Leading & Communicating
A Guide for Watershed Partnerships
Successful partnerships don't just happen. They depend on the leaders who emerge from the
groups. Yet, leaders of successful watershed partnerships differ from leaders of many
organizations. Watershed partnership leaders do not assume the same amount of control or
responsibility as do leaders of formal organizations.
What do watershed partnership
Effective leaders generally coordinate activities and keep the partnership moving forward.
They handle or delegate administrative details such as calling and conducting meetings and
Who makes an effective leader?
An effective leader can have a wide range of backgrounds. You can be a farmer or rancher,
banker, pastor, housewife, shoe salesperson, teacher, nearly anyone with an interest and
In fact, some successful partnerships have more than one leader. Shared leadership is
possible when two or more people rotate responsibilities.
Interested in group's concerns while sensitive to individual needs
Aware of current social and political situations
Good communication and group interaction skills
Respected as knowledgeable and fair
Able to share responsibility and credit with others
Promotes consensus, compromise and trade-offs
Integrates a variety of different perspectives
Patient, creative and flexible
Technical advisors are also important to partnerships. These advisors work closely with
the leader to determine tasks. They can focus on the technical validity of a plan and
project. Someone from a natural resource agency or consulting group should be involved
since they can help address the technical issues.
In fact, a "team" of technical advisors will likely emerge. This team should
reflect the concerns and issues being addressed by the partnership. This team may be a
part of the local watershed partnership or it may be separate. In either case, the Building Local Partnerships guide
will help with building the team.
Leaders get the partnership started and keep it moving. Effective leaders serve as neutral
catalysts for the groups' decisions and actions. They also accept some responsibility for
helping the partnership focus on a common task. They do not make decisions for the group.
A skillful leader will:
Keep the purpose, goals, and approach relevant and meaningful - Help
partners determine, clarify, and commit to the group's goals. Leaders can inspire
appropriate actions, but should not try to move the partnership in any particular
Build commitment and confidence - Understand and try to balance the
needs and interests of both individuals and the overall partnership. Positive and
constructive feedback helps make the partnership more successful.
Strengthen the mix, level of skills - Recognize and build on the
strengths and skills of individual members of the partnership. Effective partnerships
depend on having an appropriate balance of technical, interpersonal and other skills. The
leader ensures that all the necessary skills are available for the partnership.
Manage relationships with outsiders, including removing obstacles -
Ensure that external relationships are developed and maintained. This responsibility may
be shared with other members of the partnership.
Create opportunities for others - Leaders should not try to do
everything themselves. They must provide opportunities for individuals or the partnership
to grow and work effectively. This involves delegation of authority and responsibility.
Do real work - Leaders are members of the partnership and are,
therefore, responsible for doing their fair share of the work.
Communication: The key to leadership.
Successful partnerships are built on open and ongoing communication. Only this way can
partners come to a shared understanding.
Communication is a two-way process. Listening is as important as speaking.
Communication is never perfect. Some information is always lost or jumbled in the process.
Look for common ground - Find shared values. Consider shared personal
experiences. Pay attention to and give feedback. Be yourself and expect the same of
others. Be willing to accept differences in perceptions and opinions.
Find out about others - Learn about others' interests and needs.
Consider their perspectives and needs. Appeal to the highest motives. Let others express
Attack problems, not people - Don't waste time on personal hostility.
Make other people feel good. Avoid criticism and put-downs.
Give and get respect - Show respect for others' opinions. Be
considerate and friendly. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Be responsive to
emotions. Speak with confidence, but remain tactful.
Proceed slowly - Present one idea at a time. Check for understanding
and acceptance of each idea before moving on to the next. Speak in an organized and
Be explicit and clear - Share your ideas and feelings. Pay attention to
nonverbal communication. Speak clearly and look at your partners. Select words that have
meaning for your listeners.
Remember the five "C's" of communication - Clarity,
Completeness, Conciseness, Concreteness and Correctness.
Listening helps us learn and shows others that we respect their views. There are three
major steps to listening. First, focus your mind on the person speaking. Second, use body
language to signal attention and interest. Third, verbally reflect and respond to what the
speaker feels and says. Here are more tips:
Stop talking - You can't listen when you are talking. Concentrate on
what others are saying. Don't interrupt or change the subject.
Slow down your thoughts - Realize that you can listen much faster than
a person can talk. Pay attention and summarize what a person is saying. Don't be too quick
to judge the other person.
Understand the other person - Review and summarize what they are
saying. Get their meaning, not just the words. Paraphrase what you just heard. Listen for
what is not said.
Control your own emotions - Don't argue mentally with the person. Avoid
jumping to conclusions or going on the defensive. Avoid arguments or criticism.
Ask questions - Ask for clarification. Invite the other person to
provide more detail or present new ideas.
