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

Four Lessons on Vision in Leadership

Thomas G. Coon

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch31

Vision: a daunting facet of leadership. Vision is critical to being effective in leadership. It is what inspires people to work toward common goals. Vision also serves as a grade for performance; it is how you know if you have succeeded. Have you fulfilled your vision? If not, then you have failed, or you have more work to do. If so, then what is next?

Four lessons from colleagues have helped me improve my ability to develop, share, and realize vision. A vision (1) needs boundaries, (2) develops from the wisdom of experience, and (3) is acquired and (4) achieved through action.

Tackling the future of sustainable fisheries management is an overwhelming task. If members of an organization set the full scope of sustainable fisheries management as its vision, they have set their organization up for failure. One organization simply cannot muster all the resources needed to achieve that vision. Identifying the part of that vision that the organization can achieve and aspiring to fulfill that vision is exactly what is needed in order to see progress towards sustainability. Partnering with other organizations that have complementary assets and skills can further assure successful progress toward the overall vision of sustainable fisheries.

The first lesson came from John Robertson, who had served as the chief of fisheries for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. John was gracious to join our departmental faculty at Michigan State University (MSU) in a strategic planning exercise. In the mid-1990s, we were in a growth spurt in our department, largely due to collaborations with John’s department and other natural resource agencies in the Great Lakes region. The faculty were feeling a bit uncertain, trying to understand how these new partnerships and new colleagues would influence the place of our department in the world.

We were dutifully building an inventory of and evaluating our department’s strengths and weaknesses and how those matched with the needs of the resources and people we were called to serve. We developed a mission statement, which, in retrospect, was about as far-reaching as could be imagined. It was clear that we had a sense of departmental identity that suggested the world, and particularly its natural resources, would fall apart if we failed.

John listened for a while and eventually stopped us and told us we were completely wrong:

You are a university department. You teach. You do research. You extend that knowledge to people who can use it. Those are all good. But you don’t manage natural resources. We do that. Other agencies do that.