons willing to buy into it. If nothing else, Godin and Co. are laughing all the way to the bank.

  13. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    I believe it’s the least capable among us who buy into this junk. A woman I worked for years ago believed we would be a better team if we did Myers-Briggs and had a “team-building day.” Her theory was high-I people weren’t cooperative, didn’t believe in the company’s goals, etc. We lined up in our I and E lines, from highest to lowest. As I looked at my fellow Is I saw the people who got the work done, played nicely together, and kept the organization humming. Across the room, scattered among those Es, were our troublemakers, lazybones, and backstabbers. So much for her theory – absolute utter BS. Had to like the woman though – she gave me great raises because I was such a “good” team player. But I couldn’t be led.

  14. anonymous says:

    Um, I think some of your lead’s should be led’s, unless you are speaking plumbumaceously, of course (which would certainly put a new twist on the column).

  15. …or give it more weight.

  16. well put, AL!

  17. “The Beatles did not invent teenagers. They merely decided to lead them.”

    That in itself is absurd. The Beatles never decided to lead teenagers. The Beatles created music that appealed directly to young people, who then emulated the Beatles in their physical appearance, lifestyle choices, and socio-political activities.

  18. The AL is not a follower or a leader.

    I guess (s)he should just get the hell out of the way.

  19. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    k8552 – I’d have to disagree. AL is one of the few who dare tell it like it is. If I remember my management/administration theory correctly, the ability to tell the truth even when it hurts is a hallmark of leaders. That she steps on the toes of the starry-eyed in the profession is a good thing.

  20. Mr. Kat says:

    AL, I find that most leaders can’t STAND other leaders competing for their roles. They can’t stand their own followers either because the damn morons can’t figure anything out on their own. And when they do try to figure things out on their own, they bungle things up so badly the only solution is to fire them all and hire new morons.

    By this demagogue, I would venture a guess that you have been leading a cult this whole time over these past few years and doing a damn good job of it!

    And I can’t be lead either. Not because I won’e be lead, but because I’m already chromium. I learned that on Facebook, ala the “What element are you?” Quiz.

    Chromium and lead together, though, and you get a flashy pretty mirror finish that lasts longer than the car!!!

  21. Michael says:

    “and don’t follow, because I sure won’t lead”

    Too late.

  22. The AL only tells it like it is when it can be done in a devil’s advocate way.

    If the AL really did not want to be a follower of management, (s)he would not be anonymous.

    I suspect the AL is scared $hitless of his/her boss and would be the UAL (Unemployed Annoyed Librarian) in short measure.

    Just a a thought.

  23. I am No. 6 says:

    It is a dismal day if we can be fired for our professional opinions. Maybe it is just a lot more fun to be anonymous?

  24. Kataloger says:

    I’ve so enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for all the input. As far as liking or disliking change, the fact is that change happens. Deal with it.

  25. Is any of that garbage based on grounded theory?

    If it is, it’s not garbage.

  26. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    They call it management “theory” but I believe it’s mostly bunk. A few people are worth following, the most not. Those who are worth following tend to have superb leadership qualities. I haven’t met many in this life – many aspire, hardly any are called. My former brother-in-law is a pilot for Southwest Airlines – Herb Kelleher was some leader! Who is comparable in LibraryLand?

  27. Marian_Corporate says:

    I’ve been a corporate librarian for over 20 years and seen all the self-help garbage come and go. I purchase these books as a disposable — none are referred to after 3 years. In fact, you can just recycle an approach from 6-9 years ago in new packaging and it will fly off the shelf.

    Got to go, some patron here is worried about her cheese moving….

  28. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Anyone familiar with zero-based budgeting? That was the big thing when I first started at a corporate library a quarter century ago. Now, at an academic library, it’s all about assessment. Which is kinda difficult if librarians are being asked to do one-shots and never see the students again, read the papers, etc.

  29. AlwaysWanted2b says:

    MarianCorporate, it is either the moving cheese or catching a fish thrown the air. A good motto for leadership – a fish rots from the head

  30. I’m just always amazed that in a post-Dilbert world anyone is dumb enough to take this stuff seriously.

  31. There is a very poignant irony here that AL should call out Seth Godin on leadership when AL itself leads a tribe of sycophants who revel in the unchecked sardonic self-indulgence that is this blog.

    Of course it’s all the more striking when you consider that AL has devolved into a brand–a collection of narcissistic scribblings by a group of staffers who can’t even reign in their wild stylistic oscillations enough to hide that fact.

  32. TwoQatz says:

    Gosh J. – I think most of the regular posters just enjoy the heck out of AL and you simply don’t get it. I wish to God we’d have some of these discussions in our library. Honest discussion, venting, bitching, comparing notes, etc. is good for an organization! Except organizations don’t really like that sort of thing. Better to be “inspired” and “motivated.” yawn …

  33. Your ennui is actually just mediocrity masquerading as bullshit.

  34. Have you ever tried to change someones plan for change? A real eye-opener.

  35. Incorrect: “That’s because the Annoyed Librarian cannot be lead.”

    Correct: “That’s because the Annoyed Librarian cannot be led.”

  36. Dr NahNah says:

    True. The AL cannot be Pb. Though perhaps she has some Pb in her. A little table of elements humor there folks.

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