Interestingly enough, one of my favorites was not a leader in the traditional sense of the word. He was a medieval history professor of mine from back in my B.A. days. This man had one of the biggest student followings I have ever seen. His tiny office (think jail cell size) would literally have 10 people crammed inside it and in the doorway during his office hours. He had a great enthusiasm for teaching, knew his subject better than most I have met, and he explained things in a way that made even the most disinterested student listen. You only had to write one paper in each of his classes, due near the end of the semester, but I have never had one assignment feel like such a big deal. He was the probably the harshest grader I had in my entire college tenure, but his attitude and outlook made you desperately want to succeed and receive his approval. In many classes I attended, students would simply give up or not care if they received a "C" on a paper. Not here. I actually witnessed male students on the verge of tears when given such a grade. Yet, they were never mad at the professor. Instead, he inspired in them a desire to improve the grade by rewriting the paper as many times as it took. He would allow this, even if it took the entire next semester and a temporary grade of "Incomplete."
It was this professor's ability to truly teach and his passion for what he did that was so memorable. He was able to inspire an almost rabid desire to succeed in many of his students while at the same time garnering intense loyalty. Despite this, he never seemed to care in the slighest about recognition for his efforts.
I had an experience similar to Paul's in that the only Principal I worked for while teaching elementary school was a total idealist. She was always current on new research about effective and innovative methods of education, and she communicated such to the faculty asking us continually to try new things. There was always lots of grumbling and complaining after faculty meetings as teachers talked among themselves about why they couldn't implement changes. Yet after this principal moved on to a higher post in school administration, teachers who had previously worked for her eventually expressed dismay and disappointment at her departure because subsequent principals lacked similar vision, did not inspire teachers to move beyond their comfort zone in their practices. Even though the teachers had experienced dissonance when comparing their usual methods with those presented by the idealistic principal, their immediate relief at her promotion gave way after a time to boredom and discontent because they were not required to grow in their profession. It would appear that in order for progress to be achieved, most people must be encouraged to broaden their perspectives, examine innovative approaches to problems, and establish new goals. While some people do not welcome or enjoy change, a system can become stagnant without a leader that moves people on a personal level towards positive achievement.
This thread caused me to think about a great library leader I worked for early in my career. The Director I am thinking of was Merle Boylan -- he was leading the University of Texas Libraries in the early 70's when I worked for him. Two of his signal accomplishments included (1) starting the library conversion of more than a million records, some through an early local IBM system and then through OCLC; and (2) managing the construction plans for the large Parry/Castaneda Library, the main campus library. While Merle was not an easy boss, I learned many critical skills that served me well in my career. I saw how he organized and analyzed projects, selected personnel and placed them in various posts, used communication tools such as newsletters, and generated innovative solutions to a huge variety of bureaucratic problems. One skill he had that I don't have (but wish that I did) was a photographic memory. Oh well, you can't have everything. lvw