For quite awhile, I have been thinking about bullying and the devastating effects it has on a library. This is a very sensitive subject, and I consider myself fortunate never to have had to deal with one at Alliance. However, they do exist in library land. For those dealing with a bullying board member, it is very stressful and often a no-win situation.
Bullying is defined as repeated acts that involve a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful. Bullying comes in three basic forms – emotional, verbal and physical abuse.
Bullying in the workplace also is referred to as rankism – defined as abuse of the power inherent in rank or position– such as the board/employee relationship and usually involves coercion, control of the flow of information, and manipulation.
To all of the folks who contributed to this blog post on a very tough subject, thanks so much. It takes courage to be a good leader!
There are many kinds of wonderful public library board members: the classic community leader, the socialite, the fund raiser, the do-gooder, the lifelong learner/reader, and the one-issue-wonder. However, I have a new variety to add to the list: the library board bully (LBB). Luckily, they are a rare breed, but they are out there and individually can do much damage to a library, its staff, and most importantly, its customers.
LBBs are driven by their desire for power and control, so they will attend every library board meeting and are fully engaged. They will defend publically the library and its volunteers, but they also will appoint themselves to every committee. If they miss a meeting, they usually demand re-discussing the issues. They truly are hands-on.
On the negative side, LBBs are control freaks and micro-managers. Their hot buttons revolve around power and keeping it. Examples of LBBs include:
- New board members who want to be chairman/president in their first year
- Board members who fight any attempt to implement term limits and who want to be on the board indefinitely
- Board members who object to attendance rules and prefer that board minutes not be posted on the website
If the board opposes the domination of its LBB, the LBB will often find a “puppet” board member to do his or her bidding, so the LBB remains in control but on the side lines. Finally and above all, once provoked, the LBB is ruthless and persistent.
How do you deal with the LBB? First and foremost, understand this is bullying in its most blatant form. Library boards need very clear and enforceable rules of conduct and tenure. Board members must support other members who try to rein in the LBB. There is strength in numbers.
Do not quit the board because the LBB makes going to meetings uncomfortable; that is how they gain power. LBBs thrive when there is a weak board and/or library director. Libraries need a full board complement, to keep all the checks and balances in place. Library directors need to invest time orienting and supporting the education of board members. A strong, well informed library board is the best protection from allowing a LBB to monopolize the board.
Luckily, the LBB is an uncommon beast in library land. For those coping with a LBB, develop a new trustee orientation program and support a strong board president. For the rest who are LBB-free, celebrate your good fortune and update your board orientation plans to prevent any future LBB situations!