Development of leadership capacities as a strategic factor for sustainability

Building capacities of sustainability change agents is primordial to increase the effectiveness and to accelerate the process towards a sustainable society. This research investigates the current challenges and practices of sustainability change agents and analyses current research in the field of leadership development. A Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development is described as a means to overcome and address the complex challenges that society faces today. Furthermore the development of leadership capacities of sustainability change agents is suggested as a strategic factor for the process of sustainable development. A literature study highlights the new dimension to leadership development and defines its characteristics. Interviews and focus groups with sustainability practitioners and students are analysed. From this analysis a set of methods and approaches to professional and personal development is derived. The research points to the need of developing leadership capacities, of sustaining them and of having the ability to be self-aware. It is mentioned that the development of these capacities will depend on the supporting environment, the methods employed and on the candidate itself in order to achieve best results.

Author: Isabel Cabeza-Erikson, Kimberly Edwards, Theo Van Brabant

Source: Blekinge Institute of Technology

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1 Introduction
1.1 The sustainability challenge
1.2 Three types of complexity leaders face in current society
1.2.1 Dynamic complexity
1.2.2 Social complexity
1.2.3 Emerging complexity
1.3 Strategic sustainable development
1.3.1 Generic five-level planning framework
1.3.2 Framework for strategic sustainable development
1.3.3 System level: Society in the biosphere
1.3.4 Success level: A global sustainable society
1.3.5 Strategic guidelines level: Backcasting from sustainability principles
1.3.6 Actions level: Activities that lead towards sustainability
1.3.7 Tools level: Tools to support the process of sustainable development
1.4 The role of leaders for sustainability
1.4.1 Development of sustainability change agents
1.5 Aim and scope
1.6 Research questions
1.7 Limitations
2 Methods
2.1 Model for qualitative research design
2.2 Background study
2.3 Focus groups
2.3.1 Participant selection
2.3.2 Design
2.3.3 Analysis
2.4 Interviews
2.4.1 Interviewee selection
2.4.2 Design
2.4.3 Analysis
2.5 Validity
2.5.1 Background study
2.5.2 Focus groups
2.5.3 Interviews
3 Current research in the field
3.1 Leadership in organizations
3.2 Leadership and professional training
3.3 Barriers to effectiveness
3.4 Levels of attention
4 Results
4.1 Key findings from current research in the field
4.2 Focus groups
4.2.1 Pre-focus group reflection
4.2.2 Self-sustainability
4.2.3 Listening
4.2.4 Reflection on seminar
4.2.5 Key findings of the focus groups
4.3 Interviews
4.3.1 External influences and support systems
4.3.2 Approaches and methods
4.3.3 Life journeys
4.3.4 Key findings of the interviews
5 Discussion
5.1 Common characteristics and challenges
5.2 New ways of seeing and doing things
5.2.1 Systems thinking and multi-stakeholder approaches
5.2.2 New dimensions to leadership
5.3 Internal work
5.3.1 Self-awareness
5.3.2 Self-Balance
5.4 A nurturing environment
5.4.1 Support networks
5.4.2 Providing space
5.5 Continual learning and practice
5.6 Too much information, too little resources and time. How to prioritize?
6 Conclusion
Appendix 1 – Focus group candidates
Appendix 2 – Focus group pre-reflection activity
Appendix 3 – Focus group moderator guide
Appendix 4 – Sustainability change agent selection criteria
Appendix 5 – Pre-interview reflection
Appendix 6 – Guiding interview questions
Appendix 7 – Focus group follow-up
Appendix 8 – Resources from interviewees

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