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

Swimming and Drifting: Leadership amid Turbulence

Edward H. Allison

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch28

Leading is something you will do for your entire career. How do you stay motivated and effective? How do you respond when life gets turbulent—as it has in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the incipient worldwide recession? As the world also reckons with the legacy of racism in our societies, how do we ensure that we are in the forefront of calls for our field to be more representative of the societies we serve? How do you lead in a world where there are ever more urgent calls to “build forward better” through a series of radical transformations in our political, technological, and social systems?

I have found that there are times to swim powerfully against the current, and other times when it is all you can do to stop being swept away by tides of change. There are also times when you may need to drift with the current a little, to rest, recharge, listen, and learn. All this time, you will still be leading—albeit in different ways. Making bold decisions, sharing power and responsibility, accepting the help of others, and even getting out of the way of change that is faster than you are comfortable with—all are acts of leadership. A flexible and responsive approach to leading is required in these turbulent times. There is satisfaction to be derived from helping each other navigate this turbulence. That is one key motive that keeps me engaged with others who are working to lead our societies toward a fairer, more cooperative, and more sustainable world.

I claim no greatness as a leader and, indeed, have often been a reluctant one. Decisive, resolute, steadfast, and efficient are not traits that I would identify in myself, nor have I heard others describe me as such. Clear boundaries, rigorous prioritization, task-orientation, and time management are ideas I find attractive but have repeatedly failed to put into practice. Yet, despite these and many other shortcomings, I have often been asked to lead. I have also often stepped forward to lead when I didn’t need to, sometimes with a feeling of dread. What you are getting here is therefore a reflection on leadership by someone who doesn’t see himself as a leader. If you are bold, confident, enjoy the feeling of power and responsibility, and feel born to lead, then there may be little of interest in what I have to say—though I may caution that humility is a useful quality in leaders, too (Morris et al. 2005). But if, like me, you have sometimes felt hesitant or reluctant to lead, or if you feel you lack the qualities to be an effective leader, then perhaps there will be some inspiration, or at least comfort, in what follows.