Category Archives: Director Message

Thoughts on Leadership

by Gil McRae, FWRI Director

We all have our own concept of what it means to be a leader. If you ask people to name a great leader, they will often list political or social figures who led large groups of people pushing for fundamental change.  What we often overlook is that great leaders are all around us and it has very little to do with professional stature or one’s position in an organization.  Leadership is more a state of mind than a title tied to number of staff supervised or total budget dollars for which one has responsibility. This is particularly true in organizations like FWC and FWRI where our mode of operation is typically collaborative, rather than strictly hierarchal.

In organizations like ours, our success depends on every staff member exploring their capacity to be creative leaders. In this way, we collectively create a culture of leadership by fostering and encouraging the development and recognition of creative leadership attributes at all levels of our organization. While the work we do varies widely, from a leadership perspective there are some key concepts, attitudes and behaviors that define successful employees at every level:

  1. Ownership. When we take ownership in something, we have a personal stake in ensuring that a problem is dealt with, a task is completed, or a conflict is resolved. We all have a sense of ownership relative to our individual work responsibilities or projects. But taking ownership in a leadership sense is more than that. Often during our work day, we are approached with issues or questions for which we do not have an answer or that may not be directly related to our line of work. The inquiry may come from the public, a coworker, or a colleague from another agency. It is very easy to dismiss the question with responses like “You are asking the wrong person”, or “that is not my job”. These types of answers reflect a localized sense of ownership. Truly successful organizations have taken the sense of ownership at the task or project level and translated it to a larger level in which all staff feel that they are important contributors to the organization’s mission. In these organizations, “I don’t know but I will find out” or “Let me help you find your answer” replace the responses listed above.
  2. Self – awareness. There are two aspects to this quality that contribute to one’s leadership potential. First, good leaders have an ability to step outside the constraints of their own perspective and see themselves and their organization from other’s perspective. I think all of us have periodically re-adjusted our thinking on an issue after re-examining it from someone else’s perspective. It sounds simple, I know, but too often we are unaware of our personal and organizational biases that form our perspective on an issue. Good leaders have a knack for knowing when to step back, drop these biases, and approach an issue or problem from a different standpoint. For example, nearly every time I make a large request for funding or other resources at the agency or legislative level, I make sure I “buy my own argument”. In other words, I critically evaluate my request from the standpoint of those to whom I am addressing the request. This step can greatly enhance your success rate and help refine requests that are not well thought out. Secondly, good leaders are keenly aware of the context within which they and their coworkers operate. A leader cannot succeed remaining uninformed about the structure or workings of the business or agency they work within. Remaining continually up to date and informed is not extra work for those operating within a culture of leadership, it is part of their day-to-day workload and ingrained in their thinking. Much like we tend to be isolated in our thinking due to our own biased perspective, organizations often become islands unto themselves because the people that sustain the organization develop biases borne out of a tendency to look inward rather than outward.
  3. Optimism. – Good leaders set the tone for those around them. The ability to remain positive and upbeat even in the face of multiple challenges is often the difference between an effective response and a knee-jerk reaction which only compounds the problem. There is a strong connection between optimism and self-confidence. People with strong leadership skills tend to be more secure and self-confident in their abilities. This does not mean they are arrogant, rather they are aware of their strengths and limitations and carry with them a self-assurance that not only tells them what skills they need to bring to bear to address an issue, but (often more importantly) also when to seek outside help on a problem.Successful organizations build these leadership qualities at every level – you do not have to run a large group to be a leader among your co-workers. I know that I often struggle with these competencies myself, but I continually remind myself that the key to successful leadership has little to do with authority bestowed on a position from above and much more to do with an individual’s behavior. By cultivating leadership behaviors and promoting a “culture of leadership” we can leverage the influence of leaders at all levels to build a stronger, more effective organization.

FWC and Bear Management

by Gil McRae

As many of you know, our Commission recently chose to postpone a bear hunt for 2016 (see the news release here: Throughout the discussion of this controversial issue, with thousands of online survey submittals and more than five hours of public comment, FWC did an exceptional job providing state-of-the-art scientific advice to our Commissioners.  FWRI, led by Walt McCown, Brian Scheick, Don Hardeman and a host of other FWC staff from HSC, HGM and elsewhere completed a statewide abundance survey in only two years.  This first of its kind survey was a phenomenal undertaking and combined with the analytical support of Dr. Joe Clark and his students at the University of Tennessee represents what many consider to be the most rigorous assessment of a statewide bear population anywhere in the country. FWC also convened an expert panel made of up some of the nation’s top bear biologists.  Their input helped frame the staff recommendation for a modified hunt in 2016.

