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

Giving Leadership Rather than Taking It

Dan Decker

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874608.ch68

The editors of this book recognize that all established leaders have their own unique story to tell, their particular journey from novice to well-practiced in the skills of leadership. I developed leadership skills through a combination of formal and informal training, receipt of mentoring, taking risks and gaining experience, and reflection on my own performance, as well as careful observation and critique of others.

Training. I enrolled in organizational administration and leadership courses at Cornell University as part of my graduate program, and as an early-career professional, I took advantage of training seminars and workshops, ranging in duration from a couple hours to multiple days. Some of these were encouraged by my supervisors, but mostly, I was simply motivated to develop skills that would serve my aspirations to be an effective leader in my department and college. I also enjoyed reading leadership literature, my fa- vorite having the intriguing title Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun (Roberts (1989). This is a wonderful book that covers the basics of leadership in an interesting, enjoy- able read. Later in my career, I came to appreciate the advice of other authors on leader- ship, especially John Kotter, whose work has direct relevance to conservation agency lead- ership (e.g., Leading Change [Kotter 2012]) but mostly targets the upper echelon of lead- ers, not the leadership that staff at many levels can exert in an organization.

Mentoring. At various points in my career, I have been fortunate to be mentored by supervisors who were very effective leaders. Perhaps instructively, the people I am think- ing of all operated differently but were nonetheless successful as leaders. They possessed a down-to-earth approach that was honest and fair. They had a humble, folksy pragma- tism out of which flowed memorable sayings like “What people don’t know, they’ll make up,” “It’s an insurmountable opportunity,” and “If you can’t change the people, some- times you have to change the people.” These folks were worth paying attention to as lead- ers. They were willing to offer me leadership opportunities and to critique my efforts. A few of these mentors I luckily found myself working with, but others I sought out and essentially created opportunities to work with them—I didn’t just leave it to chance to have exposure to good mentors; I took the initiative. For example, I once resigned from my position as department chair to work as an associate director of research in my col- lege, in large part for the opportunity to work with the director of the research office. That move also gave me regular exposure to several other leaders in the college, such as the dean and associate deans, whose styles I could observe.