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

To Lead or Not to Lead? It’s Mostly up to You

Devin M. Bartley

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch38

When first asked to contribute to this book, I was hesitant to accept because I thought the organizers wanted a paper on leadership theory, group dynamics, conflict resolution, and so forth, of which I know very little of the formal material. But when I was told I could just write about my experiences as a leader, the task became a little less challenging and more interesting—how fun to write about me, me, me. I was also flattered that at least some people considered me a leader.

Ego sufficiently stroked, I thought, “Why do some people think I am a leader, and what exactly is a leader?” Google searches revealed a host of synonyms, such as chief, head, principal, boss, commander, and king. One synonym I found that I did not agree with was “mentor.” To me, a mentor is more of a teacher, to help one learn to think critically about science, careers, and a place in the world (see Taylor et al. 2014). I also found some circuitous definitions such as “a leader is one who leads.” I did find a few definitions I liked and cobbled them together to provide an operational definition for this vignette:

A leader is someone who possesses the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal and gives them the support, tools, training, and latitude to pursue that goal.

A few crucial aspects of my definition are

Art: motivating people to act could involve a variety of techniques; the leader will choose from his or her palette of talents, strengths, and opportunities;
Act: there must be action, not just words; and
Support: a leader should be able to provide at least some of the resources or mechanisms needed to work towards achieving the goal.

Okay, now that we are on the same page as to what a leader is for the purposes of this vignette, how does one get to be a leader? One could be appointed by a supervisor or other senior colleagues or be elected by a group of peers. For most of my experience, I was appointed by my supervisor. Becoming a leader can involve competition and an election, and perhaps different qualities would be required in those situations. Now that the general background is set, the personal stories about me, me, me can start.