The answer is as a school librarian you need to be both. However, too many are almost always managers and the role of leader is sacrificed to the demands of managing. For your program to be successful, you need to employ the characteristics of both and know which role is necessary in the moment.
In the corporate world, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the manager, while the Chief Executive Officer is the leader. As a librarian, you are both the COO and the CEO of your library program (minus the double salary). It’s up to you to decide which hat to wear, and the decision is not always easy.
To recognize when you need to be one or the other, you must know what the differences are. In an article for Forbes, William Arruda defines 9 Differences Between Being a Leader and a Manager. Much that he says applies to the unique job you have as a school librarian.
Here is his list- with my translations into the education environment:
- Leaders create a vision; managers create goals. Having a Vision is a required attribute of leaders. You need to know where you are going. Hopefully, you all have Vision and Mission Statements. It’s the leader part of you that created the Vision. As a manager, you develop the goals to execute your Mission, which is your path to your Vision.
- Leaders are change agents; managers maintain the status quo. Leaders hold the big picture. They look to see what is likely to be the “next thing.” Their external scan of the environment goes beyond the library and even education. They are aware of developments in technology, psychology, and politics. Don’t panic. It’s a scan. Not an in-depth study. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less time it takes. The manager in you will want to focus on getting today’s job done. While that is necessary, you can’t let it be the sole focus of what you do.
- Leaders are unique; managers copy. Leaders don’t try to reproduce the past even when it was successful. When I left one job where my library program was highly regarded, my successor, who had worked with me, tried to do everything the way I did it. But she wasn’t me, and it didn’t fit. Slowly the library program was reduced. When I retired from another school system, the librarian who took over had also worked with me, but she drew on her own strengths and expertise to move the library in another direction while keeping the values which she also embraced. The program grew.
- Leaders take risks; managers control risk. Those of you who read this blog, read my books, or seen my presentations, know I am always encouraging librarians to step out of their comfort zones. Your Vision requires it. Managers fear failure, but as I said in my blog Dealing with Failure, it’s part of the process that gets you to success.
- Leaders are in it for the long haul; managers think short-term. You won’t attain your Vision in a year. You may never reach it. But those who know that is where they want their program to go will keep getting closer to it. Some librarians may write their Vision because it’s what they are supposed to do, but they regard it as unattainable. Then they don’t create strategic plans to achieve it—which guarantees it will never happen.
- Leaders grow personally; managers rely on existing, proven skills. If you aren’t growing, you are dying. We are role models for lifelong learning. What have you learned today? How can you use it in your program? Reflect on how many skills you have that you didn’t when you first became a librarian. Where would you be if you hadn’t learned them?
- Leaders build relationships; managers build systems and processes. Relationships are the key to our success. It’s through relationships that we build collaboration and create advocates for our program. No matter how busy you are, you cannot limit your attention to managing the library. It won’t work without the relationships.
- Leaders coach; managers direct. This is about trusting that others have good ideas about the library program. Be open to suggestions from others and discuss whether or these can be integrated into the program. The more you recognize others, the stronger your program will become.
- Leaders create fans; managers have employees. I love this one. Your job is to empower others to be their best. As the saying goes, “Leaders don’t create followers; they create new leaders.” You not only need to empower your students; you also need to empower your teachers – and everyone else in the school community. Even, and sometimes especially, your administrators. The library has a huge reach. Use that to your program’s advantage.
Going from leading to managing and back to leading is a juggling act. It’s easier when you are aware of the differences and know when it’s time to switch roles. One is not better than the other, but one to the exclusion of the other will not give you the success you want.