Suggested reading and listening on leadership, power relations and more

I have long been interested in work culture, power relations, communication and leadership in libraries, and there are so many good articles, podcasts and books that needs to be read that I cannot manage even a small percentage of everything that I should like to learn more about. However, I have been coming across some very useful and thought-provoking articles, podcasts and books lately that I thought I’d share here. Some concern themselves with libraries in particular while others are more general. Some of these, I have only skimmed through, while I have read/ listened to others more fully.

I enjoy most of the episodes on the “Dare to lead” podcast. It is led by Brené Brown, a researcher who is well-known for her research on shame and vulnerability. The podcast has had episodes that, although not particularly meant for libraries, have been very relevant for us librarians. Skewed power relations and toxic work cultures, but also employee activism and creative thinking + much more. I really loved these episodes:

  • How we return and why it matters (part 1 and 2)
  • Trust: Building, maintaining and restoring it
  • The dangers of toxic positivity
  • The Power of knowing what you don’t know
  • Inclusivity at work: the heart of hard conversations

Simon Sinek is well-known for his “Start with why” model. I haven’t had time to read his books yet, but I have browsed a little in both his “Start with why” and his “Leaders eat last” books, and while I don’t agree with everything, and he certainly seems to over-simplify matters, I also find some of his ideas pretty refreshing.

The book: “Speak up: say what needs to be said and hear what needs to be heard” by Reitz and Higgins is on my reading list, but not yet read. The book addresses culture at the workplace, and how leaders are encourage to say that they want open conversations without addressing the power inequality and culture issues. I’m thinking that while these issues have always been important, it is more important than ever. During the pandemic, many express that their relation to the workplace has weakened, and the statistics show that there has been a lot higher overturn in many companies. Conversations, the real ones, can rebuild some of the relationships and connections, but only if there is culture for it.

In this line of conversations, I would like to recommend Meredith Farkas’ blogpost on “listening theater”. It was a very sad, but important and well-written, story of how leaders can use “listening theater” with their employees and the almost inevitable result that can have. Farkas’ argument was that leaders might encourage feedback and conversations, but as long as none of your ideas or any of your arguments lead somewhere, you eventually give up and just realize that nothing you say make any kind of difference. Her blog post on “Slow librarianship” is also excellent.

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick showed up in a bibliography, and I was immediately interested because of this article: “Leaving the low morale experience: a qualitative study”, published in 2021. The study explores things like the role of the workplace abuse or neglect when it comes to leaving the organization, how the frameworks behind these roles are working, decision pathways during a low-moral episode and the long term effects after the person has left the workplace. The study is very interesting and particularly due to the qualitative narrative. I really think that we need to talk more about these issues in libraries.

My last reading suggestion for this post is the article “Toxic cultures are driving the great resignation” by Sull, Sull and Zweig. The authors have done extensive research on why people leave their workplaces, and found that the top 5 predictors of job attrition were: Toxic corporate culture, job insecurity and reorganization, high levels of innovation, failure to recognize employee performance and poor response to Covid-19. What I find extra fascinating about this is that most of these things could have been avoided if attention had been paid to them.

I am well aware that there are more leadership books than anyone can ever read in their lifetime, and I never meant this to be an exhaustive list. I just felt like sharing a few things I have been reading or thinking about lately. Happy reading/ listening!

Reference list:

Brown, B. (Host).(2022) Dare to lead [Audio podcast]. Spotify. https://brenebrown.com/podcast-show/dare-to-lead/

Farkas, M. (2021, 18 October). What is slow librarianship? Information wants to be free. https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2021/10/18/what-is-slow-librarianship/

Farkas, M. (2021, 5 December). “Listening theater” and employee voice. Information wants to be free. https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2021/12/05/listening-theater-and-employee-voice/

Kendrick, K. D. (2021). Leaving the low morale experience: a qualitative study. Alki, 37(2), p. 9-24. https://wala.memberclicks.net/assets/Alki/Alki_July2021_FINAL.pdf

Reitz, M., & Higgins, J. (2019). Speak up: say what needs to be said and hear what needs to be heard. FT Press. 

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why : how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Portfolio, Penguin.

Sull, D, Sull, C. & Zweig, B. (2022). Toxic culture is driving the great resignation. Retrieved 28 March, 2022 from: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/toxic-culture-is-driving-the-great-resignation/

The research minion

Rock & Roll Minions” by Daniel Y. Go is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

One of the most interesting things I do at work is research. Research can be frustrating, overwhelming, annoying, troublesome and tedious. However, it can also be elating, motivating, joyous and inspiring. The fact that it is so varying is almost the best part of it. It is, however, always time-consuming and a little draining (due to the level 2 thinking (Hello, Kahneman) involved).

