Are We Strong Leaders?

This post is a deep dive into the Nation of Makers 2018 Leadership Survey Questionnaire. Download the PDF here.

Emotional intelligence is a leadership skill that has been (thankfully) recognized in the last decade or so to have significant importance when it comes to leadership ability. It includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. The results from the leadership survey indicate that overall, yes we are a fairly socially intelligent bunch of leaders.

We scored a little lower, collectively, on feeling threatened under criticism. Makerspaces aren’t the typical office or work setting, so one possible explanation for this could be that leaders do take things personally, because of the social nature of some of these spaces. People who are in their maker communities are often more than just colleagues, they are friends.

Also, it could be that makerspace leaders may not always compartmentalize the needs of the business vs. personal criticism. It could also be the way criticism is framed or expressed by the critic that causes the leader to feel defensive.

It would be interesting to see how this stacks up with leadership in different types of industry, as there are different social norms in place.

Read more on about emotional intelligence here.

Leadership takes courage, determination and vision. As with any business, obstacles arise that need to be overcome. Overall, the makerspace leaders in the survey indicated that they like to plan for the future. Finding their way when circumstances change, however, is something they weren’t as confident about.

What kinds of unforeseen circumstances do makerspace leaders face? Colleagues may leave the group, funding sources may change, and conflicts within the community happen. Being able to see the big picture and to be confident in smaller decisions along the way is a skillset that leaders develop over time.

It may be helpful to guide or coach leaders to be more resilient and to find ways to leverage the knowledge and skills of the individuals in their spaces. Networking and reaching out to hear the experiences of other makerspace leaders can also help overcome some of the stress that may result from the curveballs that day-to-day makerspace life can throw.

unsolicited suggestion:
Mentorship is an excellent solution when it comes to learning to cope with unexpected situations. Mentors are more experienced individuals who listen – and who often offer advice to their less-experienced colleagues. While mentors may not always provide the right answer to their mentees, they can help the mentee look at problems from a different perspective.

It’s helpful to look for mentors that are outside the mentee’s direct working sphere so that they can give a view of the situation that isn’t skewed by the social dynamics of working on a team.

Leaders want their teams to be able to take on new challenges and they consider their skill sets when delegating tasks and asking for help. Giving members and leaders these new challenges may help them grow and find strengths. On the other hand, it is very necessary for the function of the business of a makerspace to have some degree of consistency in tasks.

Making time for people: makerspace leaders try incredibly hard to do this. Other questions in the Nation of Makers leadership survey have indicated that leaders often have a LOT on their plates and that they experience a high degree of burnout. (More details to come in future posts.) Even though makerspace leaders are managing a large of volunteers and don’t have much time, it is vital to the strength of their community that they make time to listen to those who they are serving.

As for performance and productivity, getting things done inside of a makerspace can be akin to herding cats. Very often the people who are doing the work of running a makerspace are volunteers who have a lot on their plates. Family commitments, jobs, as well as creating work within the makerspace are just a few of the things they juggle. This means that helping run the makerspace isn’t always their first priority. Good time management skills that help avoid burnout are crucial for anyone who raises their hand for makerspace skills.

Personal feelings are something that must be balanced with the work of running a community space. Makerspace leaders have to not only learn to manage and master their own emotions, but to deal with a diverse group of opinions, needs, backgrounds and problems.

Generally, makerspace leaders are a pretty confident bunch. Questioning one’s ability succeed unnecessarily is known as imposter’s syndrome. As leaders build experience and develop skills, they should become more confident and imposter’s syndrome should decrease. More time will be spent looking at the time and experience of the leaders who took the survey, what their role was, and their level of self-confidence.

Even when times are tough and situations are hard, a positive outlook may help a team to rise up to those challenges. Makerspace leaders are a very optimistic bunch of people. There are quite a bit of things that can be worried about in a makerspace, as these spaces have (to name a few) administrative needs, social needs, financial needs, educational needs, outreach needs, and maintenance needs.

Problem solving, strategic planning, design thinking, collaboration and communication are all skills that can be practiced that can help ease worry and focus on finding solutions. Good communication and rapport between makerspace leaders with clear understanding of roles and responsibilities is vital.

The strongest section in this survey is the role model section. Guiding others by doing is at the core of leadership. Often, team members understand how a process can work when they see it demonstrated or when a vision is provided to them for how it might work. Through experience, team members will develop their own sense of how to make processes better, they will change processes or they will create their own.

It is crucial that leaders develop skills to empower others. Leaders who are experiencing burnout may not feel as though they have the bandwidth to both teach how to lead AND get the necessary work to run their space done. Some investigation should be done to help leaders in makerspaces work toward building leadership skills in their organizations. And as indicated by the next section of the leadership survey we will be exploring (the “what do you need help with” section), that is what leaders feel they need help with most.

Makerspaces are inherently different than corporate or industrial work environments. Give that people come to these spaces with an expectation of learning, and that maker culture encourages failure as a learning tool, top notch results aren’t always the result of efforts of team members. This doesn’t necessarily mean that leaders shouldn’t set the bar high for their team. Makerspace leaders have to be adept at understanding the abilities and personalities of their staff, and to do the best they can with the people who volunteer and work for them.

Working with volunteers also means that a leader needs to have a degree of structure with tasks and requests, or to find a way to empower the group to find structure.

This is another very strong category for makerspace leaders. People who enjoy what they are doing work harder at it. Also, makerspaces often need the members they serve to be a part, quite frankly, to participate in the necessary tasks to keep their space open.

Leaders have to balance workload with making the experience positive for the volunteers and staff that they lead. A volunteer or employee that feels effective and as though they are appreciated will continue to engage in the mission, overcome obstacles and take initiative when they see the opportunity to serve.

This is the table that was used to score the numbers for the results.
You can view the sheet here

Future work with this data will be to look at these results by type of makerspace (Library, Government, Non-Profit, For-Profit, etc.). It will also take this information and look at it by the role of the leader in the makerspace.

If you would like a specific area of the data explored, please reach out.

The 2019 survey will launch on October 1, 2019
and run until December 31.

Please plan on participating.
(We’ll have an email signup posted soon.)