The Importance of Multiple Perspectives: Reflections from a 2018 CCL Library Leadership Scholarship Winner 

By Sarah Lehmann, American River College 

All libraries need leaders. Whether we are deans, coordinators, directors, department chairs, or faculty librarians “leading from the middle,” there is a lot of need and opportunity for leadership in community college libraries. But many of us have never received much training in how to be an effective leader. In recognition of this training gap, the Council of Chief Librarians has created an annual Leadership Scholarship of up to $3,000 to support leadership training for library deans, directors, department chairs, and other library leaders. 

At the Spring 2018 Deans & Directors meeting, I found out I was one of the lucky recipients of this scholarship. So in August 2018, I used my award to attend the weeklong Harvard Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians (LIAL) in Boston, Mass. I came away with new friends, many new insights, and a deep respect for the nuances and politics of library leadership. I feel so fortunate that CCL gave me this opportunity to grow my leadership capacity!  

The Harvard LIAL institute uses a case study approach in conjunction with Bolman and Gallos’ “Four Frames” academic leadership model. Each day contained a mix of small group discussion, case studies, lectures, and presentations from prominent library leaders. We were assigned substantial daily readings that underpinned each day’s curriculum. 

My favorite aspect of LIAL was the case study approach. It was amazing to me how much more I learned from each case study once we discussed it as a group compared to what I gleaned from simply reading it on my own. For me, this experience was humbling and really reinforced the importance of assembling a diverse team to consider issues and challenges from multiple perspectives. I may think I understand an issue perfectly when in reality, I could be overlooking an glaring issue that would be obvious to someone with a slightly different perspective. It calls to mind Donald Rumsfeld’s concept of “unknown unknowns:” sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know, so one key takeaway for me is that as a leader it’s important to be humble, avoid making assumptions, and use a collaborative approach to problem solving. 

The Four Frames approach also emphasizes the need to look at leadership challenges from multiple perspectives or “frames:” the Structural, Human Resources, Political, and Symbolic Frames. As leaders, we all have strengths and feel more comfortable with some frames over others, but the thorny issues we sometimes face as library leaders really require us to stretch and grow our capacity to consider issues from all frames. 

Another key takeaway for me from LIAL is that there are many ways to be an effective library leader. I met smart, thoughtful library administrators from all over the country and from a wide range of institutions. They had very different personalities, strengths, backgrounds, and approaches, yet all were succeeding as leaders at their libraries. Perhaps what everyone had in common was an interest in growth and professional development!

I really value my experience at LIAL and deeply appreciate CCL’s commitment to growing leadership capacity among California Community College Librarians. If you are interested in library leadership, I highly encourage you to apply for a future scholarship!