Leadership Lessons from a Zombie Apocalyspe (no, really!)

What a great summer! As fall arrives expect to see more posts. This guest contribution comes from a friend and colleague. Rollie White lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two teenage daughters. Rollie is a student of leadership philosophy and works darn hard in government. When not commuting on his bike or fishing, Rollie enjoys cooking with his wife and traveling. We hope you enjoy his observations on leadership!

Leadership lessons can come from just about anywhere. My favorite recent example came from a Hollywood blockbuster starring Brad Pitt called “World War Z.” In the movie, a virus that turns people into crazed, flesh-eating Zombies is spreading around the world. Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, is a family man who clearly has some sort of CIA/James Bond/special agent past. Lane is sent by what is left of the government to find a way to stop the virus. He eventually arrives in Jerusalem, where the Israelis have built a 10-meter high wall around the City just days before the Zombies arrive. Gerry Lane (Pitt) wants to know how the Israelis knew. From the script:

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Gerry Lane: How did Israel know?
Jurgen Warmbrunn: We intercepted a communique from an Indian general, saying they were fighting the “rakshasa.. Translation, “zombies.” Technically, undead.
Gerry Lane: Jurgen Warmbrunn, high-ranking official in the Mossad. Described as sober, efficient, not terribly imaginative, and yet, you build a wall because you read a communique that mentions the word “zombie”?
Jurgen Warmbrunn: Well, if you put it like that, I’d be skeptical as well. In the ’30s, Jews refused to believe they could be sent to concentration camps. In ’72, we refused to believe we could be massacred in the Olympics. In the month before October 1973 we saw Arab troop movements, and we unanimously agreed that they didn’t pose a threat. Then, a month later, the Arab attack almost drove us into the sea. So, we decided to make a change.
Gerry Lane: A change?
Jurgen Warmbrunn: “The tenth man.” If nine of us with the same information arrived at the exact same conclusion, it’s the duty of the tenth man to disagree. No matter how improbable it may seem, the tenth man has to start thinking with the assumption that the other nine were wrong.
Gerry Lane: And you were that tenth man?
Jurgen Warmbrunn: Precisely. Since everyone assumed that this talk of zombies was cover for something else, I began my investigation on the assumption, that when they said, zombies they meant zombies.

The “10th Man”, or better yet, the “10th Person”, is not actually a real tenet of the Israeli intelligence operations. The idea is based, however, on a real approach the Israelis use: the Office of the Devil’s Advocate. Regardless of one’s views of the politics of Israel and the Middle East, it makes sense that the Israeli government feels it can ill afford to miss or underestimate any risk to its well-being – every threat must be assessed, and you can’t assess or defend against threats you don’t see. So the Israelis rely on the Devil’s Advocate’s Office to constructively criticize the rest of the Israeli intelligence operation, to ask “what if,” to think outside the box, to detect a threat that “Group Think” or complacency might miss.

Fortunately, so far in my Conservation Career, I have yet to have to deal with any Zombie Apocalypses. But time spent challenging old assumptions, thinking outside the box, or playing Devil’s Advocate has proved immensely valuable. Sometimes, this kind of thinking allows you to see a path to success when you have otherwise not seen one. Sometimes, you see a risk inherent in an approach you might have taken that can easily be inoculated against. Most often, the value comes from deliberately asking if the decision you just made was the right one – this is especially true if the decision made was a unanimous one.

The value in these cases comes later in time, when the going gets tough, or big challenges come up, and some on the team start to question the original decision. To be able to remind your team that “we asked that very question back when we made our decision, and we made the decision in full understanding of the consequences” is very valuable. As just one example, I served as a foreman on a jury in a civil case where a man had been injured and was suing his employer. When the jury ultimately found in favor of the employer, I asked the jurors to each offer up one idea or fact that would have made them find in the plaintiff’s favor. Most complied, and we discussed each briefly – did we miss that in testimony? Could it have happened? At the end, we were even more certain we had the right decisions. When I walked out of the jury room, I was very glad we had done so, as I watched the plaintiff sitting on a bench, sobbing his eyes out. While I certainly felt for the man, I never doubted the jury’s decision.

