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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.





CILIP Leadership Programme celebration 

I spent the afternoon, before the start of CILIP conference, with the first CILIP Leadership group programme in their final session of their programme.  The programme is being piloted in 2015-2016. Its aim is to create additional leadership capacity both within the profession and within CILIP membership. From what I saw this afternoon it’s certainly achieved this aim. The programme has produced a group of 19 confident leaders. 

Prior to the end of this final day the participants provided presentations on their projects. I joined CILIP staff (Nick, Simon and Luke), Jan Parry (Immediate Past President) and Martyn Wade (Chair of Council) for the presentations. The participants had been given a choice of four leadership projects, sourced from Regional Member Networks and Special Interest Groups, to allow them to put into practice skills they had learnt on the programme. The projects covered a variety of topics and involved strategic thinking and evaluation, communication with stakeholders and project management and reporting. All four projects came up with recommendations which provide plenty of food for thought for CILIP staff and the Board on helping members advocate to employers about the value of CPD and volunteering; raising awareness of Toolshed resources; and establishing buddy system for new committee members. 

Following the presentations we had the certificate celebration and here’s a picture of the first cohort complete with their certificates. Well done, a really great achievement and so good to know we have an exemplary set of confident leaders. Who knows maybe some of you will apply to become CILIP trustees or presidential team members. 


Tomorrow marks the start of the 2016 conference. I’m looking forward to an excellent programme in a spectacular venue, the Brighton Dome.


Conference season is here

This week I’ve been reminded we’re part way through conference season with #MLAnet2016, #pic2016 and #irms16 hashtags filling my Twitter timeline. I am very envious of all those attending, and grateful to be able to follow by Twitter.

I’m sadly not going to make #SLA2016 in Philly this year. It’ll be the first time in nine years that I haven’t attended a SLA conference and I shall miss the networking and learning.

For those going who need reminders here is some advice on getting ready for conference and preparing for conference which essentially boil down to pack layers, comfortable shoes, more business cards than you think you need and drop the British reserve when it comes to networking.

I may not be going to SLA’s conference but I will be at CILIP’s conference in Brighton, England in July. I hope to see some of you there.

Mild panic, it’s two weeks to SLA’s conference …

SLA 2015

I’ve got my packing to complete and my schedule to sort. I was relieved to see others on Twitter also expressing mild panic that the conference had suddenly crept up on them.

I won’t repeat my travelling advice post from last year. All I will say is the advice rings true and I speak now as a seasoned traveller having been around the world, quite literally last year, attending 11 conferences and 25 library vists.

I also wrote a post on preparing for SLA conference a couple of years ago. This has plenty of useful advice on what to bring and how to get the best out of conference. My three top pieces of advice are:

1081068_business_cardBring plenty of business cards (if you don’t have work cards, or are between jobs, get some printed up) make sure you include your contact information: LinkedIn profile, preferred email address, blog address etc. Give them to anyone you’re introduced to. As soon as you meet someone and get their card, make a note about where you met them and what you talked about on the reverse of their card. It’ll make it easier for you when sending follow up emails when you get home.

Pack comfortable shoes and bring layers – it’s always colder than you expect in convention picture


For effortless networking plan your introductions – you’ll be meeting a lot of people and will need a succinct and memorable way to describe yourself and what you do. You’ll be more confident if you’ve prepared your answers to questions such as where you work, what you do and what you’re aiming to get out of conference.

For the first time in three years I’ve not got a packed schedule with official SLA activities as I’m now SLA’s past president. So I can actually attend sessions this year. I’ve decided to approach my conference experience adopting some advice from Ian Wooler on getting the most out of attending a conference.

Ian’s checklist of tasks pre, during and post conference is really helpful. It stresses the importance of planning, having clear, measurable objectives and constantly reviewing what you’ve learnt.Plus of course planning how you’ll share your learning with others on your return. I’m hoping this year to do more blogging on what I hear, see and learn, so watch this space.

Up, Up and away ….

SLA2014_Btn_AttendeeTwo weeks today & SLA’s annual conference will be starting in Vancouver. As well as last minute things like finalising my schedule I’m beginning to make my plans for the trip to Vancouver.

As I’ve shared my thoughts on preparing for conference before  I thought I’d share my traveller’s tips. As a good researcher I checked what others had to say on the subject. Here’s a great piece from the BBC America site with valuable advice on travelling to the US . I also consulted the flight attendants on my recent flight back from the US. When asked for their top three tips for surviving long flights they replied:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate;
  • Avoid alcohol, particularly if taking sleeping tablets or other drugs;
  • Set clock to new time zone and move into that time zone. It’s a mind game.

Here are my top tips for making flying as hassle free as possible:

* Put all your liquids in your carry-on luggage in a ziplock bag before you leave home so you won’t waste time at security.

* Keep your foreign currency easily accessible, and remember to take something to put your home country currency in (again ziplock bag or an envelope works well).

* Wear shoes that are easy to take off and put back on, to ease your passage through security;

* Take some snacks, dried fruit, cereal bars etc for the flight, just in case you get hungry.

