Leadership for Sustainability

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

For the better part of the last year and a half, my colleagues Ashley Welch and John McGah and I have been moving forward an IA/IISC cross-sectoral practice to bring Interaction methods + to the support of sustainability endeavors. Our early meetings around this budding practice included conversations about how best to frame leadership development for sustainability. We arrived at the graphic above, which combines what we see as the core elements needed for leadership to embrace and enroll others in sustainable pursuits.

With a foundation (watermark, if you will) of content knowledge about what sustainability is, the three elements are as follows:

• Systems Thinking (Seeing) – This is all about helping individual leaders and collective leadership see the whole, to understand that nothing stands in isolation, and that we must have a deeply felt sense of the interconnectedness of phenomena in order to make truly informed decisions. We take both our inspiration and instruction in this realm from the likes of the Sustainability Institute, the Center for Whole Communities, and The Elumenati.

• Self-Awareness (Being) – What we do is informed by who and how we are in the world. Awareness of our own beliefs, mental maps, and inherent tendencies is a powerful lever for making the sustainability shift, for aligning thought behind action. Self-awareness might also be cast as mindfulness, or the ability to be present to what is. Here we build upon our existing work around the inner side of leadership with the contributions of the Pachamama Alliance and John Milton.

• Collaborative Capacity (Doing) – With the whole in mind and awareness of our inner state, leadership will have a greater understanding of the need to work collectively toward more sustainable lifestyles and ways of doing business. Collaborative skill is key, including knowing how to frame sustainability efforts, create the right conditions for innovation, build agreement, structure decision-making, and design life-affirming experiences for diverse stakeholders. This is the heart and soul of the Interaction Method, and it is supplemented by the work of Keith Sawyer, CRED, and the many pioneers of large group methods and network-building.

Another key element and overlay for all of these is leadership’s ability to understand and navigate power dynamics as they play out in systems, in ourselves, and in our chosen methods for working together.

Eager to hear your reactions, tweaks, and additions.

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  • Ashley Welch says:

    Curtis – thank you for the great post. I wanted to add to the description by mentioning that the “Transformational Experience” circle that surrounds the 3 domains is also important as it is the process piece that causes a shift in paradigms, a shift in understanding which translates into accelerated competence or new behaviors. Our interest is to shift the knowledge that resides in our heads, to a gut level understanding of what sustainability really is, that leads to new behaviors. We have multiple options to provide transformational experiences that can be embedded in a learning process.

  • John McGah says:

    Hey Curtis, great post. I’d love to hear what any folks reading this blog entry have to say about their own transformational experience in regards to sustainability: Did you have one? If so, was it personal in nature? Was it natural in person? Was it a new way of seeing that shifted in you? Other? Love to hear any thoughts.

    For me it was taking part in the John Milton’s Sacred Passage solo in nature bookended by tranining with John. It helped me shift from seeing nature as something separate for us to use or even to protect, but rather as something we are part of. Doesn’t seem too new an idea – the oldest there is actually – but for me to “get” it and feel it was big for me. That shift affected how I look at everything somewhat differently.

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