So you may be thinking that it is all fine and dandy for me to spout off about playing Devil’s advocate – my boss doesn’t like to be challenged and will never let us criticize management ideas. Fair enough – some people don’t like to be challenged and would perceive this kind of thinking as undermining their authority. By way of response, I’d suggest you model your own willingness to have someone tear apart your own ideas. Share this with the boss, and bring in the co-worker that “scrubbed” your idea. Model how an idea or decision can be strengthened by testing it, by doubting it, and by trying to bust it with a strong challenge. Sometimes, fearlessness can be infectious.

And please pass the popcorn – I have some more leadership lessons to find!

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Have you ever worked with a “devil’s advocate?” Are they under appreciated in the workplace? What do you think? Rollie and I would like to hear from you.

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Leadership lessons in Memphis.

I recently visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee with some friends and family. My guide that day was a dear friend, Dr. Gloria Baxter. Dr. Baxter has vivid memories of growing up in a segregated Memphis. As we absorbed the exhibits she would recall childhood memories that made the museum’s stories all the more real for me. For example, she recalled a black woman who her mother hired to iron their laundry once per week. Dr. Baxter, who is white, enjoyed playing with this woman’s children. As we read about Rosa Parks’ courageous stand on a bus in Montgomery, Dr. Baxter recalled riding a segregated bus in Memphis with her black playmates and their mother – in the back section for blacks – and refusing to sit with white strangers.

Dr. Baxter and me and Ms. Parks' bus.

Dr. Baxter and me with a bus similar to the one Rosa Parks rode.

Acts of leadership are all around us. From the simple, innocent and courageous acts of a girl to the calculated risks undertaken by a president, it takes all of us to make the world a better place. And that is one of the lessons I learned from my museum visit.

Obviously President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr played pivotal roles in the movement to end segregation but there were others. Take for example, Reverend Frank Dukes. Mr. Dukes was a student at Miles College in Alabama in the early 60s and led a boycott of segregated businesses in Birmingham. I’ve included a photograph of a museum panel that captures a statement he made recalling the struggle. His statement succinctly demonstrates core principles of leadership – removing self from role to develop relationships with others.

A statement from Frank Dukes

A statement from Frank Dukes underscoring the power of removing self from role.

Leading others through particularly difficult issues requires interactions and developing relationships, particularly with those resistant to change and probably you and who you represent. Rev. Dukes had the courage to remove self from role – to view the racial slurs as data that indicated where the “white power structure” men were at. He didn’t take the insults personally. He seemed to have confidence he could help whites embrace desegregation if he was patient, persistent and gracious in the face of hatred and resistance to change. He kept his eye on the goal and was able to endure the racial slurs. And it worked. Slowly but surely his relationships with the whites strengthened, which opened doors to social adaptation and helped the later efforts of Dr. King.

There are no national holidays that remind us to reflect upon Reverend Frank Duke’s role in the war on hatred. But without him and the leadership of others the equality we enjoy today would not exist. As we think about the immense challenges facing the planet let us remember those that led in the fight for race equality. Let us remember that tackling tough adaptive challenges may require one or two Dr. Kings but most certainly many Dr. Baxters and Rev. Dukes – all kinds of people dancing on the edge of their formal or informal authority for the greater good.

 

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What Would Aldo Leopold Do?

It’s a fair question for a conservationist or really any person concerned with the future. After all, the man and his wise counsel are increasingly revered not only in the USA but around the world. He was innovative, passionate, and persuasive. His impact on how humans relate to the Earth is, in my opinion, a signature event in the history of humanity. If he were alive today I bet he would be doing many great things to advance a land ethic. And who doesn’t see the need for such an ethic today?

Currently we Americans are consuming more of the Earth than is sustainable. People in developing countries aren’t far behind in their pursuit to enjoy the comforts we’ve enjoyed for decades. Climate change is the recognized universal symbol of the problem. Yet, experts are documenting  more anthropogenic-driven changes endangering the planet’s biological, chemical and geological cycles.

Faced with such huge problems it is natural to search for a technical fix, but such thoughts are only a fool’s hope. Leopold recognized long ago the solution would come through an unwritten moral code that compels us to keep, conserve and restore the health of our planet. He recognized an ethic cannot be written by one person if it is to be embraced by all. He realized people with the problem have to be part of the solution, and correctly understood social change develops in the minds of a thinking community.