However, it is important to realize that bear management is complex, and that the number of bears in the state is only one factor that needs to be considered.  Among other things, the Commission has made tremendous strides in working with local governments and waste management companies to increase the use of bear-proof trash cans which is the surest way to reduce human/bear conflict.  I realize and appreciate the fact that there are many views on this subject, even among our own staff, but this issue emphasized the fact that as scientists our role is provide our Commission with the highest quality information to base their decisions on.  Those decisions must ultimately take into account a number of other things such as public safety, the status of related conservation actions, and the desires of all of our stakeholders (non-hunters and hunters alike).

I wanted to share a letter that our Chairman, Brian Yablonski recently sent to our partners at Bass Pro Shops which lays out the issue well.

Dear Conservation Partners at Florida’s Bass Pro Shops,

I understand questions continue to arise regarding FWC’s recent decision to postpone bear hunting this year. We greatly appreciate the leadership role Bass Pro Shops plays in conservation efforts across the nation. We also value our strong partnership with Bass Pro Shops on important conservation efforts in Florida. In fact, we see your customers as our customers, particularly within our hunting community, and we want to make certain you and your great team in Florida have full background and context on the bear hunting decision. Please feel free to share the following message to help folks better understand how we arrived at this decision and how we see the path forward.

FWC commissioners understand that many hunters are disappointed that we are not having a bear hunt this year. We want hunters to know that we are doing our best to work through a complicated issue that has implications for hunting into the future and certainly beyond bears. We take such implications very seriously. Myself, my fellow commissioners, and FWC staff have firmly and consistently supported hunting as an essential element in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. On a personal note, I have publicly spoken and written extensively in defense of hunting and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The vote to postpone bear hunting does nothing to diminish this position, and we plan to move toward a hunt in 2017.

The decision to pause bear hunting is simply a timing and a policy call. The science is sound. Our biologists are the best in the nation. They have full support and appreciation from every Commissioner, and they know this. And we are aware that those who oppose hunting on principle will not likely change their views. They will always protest regardless of how well we demonstrate the importance of hunting for responsibly managing bear populations. I don’t believe, however, these views were a significant factor in the decision.

What is a major concern, however, is the view of the vast majority of Floridians who are non hunters but are not “anti hunting”. They don’t hunt, but I believe they understand and appreciate hunting deer, turkey, alligators, waterfowl, etc. And then there are more than a few Floridians who do hunt birds or deer, but who have concerns about bear hunting. At this point, we need to do a better job making our case to all of these people. We need to take some time to listen and then work to foster understanding and support. We need to bring people together and in the words of one of our bear biologists, build off an excellent bear conservation foundation. We need to continue and expand work with communities on conflict bears and trash management and have that effort catch up with hunting. We need to build on our strong scientific basis for bear hunting in the year ahead, taking it from a gold standard to a platinum standard to help reassure a broader segment of the public.

We then need to translate broader understanding and acceptance into momentum for hunting as responsible management method. These efforts are not intended for those who will always oppose hunting in any shape or form, but for ordinary Floridians who are trying to sort this all out. This is something good we can do for hunting lest we forget that we are a tenuous minority in the state. Unlike other issues we deal with (and trust me on this as a commissioner who hears it from everybody), this is not just hunters versus anti hunters. A lot of folks in the middle need to catch up on this, and we have a responsibility to get them there.

Our scientists made a recommendation to hunt, but they also understand and appreciate these points. Our wildlife managers need time; a gift in this case. And those who follow our Commission meetings know there are plenty of times where we have been more conservative in our management decisions relative to the recommendations from our scientific staff. Taking a pause for a year doesn’t create a crisis or violate science. Each commissioner made it clear in their remarks that they support hunting as a tool for bear population management. On behalf of FWC commissioners and staff, I am hoping we can think about the big picture and the longer term as we work together through this complex conservation challenge.


Brian Yablonski


Florida Fish and Wildlife

Conservation Commission

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