Jonas Minton, a California water policy advisor, is a go-to guy about any water issue in California. He also has experience helping to shut down a nuclear power plant in the state, slowing unsustainable logging in the Amazon, and negotiating a water management agreement between China and the World Bank. Here he shares his list of hard-won, practical, and effective tips for a successful career in management with interviewer, Huey Johnson, an early mentor of Minton's in the 1980s.
Jonas Minton is an avid whitewater kayaker; that is his biggest motivation for tirelessly protecting rivers and other waterways in California. Jonas is currently Senior Water Policy Advisor at the Planning and Conservation League, a key environmental advocacy group in Sacramento, CA. This is a natural flow for him after his years serving the people of the State of California in positions including the Deputy Director of the Department of Water Resources, Executive Director of the Sacramento Water Forum, and General Manager of the El Dorado County Water Agency.
In the early 1980s, when then-California Resources Secretary Huey Johnson had a chance to save 1,400 miles of California’s undammed rivers under federal designation as Wild and Scenic, he recruited Minton as part of a team that made that happen. Since then Minton has led negotiations that established best management practices for urban water conservation in California, and has also been an advisor for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California’s Water Desalination Task Force, and the Water Recycling Task Force. He managed the State’s Flood Management Task Force and State Water Plan update.
He’s a go-to guy about any water issue in the state, and he also has experience as a leader in shutting down a nuclear power plant in the state, stopping unsustainable logging practices in the Amazon, and negotiating a water management agreement between China and the World Bank
Jonas Minton: In preparing for this, a fairly significant effort to try and impart both the successes and the mistakes that some of us older folks made along our career, I look back to try and think of those things that kind of stuck the most. One lesson, and you certainly helped reinforce this, is to never give up. In any of these, be it Wild and Scenic Rivers, when I had the chance to work for you back in the early 1980s, there were succession of challenges that were faced, going to the Supreme Court, almost losing and so forth. But even though there were some failures along the way, some setbacks, you had us stick to it and not give up.
Jonas Minton: The corollary to that was that most of the big battles take a long time. These are not things that are generally won in one month, six months, a year and a half, 18 months. We see people with ambitious schedules: “I’m going to complete this project within 24 months.” Reality doesn’t happen that way.
Jonas Minton: With that in mind, another lesson I learned–and I wish I had learned this a little earlier–was not to personalize the arguments. Fight over the issues, not over the people. This is just important for our own mental/spiritual health not to be in those kinds of personal fights, but also it reflects the long-term nature of solutions. If I really piss somebody off, it’s really going to make it hard and in some cases impossible for them later to be an ally on a solution that they might even recognize would be better for them. But because they are so annoyed at my past behavior, how I characterized them, they cannot go along with it.
Jonas Minton: If you’re doing advocacy work, two questions that I always keep in mind. The first question is, who do I want to do what? So if I’m having a meeting, if I’m putting out a memo, if we’re putting out a press release, if I’m going into a meeting with a legislator, who do I want to do what? If I cannot identify what I want them to do, how can I advocate? The second part of that is what do they need to know and believe in order to do it?
Jonas Minton: Ask people rather than tell people. Find out what their ideas are. Another issue, which is a little bit of a tougher one sometimes for agency staff is what do you do when there’s a scientific person working for one of the regulated entities, be it a gas company or one of the water diverters and so forth, and they hire a scientist or pseudo scientist that comes up with a wacko theory? I characterize – now this is violating one of my rules, I don’t do this to them in person–biostitutes, which is kind of what it sounds like. Somebody who will give you an answer based on what they’re getting paid for. People need to scientifically call them on those kinds of misstatements, mis-claims.
Jonas Minton: Something that I’ve learned is the value of mentoring new people when we’ve experienced things. Hopefully we take some time for introspection and learn from them. Again, the things that worked as well as the failures, working with them but also not just a one way communication, also the opportunity to listen to them. What are their new insights? You know a fresh look.
Jonas Minton: The next to the last point is ego system management. Ego-system management. Not ecosystem management. How do you get people to actually work together? How do you meet their needs? How do I manage my own ego so that I don’t get so invested in a solution that may not be the best solution? Am I listening? Am I doing it because I want to look good about this, I want to have the right answer? Or am I doing this because I want to work with people to find the best answer?
Jonas Minton: The last point I have–after working in this field for 4 decades or so–to folks starting out or along the way: have fun, enjoy it. You’re going to have setbacks. There are going to be some tough losses. All you can do is all you can do. So do all you can do, and sometimes, that’s all you can do. Enjoy it.