Leadership skills

Peter Forbes joins us this summer

I’m pleased to say that Peter Forbes will join the Middlebury School of the Environment this summer as guest practitioner.

Peter ForbesPeter describes himself this way: “I am a life-long student and advocate for the relationship between people and place. I’ve worked with many different people in very different geography from remote Nepal to the Rocky Mountains to central Harlen, New York. My life as emergency medical technician, photographer, author, father, farmer, and facilitator combine unusual aspect of the practical and visionary to produce work that has been helpful to a variety of sectors: conservation, leadership development, sustainability, philanthropy, and social ventures.

The list of his specific projects and writings is long and diverse:

  • Negotiating Generational Change
  • A Man Apart (2015)
  • Making Allies: Western Maine
  • Making Allies between Conservationists and Rural Native Communities
  • Coming to Land in a Troubled World (2004)
  • Integrating Conservation and Human Wellbeing
  • The Great Remembering: Further thoughts on land, soul and society (2001)
  • Connecting Native and Contemporary Land Trust Leaders
  • Strengthening Conservation by Connecting with Community
  • Making a National Case for Community Conservation

Through his work with the Center for Whole Communities, the Trust for Public Land, and currently Knoll Farm (with his wife, Helen Whybrow), Peter will bring to his conversation with the MSoE students a wealth of experience in integrating the voices of the people and the needs of the land. And we greatly look forward to his time with us!

Managing Environmental Conflict

Jeffrey-Langholz-2Having passion is important.  Having a great idea is a good thing.  But sooner or later, in one setting or another, everyone encounters a conflict in moving an idea forward or getting a message across.  It’s normal, and therefore a successful leader doesn’t focus just on avoiding conflict but also on managing it when it occurs.

This summer, we’re pleased to welcome to the MSoE Dr. Jeffrey Langholz from the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, in Monterey, California.  Jeff is recognized as an expert in international environmental leadership, with extensive experience in working with environmental groups in Africa and Asia.  He will join us to teach a workshop called … appropriately enough … Managing Environmental Conflict: a guerilla guide.

Dr. Langholz’s research focuses sustainable use of natural resources worldwide. How can we use fisheries, forests, wildlife, water, and other natural resources in ways that guarantee their long term survival while also being good for people and profits? He is a recognized authority on the growing role that private lands play in accomplishing the triple goals of biodiversity conservation, economic development, and social justice. A past member of the World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN), much of Jeff’s work takes place in and around parks of varying kinds. He was a Visiting Fulbright Scholar at South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for the 2005-2006 academic year, researching best practices for combining conservation and development on private lands in southern Africa.

We know that the student’s will be as excited to work with Jeff this summer as the faculty will be to have him join us!


Environmental practitioners at the School of the Environment

As I’ve written about before, one of the most important elements of our leadership training program is the opportunity for the MSoE students to interact with environmental leaders from across a wide spectrum of pathways and experiences in life.  These leaders are real practitioners — people who are actually working on real projects and in real settings to bring about a positive change in the world.  Rather than simply have these practitioners tell their life stories, we ask them to share with the students some of the lessons they have learned about how to be effective — things that they are glad they did and things they wish that they hadn’t.  From hearing the stories of what others had to learn through trial-and-error, the MSoE students gain a leg up on developing a professional skill set earlier in their efforts to make their own mark on the world.

The roster of practitioners who will be joining us this summer is shaping up and looks to be our most exciting yet.

  • Bill McKibben, noted author, climate activist, and founder of 350.org
  • Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest energy utility and a leader in the implementation of renewable energy systems
  • Peter Forbes, founder of the Center for Whole Communities and co-owner of Knoll Farm, an organic farm dedicated to promoting resiliency, transparency, and the health of the land.
  • Kim Stone, city councilwoman for Highland Park, Illinois, and environmental advocate for alternative transportation.
  • Alden Woodrow, financial manager for the Makani Project (part of GoogleX), a company developing alternative strategies for harvesting wind power.
  • Adrian Benepe, Senior Vice President and Director of City Park Development for the Trust for Public Land, as well as former New York City Park Commissioner.

