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Leadership Development: Less Talk More Action

Calgary Public Library
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Innovation Summary

The Leadership Action Team and Future Action Team are strengthening organizational performance by establishing meaningful community connections, contributing to succession and strategic planning, providing developmental opportunities for staff, informing the actions of the Board, encouraging thinking about the Library in a broad social context, and creating a culture of leadership.

Problem Statement

Traditional organizational hierarchies are often structured in ways that discourage leadership – they encourage conformists and reward role players, discourage risk takers, and have a low tolerance for mistakes. The complexity of today’s environment requires Library leaders to look at problems and opportunities in new ways, develop new relationships based on community need, see what needs to be done and act without needing a roadmap or waiting to be told what to do! At the Calgary Public Library a new paradigm of leadership development is emerging to more effectively address an increasingly complex environment: One focused less on teaching and more on providing the support and opportunity for self-directed, reflective, experiential and iterative community-based learning.


1. The Leadership Action Team (LAT) provides an opportunity for new librarians to work closely with the CEO to strengthen organizational learning and leadership capacity while furthering Library goals with communities. a. Participants are new librarians who, with active participation from the CEO, engage in dialogue, discovery, and self-reflection on the topics of libraries and leadership. b. In a group learning context, the team learns to identify and explore personal strengths and weaknesses within the context of their individual and collective capacity to impact the organization and the profession. c. Based on their exploration, the team plans a monthly lecture series that requires them to identify and approach community leaders who can share their vision of leadership with all CPL staff. d. The team also plans an annual daylong leadership symposium to further organizational leadership capacity. Invitations to participate are extended beyond the Calgary Public Library to gain exposure in a broader context. 2. Building on the successful LAT model the Future Action Team (FAT) provides opportunity for a cross-functional group of Library leaders to work with the CEO to look beyond the Library to increase organizational knowledge, resiliency and capacity to strategically plan for ongoing success. Initiatives include: a. Environmental scanning and ongoing group discussions. b. Formal reports written to inform Library Board planning. c. Presentations to share discussions with the all Library staff. d. Presentations to the wider library community in Canada and the U.S. e. Future Action Think Tank: Find the Future – In the spirit of working “outside in” library staff visited a variety of businesses, organizations, and social serving agencies to engage in conversation and to identify common values and build relationships around possibilities to create impact in our shared communities.


By engaging with community leaders through work on the Leadership Action Team, librarians have learned to articulate the unique value of the Library to very specific audiences and in doing so demonstrate the Library’s ability to impact specific communities. As a result, the Library has been invited to participate in several high profile, high impact city wide initiatives: As an example, the City of Calgary was one of two Canadian cities chosen as the 2012 cultural capital of Canada. The Library was invited by The City of Calgary to join this initiative and we continue to be an active and respected participant in the process. As a second example, the Library was approached by one of the city’s largest philanthropic organizations, The Calgary Foundation, to co-host Vital Conversations a highly successful initiative that has created dynamic community forums to discuss local quality of life issues. Both initiatives have helped to identify Library leaders and provided opportunity and encouragement for individuals to move into new positions within the organization where they have greater influence and more independence in determining organizational direction. Working in supportive groups led by the CEO to experiment with new ideas, to make connections between global trends and the Library’s changing role in the community, and to develop critical improvisation skills, has also increased organizational capacity to communicate the Library’s unique contribution to the community. The discussions, presentations and increased emphasis on self awareness, self direction, and personal responsibility for moving the Library forward continues to inform the Library Board in their governance and advocacy roles as well as ensuring that Library leaders are able to create meaningful connections with our communities at this critical time in the evolution of the Calgary Public Library as we build three new Library branches and a new Central Library.