Treating people the way you'd like to be treated is the key.
During my first three months with the Conservation Department I served in the unusual role of "director designate." "Not quite director, not quite to be ignored" would have been a good summary of my initial status. Think of the challenge to a Conservation Department employee at that time - two "almost directors" to deal with - one almost retired and one almost real. Watching people size up the situation and come up with practical solutions could be a column by itself, but I mention my unusual status only to tell you what a tremendous learning experience it became.
As you may or may not know I've served as director in two states for almost 20 years. For a director the pressures are unrelenting and, I hasten to add, the rewards equally satisfying. You usually don't have the opportunity to spend long periods listening to staff and citizens talking about their ideas on how the future can be improved for people and outdoor resources. Normally the pressure of the particular situation under discussion dictates immediate answers and action.
Not so with the director designate. I found myself in the exciting position of imagining with people what the world of conservation in Missouri could really be like if we concentrated our efforts and vision. Ideas poured forth from field and office staff, commissioners and a lengthy string of visitors from all walks of life and interests. In spite of the long hours involved, I went home in the evening exhilarated and found myself lying in bed mentally mulling over the day's exchanges.
My ability to absorb and retain what we do as a department was tested by the magnitude of our programs. Every idea or question I posed to staff seemed to be matched by an existing program, or at least a committee working on the problem.
The material I was given by eager employees reflected both high quality and an intense pride in their work and their state. Typical of those was the new tape available from the Conservation Department. "Critter Rock," written and recorded by Jan Syrigos, entertainingly reminds us of the need to be aware of our state's critters and their needs. I listened to it on a trip and spent the next two days humming the songs to myself. I know of no other state that produces a similar product.
Nor did the people I talked with plan to rest on their accomplishments. They had a vision of how their programs could be improved, how they could use available resources to better restore and protect our wildlife and forestry resources.
At the end of my director designate experience, I wondered what I could do to retain that excitement and sense of renewal. I know that any success during my watch depends on maintaining a sense of sharing and vision.
Along with the Conservation Commission, I want to create conditions under which people can contribute and grow, both professionally and personally. To this end, I will make myself available for all possible contact. Ultimately, treating people the way you would like to be treated is the answer.
We want to keep ideas alive and circulating, and the best way to accomplish this is by continuing to listen to people and respecting their viewpoints. I hope you will share your ideas and vision with me or our staff in days to come.
- JERRY CONLEY