How I became something I wasn’t supposed to be – a leader

I am one of the many chief librarians who were never supposed to become a leader. When I was a young assistant, I was just suddenly promoted first to a department librarian and then to branch librarian. At the time, there was a shortage of librarians, and the number of applicants applying for managing positions was even smaller than it is now.

Being a leader felt awkward at first, because I wasn’t oriented towards such a position and most of my subordinates were older and more experienced than I was. Little by little, I developed and began to actually like some of the job’s different aspects.

I didn’t receive any training in the beginning; rather, I just had to find the right perspective for doing the job. I began to realize that my strengths lie expressly in human resources, not so much in strategies and visions which I gladly let other people handle, and still do.

Knowledge and role models

I later received training in leadership. However, the best training has taken place when I have watched other leaders work.

I have seen leaders who have not been very good, others who have been good and others who have been extremely poor.

You learn the most from poor leaders! At least you know what NOT to do. Good leadership is varied and related to personality; indeed you can learn from the example of good leaders and apply it to your own personality. In the end it’s personality with which you lead your subordinates.

Leaders make things happen 

In my opinion, the most important issue in leadership is to recognize your own areas of strength and then gravitate to duties that suit you the best. Since I see myself, first and foremost, as an enabler and human resource manager, a position in middle management suits my personality best, despite the lower rate of pay.

Sometimes I feel like I’m really boring among all of the visionaries and strategists, but on the other hand I strongly believe that the staff values an immediate superior, one who is ‘present’, listens and stands behind his/her subordinates.

The immediate superior has an enormous responsibility to ensure the staff is able to cope well and stays motivated. When necessary, a superior must be able to give commands, but above all must find spirit and substance, together with the staff members, for the everyday work.

I feel that the best way to succeed is to listen carefully to your subordinates and offer them the best possible circumstances to do their work and utilize their expertise. Everyone has their own duty and place in a work community, although, indeed, flexibility is the basis of all success. There is always someone on holiday, on sick leave or in training. This calls for flexibility from all of the members in the work community, and it is the duty of the supervisor to ensure that it happens.

I would never do anything else

Leadership is at times tremendously fun and at times extremely strenuous. However, I would never do anything else. It is often rewarding also, and always challenging and interesting. You should never slacken, but you should also avoid too much stress. You should leave your concerns and grief at work, although it is, of course, not always possible.

You also have to take care of yourself and make sure you are able to cope. An exhausted and irritable supervisor is no good and no fun for anyone. If peer support is available, you should take advantage of it.

For those, who are thinking about becoming a superior, I say, “Go ahead!” Take a bold leap into the unknown – I’m sure it will be rewarding.

Chief Librarian Kannelmäki Library / Helsinki City Library