by Carolyn Davidson
Assistant Director
North Texas Regional Library System

Exactly what is a good leader, or even a leader for that matter? In The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, leadership is defined as "a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent."

But what does this really mean as far as action in your library job? If you have the desire and willpower, you can become an effective leader. Good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-evaluation, continuing education, learning new skills, and experience.

I have informally asked others what are the top three traits of a leader. A variety of answers has been given, but two have been consistently mentioned:
1. Personal skills – a leader is able to develop real relationships valuing each person on their team.
2. Takes responsibility – a strong leader will stand up as the guide or teacher for others and not just tell others what needs to be done – but leads by example.

Other attributes that were frequently mentioned for a good leader: someone that is: hard-working, decisive, respectful, a visionary, passionate, patient, confident, and a good listener.

Dr. Gleniece Robinson, the Fort Worth Public Library Director and respected community leader, provided insightful answers about leadership skills and traits.

1. What are some of the best traits of a good leader?

a. Intuition…..the ability to sense problems and solutions. To instinctively know when the timing is right to reap a great result
b. Respect… seek understanding of those around you and to value and incorporate their ideas. To delegate because you value and appreciate the work of others even when different from your own. To respect is to trust.
c. Imagination and Navigation….the ability to vision and to seize opportunities to create a strategic path to shape the vision. Leaders must be able to navigate the course and reap accomplishments through others
d. Courage….to stand for what is right when all around you is wrong. To make the right decision at the right time for the right reason even when no one is looking.


2. What are some hidden traits that a good leader will possess? By this I mean, are there traits not typically considered leadership traits - but you believe are necessary.


a. Acceptance….to fully accept and embrace the reality that public libraries belong to the people and that we have a responsibility to provide them the services they want not the services we think they should have or want. To this end, we need to maintain and strengthen our relationships with the communities. At the same time, we should embrace the ideas of our support groups (Advisory Boards, Friends, and/or Foundations) as these groups usually have a pulse on the community and can help chart the service blueprint for our customers. Input from Youth/Teen groups as well as Older Americans can be beneficial to reshaping service delivery to meet the demands of our many publics.
b. Generosity…to give freely of self because you are in the business because you love the people
c. Commitment……keeps you focused and dedicated to the work

3. As a leader in the library world, what advice would you give a new librarian about being a leader in their library and community? What “nuggets” have you learned along the way?

Know why you have chosen the profession of librarianship: it isn’t easy work. If you don’t know why you have chosen it or it chose you, you will feel frustrated, helpless and hopeless. Rewards are not frequent, therefore your courage to continue comes from within, but only if you know your ultimate goal. Being a leader means listening and acting on what others say, it is less about what you think, but more about discernment of nuggets if information you receive and how you seize that information to transform your library, regardless of your classification. You can lead from any vantage point, if you have the abilities. Don’t be afraid when you go to community meetings, walk around and meet and greet the people……don’t spend all your time talking to staff. Make sure the people know you… are generating community awareness and creating community advocates in the process. Create some balance in your life, but realize that life in world of leaders is not confined to 9-5 during weekdays. One city manager said to me recently, “you are never off duty”. If you want to be off on weekends, nights, holidays and don’t want to be called at 2 a.m. because something has gone wrong, then leadership is not the place for you.

In the Managerial Grid by Robert Blake, he presents two determinates of leadership: Concern for people and Concern for task.

Authoritarian Leader (high concern for task, low concern for people)
People who are very much task oriented and are hard on their workers (autocratic). There is little or no allowance for cooperation or collaboration. Heavily task oriented people display these characteristics: they are very strong on schedules; they expect people to do what they are told without question or debate; when something goes wrong they tend to focus on who is to blame rather than concentrate on exactly what is wrong and how to prevent it; they are intolerant of what they see as dissent (it may just be someone's creativity), so it is difficult for their subordinates to contribute or develop.

Team Leader (high concern for task, high concern for people)
This type of person leads by positive example and endeavors to foster a team environment in which all team members can reach their highest potential, both as team members and as people. They encourage the team to reach team goals as effectively as possible, while also working tirelessly to strengthen the bonds among the various members. They normally form and lead some of the most productive teams.

Country Club Leader (low concern for task, high concern for people)
This person uses predominantly reward power to maintain discipline and to encourage the team to accomplish its goals. Conversely, they are almost incapable of employing the more punitive coercive and legitimate powers. This inability results from fear that using such powers could jeopardize relationships with the other team members.

Impoverished Leader (low concern for task, low concern for people)
A leader who uses a "delegate and disappear" management style. Since they are not committed to either task accomplishment or maintenance; they essentially allow their team to do whatever it wishes and prefer to detach themselves from the team process by allowing the team to suffer from a series of power struggles.

You can take the Leadership Questionnaire to determine your type of leadership at:

Once you know your tendencies, you can begin strengthening your skills and developing your leadership traits.



Original Publication Date: 
December 1, 2007
Legacy Article Number: