Training environmental leaders

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By Professor David Zilberman, Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Berkeley

Last month, the 14th cohort of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program graduated. The Beahrs ELP brings mid-career professionals to Berkeley every summer for three weeks of professional training, and I was fortunate enough to be the co-director of the program, alongside Dean Keith Gilless.

When Dick Beahrs gave us the means to start the Beahrs ELP, I thought we would introduce the participants to the new frontiers of knowledge, most recent discoveries about climate change, ecological services and management of biodiversity, and the like. We needed to have a multidisciplinary approach emphasizing how science, including physical, biological and social sciences, can solve environmental problems. Even after fourteen years, we still present new knowledge and cutting edge research. For example, this year we had our first session on the merits of using geo-engineering to address climate change. But over the years, we’ve realized that our participants know a lot about environmental issues and continue to demand more emphasis on advanced tools to augment their leadership skills. Now a key feature of our program is a module on conflict resolution that teaches skills to improve co-worker and boss-employee relationships and helps conceptualize collaborative solutions to regional problems. We have developed sessions on how to present oneself more effectively, improve communication skills, and effectively utilize media. We also incorporated a session on marketing, realizing that environmental experts have many ideas and concepts to sell, and need ‘buyers’. The session where participants were asked to design a program to market their organization has become very popular. It forces people to think about what their organization is truly all about, their potential benefactors and clients, and ways to engage them.

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During this process, I began to think about leadership. My perception of a leader was someone like Churchill, Spartacus, Martin Luther King or Jeanne D’Arc, a heroic figure with unique courage and charisma who blazed a new path and changed the world. However, leaders are not limited to the grand events of history. They are people that establish the direction of their organizations and pursue it creatively and effectively, and indeed many of our leaders are in charge of environmental programs in government, companies, or NGOS. Frequently, leadership positions are imposeImage iconIMG_8799-300x199_2.jpgd on people as a part of the cycle of life. As you grow up, you are put in charge and asked to lead. Actually, parenthood is a very important position of leadership, and once you are there your challenge is to be an effective leader in raising your children. Our conflict resolution, marketing, and communication modules are part of our leadership training that emphasize interactive learning that encourages participants to work in teams, take and defend positions, make presentations, and write blog posts.

But, our course and teaching is only a start. We are challenged to help our participants become visionaries, be creative and maintain their integrity as they solve environmental and other social problems. I would really appreciate any insight from our participants on how to make the leadership module more effective.  Examples of real-world leadership challenges are welcome.  Image iconIMG_9710-300x199_2.jpg