We’re pleased to welcome Mike Sweet, CEO of Credo Reference, to have a conversation on leadership. Mike’s career has been built on his passion for providing solutions that benefit both the library and their patrons. His perspective from the business side of the library market brings a unique point of view to “On Leadership.”
Professional Title: CEO
As the CEO of Credo Reference, your company must face leadership challenges with the rapidly changing economic and technology factors in the library market. How do you keep your company focused on its mission?
We are certainly facing a lot of change in the library market. At Credo we pride ourselves on looking for the opportunity in challenges, which helps us to stay focused on our mission even during turbulent times. We believe change provides us with great opportunities to help establish new ways of doing things. This philosophy is in keeping with Credo’s history of innovation, which, not surprisingly, is one Credo’s five core values. Credo’s other core values are service, humor/humility, responsibility, and teamwork.
Maintaining our entrepreneurial spirit is essential to keeping innovation alive and strong. We never take anything for granted in our business and believe we need to stay hungry to exceed our library customers’ expectations if we are going to continue to grow during challenging economic times.
Keeping the articulation of our mission fresh is another way to keep people focused during turbulent times. When changes occur it provides a company with the opportunity to reexamine its purpose and to actually evolve and expand that purpose to better meet the new environment.
You have huge exposure to librarians, top decision makers and leaders in our industry. In regards to leadership, what’s been the biggest take away of late from those conversations?
I feel very lucky to work with so many thoughtful leaders in and around the library industry. Unfortunately, I see that many leaders I speak to are having a very difficult time developing a compelling vision of the future toward which they are leading their organizations. I hear about scarcity, which often leads to fear-based thinking. It is hard to achieve anything truly great when you first can’t imagine something great.
I also experience a lot of short-term thinking when dealing with leaders of other library vendors. They are under a lot of pressure to deliver strong business performance and often feel forced to make decisions that make sense in the short-run, but in the long-run are unlikely to lead to a healthy and growing library market. As leaders, I see it as a primary responsibility to expand our horizons and enroll people towards an exciting future for our industry. I don’t experience this in enough of my conversations.
We talked with librarian Steven Bell about approaching the library with a business perspective. What insight can you share with library leaders from your corporate based point of view?
I recently attended the Charleston Conference where Anthea Stratigos, CEO of Outsell, delivered the opening keynote. She gave a very good presentation about the need for libraries to become better strategic marketers. This involves carefully analyzing how and where your library delivers value to those you serve. As part of this, you have to be willing to accept what you learn. If those you serve don’t experience value in the way you deliver it, you have to reevaluate what you are doing and make the required changes. In a business context, you will be out of business very quickly if you don’t do so. On the positive side, resources always seem to flow to where the most value is being created.
In the specific case of libraries, we’re seeing a lot of changes in the way people find and utilize information, whether for academic, professional or personal reasons. People have certain information needs – especially around how to navigate and assess the vast amount of information out there – that haven’t been fully addressed yet. Business success comes from having a finger on the pulse of the market and being able to respond to people’s needs; libraries thrive when they can do the same.
I would make sure you spend a significant portion of your time on the larger and more strategic issues you face. Stephen Covey famously described these as the “big rocks,” versus the smaller, more trivial tasks, which can be described as “sand.” If you get too caught up in the minutia, you wind up losing time that could have been applied toward accomplishing your most important priorities. Library leaders can figure out very quickly what the big rocks are on campus just by spending more time talking to the other leaders across their institutions.
One last question: Which leader do you admire most? Why?
I admire a lot of leaders and I try to learn and incorporate ideas from as many as I can. I see it as a mistake to try to model my leadership too much on another’s style, but I find many attributes by which I am inspired. I work hard to borrow from people that are much smarter and more experienced than me.
If I had to pick one leader I admire most it would be Theodore Roosevelt. He wasn’t afraid to take risks and he stayed true to what he believed. Further, he was able to see beyond what others could see at the present time. Perhaps this ability is at the very essence of what it means to be a great leader. Many people don’t know that he experienced a lot of sickness as a child, which is surprising when you consider the way he is often portrayed today, as a cowboy and vigorous leader.
Thank you, Mike! Looking forward to seeing you at ALA Midwinter.