Leadership Corner

Forest Service leadership defined

June 30th, 2017 at 11:30AM

Beth Giron Pendleton, Acting Associate Chief. Forest Service photo.

by Beth Giron Pendleton, Acting Associate Chief

Whether you are a crew boss on the fire line, a first line supervisor in administrative services on your unit, a district ranger – or perhaps, a leader without a formal title yet lead with commitment to mission success – embracing and declaring what we all stand for together as Forest Service leaders is essential to creating a desired culture around diversity and inclusion, safety, and other agency values.

Over the course of the past six months, I served as the Acting Associate Chief. Central to this experience was the opportunity to purposely think about and act on what it means to be a Forest Service leader during a time of administration transition. My guide has been the agency's Leaders Stance and Habits, which focuses on four essential attributes of leadership that are expected of all formal and informal leaders in the Forest Service. They are the ability to steward the whole place; see opportunity; share leadership with peers, subordinates and cooperators; and build community. Let's take a closer look at each of these leadership attributes.

When we as leaders steward the whole place we help deepen employees' understanding of agency mission in its fullness, encourage all to cling a bit less tightly to their own sense of function by taking hold of something bigger and shared, and actively demonstrate a loyalty and responsibility to our mission. We also create a safe, rewarding and resilient workplace where all people are treated with dignity, fairness, and respect ... a workplace free from all forms of harassment and unwanted behaviors.

Now, imagine what the Forest Service can be as much as what it can do. Through this lens, I have come to recognize that it is the relationships we create at work, in working with our partners and in our communities that are as – and oft times more – important than the actual work accomplished. As leaders, we see opportunity through an asset frame, and by that I mean we continuously inventory what the Forest Service can contribute and effectively leverage capacity through others to successfully achieve results. As leaders, we are also self-aware, humble in seeing our gaps in knowledge and able to engage the talents and wisdom of others. And, rather than jumping to defend a position, we become curious about and appreciate different points of view and what others can contribute to collective problem solving in ways that improve lives.

Another attribute of leadership that I have come to more deeply understand through practice is the ability to share leadership by being inclusive, curious about other people's approaches and methods and humble in knowing that others inside and outside the agency bring new learning and perspectives vital to mission success. This leadership stance equally embraces the behavior of decisiveness when the time is right and recognition of others’ potential. Rather than holding too tight to power or letting go of responsibility entirely, it encourages leaders to strike the right balance of letting ownership and influence be distributed across many people including –but not limited to – themselves. Perhaps what resonates most with me relative to this leadership attribute is the ability to see potential in others to lead, to invite that leadership and to develop others to their full potential.  

The final attribute within our Leaders Stance and Habits is the ability to build community inside and outside the agency to awaken and strengthen all people's connection to the land. This requires being inclusive, welcoming new voices and diverse perspectives, and the ability to talk openly and candidly about what the Forest Service stands for and why you chose to work for, and stay with, the Forest Service. A leader who builds community engages easily with others so as to encourage them to reveal what matters most to them and their communities. At the end of the day, a leader who builds community creates an environment where all feel cared for, are treated equitably, and are valued for adding their ideas, ambitions, concerns, values and truths.

It is my experience that this picture of what it means to be a Forest Service leader comes from noticing where leaders are most successful. I believe that as employees and the publics we serve learn to expect that level of notice from agency leadership, it will strengthen our reputation as a collective prepared to lead in our second century of conservation.



Acting Associate Chief Pendleton returns to Alaska in July as Regional Forester where she looks forward to continuing to share leadership and steward the whole of what makes the Alaska Region a choice place to work, live and build community.