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

Being Led and Leading in Science and Life: An Index of Mentor Quality

Thomas J. Kwak

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch60

Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. [Oscar Wilde.]

Some people may be natural born leaders, but more commonly, leadership is a learned trait. Inferring from the wisdom (above) of the classic playwright Oscar Wilde, leadership cannot be taught by formal education—it must be lived. Many formal courses are offered, books have been published, and videos produced to enhance the set of skills required to be an effective leader, but their efficacy is questionable and outcomes may be variable.

How then is leadership learned if not through formal education? I believe that leadership is inherited, not necessarily by genetic transfer, but is passed on from established, experienced leaders to other individuals seeking those skills. With apologies to Wilde, leadership can indeed be taught, not most effectively by formal coursework, self-improvement classes, or commercial products, but through mentorship. Mentors teach leadership and other critical skills directly, by example and experience, and indirectly, by serving as role models (Lee et al. 2007). Mentorship is key to a successful career in science and an influential and rewarding life beyond one’s profession. In this vignette, I share my personal experiences in mentorship and integrate them into a tool that can be applied to help select a mentor, introspect on mentorship, evaluate others’ mentorship, and enhance leadership development.

I was fortunate to be mentored by some excellent fisheries scientists who were leaders in the field and effective in mentorship. They were my mentors, teachers, colleagues, and friends. As an undergraduate student of ecology at University of Illinois, I stumbled into an hourly technical position at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS; the research arm of the state natural resource agency) to assist with fish and aquatic macroinvertebrate field sampling and laboratory sorting. That position led me to pursuing a master’s degree, funded by a research assistantship, followed by 5 years of employment as a research scientist. I completed many informative undergraduate and graduate courses at the university, but I learned to be a scientist at the INHS.