When I started working as a librarian, I thought my job was to do my assigned duties as best I could. In my first librarian position that was easy because I had a challenging position and a superb boss who made her expectations clear and who regularly gave me useful feedback. And, the whole library was quite well-managed and most staff were talented and hard-working. Little did I know that situation was not universal.
As I worked in other libraries, I discovered that good management and staff talent were not so evenly represented everywhere. Some library departments would be admirable but others were dysfunctional. I knew of – but never worked in – at least one library where the entire organization seemed to be designed by an evil genius and where undermining co-workers was common.
In another post (When Pretty Good Is Good Enough) I allude to work situations that were less than ideal. In that post I failed to include a lesson I learned in one of those less-than-ideal situations. I was always pressing for things to be better and have been guilty of pushing my managers for changes that they could not make. Once I recognized the limits of my bosses’ power, I had to learn to back off. I had to stop making a nuisance of myself and stop reminding my bosses of the limits of their power. It couldn’t have been pleasant for them to have an otherwise capable employee continually reminding one of what you can’t fix.
In a recent family conversation, our daughter was telling us about being chided by her new supervisor for taking too much initiative. In the discussion, her father suggested she refer to my 1990′s article, Leading From Below. Our daughter countered that she was only following my oft-shared advice to ask forgiveness, not permission. We all had a good laugh since it is advice I distribute liberally. But I provide that advice mostly to others who are far less brave and confident than our daughter. We did leave her with the thought that she could cut her new boss some slack. He is an experienced employee but a new supervisor and needs to become confident about what his staff are doing. Once he and our daughter establish a trust relationship, she can begin practicing my usual advice. But, in the meantime, she needs to act in ways that make her boss’s job easier and more reassuring.