So what would Leopold do were he alive today? Perhaps he would ask us to continue the conversation – to work with him to enlarge the thinking community until our societies treat the land and its inhabitants not just as useful servants. What does that work look like? Can we do what he did?

Leopold deep in thought

Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, http://www.aldoleopold.org

We need to lead others through the tough conversations about the problem and possible solutions. In adopting an Earth ethic, many people will realize the need to shed a part of their cultural DNA – the cultural norms of a society with an unsustainable ecological footprint. Helping others through this change (and surviving it yourself) will require lots of interactions and development of strong relationships with many others. That work, done well, is known today as adaptive leadership

History helps to ground us and, if we are willing, can set us in the right direction in our journey. We can learn much about addressing this problem from the brilliant yet humble Leopold. He was a practitioner of adaptive leadership before it had a name. With no  training, he diagnosed and mobilized the social system, viewed himself as a system, and survived and thrived through the challenges. His values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors can guide our steps forward. We can also learn how to affect social change from modern adaptive leadership scholars like Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz. What might we conservationists learn about leading others through change if we listened and learned from them all?

In search of an answer to that question, join Leopold scholars Drs. Curt Meine and Julianne Warren and me as we discuss Leopold’s life and work through the lens of adaptive leadership on Tuesday, April 8th from 10-11:30 am Alaska Standard Time/2-3:30 pm Eastern Standard Time in a Webinar sponsored by the Management Assistance Team, a program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

For a more in-depth exploration of how to be more Leopoldian, check out the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s excellent two-day Land Ethic Leaders workshop designed to “equip participants with tools to both introduce Leopold’s land ethic to a wider audience and also to deepen understanding and engagement through dialog about the meaning and value of conservation.”

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and observations. If you have believe these conversations are important, I encourage you to subscribe, engage and share.

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Monarchs, milkweed and the spirit of Rachel Carson

The piece below was featured as an op-ed by Gary Paul Nabhan in latimes.com on February 23, 2014. I share it with you because Mr. Nabhan speaks so eloquently on leadership and why it is needed in conservation today. Rachel Carson remains one of our profession’s legends. With no authority she challenged things as they are and risked much for some higher purpose. We can profit by her example.
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To save the monarch butterfly, we have to be as strategic and courageous as the author of ‘The Silent Spring.’

“But most of all I shall remember the monarchs, that unhurried westward drift of one small winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force.”

— Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman, Sept. 10, 1963.

After news broke recently that the number of migratory monarch butterflies that had arrived to winter in Mexico was the lowest since reliable records began, I went on the road on behalf of the Make Way for Monarchs initiative. This solutions-oriented collaboration is working to place millions of additional milkweeds in toxin-free habitats this next year. Why? Monarchs cannot live without milkweeds, and milkweeds are disappearing.

In Pittsburgh, after the crowd listened to me outline the problem and the solution (restoring milkweeds and other wildflowers in healthy farm-scapes), a quiet man approached me with a smile. He wished to remind me that today’s struggle to help monarchs has deep precedents.

“I’m sure you know that Rachel Carson’s birthplace is just down the road from Pittsburgh at Springdale,” he said, “and that she went to school at Chatham just a few blocks from here when it was called Pennsylvania Female College. If it wasn’t for her, so many other lives would have already vanished from this Earth.”

I thought to myself, “Of course: One more for Rachel.”

Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” didn’t just kick-start the modern environmental movement, it also suggested that better protection for pollinators and plant life was required for healthy people and healthy agriculture. Without her intelligence and eloquence, we would already be living in a world of unspeakable impoverishment, one with silent springs and fruitless falls.

Illustration by Anthony Russo / For The Times.

Illustration by Anthony Russo / For The Times.

Carson was a quiet, unerringly private, modest person. And yet, as a moral voice and a skilled scientist, she challenged U.S. agriculture to confront its devastating addiction to the pesticide DDT.

Carson meticulously documented the consequences of untargeted chemical use on pollinators, songbirds and humans. She made giant waves, catalyzing changes in agricultural practices and government oversight that fostered greater social responsibility.

When the giants of the pesticide industry dismissed evidence that their chemicals caused harm, she stood her ground and shot holes in their stories. When the industry ruthlessly attacked her science and her character, Carson did not flinch.