Control your body language - Remember that actions often speak louder
than words. Look at the other person. Keep eye contact. Respond as appropriate.
Even if you use strategies and are a skilled communicator, problems can still arise. When
communication breaks down, partnerships get stuck. People lose energy and enthusiasm. It
may help to remember these barriers.
People are different - They vary in knowledge levels, communication
skills and cultural perspectives. They also have different backgrounds and frames of
People are impatient - They jump to conclusions. People think faster
than they listen, which often means they assume they know what another person will say
People are selective - They tend to only hear what they want to hear.
People are also more likely to accept something that supports what they already believe.
People can be negative - They can be bossy or sarcastic. They may take
things personally and get angry. People can also tend to show cynicism or mistrust.
Much of the work done in partnerships involves face-to-face discussions. Leaders have the
responsibility for keeping discussion moving.
Ask questions - If you are not sure what a person means or why they are
taking a particular position, ask for clarification. Ask people to repeat their statements
in a different way. Open-ended questions (why or how) generate more discussion.
Seek information and opinions from all parties - Some people are
naturally quiet or have trouble talking in groups. Provide these people with a chance to
state their opinions. Listen actively and carefully to what people say.
Summarize as you go - After discussion winds down, ask for or give a
brief summary of what was discussed and decided.
Stay on track - Do not let people go too far off the subject. Avoid
examples that aren't relevant or last too long. Reach agreement and move on.
Manage time efficiently - If your discussion seems to get off-track or
bogged down, point out the other items on your agenda. Remind them that there is a need to
finish on time.
Recognize when to end discussion - Learn when there is nothing to be
gained from further discussion. Help the group close discussion and make a decision.
Test for consensus - State any decisions that seem to have been made.
Check if everyone agrees with the summary and can live with the decision.
One reason for discussion is to generate new ideas. Brainstorming is an
essential way to bring out the creativity in your group. The result is often a variety of
good ideas that will lead to new solutions. Below are guides for brainstorming.
Set the stage - Define your purpose in terms of what you want the group
to accomplish. Provide a relaxed and informal atmosphere. Have all the necessary supplies
(such as markers and flip charts) on hand.
Go for quantity - People often have different ideas. The key is to get
these ideas out quickly without concern for the quality of the ideas. Evaluation comes
Record ideas - Ideas need to be recorded on a flip chart by a recorder.
Another way to get ideas down is to allow people to silently record their ideas on post-it
notes or other cards. These notes and cards are placed on a flip chart so others can see
Limit time - Set a time limit for generating ideas so people are
motivated to get ideas out quickly. This also allows enough time for discussion and
evaluation of ideas later.
Encourage free wheeling - Let people share ideas no matter how
unrealistic they may be. Ask people to build off others' ideas. Don't evaluate or
criticize ideas at this point.
Use humor - This will allow your group to break out of existing
patterns and habits to relax and be more creative.
Follow-up - After ideas are generated, the group should identify the
most promising ideas. They can then work to come up with ways to expand or improve on
these. Set a time for the group to further evaluate ideas and make decisions as a group.
Another important skill is giving and receiving constructive feedback. Good feedback
skills are needed to have productive meetings and to promote cooperation among partners.
Everyone should agree that giving and receiving feedback is an important and acceptable
part of how you will work together. No one should be surprised by open and honest
Be sure to provide both positive and negative feedback. We often take good work for
granted and only give feedback when problems arise. It is just as important to point out
something you like.
Think carefully about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Make
sure the time and place are right.
How to give & receive feedback
Be descriptive. Use specific information.
Don't use labels. Be clear and objective.
Don't exaggerate. Be exact and avoid absolutes like "always"
Don't be judgmental. Don't compare the person you're talking
to with others.
Speak for yourself. Don't refer to what "others" say.
Talk first about yourself. Start statements with "I" not
Stick to what you know. Don't present opinions as facts.
Take a deep breath. Relax before responding.
Listen carefully. Don't interrupt.
Ask questions for clarity. Ask for specific examples.
Acknowledge the feedback. Repeat the message in your own
words to make sure
Acknowledge valid points. Agree with what is true and what is
Take time to think about what you heard. Check with others if
you are not
Conducting effective meetings.
Much of the work in a partnership gets planned or done in meetings. Unfortunately, we all
have spent time in meetings that turned out to be a waste of time. These tips will help
make your meetings more productive and even enjoyable.
About the group's first meetings...
The first meetings are very important for establishing trust and communication. During
these you'll want to:
Learn each other's background, skills, perceptions, and interests.
Begin to work as a partnership by recognizing each other's
Set ground rules and determine organizational structure.
Begin to develop a purpose statement. See the
Local Partnerships guide
for more on this topic.
