some quick thoughts on the Emerging Leaders program

The application for the Class of 2012 Emerging Leaders is out. When I was considering whether to apply for the program I found it very helpful to talk to other past ELs and to ransack the web for their blog posts on the program, so I feel I owe it to future applicants to blog my thoughts, too. See also my 2011 classmates Bohyun Kim, Kate Kosturski, and Abby Johnson, all of whom have blogged thoughtfully on the topic already (and apologies to any of my classmates I’ve forgotten or missed!). Hat tip also to Kim Leeder’s very helpful In the Library with the Lead Pipe article.

So, what did I think of the program? I thought that it was very much what I had expected it to be, based on my conversations with prior ELs (shout-outs to Justin Hoenke, Patrick Sweeney, JP Porcaro, Jamie Hammond, and probably a bunch of other people I’m forgetting after a year). To wit:

  • It’s about the people. It turns out people at all levels of ALA, straight up to the top, are incredibly generous with their time and are more than willing to answer questions from random ALA newbies — but having the Emerging Leader ribbon visibly opens a lot of those doors, makes you more confident about stepping through them, and snags you invites to some sweet parties. And, of course, it introduces you to your fellow ELs, who are ambitious, talented, dynamic, responsible, creative — and who are now my network-of-awesome extending throughout the country, in all different kinds of libraries and allied organizations — a much more diverse professional network than I had a year ago.

    I have to give a special shout-out here to my teammates Andrea Mullarkey, Ashley Parker, Tiffany Mair (check out her ALA Virtual Conference presentation!), and Rosalind Alexander. I could not possibly have had a more genuine, easygoing, hardworking, zero-drama group of teammates. If you ever get the chance to work with any of my Jaguar ladies, take it.

    I also have to thank mentor Aaron Dobbs, who clarified our thinking with an extremely useful framework early on (and is a ton of fun), sponsor Jenny Levine, who is spookily responsive and knowledgeable and helpful, and Mary Ghikas, who wasn’t even formally part of our project but gave us lots of help anyway, and knows more about ALA than any ten other people put together.

  • Your project will probably be lame — but doesn’t have to be. Choose wisely. EL is a highly glorified team project thing, and a lot of the projects are super-lame: “write a report for a committee, which will then probably file it under the stairs in an unlit basement in a filing cabinet labeled ‘Beware of the Leopard’.” And a handful of the projects will ask you to produce a real thing and give you the authority you need to implement it and put it out in front of an audience that isn’t just a committee. Choose those projects. Choose them even if they don’t sound sexy; our project description was very dry, but had a lot of scope for implementation and a project sponsor (ITTS) which had sponsored projects before and had written this one based on feedback from last year’s team. Making a real thing with a committed sponsor is, trust me, way more fun and meaningful than writing a committee report, no matter how sexy the topic.

    Perhaps, by the way, you’d like to see a visual guideline to opportunities for getting involved with ALA? Or to comment with ideas of how you’d like to see this incorporated into, and extended?

  • It’s what you make of it. Like I said: it’s a glorified group project with fantastic networking opportunities. It’s not a leadership workshop, per se, and it’s not, to borrow a phrase from Bohyun, “the secret weapon to melt all the bureaucracy in ALA.” (Sadly. It sure will teach you where to find that bureaucracy, though.) It’s a great way to meet your team and ALA leadership, but I didn’t meet more than a handful of other 2011 ELs, because the program didn’t hand those opportunities to me and I didn’t go out of my way to make them. Nor did I do as much structured reflection on leadership as I would have liked.

    What it comes down to is: you learn from experience. This means two things: exposing yourself to high-change-potential experiences, and then actually learning from them. EL is an excellent kind of exposure, but if you want to maximize your benefit you’ll have to use it as a springboard to push yourself into even more crucible-like experiences. And you’ll have to take the second step of reflections and conversations to crystallize that.

Which leads me to two questions:

  • So, Andromeda, how’s life now that you’ve emerged? Having a job and knowing lots of people is awesome and stuff but you know what? I haven’t emerged. I still have a lot of experiences to sift through and make something of. My team still has a demo project that needs a sustainability plan. I’ve found, in part through this program, a whole raft of questions about what ALA is, and where it works for me, and whether, and whether the parts that don’t work can be made to, and whether I’m a person with the skills to do it, and whether I could be. I have no idea. I’ve found a whole set of places I might have a bit of leverage, might have the capacity to make ALA a better organization, if only I were a better leader or negotiator or politician or facilitator, which I’m not, but maybe I can, and maybe just seeing where the challenges are is how this thing works, because maybe if I ever really know what I’m doing I’ve stood still too long, and maybe knowing-how is the thing that happens after you’ve done it, and maybe leadership isn’t a thing you have but a thing you become by identifying the next step past where you are, the next thing you don’t know how to do, and flinging yourself into it headfirst without an exit strategy, like Leslie Burger said at our first EL workshop: be scared every day.
  • Should you apply to the EL program? Yes.

    If you’re interested. If you’re committed to taking it as not just an open door but a lever, or a springboard — using it as a way to go beyond the minimum. You can hit the turbo-boost button but you still have to fly.

    That said, based on the people I’ve seen applying, if you’re one of next year’s ELs, you’ll have a hell of a class.

3 thoughts on “some quick thoughts on the Emerging Leaders program

    1. Thanks! (And I did not know about your site! I will edit the link in.)

      Trying to get the rest of your state to apply? 🙂


  1. Great post, Andromeda. I’m glad you talk about where you are now after the program ended. I feel very similar, that there’s still a lot to learn and EL is certainly a good jumping off point. What you say in choosing the right project is so spot on, and thinking of audience played a large role in the projects I voted for. Like you, it enabled myself and another teammate to continue on with the research and (hopefully) make a bigger impact!


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