Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Lure of "Leaderful" Learning

"It is not leadership from any one person that is required, it is an aspect of leadership each of us summons from within.  In this respect, the same qualities we have sought in one person can be found distributed among many people who learn, in community, to exercise their leadership at appropriate moments.  This occurs when people are vitally concerned about issues or when executing their responsibilities.  Leadership thus becomes a rather fluid concept focusing on those behaviors which propel the work of the group forward." 

This great quote by John Nirenberg* pretty well sums up the model of leadership demonstrated and taught during GLADE.  Let's take a closer look. 

1.  Each of us summons this style of leadership from within. 
During initiative-based, hands-on, problem solving exercises, it is the job of the facilitator to 1) quickly access each individual, to recognize whether the individual is introverted or extroverted, motivated by thoughts or feelings, relies upon 5 senses or possesses intuition, or sees things in black and white or many shades of gray.*   

2.  This style of leadership is exercised at appropriate moments.
The job of the facilitator here is to communicate (non-verbally or whispering) with individual participants throughout the problem solving exercise; encouraging the extroverts to step back and actively listen to all members of the group, encouraging the introverts to step out of their comfort zone to express key concepts for solving the "problem" (often it is the quiet observer that possesses the "key" to solving the problem),  looking for signs of positive coalitions forming  within the group, ensuring  these positive coalitions are inclusive and  permeate the group and, finally, enacting authentic, real world problem solving.  As time progresses, each GLADE participant recognizes how his/her virtues strengthen the group.  GLADEsters then sense that one's timely contributions to the overall success of the group are absolutely necessary for both balance within the group and the success of the group outreach.  

3.  This style of leadership requires that the entire group is vitally concerned about issues.

Common interests bring people together.  Potential participants in GLADE are screened to ensure that they share a vision of conservation from the very beginning.  Since each of our students has already expressed an interest in nature and the environment, our common vision for GLADE is to literally "save the world" from ecological collapse, but we focus on a much more local aspect of that vision. 

4.  This style of leadership focuses on behaviors which propel the work of the group forward.
Once the momentum and energy of the collective vision is unleashed, each individual senses the power of his or her personal vision of conservation.  During the week-long residential academy, participants restore two acres of Giant Cane riparian habitat to increase biodiversity and provide rich habitat for Swainson's Warbler, a species that once nested here. 

Riding a wave of empowerment, the young leaders return to their home communities to develop their own Conservation Action Project, and GLADE provides grant money, expertise, and support to get their projects off of the ground.

We continue to ride the wave of passionate synergy as far as it will take us, and we are all, planners and participants alike, excited about where it has taken us so far.  Summer of 2009 GLADE alum are still riding the wave of conservation with us, and their ripples have created new concentric circles reaching outward to groups like the Springfield Plateau Master Naturalists, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, Girl Scouts, and others.   What we are seeing is that these young GLADE leaders, working within a supportive network of community and conservation activists, have an incredible ability to profoundly and positively impact their rural communities. 

Within the GLADE community of planners and participants, we have become "leaderful"*, and our regional communities have been eager to join our young leaders in their leaderful projects aimed at conserving and preserving both an environment and a way of life here in the Ozarks.  Our actions today will shape tomorrow.

*Nirenberg, J. (1993). The living organization: Transforming teams into workplace communities.  Homewood, IL: Business One Irwin.

*Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator

*Sandmann, L. (1995). A framework for 21st century leadership. Journal of Extension.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Teach Your Parents Well

Today it's official.  The news will be released to the media that 40 people from all across the nation have been awarded a 2010 TogetherGreen Fellowship from Audubon. I find myself among this tremendously talented and amazing group, and it's all more than a little bit humbling.
Since my task in the coming year is to write a guidebook for conservation leadership academies, it is helpful for me to reflect upon the events in my life that led me to this point. My own love for the outdoors goes back a long way, when as a child I'd sit in a duck blind in the middle of the Central Flyway watching seemingly endless strings of ducks and geese passing overhead, extending to all of the horizons; east, west, north, and south. I was a watcher, never quite understanding the passion of hunting that my father and older brother possessed, but the majesty of the scene unfolding around me touched me deeply.
During college, I would wander through the Flint Hills, where I honed my nature skills while I was a Biology major at Emporia State University. I found my loving wife there, and together we gravitated toward the land, becoming part of the "back to the land" culture of the early '70's. After graduation, we moved to Missouri where we taught school in remote areas of the Ozarks.

