We Have Met the Leader and He Is Us: Recommending the AALL Leadership Academy and Reflecting on Lessons Learned

In early April, 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 boldly stated 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 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 was 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. 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.

If we can communicate and motivate, then we should be successful. But what about the task of getting people to join in the first place? Gail and Pam said something about volunteers that I have been struggling with ever since. They said that an organization should put up barriers to entry. Gail said very frankly that organizations should never tell potential volunteers that “it will be easy” or “Don’t worry!  It won’t be that much work!”

On one level, I agree with Gail and Pam. Volunteer organizations, like CALL, need hard workers who are willing to put in a lot of effort. On the other hand, I believe that we should have different opportunities for different people. My first official function as a CALL member was probably taking registration forms and money at a continuing education event. That didn’t require a ton of commitment! And CALL really does need people to do small things like that to keep the organization running.

So the challenge must be how to take the registration money envelope holder and give her the right chances to become CALL VP/President-Elect, if she so desires. CALL does that now by giving every member the chance to become a committee member or committee chair. That’s as simple as filling out a volunteer form. Then, once a member is in place, she can start volunteering for other jobs within the committee. Then it falls to the committee chairs and board members to take a good look around at their members and think of ways to engage them and motivate them to do more. That will lead to more opportunities to step up and lead. If we are doing this right, then we will create opportunities for every CALL member to participate as much as they want.

I highly recommend the Leadership Academy to CALL members who are considering it. Gail and Pam are very effective speakers and did a good job of allowing discussion but also keeping the discussion on track.  The attendees were all very motivated and engaged.  Getting to the McDonald’s corporate campus was somewhat difficult, but the hotel itself was absolutely lovely. I’ve included some pictures of the McDonald’s-themed artwork that I saw on the walls.

And no, I did not get any McDonald’s to eat.