Leadership on the Fly

Martha Hahn Utah State University

Leadership strategies and philosophies abound, but for USU alumnus Martha Hahn, the best way to learn how to lead is to fly fish.

Fly fishing is a love of Hahn’s; she’s lived in many western states and is known for having multiple state fishing licenses in her possession at one time.

After completing a master’s degree in recreation resources management in 1982, Hahn began working for the Bureau of Land Management. She was the first female BLM area manager in Utah and the first female BLM State Director in Idaho

“It was pretty significant,” Hahn said. “Now it would be no big deal, but then, in Idaho, oh my gosh.

Hahn’s appointment as Idaho state director wasn’t initially well received.

“People looked at me and thought the BLM was punishing the state of Idaho by sending a girl who wasn’t even 40 years old to come work there,” she said. “People would just wonder what I could even know, and I’d just think to myself, ‘I knew enough to get the job.’”

As time went on, she gained the respect of her colleagues and peers. Hahn believes the most important thing she did during her time with the BLM was lay the groundwork for those who would come after her.

After retiring from the BLM, Hahn went back to fishing; she realized how similar leadership was to catching fish.

“Just like you try and convince fish to take that fly, you’re trying to convince your employees to do something,” Hahn said. “In both cases, you need to know what the needs are. What do they like? What do they want to eat?”

This realization led Hahn to share her experiences with others, creating a leadership coaching organization called The Sage Project. She teaches employers how to focus on employee needs. Several of her seminar talk titles include “Leadership on the Fly,” “Interactions on the Fly,” and “Match the Hatch.”

“Employers need to focus on the feeling side of their employees,” Hahn said. “I used to spend my whole week resolving unresolvable problems because employers didn’t focus on their employees.”

Hahn said watching employers apply the strategies is very fulfilling. As she looks out the two large windows of her office onto the Arizona landscape, she reminisces fondly of her time at USU and the friends and leadership experiences she gained there.

“When I was at Utah State, I could never tell if I was in school, at work or having fun because it all ran together. It’s a great environment, and it’s where I got my start. I think about it all the time.”