* Have your headphones in your carry-on luggage as some airlines charge for these, while others provide them for free;

* In your carry-on luggage have a pen easily accessible, along with your passport and address of your hotel – you’ll need these to complete immigration form. Do it on the plane, don’t wait until you get to the arrivals hall;

* Set watch/phone/clock to destination time the moment you get on the plane.

* Move to new time zone and don’t keep saying it’s x (where x is the time zone you’ve come from) time for my body clock.


Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate while flying, and try to avoid alcohol. Remember to take an empty water bottle in your hand luggage, and fill it up in the departure lounge.



Happy flying & remember the secret to successful flying is to stay hydrated, avoid alcohol & mentally move into the time zone of your destination.

Reflections on 2013

I knew 2013 wouldn’t be a quiet year and it’s certainly had its highs and lows. I’ve built on my learnings from 2012 but sadly have failed to make many blog posts – maybe I can correct that in 2014.

The key thing I’ve learnt is believe in yourself and remember there’s a wonderful support net of friends who are there whatever happens and can offer the right advice at the right time to point you in the right direction.

Key high points for this year have been:

– Spending time with family and friends in the USA and closer to home in the UK;

– SLA President-Elect travels, the highlight being my visit to Minneapolis in August to celebrate SLA Minnesota chapter’s 60th anniversary;

– rediscovering the joys of public speaking: tally for the year is 13 in person events and four virtual events;

– finding a new paid job (which I officially start today);

– completing 2.5km Swimathon

So my learnings from this year, all of which will help me cope with challenges of 2014, are:

– practice makes perfect, accept every opportunity to gain public speaking experience, it does get easier the more times you do it. Public speaking virtually and in person requires different approaches and preparation. It’s vital to remember to speak slowly and in an engaging tone when delivering virtual talks as the audience can’t see you and are unable to rely on body language signals.

– organisation is a vital skill to keep on top of commitments and maintain a record of achievements. I’ve found using online tools helpful this year, in particular Evernote to jot down thoughts and keep a record of reflections month by month.

– maintaining a work life balance by finding the time to get together regularly with friends and family to relax and share memorable experiences.

Secrets of successful volunteer recruitment

In February at SLA’s Leadership Summit I presented a session on getting people to volunteer for roles in the association. I initially focused on the results of a survey  SLA carried out last year which asked seven questions about what motivates people to volunteer; how often they did and didn’t volunteer with SLA; what were the benefits of volunteering and what more SLA could learn. The results make interesting reading and should prove useful for leaders trying to fill roles with volunteers. Key take-aways are:

  • make it easy to volunteer and use the personal touch of individual invitation to have most impact;
  • volunteers want a clear goal, clear directions, clear feedback and support to accomplish what they are working on;
  • break down roles to create opportunities that require short time commitment, you’re more likely to get people to agree to these and to return in the future to help;
  • recognise and thank all of those who have contributed in as many ways as possible.

For the second part of the session  I asked delegates to spend some time discussing how to encourage people to become volunteers and tactics to get people to say ‘yes’ to volunteering opportunities. I’ve summarised the tips and hints, many thanks to those who shared them, as I think they’ll be useful to a wider audience.

624339_hands in supportEncouraging people to volunteer

Communicate options often: set up a volunteer committee; include ‘can we contact you about                 volunteering’ box on all your forms, invites, surveys; advertise vacancies on your website (have a ‘Get Involved’ section), social media and at events (dine-arounds etc); try an annual open invite to members to learn more about opportunities to volunteer; divide up roles into small tasks.

Get to know your members: reach out to all members at events, online and by phone; get to know people so you can personally invite them to contribute; keep a ‘job jar’ in your head and give a job to people who show interest; focus on planting seeds rather than the immediate ROI.

Highlight mentoring benefits: mentor new volunteers into a role; help people train their successors for specific role in the unit; mix ‘old timers’ with new people.

Cultivate students and new professionals: encourage involvement with local schools and student groups bring them into meetings offering mentoring and job hunting courses; offer opportunity to run registration table at events as this is a great way to informally meet lots of people.

Emphasise importance of getting involved in your professional association: as members you can influence the association’s direction, but you need to get involved in it; SLA is a safe place to learn and try things.

Show appreciation, recognition and thanks for service/participation: hand written thank you notes; recognition at volunteer receptions; put up pictures of events on social media to generate interest and recognise members for their contribution.

Tactics and tips

Asking members to volunteer: sell the benefits of involvement as additions to their CVs/resumes; word the request for participation as an engaging question; if you make a phone request follow it up with an email if they need to think it over; adopt a salesman approach ask them what would it take to say ‘yes’; notice things about people and look for promise indicate this in your request: ‘I think you’d be good at this because you’re good at …’.

Admin and planning: keep a record of attendees at events and target regulars to see if they want to be more involved; make sure you respond to those who express an interest; appreciate and keep track of those who say ‘no’ to a request, keep the door open for next time.

If all else fails bribe them with food and drink. It worked for me and it’s amazing what a room full of people will discuss if placated by Cadbury’s chocolate!

Remember it’s part of all leaders jobs to find and nurture the new leaders which allows me to plug the webinar I’m leading on succession planning on 11 July at 2-3pm (EDT).