And we’re working to finalize arrangements with a number of others, hopefully representing professional fields such as state government, the military, and community development.

We’re excited about our guest for the summer, and we know that the students who join us will benefit in untold ways from the conversations that will unfold.

Persuasive public speaking

Traditionally, colleges and universities have placed a lot of emphasis in their curricula on persuasive writing.  This is all to the good.  It seems to me, however, that the vast majority of communication asked of us — especially if we are trying to advance an idea — is verbal.  Yet verbal communication, or public speaking, is one of the skills that is given the least amount of attention in higher education.  And when we do provide exposure to it as a skill, it is most likely to be oriented toward formal presentation of research results in the format most appropriate for a professional conference.

It’s not that the ability to speak effectively at a professional conference is unimportant.  It’s just that it represents only a small part of the persuasive speaking asked of us in being agents of positive change in the world.

We need to be able to make our points clearly and succinctly in public forums.

We need to be able to convince someone in 30 seconds or less to give us a hearing in a full proposal.

We need to answer questions convincingly.

We need to engage audiences, large and small, with compelling stories that capture their imaginations.

In other words, public speaking comes in all forms, for a host of reasons, and directed to a diverse range of listeners.

And to be effective, it all needs to be persuasive.

At the Middlebury School of the Environment, we focus a great deal on honing our skills in persuasive public speaking.  Much of it comes within the formal classwork, but it all builds off of our workshops on public speaking.  Lead by Mike Kiernan, these workshops are fun and engaging, but more importantly, they are effective in helping students become confident in their abilities to use their voices to make a difference.

Colchester, Vermont (January 29, 2013) - MiddCORE Winter Term (j-term) class at VPR with Jane Lindholm. (Photo © 2013 Brett Simison)

Mike is a physician, actor, public speaker – and one today’s most energetic and engaging voices for creative leadership and communication.  He will once again be joining the Middlebury School of the Environment as a Fellow to engage with the students on persuasive communication skills.  He has been an instructor in Middlebury College’s leadership and innovation training program, MiddCORE, since 2008 in all areas related to leadership and communication: crisis management, networking, story-making, and both strategic presentation design and delivery. He has also worked as a communications consultant with political candidates, physicians, business executives, and teams on leadership retreats. Mike is an actor and member of the local professional theater company, the Middlebury Actors Workshop. He is also a physician and recently was President of the Medical Staff at Porter Hospital. Mike serves on the Technical Advisory Group for the Green Mountain Care Board and the Executive Counsel of Vermont Medical Society. He is also an advisor to the State of Vermont Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee.

He has consistently been one of the School’s most popular presenters, and we are excited to have him join us again this year!

Fundraising as a leadership skill

In my role as a professor of biology at Middlebury College, one of the classes I teach each spring semester is Conservation Biology. I teach the course not only through the lens of how the principles of ecology and genetics can be applied to conserving life on Earth, but also through the lens of how conservation is practiced out in the real world.  Many of my students want to become conservation practitioners, working for government agencies or environmental NGOs, and as practitioners they need to be fluent not only in the knowledge base that informs our thinking about what we should do but also in the skill set in how to do it.

Over the years, as I explored what that ideal skill set ought to look like, I continually asked the conservation leaders I worked with — agency heads, executive directors, entrepreneurs, activists — what skills they found most critical to being successful in there jobs.

When I began this informal survey, I was expecting them to tell me about special technical skills like GIS, remote sensing, plant identification, animal tagging, DNA barcoding, and the like.  The kind of skills that we try to incorporate into our traditional academic majors.  What I found was the exact opposite.

Without exception, the skills that were named were these:

  1. Raising money.
  2. Managing money.
  3. Managing people.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense.  Success emerges from the effective operation of a system, whether that system is an organization, volunteer initiative, business plan, or political campaign.  And such systems require money and people.

