By Rebecca Turner, Senior Director of Programs and Policy
Prior to my time at American Forests, I was a mediator of environmental law and policy conflicts. As a third-party neutral facilitator, I made sure the parties in conflict came together, heard each other’s concerns, created consensus on how to overcome those conflicts and work together to reach their shared goal. I left mediation to pursue a career more squarely in advocacy, because, truthfully, I am not naturally a neutral person. I am more interested in persuading decision makers to develop and adopt policies that are based in science for protecting and restoring our forests. Here at American Forests, I get to do just that.
However, the skills I developed as a mediator are used just as much as my advocacy skills, because our policy work is best done in collaboration with other organizations seeking the same goals for our forests. And when multiple parties come together around a common goal, there is still a need for consensus-based problem solving. While each group participating has the larger goal in common, ideas on how that goal should be reached is often not the same. So we work together to come to agreement. That process takes time, trust, and often a bit of mediation.
So why do we do it? If American Forests knows how it wants to reach its goals, why don’t we go it alone? Well, sometimes we do. But more often than not, the power of the coalition is much stronger and more effective in achieving the desired outcomes. When a group of interested parties from across the forestry field choose to work together to provide policy makers with a consensus-based set of recommendations, the probability is much higher of those recommendations being enacted, such as the recent Fire Funding Fix.
I am not the only one at American Forests who works with coalitions. In fact, many of us at American Forests are leaders of coalitions and working groups, helping bring the forest conservation field to consensus on important issues facing our forests:the best urban forestry practices in a city, restoring the whitebark pine across its range, and finding forest-climate solutions. In all of these we practice “servant leadership,” a term coined by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s.
The servant-leader is servant first and true leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others.
Servant leadership emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making. The words servant and leader are usually thought of as being opposites. When two opposites are brought together in a creative and meaningful way, a paradox emerges. So the words servant and leader have been brought together to create the paradoxical idea of servant-leadership. (Spears, Larry. Practicing Servant-Leadership, Leader to Leader, No. 34 Fall 2004)
It is through this mentality that we at American Forests approach our work in coalitions and across our organization.