Last week, I had the privilege of attending the American Association of Law Libraries’ Leadership Academy. The most profound and interesting takeaway from the conference was the idea that we can all be leaders, even if we are not the boss.
The speakers, Gail Johnson and Pam Parr of Face to Face Communications and Training, Inc., stated boldly that it is a myth that leaders need followers. Gail pointed out that when people just follow blindly, then they can’t help offer solutions or point out problems. Then she asked us a powerful question: would you rather have someone following behind you or walking beside you?
So what does leadership look like when you’re not the committee chair or not the boss? The Academy offered a fairly simple answer: you communicate clearly and motivate those around you to do their best.
Think of the worst group project you’ve ever been in. First of all, it was probably the worst because someone misunderstood what the group of doing, someone went off-line and couldn’t be reached, and you couldn’t get anyone to understand your idea. Clear communication could have helped. Gail and Pam offered an old-fashioned solution: talk in person. I know we’re all busy and Google docs are a great collaboration tool, but what if you mixed in some in-person meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page? You could Skype or FaceTime.
Second, the worst group project ever was probably the worst because it seemed like no one else cared. If you’re in law school, you were probably the person who rolled her eyes and picked up the slack. Gail and Pam pointed to this as a problem of motivation. This is arguably a much bigger challenge than clear communication. From everything I heard at the conference, I think perhaps the easiest thing we can do to motivate others is to say thank you, to show appreciation, and to take the opportunity to tell others that their work matters.
I’m energized by this vision of leadership, especially because it means I can be a leader all my life.