This understanding informs much of how the Middlebury School of the Environment approaches the issue of environmental leadership, and in particular, why it includes “fundraising” as one of its eight important leadership skills.  Some people are naturally gifted (or naturally un-self-conscious) at asking others for money to support their good idea.  However, for a variety of reasons, many of us have an aversion to asking for financial support: embarrassment, shyness, a sense that money itself is a “bad” thing.  The list goes on.

The good news is that this aversion is complete unnecessary.  Fundraising need not be viewed as something that must be done against our wills, and thus as a negative.  Rather, it can be viewed as a positive, a way to help others with financial resources to support achieving their own goals and desires.

Sue KavanaghThis is the foundation for the Fundraising workshop offered in the MSoE.  Taught by Sue Kavanagh, we guide students through the steps for a positivist view of fundraising.  With over 25 years of fundraising experience, Sue currently serves as director of principal gifts at Middlebury College, where she is responsible for providing direction and support for the cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of Middlebury’s highest-level potential donors.  With most of her career in higher education, Sue’s work has focused primarily on individual fundraising.  Her practice spans two comprehensive capital campaigns at Middlebury and before that at Paul Smith’s College in the heart of the Adirondacks when that institution was developing its first environmental programs. Sue started working in political advocacy and fundraising in New York State’s capital following completion of her BA in communication at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

With Sue’s guidance, students in the MSoE will comes away with greater confidence that they can successfully attract financial support to launch their ideas that will make the world a better place!

What does “Teaming” mean?

In a blog post last fall, I identified “teaming” as one of the eight essential leadership skills that everyone who wants to make positive change in the world needs to have.  In fact, I identified it as the first of the eight.  This likely sends shivers down the spine of every student who has ever been forced to do a group project in a class.

Sometimes they are positive experiences, but more often than not they are painful, involving a complex dance of seemingly having to force others to do things the “right” way, to get them to complete their parts of the project on time, and to drag them along with you to get to completion.  Few students actively seek opportunities for group work, preferring to work alone in their own way and in their own time.

But there’s a saying that highlights why working in groups is effective: If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

“Far” doesn’t just mean distance.  It also refers to the magnitude and importance of the challenge.  The greater the stakes, the greater the scope, and the greater the potential impact, the greater the need to do it in a group.  In a team.

And thus, the greater the need to be able to work effectively in a team.  Not just in a grin-and-bear-it kind of way, but in a way that allows you to harness the imagination, creativity, and skills of everyone involved and promote the kind of interactions that elevate everyone’s contributions.

Teaming, the ability to work effectively in a team, is so critical that emphasize and practice the skills associated with it throughout the School of the Environment, both in our formal classes and through workshops taught by experts and practitioners.  Effective environmental leadership demands it.

Environmental Leadership in Practice

This week’s posting in The Stream comes from guest blogger Hernan Gallo-Cornejo from Pitzer College (’17) and the Middlebury School of the Environment (’15).  Hernan recently attended the North American Association of Environmental Education conference in San Diego.  There he presented a paper on the work he carried out with Dr. Curt Gervich in the MSoE class “Wicked Environmental Problems,” putting his skills as a persuasive speaker to the test.  Here’s Hernan’s description of his experiences there:

“On October 15th and 16th, I attended the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) conference to represent the School of the Environment! My professor from the School of the Environment, Curt, and I lead a workshop on systems thinking and environmental educational games to a group of over 30 people. In this workshop, I shared my experience with creating an educational game on sanitation in India throughout the course of four weeks in my Wicked Problems in Environmental Policy class this past summer. Creating a game for the first time was frightening at first, but I was able to collaborate with my classmates to create an entire game that the School of the Environment played during our last week of the program. I really enjoyed having a creative final assignment for the course because it pushed me to think in a unique way about the topic.

As I presented on my experience at the NAAEE conference, several people asked detailed questions about the game I created and how I went about doing it. Since most of the people in the room had never created a game before, they really wanted to know how in depth our game-making process was so that they can effectively create their own environmental educational games to share with others. Although I was one of the youngest attendees of the conference, I was able to apply the leadership skills I acquired at the School of the Environment to confidently present to and interact with my audience. I hope to continue using the skills and knowledge I received at the School of the Environment and share them with others to create change in the environmental movement.”

