Hidden In Plain Sight

As part of the work the Emerging Leaders Working Group is undertaking I’m interviewing people who stand out as some of New Zealand’s emerging leaders, or who have an interesting perspective on leadership. If there is someone who inspires you, someone you see as one of our profession’s emerging leaders, drop me a line with their contact details to cathsheard@xtra.co.nz.

Recently I talked with Sally Pewhairangi, Strategic Services Development Coordinator for Waimakariri District Libraries and author of Finding Heroes. Sally’s tribal links are with Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Whakatohea. You can find Sally on Twitter @sallyheroes.

Q: I started by asking Sally who she looks up to as a leader and why.

A: Hmmm, that’s a difficult question. To me the word ‘leader’ conjures up connotations of structure, hierarchy, appointments and bureaucracy where ‘leader’ is part of the job description of someone in a position of influence and it is expected that others within the structure must take their lead from them. It’s quite old-fashioned and elitist to expect a single person to be the leader whilst the views of others are overlooked or dismissed because they are perceived to be of lesser importance.

On the other hand, if you ask me who inspires me that’s a different question altogether.

  • Paul Brown (Auckland Libraries) dares me to laugh, dream and be better than I am.
  • Megan Ingle (CPIT Library) looks for cures not band-aids and is prepared to try a lot of stuff to get there. Nothing is more inspirational.
  • Kaye Lally (South Taranaki District Libraries) nurtured me through library school and invited me to as many library events as she was able. I am humbled by Kaye’s generosity.
  • Donna Robertson (Christchurch City Libraries) has such a witty writing style. Donna’s tweets always spark my curiosity and inspire me to learn more.
  • Bruce Ringer (Auckland Libraries) is a stickler for maintaining high standards in whatever he does. I aspire to similar standards.
  • Chris Szekely (Turnbull Library) often dreams big and glamorous and he motivates me to do the same.
  • Tosca Waerea (Auckland Libraries) is not afraid to share her ideas and stories with the world.
  • Hana Whaanga (LIS student and new mum) made the role of Library Life editor her own, became a new mum and is now leading the way with LIANZA Te Upoko. Hana’s tenacity puts mine to shame.

I am inspired by lots and lots of people doing great things, pushing the boundaries of resourcefulness and creativity, and sharing that with others. Sharing is the key for me. How can I be inspired by leaders if they don’t talk about and share what they do?  These are just a few of the hundreds of New Zealand librarians who I think demonstrate they are leaders every day.

Q: I see you sharing all the time so your answer doesn’t surprise me, and I think you have hit on something important. We have such a wealth of skill and knowledge in New Zealand; if everyone shared what they’ve learnt with generosity imagine what we could achieve.

A: Exactly Cath. Imagine if we took it upon ourselves to tell just one other person what we did, learned, or wondered.

Q: Sally, in what ways are you a leader? What are you working on?

A: I have no idea why people may think I am a leader. I hope it is because I inspire them to believe in themselves, to be curious, and to do stuff that matters.

At Waimakariri District Libraries the two major projects I’m working on are the implications of RFID on staff and customers, and ensuring the plans for the new Kaiapoi Library, Museum and Art Centre offer real benefits to the community.

Outside of work, I’m working on a number of projects:

  • I’m collaborating with Megan Ingle (as Heroes Mingle) on the planning for a new Reality Librarianship series this year.
  • I’m collaborating with Paul Brown on a reader’s advisory project where we share our thoughts and progress on the development of a ‘his and hers’ reading map of 1Q84.
  • I’m participating in a global mentoring programme for librarians.
  • I’m working with two NZ librarians to see how we can share our social media expertise with other librarians around the country and
  • I’m about to begin another collaborative project with an Australian librarian that will enhance the value of librarians in our local communities.

Q: Sally, many of the people you mentioned who inspire you are highly visible, as are you with all you’re involved in. That raises some questions for me: how do you negotiate the intersection of your views and your employer’s views?  Or do you feel people are able to separate ‘librarians as individuals’ from ‘librarians as employees’, so that we no longer need to preface everything with “views are mine alone”?

A: There are many approaches but I think it comes down to the need for respect between an organisation and a staff member.  There will always be a line between being an employee and an individual but as long as both are respectful of the others’ views I don’t see why it should be a problem. If there is no respect, then that’s a bigger issue.

Q: Following on from that, there many leaders out there who do it in a quieter, more local way. How do you think we can find those people and nurture their potential?

A: Cath you’re right, not all leaders are highly visible and there are many who quietly lead including some in my list of inspirational people. The library profession isn’t so large that we can’t ask others in the profession for assistance in this area.

Q: Do you think it’s hard to lead in NZ libraries without being a manager?

A: No, I don’t think it’s hard to lead in NZ libraries without being a manager. As I said earlier, leaders are people who inspire others by sharing what they do and who they are. You don’t need to be a manager to do that, anyone can do it. It does take courage and perhaps a leap of faith but global is the new local so there is bound to be at least one other person somewhere in the world who shares your ambitions.

Q: So Sally, how do you think we can encourage people to become leaders?

A: I’m expecting the Emerging Leaders Working Party will have a long list of recommendations to answer that question so I’m just going to make four suggestions that are very easy to implement.

1.    Unequivocally celebrate the successes of individual LIANZA members whatever that may be.
2.    When LIANZA members are excited about what they do (or could do), let them do it and explicitly support them in whatever way you can.
3.    Provide a means for LIANZA members to anonymously raise issues and make suggestions for improvement; and publicly respond.
4.    Make all LIANZA Council and regional executive agenda documents available to members and hold open meetings so members are free to contribute.

Thank you for your time and thoughts Sally, it’s been really interesting working with you on this.

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 12 March 2013.

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