It was in the heart of these hills that we made the single most important decision of our life. We chose to have children! First, we thoughtfully weighed whether we should bring children into this troubled world, then we analyzed what we had to offer as parents, and then we simply said "what the hay", and took the plunge. There was, at the time, no way to truly grasp how this decision would profoundly shape the direction of our own lives. Our children unknowingly shaped us in countless and irreversible ways. And that leads me to the topic of this blog. Our children..... and how they "taught their parents well".
Nathan was a watcher from the beginning.  He would sit for long periods of time, seemingly extracting every nuance and morsel from the objects in his world.  Content to play on the floor for hours, his first notable passion was for trucks.  "Eighteen wheeler!"  he would shout from the center seat of the 66 Chevy truck, where his unbelievably irresponsible parents let him stand up, unfettered by a seat belt in the old pickup.
 And I have to mention  Nathan's interest in birds.......that is second only to parenting in time spent in his life these days.  Well, I found his sketchings of birds and mammals that date back to when he was three, so I guess it's been there a while.  I can't say that he pointed out the birds and "cawed" as crows pass like his son Noah is doing these days, but he knew they were out there from a very early age.  We would quietly approach the herons of the Finley River, with as much stealth as one can muster in an aluminum canoe.  And it was his interest that led us both to the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society.

And then there came Laura!  Laura was an active participant in everything she did, and still is!  She would run though the forest, scattering leaves and birds ahead of her, shouting in joy, much to her brother's dismay.  She loved plunging in the river, banging her paddle against the side of the aluminum canoe, joyfully and fearlessly experiencing everything she encountered.  Her infectious smile masked her sense of mischief, and her magnetism always turned peoples' heads her way.   She was, and is, always at play, and her playground is the great outdoors!

Yes, early on it became very evident to Martha and me that this parenting thing clearly was not a simple transfer of knowledge and awareness from parent to child, but was a mutual exchange of experiences that would change all of us forever. 
Our love for Nature did not diminish.  It flourished with every family outing and vacation, where we balanced the interests of our children  The formula was to go to the birds, to the ocean (or mountains), and to the city.  Examples included Bentsen Rio Grande, South Padre, and San Antonio:  Ding Darling, Sanibel Island, and Orlando:  Bass Rock, Isle of Skye, and Edinburgh:  Laramie grasslands, Yellowstone National Park, and Denver.   The theme seemed to work, as we strived to balance all of our family vacation requirements with each outing.
Laura and Nathan on Fidra Island, N. Berwick, Scotland. 1995

On the Isle of Skye, Scotland  1995

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1995

And so, that brings me to today.  Nathan now works at a museum, and Laura is a 5th grade science teacher.  Although very different, each of their lives embraces the outdoors and expresses it in a way that either came naturally, or was tweaked a bit by their upbringing.  I suspect much of both.

Nathan's passion is for the birds that have always captivated his interest, and he actively shares his knowledge and awareness with the world over at The Drinking Bird blog and on the Nature Blog Network.  He encourages young people in their love for nature through his sponsorship of the Wake Audubon Naturalist's Club and serves on the board of Wake County Audubon.

Laura now works tirelessly to bring the wonder of science and the outdoors to her promising young 5th graders.  She is currently the school's Project Leader in a joint Ozark Upper Elementary/GLADE community grant project involving the development of a trail system, an outdoor classroom area, and all the good stuff that goes with it.  I'm excited to work directly with  her and her students as we join together to build a site where young naturalists can explore, play, and discover the wonders of Nature. 

I celebrate a great honor today as a 2010 TogetherGreen Fellow, and I want to extend my honor to my wife Martha and two wonderful adult children, who made it possible.  Therefore, I dedicate this fellowship to Nathan and Laura, who individually taught me to "observe and listen..... to see for the first time what has always been there", and to "dive in and play....... so that you can always feel the joy that life has to offer".  The truth is:   None of this would have happened to me if both Nathan and Laura didn't have an uncanny ability to "teach their parents well".  For this, I am forever grateful.