Hernan Gallo

Middlebury School of the Environment ‘15

Pitzer College ‘17

The eight essential environmental leadership skills

Everyone talks a lot about leadership training, but what is it really.  Fundamentally, leadership skills are those that allow you to work effectively with others in a variety of capacities to cultivate ideas and implement strategies to move an agenda forward.  In the Middlebury School of the Environment, the broad agenda we want to connect students with it environmental health, justice, and restoration.

At the MSoE, there are eight skills that we  believe are essential for effectively addressing this agenda, skills that we emphasize in our curriculum and co-curricular activities.

  1. Teaming.  How do teams work best, and how can you best work in a team?
  2. Communication styles.  What is your own communication style, and how can you adapt it to promote communication with others?
  3. Persuasive public speaking.  What is your message, and how can you persuasively deliver in different settings to different audiences?
  4. Networking.  How do you engage with others to make them a part of your extended network of contacts for generating ideas and opportunities?
  5. Fundraising.  How do you create opportunities for others to donate money towards initiatives that advance their goals?
  6. Empathy.  How do you develop a sincere understanding about how someone else is feeling?
  7. Cultural capacity.  How do you overcome your own cultural programming to open the door to understanding how someone from a different culture views their environmental challenges and needs?
  8. Interviewing.  How do you elicit information from others to help them reveal the underlying problems and hidden solutions to their environmental challenges.

During the course of the Middlebury School of the Environment, we will engage you in all eight of these skills.  And in the coming months, I will talk more about each of them on The Stream.

The Power of Communication

We recently spent an afternoon with Mary Hurlie, of LeaderScope, talking about … and experiencing the consequences of … different styles of communication.  Whether someone wants to receive information through direct, to-the-point conversation or wants to use conversation to first develop an interactive relationship is neither right nor wrong.  But recognizing that those styles exist and learning how to flex one’s own style in order to engage comfortably with others is a hallmark of effective communication.

Communications 5What does this have to do with the environment?  Making a difference in the world, being effective at creating positive change requires effective communication.  And communication is not just about talking at people; it’s also (and importantly) about listening to people.

Over the decades, environmentalists have become much better at messaging.  We reach out to more people in more sophisticated ways with our messages — whether it’s about climate change, socioeconomic inequality, species extinction, and any of the hundreds of other issues before us — than ever before.  But we have not become all that good at listening to others.  Or, at least, not as good as we need to be.

So that’s what we did.  We learned how to become better listeners.

It’s easy if you try … and if you know what to listen for.

Communications 1


Gus Speth at the School of the Environment

Gus_SpethI’m very pleased to be announce that Gus Speth will join the School of the Environment as a Fellow this summer, both talking informally to the students about his life as an environmental leader and giving a formal lecture, which will be open to the public.  Throughout his career, James Gustave “Gus” Speth has provided leadership and entrepreneurial initiatives to many task forces and committees whose roles have been to combat environmental degradation and promote sustainable development, including the President’s Task Force on Global Resources and Environment; the Western Hemisphere Dialogue on Environment and Development; and the National Commission on the Environment. Among his awards are the National Wildlife Federation’s Resources Defense Award, the Natural Resources Council of America’s Barbara Swain Award of Honor, a 1997 Special Recognition Award from the Society for International Development, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Environmental Law Institute and the League of Conservation Voters, the Blue Planet Prize, and the Thomas Berry Great Work Award of the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities.

In short, there are few people who can speak more authoritatively or with more breadth of experience about what it will take for students to become effective agents of environmental change than Gus Speth.

He is the author, co-author or editor of seven books including the award-winning The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment. His latest book is America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, published by Yale Press in September 2012.

He is currently on the faculty of the Vermont Law School as Professor of Law. He serves also as Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, Senior Fellow at The Democracy Collaborative, and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus Speth was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Stay tuned for more information about the title, timing, and location of his public lecture.  If you are in the area, it will be well worth attending!

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