Giving professional intelligence a boost

17th June 2012

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  • Business & Industry ,
  • Management ,
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  • Stakeholder engagement



Richard Campen outlines the four ESP&P intelligences and argues that understanding people is the real key to delivering change

As environment professionals we are used to thinking about scientific concepts and how these may be applied to further our work. We may have a background in science, environment management or other similar training, and we will have learned about natural systems and case studies from literature or field visits, providing us with the knowledge and skills necessary for our work.

But there is more to professional practice than simply understanding our specialisms. If environment professionals are going to act as change agents, we need to be able to appreciate and learn from areas or events that are outside our traditional comfort zone.

We need to understand four types of "intelligence":

  • Emotional intelligence - the ability to identify, assess, and control one's emotions as well as those of others, and of groups;
  • Spiritual intelligence - the ability to create a "coherent whole" from our knowledge, day-to-day actions, belief system and personal values;
  • Political intelligence - developing an understanding of how best to operate where other stakeholders are involved; and
  • Practical intelligence - the ability to learn from past mistakes and successes.

Together these are known as ESP&P intelligences. They may seem to be more fitting to the world of business, but as practising environmentalists we would do well to consider this framework in relation to how we achieve our own objectives.

Great expectations

Emotional intelligence, particularly in relation to leadership, is about meeting one's own objectives while genuinely demonstrating a willingness to find solutions that also meet other people's objectives.

This is a process of sensitive negotiation achieved through personal connections built on trust. It can be difficult to get some projects off the ground but if, as an environmentalist wanting to achieve your own targets, you can help other people through challenging and difficult experiences, the result will be a positive outcome for all.

Some people believe that science is simply about facts, but facts are only part of the picture. As practitioners we must be able to combine our knowledge, belief system, personal values and day-to-day activities in a way that can help us better understand the world in which we live.

Our sense of commitment to a particular subdiscipline, such as conservation, arises in part from our beliefs and values. For example, we see the intrinsic value of nature, or the importance of biodiversity.

But sometimes we have to find solutions that accommodate different ways of looking at an issue even if they do not exactly fit our own ideal outcome. To do this we must first recognise our own values and beliefs and second, try to understand the values and beliefs of others.

Ideal leaders

Idealism is an admirable quality that can often get things done through leadership; however, it can be a "double-edged sword". To provide leadership, one must have "followers" and some people may be put off by the strong communications and commitments of an idealist. Private landowners, communities and even peer groups might not support the idealism of a committed conservationist but, by the same token, without such input a project or vision may fail.

Nevertheless, we need to be able to see things from the points of view of others and to recognise that these perspectives may be based on different values and beliefs.

Others may also have their own agendas and targets to meet, so environmentalists need to develop an awareness of every stakeholder's objectives. Knowing others' priorities helps identify where the "levers" are in terms of decision making, and the various sources of power, or power bases, that we need to work with to achieve environmental goals.

Examining why something did or did not work can also help achieve change in the long run. In addition to building up a good repertoire of data, literature, techniques and questions, environmentalists need to ask themselves if they received full buy-in from key individuals or groups and whether these stakeholders understood the longer-term goals, or the bigger picture.

Interaction with others means dealing with their feelings and emotions. To achieve a project's vision or goal we must inspire people and lead them to the outcomes we desire. Developing a roadmap to provide a clear path to achieving the goal can help. It can be used at various times to draw on different people in pursuit of the vision or goal.

Creating the roadmap means planning, listening, anticipating and identifying solutions that best meet people's needs and expectations as well as, in this case, our environmental goals. Some environmentalists may be very skilled technically but not so well tuned in to the ways of getting the maximum support from less technical audiences.

Very often, the key is getting people to work together even where agendas are very different. A project or programme requires strategic planning, genuine consultation - listening more than telling - and influencing people.

This requires empathy and "active listening" as well as a focus on the environmental goal. Active listening means paying careful attention to what is said, acknowledging the speakers and understanding the whole message rather than selected parts.

Right direction

Our contribution to society means working with people who have different world views, needs, expectations, motives and understanding. Being a practising environmentalist is as much about effective leadership as it is about being an excellent manager in any sector or discipline.

The emotional, spiritual, political and practice-based intelligences provide a suitable framework for thinking about our continuing professional development.


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