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.
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.
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