Lessons in Leadership: Integrating Courage, Vision, and Innovation for the Future of Sustainable Fisheries

Sometimes You Just Decide to Take the Lead

Richard W. Gregory

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch21

There has been a great deal written over the years about what makes a good leader, including numerous oft-repeated quotes that presumably serve to inspire and guide those who wish to become one. A favorite of mine comes from a leader of great renown, General George S. Patton, who boils all that advice down into a clear, succinct eight-word admonition: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

As with most young professionals launching a career, I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I would be following the first part of Patton’s admonition. I did no reading about what it takes to be a good leader. I never took a management course on leadership or spent any time plotting a strategy on how to do it. Yet I have found myself in a number of leadership roles, and my journey there was part serendipity and part strategy. Along the way, I have, in fact, come to feel comfortable in the role and see my evolution as a possible example for others.

The first step is understanding that leadership isn’t limited to generals or titans of industry or political leaders. Good leaders are very often recruited by circumstance, and even the smallest of those happenstance events can be important in developing the necessary skills and building a comfort level with taking on the responsibility. Whenever a group of people is brought together to accomplish a task, one member of the group will somehow emerge as the leader, chair, or grand pooh-bah. Most people would prefer to take the last part of Patton’s advice: follow or get out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with that; only one leader is needed to organize the chaos of a group into meaningful action. The leader’s role, then, is to convince the group to work toward a common goal while assuring each member that his or her input is important.

My first hint of whatever my leadership potential might be occurred during boot camp in the U.S. Navy. I suppose that because I had a college degree, our company chief chose me to lead the company during boot camp. The easiest part of the position was to be able to count cadence as the company marched around the base. I didn’t realize at the time that my efforts to help them maintain a positive attitude while learning about life in the navy was probably my first test of any leadership skills I might have until, my company chief nominated me for a base-wide award called the American Spirit of Honor, near the end of boot camp. I was pleased to be nominated. I did receive the award and was recognized during the final recruit parade and graduation ceremony. Receiving that honor may have been the beginning of my understanding of what leadership is and how satisfying it can be.