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/

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