R. Eric Miller, DVM, DACZM
Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO, USA
Often, we look at leadership as the role played by the person who is out in front of the troops, the one leading the “charge” towards a goal or achievement. At times, that is certainly a necessary method of management. However, I also think that a sometimes overlooked leadership method is building liaisons and connections to others in ways that achieve the goals set for ourselves and for our institutions or organizations. Obviously, the key to this strategy is determining mutually beneficial (“win/win”) situations where all gain from the effort.
I will focus on four personal examples in which I believe building liaisons was beneficial in advancing goals of the projects or organizations with which I was working. First is the animal health research network that was developed by the Black Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan and the Rhinoceros Taxon Advisory Group. Second is expanding the sponsorship of the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine (JZWM) to include the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZWV), and the support of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). Third is a current effort to more closely link the AAZV and the AZA in areas of common interest. The last is the liaison-building exercises that are part of my current position as Director of Conservation at the Saint Louis Zoo.
In summary, building liaisons can sometimes be perceived as passive activity, one that is less likely to produce results when compared to that of leadership by directive. However, I believe that the accomplishments of successful, combined efforts reflect well on all participants, and most often produce greater results than solitary efforts. In the end, if “credit” is an issue, the improved results also reflect on the leader that coordinated them. Most importantly, successful liaisons allow each of us to leverage our limited resources into larger efforts to achieve our goals.