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

Elements of Leadership: Things I Learned as a Naval Officer, Lobbyist, and Fly-Fishing Guide

Tom Sadler

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch57

Leadership starts with you. It’s a lesson I learned early, and it’s a core value. Other than fly-fishing, it’s the subject I have thought the most about over the past 40 years. My purpose in this vignette is not to create the definitive narrative on leadership; rather, I hope you will find the lessons I’ve learned ring true to you and, should being a better leader be your goal, that this vignette helps you get there. The lessons I learned, directly and from others, crystalized certain leadership elements that provide durable guidelines and values for me.

Leadership is one of the hardest things to do day in and day out. It takes discipline, courage, and strength—both mental and physical. The best explanation is attributed to General Norman Schwarzkopf: “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

Often, I didn’t look to lead, especially in my younger days. In fact, I pretty much avoided it. I wanted to make everyone happy, so I played follow the leader. Steve Jobs said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.” I was pretty content with selling ice cream. It wasn’t until I joined a fraternity in college that I got my first opportunity to lead, and for some reason, I took it.

During a pledging exercise, we were given a skills task that involved food. It was not dangerous, but it was challenging and not something you would show off to your mom, let’s leave it at that. The upshot was the exercise was stopped and my fellow pledges were spared because I did the unexpected by eating the seemingly inedible. In that instance, showing initiative and attitude, more than skill, brought about a very different outcome than was expected. It stuck with me and showed that stepping out rather than following the pack turned out to be pretty rewarding after the initial trepidation and discomfort. I can’t say it was intentional leadership at the time, but I got a good dose of psychic reward for doing it.

In the years following, I didn’t look to lead, but in more and more cases because of the way I had become wired, I took it. Truth be told, it was never fun, enjoyable, or anything other than uncomfortable and sometimes scary, but as the saying goes, I “cowboyed up.” Or, in Schwarzkopf’s words, “True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job anyhow, that’s what courage is.”