Leading without Supervising: A Librarian’s Look at Peer Leadership

emetter —  November 7, 2016 — 2 Comments

open book with title: Leading Without Supervising

I’m not a supervisor. Or a manager. Or even the cruel or gentle taskmaster of one student employee. But, in some respects, I feel I’m a leader in my professional life.

From my own experience, and from watching others in action, here are some elements I’d call “leading from within.”

Taking on leadership positions

Want your voice heard on policy decisions? Being an officer on a committee is frequently the path to that goal. In that role you may have a tad more clout in shaping discussions.

Enjoy organizing, hate evaluating? Both ongoing organizational groups, as well as ad hoc projects, need people to create expectations and shape projects. The payoff? Earning significant input into processes and outcomes.


Are you asked for input? Rejoice! Your opinion may be the one that makes something a whole lot more marvelous. (Or it could be ignored. Such is life.) My biggest challenges? I’ve got two. The first is working on only responding when I’ve got something useful to say. The second is responding when the issue seems unimportant to me, but is obviously important to the person asking for input.

Offering a friendly shoulder

Personal life? Professional life? Some elements inevitably intertwine. Fellow employees may seek someone who’s not their boss, and may not even be someone they regularly work with, as a sounding board for issues. Earning this kind of trust feels terrific. And knowing you’ve cultivated the shoulders of others to lean on, as the need arises, is a comfort.

Are there downfalls to choosing the route of subtle leadership? Yes:

Feeling left out?

Yeah, too bad. Designated leaders do earn the inside track on many matters.

Feeling a slight unease

Though I’m too far along in life to feel much true embarrassment for any decisions I make that don’t kill kittens, I have, more than once, endured a sort of squinty look from official leaders, usually accompanied by a questioning tilt of the head, when I say that management was never in the cards for me.

Being a nosy body

When you’re not a leader, but brimming with brilliant (brilliant, I tell you!) ideas, you may be perceived as offering your opinion on (a.k.a. sticking your nose into) too many issues. Which leads to the next point.

Needing to learn patience

I’ve learned to wait longer than I used to before noting a non-urgent perceived problem. Generally, that problem is being addressed somewhere in my organization.


Yeah, there’s that. But other non-monetary rewards may be offered or available if your value is noted.

I do feel there are some specific benefits to leadership without supervision. One is the ability, as even a longtime employee with “high level” expectations from management, to participate in frontline service. Having the experienced and the freshly passionate working together is to everyone’s benefit. Those who’ve been around have great breadth and depth of information. Newer people notice new angles and directions.
Perhaps the leading from within choice best fits a person with dilettante tendencies. Hey! I can’t lead! I think. My mind, which I acknowledge has only so much capacity, overflows with ever-tumbling thoughts and ideas that cry to be examined and acted upon. And I even follow-up on some! I feel certain that daily oversight of others and big picture thinking could make the whole shebang just explode.



I work as a research librarian in Colorado. My joys include walking about, enjoying live music, and self-publishing.

2 responses to Leading without Supervising: A Librarian’s Look at Peer Leadership


    Thanks for this post! I don’t hold a formal supervisory role either, but I saw myself in some of the positions that you described and that was validating and encouraging.

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  1. Leading without Supervising: A Librarian’s Look at Peer Leadership | Stephanie L. Gross, MSLIS - November 7, 2016

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