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Learning to lead

By November 4, 2020September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Selena Bryant

Selena Bryant

Since its founding in 1998, the biennial Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians has focused on developing leadership qualities among the underrepresented librarians recruited for the course. The 2020 Institute, held online, gathered 27 enrollees and concludes on Nov. 5.

“In a way, I think it wouldn’t have felt as relevant if there wasn’t a pandemic,” says 2020 participant Selena Bryant, Teaching and Learning Librarian at Cornell University. “We’re getting to see leadership at different institutions and their different approaches,”

She applied because she had heard the Minnesota Institute was life-changed. Jina DuVernay, Collection Development Archivist for African American Collections at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library of Emory University, also heard from colleagues about the Institute.

“Everyone said it was really transformative for them,” she says, “and who doesn’t want to take part in that?”

Led by DeEtta Jones, who has more 20 years of experience guiding people and organizations through fundamental transformation, this five-week course included two faculty who are alumni of the 2008 course:

  • Ione T. Damasco, Director of Information Acquisition & Organization at the University of Dayton, and Professor; and
  • Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, Dean of Ida Jane Dacus Library and Louise Pettus Archives & Special Collections at Winthrop University.

Twin Cities teachers included Lou Bellamy, founder of Penumbra Theatre Company; Cecily Marcus, curator of the Givens Collection of African American Literature, the Performing Arts Archives, and the Upper Midwest Literary Archives; Brenda Childs, Northrop Professor of American Studies; Daniel Pierce Bergin, maker of “Jim Crow of the North”; Kirsten Delegard, a co-founder of Mapping Prejudice; and Jason Roy, Director of Digital Library Services.

Leadership skills

Ione Damasco

Ione Damasco

Good leadership calls for empathetic communication.

“I focused on the importance of developing strong communication skills in order to be an effective and empathic leader,” Damasco wrote. She made distinctions among the communication modes of monologue, discussion, debate, and dialogue. “Dialogue is by far the most challenging, but as leaders, it’s important that we know how to listen to those around us in order to develop a better understanding of who they are, which leads to greater empathy. And research has shown that people who work in environments where they feel their leaders demonstrate empathy have a higher sense of morale.”

The participants also learned about organizational change.

“I loved the week on organizational change,” Bryant says. “They talked about the William Bridges change and transition model — that was fascinating for me. There’s a period between an ending and a new beginning where there is a neutral zone” — representing opportunities.

Bryant chose the Minnesota Institute to learn about her own leadership style, as well as leadership in general. While she had thought of her personal values as separate from work, she now reflecting on applying them at work.

After an exercise from “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown, she found she put up barriers at work. “There are a lot of reasons why, as a Black person, as a racial minority, I never really felt safe at work to be completely vulnerable,” Bryant says. “That was jarring to see on paper — there’s a part of me I hold back at work. Then seeing how that lines up with what does that mean in terms of being a leader? What can I do when I have that wall aspect? Looking at that and knowing I will have to be more vulnerable to be an effective leader.”

Leading wherever you are

Kendrick Kaetrena

Kaetrena Kendrick

The Minnesota Institute teaches skills and offers information, Kendrick says, that can help enrollees “clarify a pathway forward through leadership — understanding that you can lead at any level of your organization. It’s not related to your title, it’s because of your actions.”

She notes that she was a leader in libraries before she had the title of dean. It’s important particularly for people of color to understand they can lead from where they are, she says, because they can find themselves marginalized from “normalized” paths to leadership.

Networking, virtually

Although the faculty aren’t engaging directly with the participants, they hear they are connecting with each other.

“We really are happy that they are connecting and creating their own cohort,” Kendrick says. “The Minnesota Institute was originally designed to create cohorts and this can be more difficult in the virtual space.”

Jina Duvernay

Jina DuVernay

“It’s just really great be in a space with other colleagues who are at the same spot in their career,” DuVernay says. Bryant says that she had met a lot of her cohort before, so that made it easier to connect. Also, she says, “I set up a little networking thing outside of class time to create some more bridges so that people can connect more. And there are little breakout rooms during the sessions where you talk with people. I set up a separate one for people to meet and find some partners to work with after the session ends.”

Kendrick says: “The fact that they are doing that even with something called ‘Zoom fatigue’ is very powerful as far as I am concerned.”

During this time of the coronavirus, DuVernay says, “It’s been helpful, not only professionally but also personally, to re-center and re-group, to look at this time as a way to think about your vision and the future — to not get bogged down in this particular moment but focus your energy on the future.”


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