Inspiring Folks to Get Involved in Their Watershed By Jo Ellen Litz
Jo Ellen Litz
There are so many great motivational leaders from whom we can learn—Colin Powell is one of these leaders. His pearls of wisdom are strung throughout this article.

For example, Powell says,

“Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds."

"Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.”

"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand."

"Have fun in your command. Don't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it; Spend time with your families. Corollary: Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard."

In my humble opinion, leading, and more importantly motivating, a watershed group, a business or a county involves similar steps. Let’s get the tough one out of the way right from the start. Inevitably, leaders must take responsibility for the group’s welfare, which means that from time to time you must make some unpopular actions or decisions.

Always remember that your best assets are your volunteers. Give them meaningful assignments and create a culture where the best, brightest, and most creative people volunteer, stay, and most importantly, are able to unleash their creative talent and passion. Seek people who have some balance in their lives (family, friends, hobbies), who are fun, who can laugh at themselves, and who have passion.

A leader can spread a ripple effect of enthusiasm and optimism, which is phenomenal. Create a climate that says, "We can change things. Together, we can achieve awesome goals. We are the best." The Swatara Creek Watershed Association has completed a Rivers Conservation Plan; created a Water Trail, complete with maps, access points, and trailhead signs, that is recognized by both the state of Pennsylvania and the National Park Service via the Chesapeake Bay Gateways network; distributed water conservation kits during times of drought; written, published, and distributed two books; sponsored sub watershed groups; helped to implement best management practices on farms…the list goes on.

Just remember that titles don’t mean much. Titles announce some authority or status, but titles don’t convey absolute power to influence and inspire others. As long as they have pizzazz, drive, expertise, and genuine caring for teammates and products, individuals will attract people to volunteer, even if they don’t hold a position.

Next, don’t place barriers to communication. The Swatara Creek Watershed Association uses one-on-one visits, the phone, email, web site, and snail mail to communicate.

Further, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is not a weakness or failure. Be accessible and available. Get to know your volunteers—the name of their spouse and children, hobbies, pets….

Additionally, small watershed groups don't have the time or money to hire experts. The president answers the phone and pulls the garbage trailer when necessary; every volunteer contributes. As a result, when addressing problems or concerns, it is common to find hands-on informality, speed, and flexibility.

It is important for watershed groups to network with and tap into the expertise of the business world, colleges, and government. From time to time, it will be necessary to have the confidence to challenge top-down directives that don’t make sense in the field.

Whenever possible, learn from the pros. Observe them, but also ask them to be mentors or partners. Powell says, “Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. Xerox's Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people that if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant. Good leadership encourages everyone's evolution.”

Use the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Paint a visual picture that everyone can understand. Work on ideas until they can be implemented quickly and efficiently. Communicate decisions crisply and clearly. Convey firmness and consistency in your actions, which will result in clarity of purpose, credibility, and integrity in your watershed organization. Delegate and empower others, but pay attention to the details.

There is an old expression, "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission." How true. If you ask enough people for permission, you'll come up against someone who believes it is his or her job to say "no." Less effective watershed organizations wait until they’ve been told 'no,' they can't do it," whereas others believe, "If we haven't been told 'no,' we can." There is a huge difference.

Don’t fall into the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" trap. It is another phrase that people use as an excuse for not getting things done. Instead of tackling problems, they hope their problems go away.

One reason that watersheds wither away is that managers don't challenge old-shoe comfortable ways of doing things. Create a climate where people learn new skills and take on new responsibilities.

Sometimes a firm directive is appropriate, rather than a long discussion. Some situations require the leader to closely monitor activity while other situations allow long leashes. Leaders stay true to their core values, but remain flexible.

In closing, Harry Truman was right. The buck stops here. Leadership is your willingness to make tough decisions and accept the consequences, but be willing to share the praise for and with your watershed organization. ?

Jo Ellen Litz. In typical Jo Ellen style, she wanted to be listed as “sparkplug- one of many who ignite the Swatara Creek Watershed.” But, she is also one of three Lebanon County Commissioners, started and operated two businesses in the county (one of them an auto body shop), and is a proud grandmother. You can contact her by email to:

Related Links: Swatara Creek Sojourn

EPA Green Community – Swatara Creek


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