What do you think about when you hear the phrase “support your leaders”? No matter who your mind finds, that person is likely in a position above yours, right? Maybe a director, supervisor, or
even a mentor. But what about the leaders that don’t have positional authority? What about the great people on your staff, or those looking to build up their own leadership skills in your organization? Supporting future leaders, empowering them to strengthen their abilities and take on new challenges is one of the most important things a manager can do.
As you think about ways to encourage the leadership skills in your staff, consider the following:
- Meet with your staff regularly: One-on-one meetings provide an opportunity to get to know each other, talk about your employee’s work, share feedback, ask questions, and mentor. This is a critical part of being a supportive manager and encouraging leadership.
- Help staff think about the long-term: When you know someone’s long-term aspirations, it’s much easier to support their growth in small ways. You can encourage participation in organizations or volunteering for unusual projects. You can keep an eye open for work projects well-suited to someone’s skills and interests, or professional development opportunities that align with their goals. You have more power to make a case to your institution on behalf of your staff member if you know what he/she is going for in the long-term.
- Create a culture of psychological safety: Studies show that the most effective teams, no matter their dynamics, demonstrate a sense of psychological safety within their ranks. This means people aren’t afraid to admit to mistakes, suggest ideas that seem outlandish, and fail. Your staff need to know that you support them and accept, or even embrace, that things won’t always be perfect, but thinking outside the box is okay.
- Don’t place unfair responsibility: Supporting is one thing, but remember that you’re the one tasked with making big decisions (and are likely paid more for it). Don’t task high-functioning staff with doing more than they should. You still hold the reigns and shouldn’t be placing unfair levels of work and/or decision-making on them. It’s okay to let others take the lead, but one person shouldn’t always be keeping things on track. And remember that when people do step out of their comfort zone into leadership roles, they need guidance, resources, and support in order to thrive. You can’t expect someone to take on tasks without knowing you have their back.
- Staff strengths: What are your staff good at? Matching up projects and department needs with people that have complementary skills can be a great way to foster a sense of confidence. Do you have someone that’s really great with parents? Could that person be a good candidate for outreach somewhere in your community? Consider where your staff thrive and use those skills to the advantage of your department and, most importantly, the people you serve.
One final piece to consider: if your staff are young or inexperienced but enthusiastic, embrace that enthusiasm! Strong leaders can be young or old, new to the library profession or a thirty year veteran. Many of us have had experiences where a boss or coworker brushed off an idea because we were too new, too young, or too old, and we remember how discouraging it felt. Strive to be someone your staff and colleagues respect because you always make them feel respected, valued, and heard.
Kelsey Johnson-Kaiser is the Youth Services Manager at the George Latimer Central Library in Saint Paul, MN, and a member of the Managing Children’s Services Committee.