Magazine article American Libraries

Will's World: Why Management Theories Don't Add Up

Magazine article American Libraries

Will's World: Why Management Theories Don't Add Up

Article excerpt

Librarians make good managers because we are experienced at working with human beings. Yes, much of our work now involves interacting with machines, but we only use them as tools to help flesh-and-blood patrons find the informational and recreational resources that will enrich their lives.

One of my hobbies is to collect naive reference questions. I do this not simply for my own amusement, but also as a reminder that librarians will never become obsolete. As long as people continue to populate the planet and ask questions such as "Do you have a photograph of the trains that ran on the Underground Railroad in the South?" librarians will be needed.

By the same token, employees will always need managers. During my 30-year career in library management, I oversaw three libraries of various sizes. I often went to management seminars to keep up with the latest techniques of the trade. Now that I am near the end of that career, I chuckle about all the time and money I spent to learn new insights when the core problem of management is age-old: Managers spend 90% of their time on 2% of their employees.

Variations on a variable

Some people think that management is a science that can be broken down into a series of laws and hypotheses, and there is some truth to this approach. The classic management problem looks very much like a mathematical formula:

X hates Y;

Y hates X;

Y is the supervisor of X.

No new management theory has been able to eliminate the unrelenting reality of this human equation.

As a new manager three decades ago, I quickly grasped that, from a mathematical standpoint, there were only four possible outcomes from this set of variables. That is still the case today.


* Outcome number one: Effect a reconciliation between X and Y. Most new managers think that this is a fairly feasible solution involving a series of counseling sessions in which the manager acts as the facilitator/mediator. While reconciliations between two warring parties have been known to occur, they are rare.

* Outcome number two: Separate X and Y by assigning X to a new supervisor (Z) or by transferring Y to supervise another work team. …

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