Lessons in Leadership: Integrating Courage, Vision, and Innovation for the Future of Sustainable Fisheries
The Importance of Respecting Culture, Practicing Inclusivity, and Enabling Participation When Leading Diverse Teams in Southern Africa
Olaf L. F. Weyl
I grew up in southern Africa. My father was a development worker for the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (now GIZ), and in 1977, when I was 5 years old, he relocated us to the small rural town of Kabompo in the North-Western Province of Zambia, where he was the leader of an agricultural development project. My father was strong on emphasizing integration between different professionals, and during my youth, I was privileged to interact with a variety of expatriate and local characters working in the rural development sphere, including advisers, consultants, social scientists, extension workers, nurses, priests, and university professors. I did not realize it then, but it was these interactions that later allowed me to better navigate the social and cultural complexities of the work environment and develop a successful career, which resulted in my appointment as chief scientist at the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.
In the fisheries research environment, leadership positions often come with very little actual power over choosing your teams or making them work together well. Good performance is based on creativity, and work hours are mostly determined by what it takes to get the job done, rather than by some sort of contractual obligation. Commonly, teams comprise individuals from different societal, cultural, and employment backgrounds. For example, the team for a recent research project on the upper Zambezi floodplains in Namibia comprised researchers from the South African Institute for Aquatic Biology, students and academics from South African and Namibian universities, fisheries department staff, and employees of the Namibia Nature Foundation, a nongovernmental organization (see Peel et al. 2015). The best-functioning teams are those that have existed for decades and whose members have developed mutual respect for each other, fostering a common desire to be a productive, helpful team member. This is difficult to emulate during typically short project cycles, which are the norm rather than the exception in most fisheries programmes. Successful implementation is, therefore, dependent on motivating people to perform and collaborate in social and environmental contexts that are often well outside their comfort zones.