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“Leadership, Possibility and Animal Welfare”

Bert Troughton, MSW, Director, SFSPCA/ASPCA Strategic Alliance


Leadership, Possibility, & Animal Welfare

You must be the change you wish to create in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Leadership is more than a job. Leaders envision…inspire… motivate… navigate…celebrate. Leaders see value in people/beings and places – and the relationships between them. Leaders fill people around them with a sense of purpose and contribution. Where there is leadership there is hope, imagination, creativity, accomplishment and excellence. Leadership is more than a job. Leadership is a way of being.

Imagine animal welfare as a movement powered by leadership…the magic of the human/animal bond is a cornerstone of society: the concept of family includes adult(s) plus child(ren) plus animal(s); educators facilitate learning about animals and our connections with them; physical and emotional wellness activities include human/animal interaction; community development plans contain spaces for people and animals to be together; humane societies and SPCA’s are centers where people exercise and celebrate the bond; practitioners of other human services look to animal welfare for models of strategy and practice; politicians seek our endorsements; animals and people and communities are healthy, happy, and strong with – and because of – one another. Animal welfare powered by leadership would mean a nation of people aspiring to the ideals of animal welfare leaders.

Few people question the value of leadership. The question is: how do we develop more and better leadership?

Click here for a set of leadership development questions.

The Practice of Leadership

Studies show that people in leadership positions spend most of their time talking. Conversations make up a huge chunk of the activity of leading. But not all conversations are created equally; some conversations are more productive than others. While some conversations are primarily one way, other two-way conversations stimulate people to think, create, and do. Conversations using dialogue – which literally translates as “the meaning between” – invite participation and shared responsibility. These conversations are characterized by genuine interest, active listening and collaborative effort. The secret to initiating these kinds of conversations is in learning to ask open questions.

Open questions have more than one possible answer. Examples of open questions include… “Tell me your thoughts about that? What does [humane community] mean to you? How did you arrive at your decision? What’s new?”

Open questions are an invitation; they engage people. Thus one way communications… “I think people should behave responsibly toward animals,”…become two-way conversations…”how could we inspire people to behave responsibly toward animals?”

Open questions enhance learning by encouraging thinking and activity. Research about learning confirms that both children and adults understand and retain best when they have an opportunity to think about and do something with the material they’re learning.

Open questions lead to an expanded view of what is — and what is possible — by inviting people to add their experiences, thoughts and ideas to the conversation.

As a leadership practice, open questions can be made even more powerful by framing them affirmatively. Asking positive, open questions is a fundamental tool of a change/action theory called Appreciative Inquiry, which was originated by David Cooperrider and others at Case Western Reserve University. Strategic planning using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) seeks to discover what is already working well in order to build on success. Rather than asking, “What’s the problem? How did this problem come about? What have you tried so far?” one would ask, “What’s working best around here? How did you get it working so well? What are you learning about your conditions for success? How could we build on this success?”

A dog learning agility by click & treat training offers a good analogy for the effectiveness of adding positives to open questions. Positives set the stage for learning by making the learning environment safe (and fun). Positives increase confidence by building on success. Positives are more rewarding than negatives, and therefore more attractive and motivating.

Adding positives to open questions can lead to questions such as “What is the best thing you’ve ever done for animals? Tell me something you understand better today than a week or a month ago and how you’re using it. In your experiences with successful groups, what behaviors have you observed in others or used yourself to achieve great results?”

For more information on the power of questions, Appreciative Inquiry, and leadership, visit:, and

Through years of research and practice, Cooperrider has concluded that “human systems grow toward what they persistently ask questions about…The seeds of change,” he says, “are in the questions we ask.”1 It makes sense then to start focusing our attention and questions on our successes – the individuals, organizations, and communities who have achieved life affirming results.

Leadership – like a meaningful mission – isn’t what you do but the difference you make. In a country where more than half the population chooses to live with animals, leaders in animal welfare can tap into and expand the public’s collective ethic of caring, can draw out a vision of a better world brought about by people living successfully with animals, and can stimulate and orchestrate collective activity that is fired by millions of individual good intentions. Where can we find this kind of leadership? Perhaps we can find it within ourselves when we begin asking everyone around us, “What’s your dream for a better world for people and animals? What do you want to do to get there?”

Click here for a set of leadership development questions.

1 Browne, B. W. & Jain, S. (2002) Imagine Chicago: Ten Years of Imagination in Action.. Chicago, IL.

Leadership Practice, Part One

Questions to Develop Leadership

This Appreciative Inquiry can be used: (a) as a self reflection activity, and/or (b) in an interview/dialogue format with a colleague or small group of colleagues.

1) What is the most inspiring and energizing experience you have ever had with leadership? Who was there? What happened? What did it feel like, look like and sound like? What made it possible? What are your thoughts and insights about leadership looking back on this experience?

2) What do you value most about yourself as a person? What do you value about this field and the work that you’re doing? What do you value most about your organization?

3) Imagine that you could create your “leader self” as a composite of all of the best characteristics of your most admired leadership figures. (For example, the determination of Churchill, the charity of Eleanor Roosevelt, the good humor of your grandfather, etc.) Who would you be? What would you do and be capable of? How would you impact the world?

4) In thinking about the times when you’ve been most successful in your life and the things that made success possible, what behaviors, values, and supports do you want to bring forward to sustain your energy for developing your leadership?

5) Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to create in the world,” and Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” What is the very first step you want to take to develop yourself as a leader?

Leadership Practice, Part Two

Questions to Develop Success

This Appreciative Inquiry can be used: (a) as a benchmarking tool to learn about excellence in the field, or (b) in paired interviews within your organization for professional and organizational development.

1) Of all the things that your organization does and accomplishes, what is the one outstanding and incredible accomplishment that is your greatest source of excitement and pride? How did you accomplish this great thing? Who was part of the endeavor? What do you think made this accomplishment possible? Why does this accomplishment mean the most to you?

2) Shifting toward the future, let’s say that it’s a Sunday five years from now and your organization’s latest accomplishment has the “above the fold” story on page one of the biggest newspaper in the state. What major accomplishment is at the heart of this lead story? How did it get to be important enough to be “front page material”? How will this rock and inspire others in the field?

3) As you look around our field, tell me about an example of an innovation or new direction that you see emerging which demonstrates we’re beginning to build the capabilities to move towards a greater vision for animal welfare.

4) Which of the special strengths – be they skills, values, ways of operating, etc. – that you used in order to achieve your greatest accomplishment thus far would you want to take forward as you move towards new accomplishments?

5) If you could wave a magic wand to provide any sort of wisdom, strategy, or capability for your organization and for the field in general, what three wishes would you grant with your wand?

© 2003 Bert Troughton
Re-prints with permission. Contact Bert at

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