April 13, 2021

60 Lessons From 6 Leaders

Our recent webinar provided another look at leadership; this time through a “lightning round” of tips from six leaders of AZA aquariums and zoos. We heard some familiar themes—demonstrating empathy, taking time for self-care, listening, and seeking mentors or coaches—but also some new and maybe surprising tips.

Who knew that “picking up the trash” and “getting your hands dirty” would be a valuable leadership tip? But this was one of the ideas that emerged in the “pandemic year,” as our executives found themselves on the front lines, required to do a different job, to pitch in and scan tickets or manage guest flow, and in the process, demonstrate they’re part of the team, willing to do what it takes. We also learned the importance of having fun, finding joy, and enjoying laughter—and really, really listening deeply.

Here’s more of what our panel shared:

  • Breathe life into your people and inspire.

  • There are always options.

  • Fun is not optional; life is better when you’re laughing!

  • Lead with love: create a loving, caring space; reach out to your friends and partners.

  • Resilience is required: you’ve survived 100% of your most difficult days!

  • Say thanks—gratitude is important, but only if you mean it.

  • No is not the worst thing to hear; learn and move on.

  • Watch out for the “superhero syndrome”—you don’t need to have all the answers, take a step back.

  • Know today’s weather and tomorrow’s forecast: look for the “iceberg” up ahead.

  • Give more than you ask.   

  • Seek out the strengths in others; let them help/lead.  

  • Playing small doesn’t help the world; take up space—own it!

Many thanks to our contributors:

  • Nik Dehejia, Chief Executive Officer, Oakland Zoo

  • Sheri Horiszny, Chief Operating Officer, Woodland Park Zoo

  • Becky DeWitz, Chief Executive Officer, Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum of Natural History

  • Gary Siddall, President / Chief Executive Officer, Aquarium of Niagara

  • Lori Perkins, Deputy Director, Birmingham Zoo

  • Carrie Lewis, President / Chief Executive Officer, Oregon Coast Aquarium

We only scratched the surface recapping our 60-minute discussion, so be sure to check out the full webinar recording here. In addition, download a PDF of all 60 lessons here.

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