Discussion topic: management and leadership in libraries

For our next discussion topic we’d like to take a look at something that touches all of us: management and leadership. We all have managers and leaders in our professional lives, and some of us may be managers, leaders, or both.

It’s common to ask what the difference is between management and leadership – and there is a large body of literature devoted to that question. One difference between management and leadership is that “management involves power by position” while “leadership involves power by influence” (Wayne Bivens-Tatum). This could be interpreted as managers having formal power and responsibilities defined by an organisation, while leaders have informal power and responsibilities that are less explicit. Some definitions include the idea that a core management responsibility is to measure and track work activities, and a core leadership responsibility is to motivate and inspire staff. Obviously these tasks require very different skills.

Here are some resources to help understand the difference between management and leadership:

However,  you’ll notice that we, and many people, write about management and leadership as if they are the same thing. While we recognise significant differences between the two areas of practice, we also believe that successful organisations and professions require both leadership and management – so you’ll see us referring to both in the discussion topic ahead.

The Core Competency Leadership Model (Ammons- Stephens, et. al.,2009) identifies four skills central to leadership competency:

  • Cognitive ability – problem solving, decision making and reflective thinking
  • Vision – global, creative, forward thinking
  • Interpersonal effectiveness – cultural competency, accountability, team building, motivational and communication skills
  • Managerial effectiveness – managing change, resource management, strategic planning, collaboration, flexibility/adaptability.

An introduction to leadership in libraries can be gained by reading articles on LISCareer.com including the article by Carol A. Brey-Casiano on leadership qualities of future library leaders.

Some questions you might like to use to start the discussion on management and leadership with your partner are:

  • Are you in a management position at work? Or is this something you aspire to?
  • What do you think are important qualities for a good manager or leader?
  • Who is the best manager that you’ve had? What made them such a good manager?
  • Are there people that you think of as leaders in your organisation or your local professional community?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages.

Alyson Dalby, ILN Director of Business Operations


Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016A and tagged , , .


  1. Thanks, Alyson!
    Good question and good comments from you!
    I think that in life and in any profession requires leadership: leading and motivating to be happy all my life is a great challenge and requires administrative and leadership qualities.
    Important decisions require reflection and some (heart) to make them more confident and take on the results.
    The world of information and libraries is the same; sometimes and by our activity (managers vs. catalogers) requires the best qualities / skills / practice as a leader and administrator.

  2. The best definition of leadership that I ever heard and that I have quoted for many, many years comes from Charlie Robinson, the former director of the Baltimore County Public Library and who died about two weeks ago. Charlie says:
    The essence of leadership is the communication of commitment.
    I love this definition because of everything that lies beneath it. To me it means that the leader first has to come to a decision about what is worth committing to; what direction an organization should in; a commitment first to an idea. In today’s US management world, that goal or vision would probably come from some discussion with key staff and maybe public or customer input. The definition also acknowledges that it’s communication that makes the difference. An organization can have multiple layers and different opinions. Dictatorship rarely works. A leader must communicate what he/she believes in and in a way that brings other along and gets their agreement and participation.

    • Hi Nancy – thanks for sharing that. I agree that commitment is a really useful concept to think about when thinking of leadership. There’s lots of people who are in leadership positions, but may not be clear on what they are committed to.

      If you know what a leader is committed to, their leadership would be significantly more powerful. You’ve gotten me thinking!


  3. Thanks Alyson, this is a topic that’s so important to libraries. I think that everyone that works in libraries finds themselves in positions where they need to take the lead, even if it’s not included in their job title. Emergencies can happen, or you can find yourself in a situation where you’re the only one working and you need to make a decision.

    Some resources that I like are learning about transformational leadership style from Kouzes and Posner. I think they’ve done a wonderful job of simplifying and focusing on being a great leader.
    Their workbook: http://as.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118182707.html

    The Leadership Freak blog is full of great ideas and solutions: https://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/

    And it all ties into the ALA’s Core Competencies of Librarianship, which lists transformational leadership specifically in section 8E: http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/sites/ala.org.educationcareers/files/content/careers/corecomp/corecompetences/finalcorecompstat09.pdf

    Kendra Perkins
    Ambassador of China – ILN

    • Hi Kendra,

      There’s been a lot written lately about transformational leadership, but to be honest I don’t really feel that I understand it, so thanks for sharing that resource! I clearly have some reading to do this weekend 🙂


  4. Obviously, leadership is more than just commitment but I like the way Charlie put it that looks at what’s behind it. As was stated at the beginning of this discussion, I also see a big overlap between leadership and management. I think a leader has to be able to manage the implementation of the big picture, the overall accomplishment of the mission, the adherence to values of the organization. And a really good leader will look for leadership qualities in top and line management so that they can judge as the situation changes and manage complexity with flexibility. So I’ve always thought the distinction was artificial.

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