The Practice of Mentoring: Reflecting on the Critical Aspects for Leadership Development

By Hicks, Deborah | The Australian Library Journal, February 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Practice of Mentoring: Reflecting on the Critical Aspects for Leadership Development


Hicks, Deborah, The Australian Library Journal


This paper has been double-blind peer reviewed to meet the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) HERDC requirements.

Mentorship is often considered one of the best ways to develop leadership potential in new library and information professionals. Mentors act as teacher, role model, and cheerleader; but there are potentially serious aspects to mentorships that will negatively impact the protege. Such negatives include mentors sabotaging or taking credit for a protege's work; personality clashes; abusive relationship behaviors such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse, controlling behavior, and jealousy; or the mentor using the protege as a lackey. And, what effect does a dysfunctional mentoring relationship have on a protege? How can these serious negative behaviors be avoided? This discussion paper looks at the risks of mentoring as a way to develop leaders in LIS and provides suggestions for improving mentoring relationships so that it can be an even more effective tool for developing leadership in LIS. It is time to look at mentorships in a more critical and reflective light for the benefit of mentors, proteges, and the profession at large.

Introduction

How are future library leaders developed? This is the question that many current library leaders are mulling over as they look at their current workforces and when hiring new librarians. It is, perhaps unfortunately, a question without a straightforward answer. Nevertheless it is a question that has grown in importance. Over the past 10 years, librarianship has confronted the realities of an aging workforce; as librarians with a lifetime of experience prepare to retire, librarians new to the profession need to be prepared to take over and lead librarianship. The profession has created a variety of ways to help prepare these new librarians to take on the task. Leadership skills can be a component of management classes in Library and Information Studies (LIS) or as professional development (PD) opportunities through national and local library associations. There are leadership development opportunities offered by many libraries as a way to develop leadership potential among current employees. In addition to these somewhat less formal leadership development opportunities there has been a growth in leadership institutes specifically tailored for librarians throughout the world. Indeed, in 2004 Mason and Wetherbee counted 21 library leadership programs, including the Aurora Leadership Institutes, held in Australia since 1995.

A common feature in leadership preparation, especially in the formal leadership institutes and increasingly in on-the-job preparations, is mentoring. Mentoring has been an important concept in LIS literature since the late 1980s, but has gained increased attention in recent years due to the predicted demographic changes in librarianship over the next 5-10 years. Mentoring relationships are often thought of as a way to pass along vital skills to new librarians that traditional LIS education cannot offer. Within LIS literature, mentoring is often treated uncritically. Only the positive aspects of mentorships, such as skills development and knowledge transfer, to name but two aspects, are highlighted, while the potential negative consequences of mentoring relationships, such as sexual harassment, jealousy, and role confusion, are underplayed or ignored. This discussion paper looks at the potential risks of mentoring as a way to develop leaders in LIS. The intention of this paper is not to suggest that mentoring is an inappropriate way to develop leaders, only that mentoring, like any other tool for developing leaders, is not perfect and that its flaws must be as well understood by the profession as its benefits. A more reflective approach to mentoring will help proteges and mentors, both, avoid potential negative consequences and create mentoring relationships that are beneficial for both the protege, mentor, and the profession at large.

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