Carson refused to bring her own breast cancer into the discussion, for fear that she would be disregarded as having “subjective motives.” Whether or not her cancer was related to environmental contaminants, she was sure that the damage done to so many other lives was ample enough for requesting changes in agribusiness-as-usual.

Now consider today’s risks to monarchs and farmers. Millions of acres are planted in corn and soybean crops bred for herbicide tolerance, which allows a glyphosate weedkiller to be applied wholesale. Weeds, including milkweeds, are indeed suppressed, but the untargeted use of such blunt tools can do more harm than good. A dozen herbicide-tolerant superweeds (none of them milkweeds) are surviving, which puts financial pressure on farmers to spray five times more weedkiller than a decade ago.

The collateral damage is that Midwestern farmlands suffered a 58% decline in milkweeds — and an 81% decline in monarchs from 1999 to 2012.

There is a better way. Farmers like Paul Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm, in Sebastapol, Calif.; Richard Rant in West Olive, Mich.; and John and Nancy Hayden of the Farm Between in Jeffersonville, Vt., are creating abundant habitat for pollinators in concert with their crops, planting green “filter strips” and hedgerows next to their high-quality fruits and vegetables. Other farmers concede that where herbicides are necessary, they can be used in more targeted ways.

“Saving monarchs is about more than monarchs,” says Chip Taylor, the executive director of Monarch Watch based at the University of Kansas. “It’s saving all the species with whom they share the same habitats, especially the pollinators whose service provides the food for other species.”

We will need more than just a few pollinator-friendly farms. Milkweed habitat must be restored across entire corridors, from the Midwest to central Mexico, and from the inter-mountain West to coastal California, where this year’s monarch numbers are up slightly but far lower than a decade ago.

Last week, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to work together toward monarch recovery. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s party introduced a bill in the Mexican Senate to create a tri-national toxin-free corridor; similar legislation is being prepared in the U.S.

This spring, conservation organizations such as Monarch Watch, the Xerces Society, Cal Poly’s Monarch Alert and the Southwest Monarch Study will put out millions of milkweed seedlings — along roads, on railroad and transmission-line right-of-ways and in school gardens, farms and yards across the U.S. You can join with other citizen-scientists by planting native milkweeds and counting monarch larvae on them this summer, or by tagging adult monarchs into the fall.

Collectively, we must be as strategic and courageous as Carson was in the 1960s. We must inspire farmers and policymakers to curb the extinction of monarchs, whose endangered migration is of epic proportions.

It is a notion that Carson herself fully understood: We can no longer afford the further loss of ecological interactions that underlie the health of our food system and our communities.

Gary Paul Nabhan is an orchard keeper, pollination ecologist, and a Franciscan brother. His latest book is “Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land.” http://www.makewayformonarchs.org.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Do We Have the Courage to Put the 800-lb Gorilla On the Table?

The planet’s ability to provide useful materials and absorb wastes (its biocapacity) is deemed essential to sustain human life. Yet, the rate those useful materials are consumed (our ecological footprint) per person is rising at an alarming and unsustainable rate. According to the Global Footprint Network, humanity currently uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets worth of biocapacity per year. Stated another way, it takes the Earth 1.5 years to regenerate what we use and waste in a year. Here in the USA the average person’s ecological footprint in 2010 was approximately 8 soccer fields per person per year – the largest of any nation – while the global capacity in the same year was estimated to be about 2 per person. What this tells us is we Americans are not living within our means. In addition to deficit spending we are, in fact, deficit living. And other countries are not far behind.

Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint

Our ecological footprint – which path will we take?

Today this reality is a conundrum for anyone with an ecological conscious, particularly an American in the field of conservation. Current production and consumption of energy (for our bodies and machines) directly and indirectly create a suite of problems from loss of habitat to pollution. For conservationists, the 800-lb gorilla in the room is our society’s pursuit of economic growth fueled by conspicuous consumption. Quite simply our country’s Gross Domestic Product serves as a self-evident indicator for loss of nature and liquidation of our shrinking resource base. As conservationists, we need to place this gorilla on the table and help friends and neighbors understand the problem. It’s time to have frank conversations with the public about the need for intelligent consumption, recycling and reusing, and stabilizing human population.

