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

Covey Lunches and Birthday Cakes: The Leadership of Instilling Values and Trust

William F. Porter

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch61

I still recall the Tuesday afternoon when a graduate student came into my office and vented his frustrations. It was not so much to me as at me. His issues? The research question I had selected was unrealistically difficult, the statistical courses he had taken were a waste of time, and my guidance was far from adequate. He was not the first to unload such frustrations at me, but he would be the last. I decided that day to develop a new style of mentoring. I started reading about managing bright people and was soon deep into the literature on leadership. I thought I was an effective leader because I had been organizing people to accomplish my ideas since I was in grade school. What I learned from reading was that there were much better ways to lead than just emphasizing vision and organization. In this vignette, I describe a leadership style that evolved over 20 years and continues to grow. By many metrics, the new leadership approach has been remarkably successful. Importantly, although this approach is described in terms of leading a group of graduate students in wildlife, it is equally applicable to fisheries.

Lunches and birthday celebrations seem far from offering lessons in leadership. Yet, they are central to my approach. We think of leadership as the vision necessary to anticipate opportunities and the way to organize a team of people to take advantage of those opportunities, but leadership is about values and trust as well. The many books available today in airport kiosks are evidence of the importance of values and trust to leading people. In conveying values and building trust, there is a personal investment that inspires confidence and strength in relationships. The subtle message is that sense that the leader sees the potential of each person and is helping realize that potential. My intent in this vignette is to explore the leadership from a novel perspective: having a series of lunches with new students to begin the process of learning the shared values of a university research laboratory and celebrating birthdays to build an atmosphere of trust within the lab.