My leadership journey – CILIP conference 2016 talk

During CILIP’s annual conference in Brighton in July 2016 the Presidential team took part in the ‘Your Career’ strand in a session entitled: ‘Shouting about the Value of our Skills’. The event took place in theIMG_5005 Royal Pavilion in Brighton and had the prettiest wallpaper (picture to the right) I’ve ever seen, which provided a graceful backdrop for the event.

The aim of the session was for each of the presidential team (Dawn Finch, Jan Parry and me) to outline their leadership journey, highlighting a couple of examples of how this journey has helped us develop advocacy skills. Our talks followed Alison Brettle’s introduction to research she had conducted, commissioned by CILIP, into the value, effectiveness and impact of professionally trained library and information workers.

I’m using the rest of this post to share the notes I used during the presentation of my leadership journey. Apologies in advance as this will make for a longer than usual blog post read.

My Leadership Journey

I’m not going to take a linear approach to my leadership journey, instead I’m going to focus on three themes which I think provide a good overview of my journey. These are:

  • No career plan;
  • Volunteer in your professional associations;
  • Learn to embrace failure.

Together with three strengths these have been the key drivers in my leadership journey. A few years ago when I was on a leadership programme and had in-depth interviews, psychometric tests and 360 degree feedback the results said I adapt well to new challenges and environments, and have aspiration to learn and grow. This is a shrewd overview of my career to date. I’ve moved between sectors (media, education, NHS, charity and academic) and roles;  I relish new opportunities to learn. Three strengths have propelled me so far in my 30-year career:

  • Curiosity
  • Learning
  • Relationship management.

All these strengths have helped me in leading people and organisations. Where possible I have tried to work with people whose strengths are my weaknesses.I’ll run through each of my themes with examples of my leadership journey and tips of advocacy.

The three themes tie in well with my three strengths.

  • No career plan with curiosity
  • Volunteer in your professional associations with relationship management;
  • Learn to embrace failure with learning.

All needless to say have an element of advocacy within them, which I’ve outlined after the description of the theme.

No career plan – seize opportunities

This has stood me in good stead as it’s meant I can follow opportunities as they crop up. I’m rather pleased I didn’t have a set career plan as I’ve been able to embrace leadership opportunities where and when they happened.

When I first joined the profession in the late 1980’s there were assumptions about career plans: you had clear pathways, tended to stay in one sector in order to take advantage of such pathways for promotion opportunities. You would stick with one sector which always troubled me as I felt we were one profession, but with ability to acquire expertise in sectors as required. I have certainly adopted this attitude.

I’ve also always seized opportunities to grow, develop skills and experience within an organisation. While in the BBC I moved to another department, to manage 250-person newsroom, in order to gain HR and budget experience, but also to give me a great deal more confidence in handling politics in the workplace. An additional benefit was a better understanding of how the business operated, and contacts. If you can’t move within an organisation to gain experience then do consider moving out of an organisation or sector to gain experience if you believe you’re lacking opportunities. As a profession we seem to move less between sectors than we should. We are a very curious profession so acquiring expertise in a new sector isn’t as difficult as you might imagine.

Advocacy tip: moving to another department, becoming a user of the information service gave me a better awareness of how the organisation operated, what the key drivers were and where information services could add value. I became more confident at communicating what we did, the impact of our services and could advocate for our roles.

Volunteer in your professional associations

I was lucky early on in my career to be asked to join the board of the Association of UK Media Librarians (AUKML).  This provided my first experience of volunteering for a professional association. I’ve not stopped volunteering since then and it’s been a valuable part of my leadership journey. I’m proud I’ve been able to contribute to the development of professional associations in UK (through CILIP involvement) and in US and rest of the world (through Special Libraries Association (SLA) involvement).

In return I’ve gained personally:

  • Opportunity to learn and try out new skills:  managing, motivating, persuading and setting up events;
  • Safe environment to try things out, like public speaking, chairing meetings being part of a task force;
  • Network of friends who provide invaluable support at significant times over the years;

And professionally:

  • Access to unrivalled network of information professionals able to provide support, guidance and examples of best practice;
  • Job opportunities – I’ve got several jobs through head-hunters who see my involvement in professional associations as both an accomplishment and credit; something to make you stand out in the crowd.

Advocacy tip: involvement in professional associations helped me to see the bigger picture on strategy for the profession and all its sectors something you don’t often see in daily work. An example of this was working on the FT SLA report: The Evolving Value of Information Management: five essential attributes of the modern information professional and publicising its findings.

Learn to embrace failure

It’s important to learn from errors and to develop resilience to recover from mistakes. I failed an A level at 18 and thought the world would end. Needless to say it didn’t and taught me a valuable lesson that you can be resilient and overcome failures.

Whenever something doesn’t go to plan, whether that’s a job interview, a project, or a piece of work. I usually reflect on why this is, explore the causes, think about what could have been done differently and if necessary learn something new to enable me to succeed at the next job interview or project.

Advocacy tip: I’m a big fan of showing how information could have helped prevent a failure; using stories to get across the importance of information services and involvement of information staff early on in a project or programme.

 Finally, there was lots of positive feedback on this session including:


Please feel free to share your thoughts on your leadership journey.