Thursday, February 21, 2013

Managers Need Friends, Too, by Caro Pinto


In December 2012, my boss promoted me to be the interim head of technical services at Hampshire College. I was excited; management experience had previously felt like a distant opportunity. In library school it had seemed an abstract idea; and having only worked in libraries professionally since 2009, I could not believe that I was being asked to step up and lead a department. Moreover, as a research and instruction librarian, management opportunities tend to be harder to come by, unlike the pipeline that can lead catalogers to become heads of technical services and later library directors. As someone who wants to lead an organization one day, I knew that I needed to take advantage of this unique opportunity to lead a unit so I can begin building my resume. I accepted enthusiastically.

Things started off well; my co-workers were happy for me, and my new direct reports were supportive of the move. Yet, once I started the day to day work - signing off on time cards, putting out random fires - I began to see that I had a new perspective about the organization. This makes sense: I had more context about employees, policies, and decisions that I did not have before. I suddenly noticed that I had to hold my tongue since knowing what I know now makes participating in some office scuttlebut problematic. I now have my staff’s confidentiality to protect, since, I have access to sensitive information. Further, I realize I should lead through a positive example. This is a balancing act - one I am excited to take on - but I also know that I am a social being who wants to tell jokes and participate in office culture.

To put it more succinctly: managers need friends, too.

So, what’s a new manager to do? Here are a few solutions I’ve found in my first months in my new role:

Dive into the larger world of librarianship: When you work in a small shop, it's harder to find a friend to talk office politics with or freak out about how to write a performance evaluation. So, I reached out to some colleagues in the Five Colleges Consortium and had some coffees and lunches. So often, we build community around the practice of librarianship, be it teaching or collecting, but I am also excited to build a community of practice around management, too.

Add some seats to your personal board of directors: In my last job, I read a Harvard Business School piece about cultivating a personal board of directors; these individuals can be mentors and/or other individuals you admire outside and inside of your organization, people who have already navigated some of the tricky management terrain before you. They can help troubleshoot problems, be a supportive ear, and help craft a professional roadmap for the next phase of your career. I think that this board of directors should also include individuals who are in the same career places as you; people grappling with some of the same issues for the first time, too. Since starting the new position, I've added some new members to my personal board of directors and I feel good about what's percolating.

Watch your relationships evolve: I had good relationships with my staff before I became their boss. As we’ve worked together more closely, I am getting to know them better. I’ve enjoyed goal-setting with them, and I’ve especially enjoyed seeing the start of a new type of relationship, one that isn’t a co-worker banter-and-prank-filled one you might observe in sitcoms like The Office. Together, we are all flexing different social muscles to do the work of our organization - and that’s extremely rewarding.

While shifting into a managerial position has changed the complexion of my day-to-day life, I realize how much remains the same; I am still a member of a dynamic team of research and instruction librarians, I still work with amazing students and faculty, and I still enjoy the camaraderie of my colleagues. The major difference in my life at work now is that I have more agency - agency to shape my staff, to set goals for my unit, and to develop my leadership style in earnest - but agency does come with its costs. I am lucky to be a manager with friends to navigate these exciting developments with over the next few years.

Caro Pinto is the Critical Social Inquiry Librarian at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. This is her first post for this blog. You can follow her on Twitter @caropinto. She writes about higher education, digital humanities, and libraries at

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