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

An Unlikely Leader

William L. Fisher

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch50

We all understand who good leaders are and what good leadership is like. This knowledge typically comes from people close to us, such as our parents, people we work with, and those who lead our institutions. The types, styles, and personalities of leaders are as varied as are people; there is no one best person or way to lead. And while it is easy to recognize a leader who is a bold and articulate person, it’s not always easy to see a quiet and reserved person as a leader. This is my leadership story, an unlikely one, and what I learned about leading and leadership through my life experiences and those with the American Fisheries Society (AFS).

As a young person, I never thought of myself as a leader, but rather as a lieutenant, the second in command. I was a sensitive, self-conscious, curious, and imaginative child. It took courage for me to find the confidence to raise my hand and speak up. And when I did, I failed sometimes (I was chastised by my 5th grade teacher for suggesting we were too old for a milk and cookie break) and succeeded at other times (I led a small musical combo in junior high and high school). I felt more comfortable following others, as far as my conscience would allow. (Confession: I was never good at lying to my mother.) And although I didn’t feel comfortable being a vocal leader, I was at ease leading by example, which was how I led.

Fortunately, I had strong, loving parents who exposed me to the outdoors and fostered my love of science (and music). My father was outgoing, warm, friendly, and confident—a real people person. He was an outdoorsman who took me fishing and hunting and stirred my interest and passion for the outdoors (Figure 1). He was a leader in his profession (the dairy industry), a sought-after public speaker, and my most influential role model. My mother was not a traditional outdoors woman, but she was a gardener and a backyard nature lover. She, too, in her loving way, helped foster my love of nature. The influences of my parents, along with a desire to design and build and understand how things work, led to a career in biology, ecology, and natural resource management, and leadership along the way.

I’ve always been a dreamer, excited by what might happen or what I could do to help make it happen. I get excited by possibilities, change, improving things, and making things work better and more efficiently. The American Fisheries Society and the fisheries profession provided me with opportunities to develop my leadership skills through learning and practice and gave me the courage to overcome some of my apprehensions to speak up.