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Taking the Lead

by Ken Roberts & Daphne Wood

Lead from the Middle

The popular management approach known as leading from the middle is a vague concept that has been approached from a variety of viewpoints. In this column, we offer a perspective that we feel best addresses the needs of leaders in libraries. We believe that leading from the middle comes less from a desire for personal recognition or advancement and more from a desire to achieve a shared vision. This means that leadership must include an ethos of collaboration and mutual support. The work of behavioural scientist Marcial Losada offers some useful pointers in this regard. Losada has focused his research on what makes teams of people succeed and flourish and what makes them fail and stagnate.1 Losadas numerous observations of teams in action led him to develop The Losada Line. Teams and even families that perform above this measurable line tend to be successful. Teams and families that perform below the line tend to sputter and to face continuing difficulties. Heres why. One key indicator of performance that Losada uses is based on his observations of senior management teams and how they make decisions. Losada states that successful teams do not focus on solutions early in their discussions. Instead, they engage in what Losada calls chaotic attractor activity, meaning that they are open to considering new and unexpected ideas before narrowing their options. In contrast, members of unsuccessful teams enter meetings willing to consider only a few predictable options. Teams that are even less successful tend to have members who are focused on the results they expect and want even before meetings start. Losadas research seems to suggest that people who want to lead from the middle should worry less about whether teams accept their ideas and concentrate instead on ensuring that all team members have an opportunity to participate. The output of teams just below the line, those who consider a few options, deteriorates because in moments of extreme adversity, [they] lose their behavioral flexibility and capacity to question assumptions, resulting in endless languishing.

The performances of extremely unsuccessful teams, whose members seem to come to meetings having already determined the outcome, are even worse because team members are stuck in self-absorbed advocacy resulting in an endless loop. The other indicators that Losada uses for team performance are aimed at measuring the ways each individual team member behaves. Losadas observations tell us a great deal about what it means to lead from the middle. Working with colleague Emily Heaphy, Losada monitored the interactions of senior management teams as they went through their annual strategic planning processes. They concluded that: members of high-performing teams divide their time equally between advocating about issues for which they are responsible and finding out about issues in other team members areas of responsibility. In contrast, members of highly unsuccessful teams tend to spend three times as much time advocating in their areas of responsibility as finding out about issues in other areas; members of high-performing teams make almost six times as many positive comments as negative comments to other team members.2 In contrast, members of extremely low-performing teams make 20 negative comments for each positive comment; and members of high-performing teams ask questions about the lives of other people as many times as they share information about their own lives. In contrast, members of highly unsuccessful teams tend to talk about themselves 30 times more frequently than they ask about others. Losadas findings should not be interpreted to mean that teams can become more successful merely by having team members say nice things about each other. Its sort of a chicken and egg thing. Members of teams that tend to be successful are naturally more comfortable and less stressed.


Canadian Library Association

Feliciter Issue #2, 2010 Vol. 56

Taking the Lead

Losada and other scientists also acknowledge that it is possible for teams to be too nice and too passive. Decisions have to be made and problems have to be addressed. Appropriate negativity is seen as important. To an extent, Losadas research could be considered common sense. But, as he suggests, it is remarkable how many times teams fail to meet the minimum requirements of success. Leaders in the middle have an opportunity. They can model behaviours that Losada has identified. They can listen to ensure that groups in which they participate consider the widest possible range of options and ideas. They can inquire about and compliment those with whom they work. They can, in a word, lead. Were continuing this discussion online. Join us at our blog Taking the Lead at Guest Editorial continued from page 35 at just a few of the information policy topics where librarians can make a difference. Two articles provide updates on national and international developments in copyright policy, and three focus on net neutrality and open access. This theme issue concludes with a discussion of CLAs role in shaping information policy. The May/June 2010 issue of Feliciter will contain an article on Crown copyright as well as an article on information policy and LIS education, which will examine the relevance of policy issues to the careers of librarians. To learn more, look at the CLA website. Under Resources, youll find a set of position statements, including many on policy topics. And under About CLA Governance, youll find the AGM minutes, which include the resolutions. Better still, you may want to get involved yourself. To find out how, you should contact one of the conveners of the CLA committees and working groups that do much of the advocacy work for CLA these are currently the Copyright Committee, the Working Group on Information Policy, and the Trade Treaties Working Group. The rewards from participating include knowing that at a crucial moment in human history, as we discover what this new computing technology can do, you have helped shape the world in a way that is consistent with values that librarians hold dear: privacy, intellectual freedom, and the right to access information. Heather Morrison is Project Coordinator at the British Columbia Electronic Library Network, an adjunct faculty member at the University of British Columbias School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, and a former convenor of the CLA Working Group on Information Policy and the Open Access Task Force. You can read more about Heather Morrison at The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics blog: She can be reached at Dr. Kirsti Nilsen taught information policy for several years at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. A former convener of CLAs International Trade Treaties Working Group, she has published books and articles on trade and other information policy issues. Most recently, she authored Economic Theory as It Applies to Public Sector Information: A Review of the Literature, published in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 44 (2010). She can be reached at
Feliciter Issue #2, 2010 Vol. 56 Canadian Library Association

1. M. Losada and E. Heaphy, The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams, American Behavioral Scientist 47(6) (2004), pp. 74065. 2. Positive comments fit into categories such as compassion, joy, pride, awe, gratitude, contentment and interest. Negative comments fit into categories such as anger, contempt, fear, guilt and embarrassment. Ken Roberts ( is the Chief Librarian of the Hamilton Public Library, and Daphne Wood ( is the Director of Planning and Development at the Vancouver Public Library. They share a passion for leadership research and the practices of resilient organizations.


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