Some will say this is too radical and not an issue a conservationist should be wading into. I would argue nothing is more important or in need of leadership. In the past Olaus Murie, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson spoke to the matter. In 1948, articulating the need for a land ethic, Aldo Leopold wrote, “Our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy.” Approximately ten years later, Olaus Murie pressed for the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and believed it was emblematic of, “The real problem of what the human species is to do with this Earth.”

Today, Dr. Curt Meine (author of Correction Lines), Dr. Julianne Warren (author of Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey), and Dr. Brian Czech (author of Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train and Supply Shock – Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution) are Americans in the field of science writing and speaking passionately about the real problem. I encourage you to follow their work. If reading books isn’t your cup of tea or you’re short of time, check out the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s documentary, Green Fire, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill’s call for a steady state economy, Enough is Enough or if you’re into Hollywood entertainment, watch Wall-E with the kids for an exploration of where we could be headed.

Of course, there are critics inside and outside the conservation community.  The status quo is tenacious. Calling for change is uncomfortable. We have to be prepared for the allegations. Like Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to abolish slavery while being a slave owner, we have to acknowledge we own a piece of this mess while we move humanity forward. We must admit we conservationists are contributing to the problem with every aerial survey, vehicle, item of clothing, glass of wine, or electronic device we buy (even the six-year old MacBook Pro I’m using to write this post). Acknowledging our contribution to the problem isn’t enough – otherwise it’s just rhetoric. We must act and model the behavior we hope for ourselves and others. Consider these three broad actions to get started:

Break the problem down. Become familiar with what contributes to the problem of an oversized ecological footprint. There is a mountain of literature on the unsustainability of human population growth and consumption of natural resources. Figure out the myriad connections between the nation’s pursuit of higher GDP and the conservation challenges we face today.

Identify solutions. There are so many ways we can lessen our ecological footprint from the individual level to the national pursuit of a steady state economy. Start at home and the workplace. Make an inventory of the wasteful practices and figure out how to make life and work more sustainable. Don’t overlook local, state, national and international solutions that could use our support and advocacy.

Exhibit leadership. The solution to this problem will require all of us to adapt. There are no technical fixes that will save us, no easy remedies and no authority figures leading the way. Solutions will be found through our interactions and relationships with others. Find the courage to share your concerns about the current reality and speak passionately about your aspirations. Talk about what we can do to close the gap between our unsustainable lifestyle and a sustainable one – and do it.

I realize this issue isn’t much fun to think or talk about. It’s personal. It calls into question what we do and our devotion to nature. It forces us to think about how our actions today will negatively affect future generations. As a conservationist, it’s much easier and more socially acceptable to treat the injury than call for a cure. We can busy ourselves with species protections and habitat restoration. But if we value nature – if we value humanity – business as usual is unacceptable. As conservationists we are documenting the outfall of the problem and have a moral obligation to sound the alarm. Ask yourself, would Rachel Carson ignore the gorilla in the room were she alive today? Ask yourself, if we won’t act, why should we expect anyone to? Now is the time for leadership. Leadership means having the courage to address the ultimate source of our conservation problems.

Putting this 800-lb gorilla on the table in a public forum isn’t easy. But like most hard work, it’s useful. I encourage you to take a moment and post your thoughts as a member of a thinking community. If you like what you’re reading and believe the conversation is important, follow this blog and share with others.

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Mobilize them, like Dr. King.

This week we publicly honored the extraordinary life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King is famous for his role in the American civil rights movement – an enormous challenge that required the nation to adapt. How did he do it? Looking at his legacy through the lens of adaptive leadership we see he was a master at mobilizing others. Without any formal authority, he brought factions within the civil rights movement together while helping the Johnson administration develop consensus among the various players in Congress.

Today we face adaptive challenges in conservation. There are no set procedures, no known experts, and no ready-made responses. We don’t really know how things will turn out, but it’s pretty certain there will be loss. What is needed is for us to mobilize others – proponents, opponents and innocent bystanders – to close the gap between the current reality and our aspirations for nature.

tribal_leaders

Helping those factions to listen and communicate together is no easy task. When we are trying to mobilize others to address an issue we should help them generate (and accept) that there are multiple, diverse interpretations of what is causing the problem. It is our job to help others realize and remember no one has a monopoly on the truth or the best solutions. This mindfulness will also help them come up with more options for action, and help them realize more data likely won’t make the problem go away.

