Formation: Kōtuku 2017

Kōtuku 2017: In which your columnist finds herself in a leadership program while being ambivalent about “leadership.”

Personally and politically I would describe myself as someone who wants a world without leaders, a world where people are empowered and have the tools to control their own destines, make informed decisions, and treat each other with equality. So I have always had an almost allergic reaction to the idea of leadership and leaders. To put it in American terms I have no interest in being either a Donald Trump or a Hillary Clinton.

And yet… I found myself last November writing an application for LIANZA’s 2017 Kōtuku emerging leaders program – a ten-month leadership program, with weekly readings, web conference meetings, a mentorship programme, and more. By December I had discovered I had been accepted, and in February the program began with a weekend intensive in the Wellington suburb of Lyall Bay. How did I find myself here?

I’ve been working in libraries in one way or another since 1996 when I got my first student library assistant job while in university. A friend, who knew I was looking for work, told me the library was hiring, and the rest I guess you could say was history. It took me a few more years to officially decide libraries were it for me, but by 2003 I had completed by MLIS and started my first professional role as an archivist. Since then I’ve worked in archives and libraries in non-profits, universities, and local and state government libraries and archives in California before moving, in 2012, to New Zealand to work for the National Library of New Zealand.

But I’d never really thought of myself as a leader. In fact I think I was always suspicious of leaders, or at least ones I didn’t think were authentic or legitimate. Maybe it just took me more time than most to feel comfortable with my own sense of what I wanted or who I was. But a few years ago I began to realise that when it came to my own work, and the larger world of libraries and archives, I cared deeply. I found I had very strongly held core principles about what archives and libraries where for and why I chose to work in them. I enjoyed and was deeply engaged in reading the literature in my specialised subject areas, but I also enjoyed engaging in some of the broader issues and questions of the profession. And most of all I realised that if I didn’t find ways to apply my core principles, and engage with my profession in more meaningful ways, I was going to become frustrated with my work. So I had to get a bit braver. I had to learn to speak out more. I had to learn how to speak effectively in public, how to write professionally, how to become involved in the work of my professional organisations, how to (to use a cliché) be the change I wanted to see. If there were things I wanted to see changed, I would have to get involved in making them happen. So I started figuring out how to do those things. I also asked for advice and help from some of the people I worked with whose work and way of being at work I looked up to and respected.

Which is how I found myself enrolled in the Kōtuku program – and now writing this column. Turns out, if you care about something, and you put in the time and work, if you ask for help, (even if you feel a little ambivalent or unsure or scared about it) we work in the kind of profession where people will go out of their way to help and support you. So that is a long-winded way of saying I have made a little peace with the idea of leadership with the help of the Kōtuku program.

Also helpfully the Kōtoku program had a whole section on leadership styles including consensus or participative leadership, and servant leadership which seem a bit more my style. So I guess this program is already helping me find the language and tools for a kind of “leadership” that feels a bit more authentic to me. This semi-irregular column will give you a little insight into LIANZA's 2017 Kōtuku emerging leaders program, what we’ve been up to, how this program is expanding my understanding of leadership, and how I can bring it to bear on the larger GLAM sector.