Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How does it know?!?

We all know that part of life is death, but it never lessens the pain or sorrow when you get the news that someone who substantially helped shape your career has left this earthly coil. Such was the news for me this past weekend with the news that a long-time colleague of mine in an earlier part of my career, Jim Michael, has departed.

Jim was a remarkable man, with a huge appetite for funny stories, libraries, life, family and food -- all of which he enjoyed with relish. I’ll always remember how he did a demo of the software, showed some wonderfully clever feature and then would turn to the audience of librarians and with a huge grin would ask; "How does it know?"

For those of us work in the field of library automation and were recruited away from libraries into the business side of librarianship by Jim, we owe him a lot. Jim was very close to the same age as my father. Like my dad did, and still does, Jim guided me with gentle patience as he shared his incredible knowledge and expertise on a wide range of subjects. As you would expect, conversations with Jim focused on libraries, building software products for libraries, library standards, understanding librarians and their needs as well as all those others who work in this industry, ranging from the press to lawyers, to consultants and other vendors. When you had reached your saturation point on the subject of libraries, he could just as easily change gears to discuss Biblical studies, fine wines (and God bless him, the best port I’ve ever smelled and tasted), cigars, coffees, food and any other subject you could wish to discuss at any level of detail you wanted to discuss. When you were finally tired of learning for the day, he’d tell you a funny story or joke, put a laugh in your belly, a smile on your face, a good cup of coffee in your hand and then send you back to your office to start applying that new bundle of expertise he'd just handed you.

However, the most important thing Jim taught me was that as you rose in the organization, you had an obligation to bring along the next generation of leadership. Through Jim’s understanding and guidance, he did that for me. Sometimes by counseling me when needed, sometimes by introducing me to those I needed to meet or explaining that which I did not yet understand. He always set the best example possible for me to follow. He taught me to lead when needed and follow when appropriate. He did it all in a way that showed tremendous respect for the people around him.

I’ve tried over
the years, to faithfully apply those lessons and to do the same with those who work with me. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t, but I’ve always tried to remember the examples and the lessons Jim imparted. It’s an important part of leading an organization and one easily forgotten in the rush to get things done. But do it we must, for it is part of the job of leading and part of the obligation we hold, to those like Jim Michael, who taught us.

How does it know? Because Jim, like all the rest of us, you took the time to teach it. God bless you on your journey.