What is the "Leadership Transaction"? Jon Roush, a longtime conservationist, tells us what makes a good leader and how we can use the Leadership Transaction to work together.
Jon began his conservation career in the 1970s with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), first as a field representative and later as Executive Vice President. He left TNC in 1977 to start a small ranching business in western Montana. Over the next decade, he developed a successful model system of ranch management, using ecological principles and humane animal care. While in Montana, Jon founded Canyon Consulting and advised environmental groups from British Columbia to Puerto Rico on organizational strategy. In 1993, he became the President of The Wilderness Society (TWS). He left TWS in 1996 to return to an independent consulting practice with his wife, Joyce Chinn. Mr. Roush has served on numerous boards, including the Board of Governors of The Nature Conservancy. He currently serves on the Board of the Western Rivers Conservancy.
Huey Johnson: Can you tell us about your beginnings as to where you picked up some environmental passion?
Jon Roush: [Unintelligible] have asked, most environmentalists – most environmental professionals where they learned that they had some experience as a kid in the outdoors and that was my case. I grew up near a lake and grew up hiking and swimming and – in Ohio and got the ethic.
Huey Johnson: In consulting with a hundred clients, you most likely have come up with some discovered themes, say who makes a good environmental leader, administrator in an organization?
Jon Roush: You know, that’s a really interesting question. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, here’s what I think about leadership and this is what we’ve been telling our clients. Leadership is a transaction between the leader and the others. We can’t call them followers because they’re more important that that. They’re the leaders, collaborators, the partners. The leader says “I have a vision and it’s very important and here’s what it is and it’s going to solve these problems.” And the other people say “Yes, that is, it’s important to us. We see that it’s going to solve our problems too.” The leader says “I can’t do this alone. I need your help. We need to do this together.” And the other people say “Yeah, that’s right. We all need to do this together.” That’s the leadership transaction. It’s different from coercion. It’s different from selling something. It’s actually that kind of engagement.
Jon Roush: The great example is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We all know the part about the dream, but you also in that speech it said “Now here’s what I want you all to do. When you leave here, go back to the south, take this message. Go back to the northern ghetto’s, take this message, and we have to do this together.” The environmental movement or whatever it is now, has evolved from the era of the John Muir’s of the world, who by the way was a great leader. We still have to have those clarion voices, but now the challenge is to really perfect that transaction so that we’ve got organizations, we’ve got a society that’s moving, that’s committed, that understands what’s going on.
Jon Roush: Leadership now is not simply giving a good stump speech. Leadership is engaging people over the long term and creating something that’s going to endure. People are important, but systems are more important than people. Systems and structure and the organizational culture can get in the way of a good leader, a good person…-
Huey Johnson: I run into trouble right away with that.
John Roush: Uh huh, right. You have some experience with that, yeah.
Huey Johnson: Yeah, that’s right.
Jon Roush: But a good system and a good culture can make a merely competent person look like a hero, be a hero. The leaders have those; I think have those three levers to pull. You can affect an organizational structure. You can affect the culture. And you can affect the systems. Now if you work on those, you’ve got a chance of actually getting things done and building something that’s permanent and was going to endure and be effective. We really need to find a way to make our cause the work of the society. We do need to think about sustainability as much as we need to think about the environment and we really need to think about making the tent a lot bigger. If you look for the opportunities, if you look for the leverage points where again you can say to people “you know, in a way we’re all in this together.” If we can do that, we both can be advocates and broaden the tent.
Peggy Lauer: It seems like you learned a lot from that experience of teaching a leadership program and you know bringing all these bright people in and had book knowledge in a sense.
Jon Roush: Yeah.
Peggy Lauer: But they had a hard time applying it. If you were to speak to them today, what would you say to them about the other side of the knowledge that they need?
Jon Roush: Before you continue your academic studies, take a couple of years off. Intern, do whatever you can to get yourself in the work of public policy or in fundraising or something where you’re actually going to be doing some actual conservation work and then come back. Your academic work is going to be so much more meaningful to you and more useful to you with that kind of experience. But by all means, have a little walkabout first.