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Lookin' For A Leader

The nominating committee for the Medical Library Association is chaired by the immediate past president and meets for a full day at the beginning of the annual meeting to come up with a list of potential candidates for president and board.  In anticipation of the board meeting next week, MJ asked each of us to list three leadership attributes we'd like to see in presidential and board candidates.

For president:

  • Somebody who can clearly, cogently, and persuasively articulate a broad vision for the profession -- in this time of radical change, we need someone who not only sees a rich and exciting future, but can present it in a way that energizes the membership and gets the message across to our communities in a vivid and inspiring way.
  • Somebody who is facile with the various social networking tools and, more importantly, knows how to implement them in a very targeted way so that they are used effectively -- the incoming president is encouraging us to think about how we can use these tools to transform the way the association does business and how it communicates with the membership.  MLA has done a pretty good job of using available technology so far, but we're now looking at the potential for truly transformative change, and that requires someone who can think radically about control, transparency and vulnerability in decision-making.
  • Someone with a demonstrated ability to achieve consensus, while not allowing the search for consensus to bog down decision-making -- MLA's constituency is very heterogeneous, and all of those disparate needs and interests have to be taken into account.  But leadership is more than just coming up with plans and proposals that make obeisance to various staked-out positions -- it requires pulling people along into seeing how addressing the critical needs of any particular subgroup are essential to making all of us stronger.  And sometimes it will require encouraging people to leave some of those long staked-out positions behind.

For board members:

  • Demonstrated ability to be a team player -- the board gets together only three times a year.  There's not a lot of opportunity to bond and develop deep trust (although, given the size of the profession, most board members have at least a nodding acquaintance with each other).  But if we're going to get stuff done, we've got to be able to work effectively together right from the start.  One of the biggest transitions for me in moving from the JMLA, where I could be a benign dictator who had final responsibility for all decisions, good and bad, is to be in a position where I can express my views and contribute to the problem solving, but then be able to strongly support the decisions that are made, whether or not they end up moving in the direction I might most prefer.
  • Good listener, with an appreciation for that multiplicity of viewpoints within the association that I referred to earlier -- each of us comes from a different setting, but I do not believe we are there primarily to represent that sector.  I'm not here representing big academic health science libraries -- I'm supposed to be looking out for the interests of all of the members, and that means I have to listen really well to the concerns of those who work in settings that I never have, so that I can appreciate the differences and seek out the commonalities.
  • We need people who are excited about the possibilities that we face -- there's a lot of doom and gloom out there.  I don't want to be a pollyanna about it all, but if the board is going to provide leadership to the profession, then one of the critical things that we have to do is present a future that is positive and exciting.  Nearly every time I speak to a group of librarians I point out that this is the greatest time in centuries to be a librarian -- explaining why that is so, and why this is a great profession to join at this point in time should be part of the portfolio of every board member.

And while it doesn't quite fit into either of these lists, I'd like to see candidates who are not "single-issue" people.  It is true that in order to be effective, the president has to be able to pick out just a couple of key issues that will define the presidential year, but we are not well served, at this point in time, by people who think that the critical issue is recruitment, or proving our worth, or dealing with technological change, or open access, or changes in the health care environment.  All important, certainly; but also all intertwined and the leaders that we need have to be able to take the broad view and see all of the interconnections.

Over the past seven or eight years, I've had the opportunity to work relatively closely with MLA's elected officers and headquarters staff and I've been pretty impressed, overall.  We've had many very smart, very dedicated people involved in leading and running the organization.  We're not as nimble as we need to be, and the processes involved in making decisions in an inclusive manner when you're dealing with a volunteer organization and all of those constituencies and sections & committees can be mind-numbingly slow.   We need to be quicker and more transparent.  We need processes and tools that bring in more of the creativity and energy of more of the members.   MLA will never have all of the money and other resources that we'd like to have.  But I learned from someone a long time ago that all the resources in the world won't help you if you don't have the right people.  And if you have the right people, they'll make great things happen no matter what.



Thank you! As a member of the Nominating Committee, I appreciate this guidance.

T Scott

You're welcome! But bear in mind that this is just my take on it. MJ will be having a discussion with the whole board next week and will then be synthesizing what we have to say into what she will use to provide guidance for the nominating committee.


Very true! You really have moved past the "benign dictator of JMLA" phase. :)

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