By Al Songcuan, Reef Ecologic Marine Scientist

Reef Ecologic wrapped up another successful Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop at Orpheus Island Research Station last weekend attended by 27 reef practitioners, environmentalists and future leaders. It was a great opportunity to be part of this event, meet new people that have the same passion and share stories. The 4-day healthy retreat not only started the conversation about urgency of environmental issues but also inspired future leaders to take action and reflect on what needs to be done.

In his leadership talk, Dr. Adam Smith asked everyone to list 5 values we think leaders should have. Then he asked us to choose 3 that we think are most important.Lastly, he asked us to pick one that we personally value. Here’s mine:

Especially in the field of marine science and environmental management, resilience is widely used concept and defined in many different ways. But how about Resilience in Leadership? All of these values are equally important for all leaders to have but it is also important for us to talk about why leaders should be resilient.

Resilience in leadership translate to the ability to make good decisions and work under pressure, cope with changes and adapt. Resilient leaders bounce back from setbacks and overcome major difficulties without harming others. Similar to my favorite leadership quote by John Maxwell, resilient leaders are able to withstand difficult situations, adjust and thrive. So I am going to share with you three strategies we can use to help us become resilient and how we can relate these values to helping the environment.

On a personal level, part of being resilient is learning that anything and everything can go bad and that is just what we call life. When tough times come, always tell yourself that you are not the only one that experiences tragedies and like everybody else, you will get through it. Suffering is a part of life, prolonging it is a choice.

On an environmental perspective, I want to call this the acknowledgement phase. Like the basic steps in scientific method, ‘What is the problem?’ Climate change is real. Reefs are dying. Human activities are the main problem. Despite global impacts and scientific studies, some people are still skeptic about climate change. Whether protecting their personal interest or lack access to credible information, we need to do something about it. The longer we deny that these issues exist, the more we are taking away our chances in reversing the trend. The sooner we accept and acknowledge that these problems are real, the sooner we can take action.

2. Focus on things that you can change

Often in tough times, most of us dwell on emotions and negative things. We tend to spend too much time on asking what ifs and whys than focusing on finding solutions. Don’t get swallowed up by negativity. Try and find things to be grateful for. We need to learn to recognize and choose where we put our resources, our attention and focus on the things that we can change and accept things that we cannot.

I call this the action phase. Addressing environmental issues is an enormous undertaking and often many fall into a trap of wanting to do big and end up failing. There is nothing wrong in aiming big but we also need to consider our capability, resources and time. Doing something small effectively is always better than aiming for something big and doing nothing. Start small, choose sustainable goods, switch to renewable energy, recycle. If you have the resources, do something for the community. Influence others, do local cleanups, help or join local campaigns and increase environmental awareness. If you have the resources and right connections do something for the country or even the world. Make policy recommendations backed by science, start projects that will help address these issues, involve the community and the government. We don’t need to do grand things to make a difference. Remember that even the smallest rock makes a ripple.

3. Ask yourself, is this helping or harming?

This concept sounds easy but most of us find it challenging not to entertain our emotions when dealing with certain situations. At tough times, most people don’t realize that they are often attracted to things that are doing not only them but also other people more harm than good. When sad, we don’t often realize that we do things that makes us more sad and at some levels we find it satisfying. In an argument, it is very satisfying to prove that you are right and they are wrong. Reacting feels good. It is always easy to ‘react’ but that differentiates good leaders. Great leaders ‘respond’ to situations without emotional and judgmental narratives. We can look at things from different perspectives carefully analysing potential consequences of our actions and words. When faced with tough situations, stop for a second and ask yourself if your action will help you or harm you.

In an environmental perspective, this is the follow-up phase or change in behavior step. Even in the smallest actions, ask yourself ‘Is this helping the environment or harming it?’ Reflect on how small and daily decisions can affect the environment in the long run. We’ve gone too far in making our lives comfortable and convenient that we are driving our natural resources, our planet to degradation. Most people don’t even bother asking this question and go straight to choosing convenience. Walking or cycling to work, bringing your own reusable bag when going to markets, using reusable cups and bottles, not using straws. These are small daily decisions that adds up to a bigger impact and lead to behavioral change towards a more environmentally aware actions.

Now, I would like you all to reflect and ask yourself: “Am I resilient?”


By Al Songcuan, Reef Ecologic Marine Scientist

It was a great opportunity to be part of Reef Ecologic‘s 2020 Reef Restoration and Leadership Workshop at Orpheus Island Research Station and be surrounded by people sharing the same passion to protect the environment. What values make up a good leader? Here I spoke about one of the values I personally think good leaders should have. leadership resilience reefecologic