Patrick Losinski Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

Executives often face the difficulty of managing their company’s revenue, and Patrick Losinski is no stranger to the challenge. His organization’s funding depends largely on tax resources, and the executive director operates the Columbus Metropolitan Library on an annual budget of $50 million. As the leader of one of the top circulating library systems in the United States and the employer of more than 800 staff members, Losinski has found innovative and efficient ways to operate the institution, including implementing new technology and a successful Lean Six Sigma program. Smart Business spoke with Losinski on how he manages his strategic plan and leads his organization into the future.

Be a committed planner. Planning is so critical for public institutions and every institution. You really have to have a clear plan, where you and your employees understand your mission, your vision, your strategies and your desired outcomes. That has enabled us to develop annual tactical plans that support the strategic plan. It allows you to not only tell the story to all of your stakeholders — beginning with your employees — but it also drives the work of the organization.

Without that plan, I feel rudderless. I can’t imagine leading an organization of this size without being disciplined to a planning process. It’s a way to keep 800-plus people on the same page.

The plan gives you the framework, and individuals can be empowered within that framework to help you achieve your results.

Stress the importance of transparent communications. Do everything that you possibly can to make sure that your employees have access to information. Twenty years ago, you had a weekly employee newsletter. Today, with voice mail, e-mail, blogs and staff intranets, it’s not a matter of having access to information; it’s trying to manage the flow of information to make sure that we get key strategic messages in front of our employees.

A while back, someone gave me an article that talked about the challenges of being a CEO. It said to remember that a CEO’s microphone is always on, and it’s always amplified. It’s not about being guarded or being measured, but it’s always being aware that employees are listening to what you’re saying, and they’re trying to understand.

They may have just five or 10 minutes to talk to you, and what you might convey in that five or 10 minutes is the most important thing they’ll hear from you over a period of time. It’s being aware and making sure you’re always delivering the important messages.

Shake up your staff members. I like to take situations where we have someone in a leadership position at the library who has been there for a number of years, and we actually put them in a new leadership position that allows them to see this large institution from another vantage point.

Really smart people and really talented people are able to apply their knowledge from another area of our library in a new area, and they do it in a way that adds so much value to us. It can be a little bit unsettling, I certainly acknowledge that, but again, really smart people, who understand that this world is moving at a pretty rapid pace, see it as an opportunity to learn and contribute in new ways.

Every time that has happened, the benefits have far outweighed any negatives. I’ve been able to do that at various levels in the organization, all the way up to the leadership team level. It makes for a dynamic organization.

Understand management versus leadership. I can remember a quote: ‘Which is more important: management or leadership?’ The response was, ‘That’s sort of like asking, Is it more important to inhale or exhale?’ They’re both important, and they’re both different.

As you become a CEO or an executive director, it’s more about leadership, but it’s also being aware of the importance of management structures through your organization. It’s still your responsibility to make sure that things are actually managed properly and executed efficiently. Having an eye on both remains very important to the executive.

Create your own networking opportunities. I try to invite different CEOs to my office three to four times a month to have lunch with me. I send them our strategic overview ahead of time and say, ‘I’d like you to look at this, to think about it, and to come in and give me your reactions to our strategy.’

Then we talk about their perceived strengths and weaknesses of our organization and just have lunch. These, for me, have turned into Harvard-level consulting sessions for the cost of a turkey sandwich.

I have learned so much from listening to the CEOs in this community talk, not only about our institution but some of the challenges that they face. It’s not only helping to critique what we’re doing in the library; it’s helping me critique my own leadership style (when) I speak to these CEOs.

It frequently ends with a tour of the library, and in the course of an hour-and-a-half lunch visit, they become an ongoing advocate for what we’re all about.

I heard about one leader’s style. I called him up and said, ‘I don’t know you, but I’d like to have lunch with you.’ Now, that leader’s company has used our library for its annual retreat for its leadership team, and that’s great for us to have people utilizing our resources.

It’s been very effective for us on so many different levels — on building support for the institution, on building knowledge about our strategy and our vision, and on helping me personally as a fellow executive in listening to the various leadership styles and challenges faced by others in the community. When people are invited to critique what you’re doing, suddenly they have a shared ownership of the institution as well. It’s very healthy.

HOW TO REACH: Columbus Metropolitan Library, (614) 645-2275, (614) 849-1000 or www.columbuslibrary.org