In this guide:
- Four types of intelligence
- Self awareness
- Peer mentors
- Conversations in different places
- Getting started: three scenarios
- Links to resources
How do you develop the key skills that you and your team need to create change, build relationships and bring people with you when you are leading on sustainability in your organisation?
In this guide Richard Profit summarises what the key skills are, and how you can go about developing them, whether you are just starting out or building on success.
Four types of intelligence that make us human
Where do you start when you want to develop your skills and those of your team? In the last couple of episodes, I drew on my experience at Pepsico to talk about the characteristics of good sustainability teams, and about the key skills sustainability leaders and their teams need, to create change.
But how do you actually do that? Where do you start? And what about if you’re not working in a global corporation like Pepsico?
I’ll get into all of this shortly. But first, I want to share another way of thinking about the key skills for sustainability leadership. In the last episode I talked about the Inner Development Goals which are divided into five dimensions:
Relationship to self
Caring for Others and the World
Another way of organising and thinking about these skills that I find useful, is what I consider to be the four types of intelligence that make us human: cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual.
Cognitive & Emotional Intelligence
Cognitive intelligence is what we normally think of as intelligence. It’s about rationality, measurement and analysis. It how we’re typically trained and educated. It’s very important for sustainability leadership, but as we’re all familiar with it, I’ll not say and more about it.
And then more recently, in the last 20 years or so, we’ve concept of emotional intelligence has gained currency. This idea that we can develop our skills of empathy and compassion to help us relate better. It’s not covered much in our education systems, but it’s an important aspect of much management training and leadership development.
As it’s well known, I’ll not say more about it here. But there’s two more intelligences that I believe as crucial for sustainability leadership and that are much less well known.
The first is physical intelligence. There are different ways of defining this, but for me this is drawing on your own physical skills.
This can relate to your ability to physically move – in dance for example this is called performance knowing. It’s also about using your senses. For example, how your sense of touch and your sense of smell and taste inform of the situation.
But the aspect that I really draw on personally is your gut instinct: What’s your body telling you about this situation and how is that important?
The dominance of cognitive intelligence in our culture, especially in the Western world will very often you to dismiss any gut instinct you have because it’s “not logical”.
I disagree. Your gut instinct is one of the most powerful barometers you’ve got. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. I believe drawing on your physical intelligence is really important for sustainability leadership.
The final one is spiritual intelligence. I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about that spiritual sense of belonging. It links back to several of the aspects in the Inner Development Goals that concern more than yourself.
So your spiritual intelligence plays into our sense of not just being dependent on the environment but more profoundly it’s about nature connectedness: our sense of feeling part of the natural world.
To me this is a spiritual relationship that informs your purpose, and this relationship is at the root of you power, commitment and courage.
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Working with the four intelligences
As I went through my master’s program and in the years since I’ve been deliberately trying to practice and develop these four intelligences to bring my whole self to bear in the work I do.
If you’re just using your cognitive intelligence, that’s great and I’m sure you can be very successful, but you’re only bringing a quarter of your full potential to bear.
If you can bring in the emotional, physical and spiritual intelligences, you can bring everything of yourself to bear, bring more power and agency you can bring to your work and fulfil your real potential.
Are you struggling to engage colleagues with sustainability? There is a way to turn your colleagues’ disinterest or grudging acceptance into active collaboration and support for your organisation’s sustainability initiative.
We’ve distilled 20+ years experience into five key steps in our Get Buy-In to Sustainability Quick Start Guide:
Osbert Lancaster, director, Realise Earth
Developing the skills
So let’s move to how you can develop those skills – for yourself and your team. I’m a bit hesitant about this, because it’s not something where you can go on a two week course, tick the boxes and be good to go – this is a lifelong journey. But here are some of the key things I suggest you do.
Start with self awareness
I think self awareness is perhaps the best place to start – looking at yourself and understanding the relationship with yourself.
People talk about mindfulness and meditation, and that might be part of it, but it doesn’t work for everybody. I really struggle with meditation. I have done it, and I do it occasionally, but I think it actually frustrates be more than it benefits me.
Instead, I find it helpful to pay attention to yourself, notice what your motivations are, what your needs are, what your feelings are. This is about applying emotional intelligence to yourself. And then you can start to tapping into your physical intelligence aspects, noticing how you feel physically in different situations.
When you understand what’s going on with yourself, you can focus on the “being” aspects of the IDGs, like authenticity and your inner compass. And you can apply bring those aspects to bear as you work out what your interventions might be.
Books can help. I personally stay away from the pop psychology stuff, but there are some really good books by people like Bill Torbert, Patricia Shaw, Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer.
