Sunday, October 18, 2009

Animal Welfare Leadership Session

3+ years I "accidentally" stumbled into the world of animal rescue after the loss of our beloved collie/shepherd mix, Shen, to spleen cancer. The devastating grief from losing a family member and my passion for animals led me to immerse myself into a world new to me. Truth is ... i needed to ease the pain of my grief. Truth is ... I wanted to make a difference. Truth is ... I think many of us want to leave a mark in this world - to know we have made a difference in a life of a living being (furry or non-furry) or some cause we believe in. Truth is ... my involvement in Pet Haven has given so much more to me than I feel I have been able to give. Truth is ... I believe the same could be true for you.

I am serving my third year as president of Pet Haven. In that time period ... I have listened - I have watched - I have cried - I have felt frustration - I have made mistakes - I have taken risks - I have floundered - I have felt my spirit soar - I have felt my spirit crushed ... I have laughed ... and through it all I have felt more alive than I have ever felt before! I have come to lean on a community for support. I have also learned in my 3 years of the importance of balance, of the importance of balancing the passion of rescuing and re-homing the homeless dog or cat in immediate need of help with the bigger picture of how we prevent the suffering in the first place (education/outreach, advocacy, spay/neuter and collaboration with others in our community).

As we end 2009 and we approach 2010 I find myself thinking about what we need as we move forward. I believe we need more leaders in the animal welfare community. I believe we all have the potential to be great leaders. Pet Haven began more than 55 years ago with individuals passionate about rescuing and re-homing. We have evolved over the decades. Our mission will always include our adoption program, but our mission has expanded with a desire to focus on preventing homeless animals in the first place: spay/neuter, education/outreach/advocacy. Last year, Pet Haven also took a leadership role in the founding of a new animal welfare coalition, Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare - a realization that we as an animal welfare community in Minnesota will be much more effective if we work together and share ideas and resources.

I am actively soliciting and recruiting for those of you in the community wanting to learn more about how to get involved and to be a leader in the animal welfare community. An article in the Harvard Business Bulletin asks the question of What makes a good leader ... if animal rescues (even all-volunteer rescues) are to be effective and want to be around for a while we have to incorporate structure into our organization AND we need strong leaders. Passion alone will not sustain us. It has gotten where we are today, which is wonderful ... but as I look forward towards the next decade I realize the importance of being more strategic, more purposeful in the work we do on behalf of homeless animals (and their owners) so that we can make a bigger difference.

  • The most effective leaders are those who are both managers and leaders.
  • "Communication is the real work of leaders". Nohria (Harvard business professor) believes effective leaders are masters of the classical elements of rhetoric, as outlined by Aristotle centuries ago. “You can reach people through logos or logic, by appealing to their sense of what is rational,” he explains. “You can use pathos, appealing to their emotions, or you can make an argument based on their sense of values or ethos.” Great leaders, he notes, “spend the bulk of their time communicating, and they know how to employ all three of Aristotle’s rhetorical elements.” Leaders are also able to distill their message - they know their audience and how to position their message - and they lead by example.
  • Telling the Hard Truths - “Enduring setbacks while maintaining the ability to show others the way to go forward is a true test of leadership.”
  • Coping with Change - Effective leaders help others to understand the necessity of change and to accept a common vision of the desired outcome.
  • Role of Knowledge - a leader must have a basic threshold of knowledge but does not necessarily need to be the most knowledgeable in an organization. “A leader needs enough understanding to fashion an intelligent strategy.”
  • Creativity - Effective leaders, she says, are able to “shake up their thinking as though their brains are kaleidoscopes, permitting an array of different patterns out of the same bits of reality.”
  • Nature versus Nurture - “Some people may have personality traits that make it more likely that they will be leaders ... but what I’ve found is that many people have the potential for leadership, but they haven’t developed it ... One characteristic most leaders have in common is the capacity to learn and change throughout their lives."
Pet Haven will be hosting a session on Saturday, December 12th at 9:30 AM - Noon. on Leadership in the Animal Welfare Community. If you have the passion and the desire to make a difference for homeless dogs and cats and you would like to learn more about what it takes to be a leader, or if you are already in a leadership role and would like to help Pet Haven strengthen our leadership team, please join us!

Email me directly at to register for this session (location: TBD).

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