Prior to the meeting
Select a convenient time and location. Evening meetings are usually
best for people who work during the day. Lunch meetings are also possible. Ask people what
Select a "neutral" site. Many civic clubs and restaurants
provide meeting rooms. Schools and churches can also be neutral meeting sights. Avoid
government offices or the offices of a partner if possible.
Develop an agenda. People like to know what to expect. These should be
sent out before the meeting.
Arrange tables and chairs so that everyone can be part of the discussion.
Circular tables work well as do large rectangular ones. Keep the temperature comfortable.
Provide water, coffee and other refreshments.
During the meeting
To keep the meeting focused and moving, many successful groups establish and enforce
ground rules. Other techniques include:
Respect your partners' time. Never allow meetings to start or end late.
Only hold meetings as often as necessary to carry out your work.
Use the agenda. Ask for suggestions on the agenda at the beginning of
the meeting. Refer to the agenda to keep the meeting focused and on time.
Take minutes. These serve as reminders of what people have agreed to
do. Be sure to record the group's decisions and/or concerns.
Establish specific procedures and objectives. Clearly define your own
role as a leader. Get agreement on the meeting objectives and processes for conducting the
meeting. Maintain the focus and direction of the group.
Promote shared decision making. Give as few directions as possible.
Check for consensus at appropriate times. Ask questions and encourage sharing of ideas.
Monitor and improve group processes. Make sure the group is moving
along and not getting stuck. Be patient and don't interrupt, especially during discussions
or reflection. Make sure all members have an opportunity to speak and be heard.
Foster good relationships and a positive climate. Allow for creative
conflicts and disagreements over issues. Discourage interpersonal confrontation or
personal attacks. Avoid being defensive if you are challenged by a group member.
Before the meeting ends, try to get a sense of how it went. Ask people
what they feel the meeting accomplished. Determine what unfinished business is left for
next time. Set the time, place, and tentative agenda for the next meeting.
Sources of information.
To start down the road toward an effective local watershed partnership, you may want to
read some of these other guides from the Conservation Technology Information Center by
calling 765-494-9555. See our catalog
to order this online.
Getting to Know Your Watershed
Putting Together a Watershed Plan
Reflecting on Lakes
Groundwater & Surface Water: Understanding
Wetlands: A Key Link in Watershed Management
Guide to Information and Resources
Nonpoint Source Water Quality Contacts
The author acknowledges the following sources of information that
were used in developing this guide. You may also find these publications helpful. Most of
these can be found through your local bookstore.
Creating the High Performance Team.
Steve Buchholz and Thomas Roth, 1987, New York, NY: Wiley.
Executive Communication Power: Basic Skills for Management Success.
Frederick Williams, 1983, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Leadership Skills: Developing Volunteers for Organizational Success.
Emily Kittle Morrison, 1994, Tucson, AZ: Fisher Books
Solving Community Problems by Consensus.
Susan Carpenter, 1990, Washington. DC: Program for Community Problem Solving.
The Team Handbook: How to Use Teams to Improve Quality.
Scholtes, Peter R. and Associates, 1988, Madison, WI: Joiner Associates, Inc.
The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization.
Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, 1993, New York, NY: HarperCollins.
About this guide...
This guide is one of a series for people who want to organize a local partnership to
protect their watershed. This series will not solve all your problems. They were designed
to provide guidance for going through the process of building a voluntary partnership,
developing a watershed management plan and implementing that plan. Because the
characteristics of each watershed are unique; you may wish to select and use the portions
of this guide that are applicable to your particular situation.
Although the series is written for watershed-based planning areas, the ideas and
process can be used for developing other types of plans (such as wildlife areas) to match
the concerns of the partnership. Regardless of the area, remember a long-term, integrated
perspective - based on a systematic, scientific assessment - can be used to address more
than one concern at a time.
Special thanks to Dr. Thomas J. Hoban, Associate Professor, North Carolina State
University, who dedicated long hours to writing this guide. Without his help this guide
would not be possible.
Special thanks also go to the following professionals who carefully reviewed this
guide. Their experience and thoughtful guidance enriched it. Their time and insight is
US EPA, Region 5, Water Division
USDA SCS, Office of Public Affairs
Puget Sound Water Quality Authority
National Pork Producers Council
Planner, Swan Creek Watershed
Farmer, Indian Lake Watershed
TVA, Middle Fork Holston River Watershed
Coordinator, Eel River Watershed
US EPA, Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds
The Know Your Watershed campaign is coordinated by the Conservation
Technology Information Center (CTIC), a nonprofit public/private partnership dedicated to
the advancement of environmentally beneficial and economically viable natural resource
systems. It provides information and data about agricultural and natural resource
management systems, practices and technologies. The center was established in 1982 under
the charter of the National Association of Conservation Districts.
Brainstorming: The process of generating lots of ideas. Generates and captures
innnovative or creative thoughts.
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