When I do my own research projects, this is how the process usually goes:

  • Get an idea and think about turning it into a research project
  • Informal chat with colleagues
  • Forget about it for a while
  • Come back to the idea and try to find some studies or theory to gain more understanding
  • Thinking that my idea is a good one
  • Forget about it for a while – doing some everyday tasks instead because it’s hard to get to the next stage
  • Get my act together and set up a quick draft with some headings, start to write a little in the introduction and think about methods
  • Do some other stuff for a while
  • Drafting questionnaires/ interview questions and writing a little more
  • Reading some more and talking to colleagues
  • Doing some other stuff
  • Finally getting ready to collect data
  • Getting distracted by trying to find the right journal, changes to the methods..
  • etc etc

So – it’s not like I have a very linear process that follows the line charts in a methodology book. However, I am in (some) control over it. If I want to, I can ask for research time and lock myself in my office for a day without Teams, mail etc. As I have said before, research is an activity that must be supported throughout the organization and leaders cannot just decide that we should do more research without also making sure that there is culture for it and time for it.

The other kind of research projects I am involved in are where I am more of a secondary author – still with responsibility for the quality and real contribution (in accordance with the Vancouver rules), but without the control (and responsibility) of the first author. Usually, this is a role I have when I am writing with a faculty member. The involvement varies (within the scope of the aforementioned rules) from setting up searches and writing up this method as well as setting up inclusion/exclusion criteria etc. to being part of defining the question itself and writing the protocol (for reviews) and so on. I love this, too. Writing the protocol can be a little tedious, but I love working with faculty. I really do, and I feel like I push my knowledge and learn a lot, too. The thing I don’t love about this kind of involvement is the lack of control for the project. Yes, I can be a bit of a control freak, I’m not going to deny it, but in this case, no control means that I may have spent a lot of time and energy in to something that might never happen or can happen in so distant a future that it is hard to see the path forward. I am not blaming the faculty here, as some of the things that have happened in the past have also been beyond the faculty’s control. But here are some of the things that have happened:

  • a researcher broke her leg and was on sick leave for so long the project got dropped
  • the format the researchers had chosen were not eligible for the journal that they had chosen and the study therefore it was abandoned
  • the other authors got too busy with their other tasks that the part I was in charge of had to be done over again several times (literature searches are like perishables – they don’t just last for ever)
  • the researcher got sick and the project was handed over to someone else (beyond my reach)
  • the researcher got a new job

And then I feel like a minion. I’m like some trained monkey that knows how to use the databases. Every time something like this happens, I am thinking: “I said yes to the project, I delivered my content well within the time frame, I was prepared to move forward, but then something happened that just washed this down the drain”, which means that I have wasted valuable time and effort into something that may or may not ever come to anything. This has happened to me in my own research projects, too, of course. Sometimes I have discovered that a study already exists and that it’s not worth the time and effort to move ahead, or I may have found that the research method I need cannot be used without more resources than I have etc. But – at least I have some control over this. I get to pull the plug myself.

Again, I’m not going to blame faculty for this. After all, they have their own stuff that is beyond their control, and it must be as frustrating to them as it is to me, but still.. it is sometimes very apparent to me that there are power disparities between us, and that has a big influence on my work and my career.

The International Women’s Day

It’s the International Women’s Day, and I thought I’d pop on here and write a quick message. I am eternally grateful for all the men and women throughout history who has fought for women’s fundamental human rights, and I am fortunate to have strong, independent women in my life. I am particularly grateful to have been raised by one of the strongest, kindest, wisest and determined women I know. I never heard my mother call herself a feminist (she didn’t much like labels), but to my mind, she really was. She was a teacher and a farmer – the very definition of a hard worker, and she was all about getting the job done. She wouldn’t have cared whether my brother had washed the clothes and my father had made dinner while I drove the tractor and she milked the cows – as long as all the jobs got done. My mother was a strong advocate of education, curiosity, conversation and kindness, and she was a lot better at showing kindness towards those to whom she had nothing in common or even shared values with, than I am. Nobody is perfect (I mean, why would anyone want to be), and neither was my mother, but in many ways she set the tone for inclusiveness and generosity, and I strive to get there myself.

Throughout history, we have had difficult times, and I have just read a novel set in the time of the first world war that reminded me of the fact. However, seeing as most people alive in Norway today, have not experienced war or armed conflicts first hand, it is no wonder that we think of these days as some of the hardest in our own history. The unnecessary, unwarranted war in Ukraine – on top of this pandemic that just refuses to die out, is a heavy burden to bear. And while the men and boys of Ukraine have to fight and engage in acts that will follow them throughout life, I have to say that the women are doing a lot of heavy lifting here, too. I cannot imagine what they feel when they are fleeing their homes with children and babies in their arms, trying to get into an overfilled train and hitching rides to neighboring countries without knowing when, or even if, they can ever come back. It is heartbreaking. I know there isn’t much I can do, but I have made a small donation to the Red Cross, and I hope that you will make a donation to a charity you like, too.

A colleague of mine set up an exhibition in the library with books on women activists, the history of the fight for equality, women in occupations dominated by men etc. I found a book there that I have been wanting to read, and I finally checked it out. I have only been browsing so far, but my goodness, it is so good. I´ll include the reference here:

Criado-Perez, C. (2019). Invisible women : exposing data bias in a world designed for men. Chatto & Windus. 

In 2020, I took a course on how we communicate research in the media, and I wrote about medical journalism. As part of that essay, I came across this video from John Oliver (whom I greatly admire for his profound and funny way of communicating issues that few others deal with), and in honour of the day, I’ll be watching it again:

Bias in Medicine