AALL Executive Leadership Institute: Listening a Key Component of Leadership

By Maureen Burns, Research Services Manager, Godfrey & Kahn

I recently had the privilege of attending the recent American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Executive Leadership Institute, which was held on July 28-29, 2021, following the AALL Annual Meeting. Thank you to the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) Grants Committee for the opportunity to learn, grow, and connect at the Institute.

The Institute provided relevant and timely leadership-related sessions, covering topics such as inclusive communication, collaboration, driving change during transitional times, and the integration of wellness into leadership.  Communication was a common thread throughout the one and a half-day Institute, coming up both in the excellent presentations and in small group discussions.  The word that kept coming to my mind as I heard each of the presentations and participated in discussions with my fellow attendees was “listen”.

While discussing inclusive communication and how to move from conscious bias to conscious inclusion, Dr. Daisy Lovelace presented us with ideas to help lead us to an inclusive mindset, recognizing that teams diverse in identity, background, and experiences lead to better problem solving.  One element Dr. Lovelace talked about was listening to understand, validate, and offer support. As librarians trained in the art of the reference interview, we are accustomed to asking questions in order to solve a problem.  When someone we lead comes to us with an issue, we should validate their feelings and seek to understand.  Listening, without fixing, is important in today’s world where often stress-inducing change is a part of our everyday lives.

Collaboration among departments and functions in our institutions also requires listening. Conversing with and really listening to another’s challenges puts us in a better position to offer solutions.  Listen in meetings, in hallway chats, and anywhere else where the business of our institutions is being discussed.  Enter conversations with open-ended questions, listen for the answer, listen with an empathetic ear.

Listen to yourself and your team as you drive change during transitional times.  We have all experienced disruption, both personal and professional, in the last 18 months.  The pandemic, work from home, working remote, return to the office – whatever stage we are in – has created discomfort for many.  We are creatures of habit and change can be a challenge.  Listen to ourselves – identify our own motivations or blind spots related to the change, recognize our symptoms of stress and lead by example in taking time away to relax and reset.  Listen with empathy to your team as they discuss change and the effect on their own work and personal lives. 

We began and ended the Institute with a presentation and discussion entitled Leading Well: Integrating Wellness into Leadership.  Wellness in our leadership requires self-awareness (again with the listening) which leads to opportunities for growth in ourselves and others.  Leadership requires connecting with others which is best done by slowing down, taking a deep breath, and conversing with others.  Leading others requires a proper work/life balance, but also a balance of our physical, mental and emotional health.  All are areas where balance has been hard to come by during the pandemic.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph G. Nichols.  See Listening to People by Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens, Harvard Bus. Rev., Sept. 1957.

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