Career Strategies for Librarians
The Pope, Leadership, and Me
by Lisa Ennis
I’ve been spending a good deal of time lately thinking about leadership and what makes a good leader.
Why do some people just seem to have a knack for motivating and inspiring people to excel -- to go
above and beyond what is expected or even what they believe they can do? I’ve been reading all the
appropriate books on the subject and researching the topic pretty relentlessly. There is no shortage of
resources that provide all kinds of examples, guidelines, models, exercises, and advice on how to be a
good leader. Something, however, was missing. Some key aspect to the whole thing. As I read about
developing good communication skills, creating a vision, decision making, training, and setting the
example, I kept thinking that something was lacking. Then two things happened. First, I started reading
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Second, the pope died.
These two things occurring at the same time caused a kind of minor collision in my little head. Let me
explain. In Seven Habits, Covey talks about two core ideas: the “Personality Ethic” and the “Character
Ethic.” Covey explains with the personality ethic that “success became more of a function of personality,
of public image, of attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques…” (19). In other words, it’s external
stuff like “I am going to act interested in what you are saying because I want you to like me or I want
something from you.” The Character Ethic, on the other hand, focuses on internal characteristics like
“integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the
Golden Rule” (18). This might be “I am going to listen to what you are saying because I respect you as a
person and I could learn something from you.”
Now stay with me here. All this was rolling around in my head when I turned on the TV to see that the
pope had died. Having attended a Catholic school and being raised Catholic, I naturally started watching
all the biography specials and summaries of his papacy. Throughout the day, he was continually praised
for his leadership in all kinds of areas. But then I heard something that gave me one of those eureka
moments. I can’t remember which news show it was, but what the reporter said was something like
“Pope John Paul II loved his God, his Church, his work, his flock; he just loved people – all people.” I
then realized that the best library leaders I’ve known have loved their jobs and people too.
As hokey as it sounds, that was the key -- love. Now, I am no child of the sixties; I leave that up to my
mother. I’m not talking about the “you have to love each individual as yourself” principle. What Covey is
talking about and what the pope embodied is simply the love of your work and mankind in a general,
broad way. To be an effective leader you have to believe in your cause and care about the people you are
leading. For instance, if the president of the university comes in and wants a book and you knock
yourself out trying to get it, but then a freshman comes in and you don’t even get up but just point to the
shelves, you aren’t acting out of love but extreme selfishness. Your position and actions have become
about what they can get you. I promise you the president won’t remember you, but that freshman will.
The best libraries are those with directors that can inspire their staff with their vision and hope for the
library’s future so that everyone is working toward the same goals. These directors encourage and even
welcome new and different ideas. They like their staff to be innovative and creative. Directors who are
not threatened by change or by their staff questioning them create an atmosphere of trust and respect
where everyone feels comfortable expressing their ideas or concerns. The best directors are those that
lead by example. Whether they mean to or not, followers emulate and internalize the attitudes and
actions of their leaders. Leaders really just recognize one thing: that leading isn’t about them. It is about
the organization and people that they are leading.
Covey, Stephen R. The seven habits of highly effective people : restoring the character ethic. New York :
Fireside Book, 1990.
About the Author:
Lisa A. Ennis is the Reference Librarian at UAB Lister Hill Library in Birmingham, AL. She received her M.
S. in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee in 1997 and her M.A. in history from Georgia
College & State University in 1994.
Article published May 2005
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