With the issue properly framed and options for action identified people can begin forging the alliances that will be needed to move forward. (You can probably think of some recent alliances in conservation that brought together disparate groups for a common cause.) Naturally along the way there will be conflict and disagreements. Be ready. Protect all voices, particularly the minority. As the heat rises we may see work avoidance as people bring up old issues or other diversions. Be steady. Bring them back to the task at hand and help everyone stay focused on finding a path forward.

Mobilizing others for the noble purpose of conservation is important work. We can do it when we take the right steps. As you reflect on the amazing life of Dr. King and how he was able to mobilize the nation, set aside thirty minutes this week and think about how you can mobilize others to discuss the pressing challenge before you.

What say you? Don’t be shy. You have something important to share that we can learn from. Please take a moment to share, subscribe and comment.

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Don’t Lose Their Trust

Recently a journalist I admire skewered a National Marine Fisheries Service employee in an online article. The author accused the man, who I do not know, of abuse of power and corruption. The worse part is the author asserts the US Government no longer cares about the Alaskan “little guy” halibut angler. I don’t know the facts associated with the issue and need not discuss them in this post. But the article reminds me of the public trust we need to conserve fish, wildlife and their habitats. Without trust the public won’t be a part of the solution. And if they’re not involved they may not accept the final management decision. Can we make the best management decisions without that trust? I don’t believe so.

In Leadership Without Easy Answers, Harvard professor Ronald Heifetz, posits the public looks to government generally to provide direction, protection and order. Yet, sometimes that direction is likely not what a sector of the public wants. For that reason, among others, the public regularly expresses their discomfort with this dependency. When we propose solutions likely to cause loss for some we test that trust. Ultimately some withdraw their support of the agency or the authority figure in question. Clearly our journalist no longer trusts the National Marine Fisheries Service with providing direction, protection and order for management of Alaska’s halibut populations, and because of his article there may be others.

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At a time when leadership is needed in conservation, how can we make necessary decisions affecting the public without losing their trust? I believe we can exercise leadership without losing their support by paying attention to a few traits of effective leadership:

Identify and get to know your potentially-affected interests. When a conservation problems begins to appear, try to decide who is likely to be affected by this problem and the possible solutions. Find them and engage them early. Be careful not to avoid the individuals most likely to sabotage your agency’s efforts. In fact, these are the people you should spend the most time with!

Show them there really is a problem. Show them your agency is the right entity to address it and to ignore the problem would be irresponsible. Listen to their concerns and then listen some more. Tell them everything you can about the problem, potential solutions, and anything they want to know. If you can’t tell them something or can’t answer a question, let them know why.

Protect the voices of dissent. Don’t let the dissenters go unheard. Show them that you care about how the solutions could affect them. Imagine how you would feel in their place. What would be your fears. Find your common interests and help them see you as an individual not as a faceless bureaucrat. By showing them respect and their connections to you, you will engender trust.

Disappoint at a rate they can tolerate. And be ready to be disappointed. Be honest, but strategic, about the potential consequences of the proposed solutions. And when the criticism is high remember to remove self from role. Take the criticism of your agency’s ideas as evidence that allows you to see where people are at. Don’t take the criticism personal, this isn’t about you, it’s about what the agency and what its proposed solutions represents.

Being a public servant in the field of conservation isn’t easy when we’re tackling messy conservation challenges. We can be heckled, ridiculed, reassigned, fired or worse. But the best conservation solutions come from the people with the problem so we must engage and test the public’s trust. We can survive by identifying who is most likely to be affected and engaging them as soon as possible. I believe it is important to treat people the way we would want to be treated. I also believe we can gain their trust and informed consent when we are open and honest about the problems and potential solutions – even if the ultimate solution goes against their desires. With the public’s trust and involvement, agencies will find a solution the public helped create. And that’s the best kind of solution.

What experiences have you had in retaining trust of the public? What tips do you have that could help others? As always, I urge you to share your thoughts, subscribe and encourage your colleagues to join the conversation.

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