Find a peer mentor or buddy
Support from someone you trust is really helpful. In the parlance that we had within PepsiCo, we had “buddies” and established buddy relationships, which were like peer mentoring relationships where you could bounce stuff off each other in a trusted environment.
You can help each other work out what going on:
- Did I overreact to that?
- How could I have done it differently?
- What might I do next?
Self awareness gives you a powerful frame to bounce these things off each other.
Have conversations in different spaces
When you’re working with your team, you need to stimulate different conversations, conversations that go deeper, because they draw on all your intelligences.
One of the best ways of doing this is to go into different spaces, to deliberately disrupt the usual patterns of behaviour. For example, if you’re in a corporate boardroom, it’s probably arranged so there’s a head of a table with someone with a position of hierarchical power there, everyone is sitting and waiting for permission or approval from that person before they can contribute something. All of this stifles creativity and participation.
So you need to find ways to disrupt that. For example We went to farms and we used to have meetings on a barge in London and then go for walks in Battersea Park.
When it came to our annual operating plan we did that as a collective process in deliberately different space. We went off for a few days, hiring a big party house rather than staying in a hotel.
And we lived together for the week. We all cooked together, we did fun and stupid activities in the evening, and through that process we came together in a different dynamic. This enabled us to co-create new plans and new interventions, rather than just reinforcing the same old dynamics and patterns of behaviour.
Journaling is also important here – it’s a form of personal debriefing. Having the discipline, whether it’s once a week or every day, to just reflect on: What worked well? What didn’t work well? Why might that be? What can I do differently next time? Just writing about it regularly is a very easy and powerful way to develop your self awareness.
The final approach I want to mention here is action learning. It’s an approach to problem solving involving taking action and reflecting upon the results – I encourage you to look at the resources available, adopt the approach and use some of the practices.
I found it hugely cathartic and empowering because with action learning you accept that you don’t know what the outcome will be. Whatever the outcome turns out to be, you learn from it. And you use that learning to inform your next intervention or your next action. You continue to iterate your actions, learning, improving what you’re doing and having greater impact.
What the very first step on this journey?
I’ve covered quite a lot of ground here. I now want to focus in on what your very first step might be if you want to apply this kind of approach for yourself and with your team.
What you might do first will depend on your experience, skills, context etc, but here are three scenarios to help you.
The first step with an existing team
In the first scenario I’m assuming you’ve got experience of sustainability, you’ve got a pretty good team, but you want to achieve more.
So I would probably be looking at something like bringing the team together to co-create the solution for moving forward. Bring them together and define collectively what could be better – what does the “good” that you want to work towards look like?
And then, work together to agree your strategic approach, identify the intervention points and the key stakeholders that you need to influence – and do this as a co-created process with your team.
The first step with a new team
In the second scenario we have someone who sustainability manager or director, setting up a sustainability team from scratch. Perhaps it’s the first time they’ve been doing, perhaps they’re also shifting from a focus on health, safety and environment to working on sustainability.
Here I would start by trying to find the people with passion and drive, the people who care about this agenda. I would take passion and enthusiasm over a technical expertise every time, because you can learn technical expertise. Ideally find people who have both, but they aren’t that common.
And these people can come from anywhere. Look beyond the traditional departments or functions, and beyond the levels of experience or expertise or seniority. It doesn’t matter where they are, if you can find them and can get them bought into what you’re trying to do, you can harness that passion to create the team you need, the interventions you need and the results you need.
Find the people with fire in their belly.
The first step in a smaller organisation
Most people aren’t working in a multinational. So scenario three is a small to medium sized organisation. There’s no dedicated team, there’s not going to be a dedicated team any time soon. And the leader is a director or manager who has recently picked up responsibility for sustainability.
Despite the difference in scale, my approach here would be very similar to the above. Even though you won’t be pulling together a formal team, it still all about identifying the people who have fire in their belly, wherever they sit within the organization.
This is about finding your allies within the organization, and then bringing them together to work on the agenda, either formally or informally as a community of interest trying to bring about the change.
Ideally, talk to their line managers so you can bring together people with the fire in their belly to tackle this topic in work time.
Bring them to co-create the solutions and the interventions that you’re going need within the organization.
Don’t work alone
But I strongly advocate not trying to do it alone; you will burn out. Burnout is a real risk in this area.
So you need to find your allies, even if it’s just for moral support, but ideally so that between you, you can share out the work that needs to be done.
Wherever you decide to start, this journey is about action learning and cycles of creating intervention and change, and it’s about pulling together people around you who shared your purpose and have the fire to make the difference.
Links and resources
- Inner Development Goals
- Senge, P. et.al. (2004). Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society. Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.
- Shaw, P. (2002). Changing Conversations in Organizations – A Complexity Approach to Change. London: Routledge.
- Torbert, B. and Associates. (2004). Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco