Sustainability Leadership

Sustainability leaders are people who inspire and initiate generative thinking and action with others aimed toward co-creating a better world—at home, in the workplace, and in local and global communities.

The Sustainability Leadership Institute approach to leadership development is based on research, analysis, application and evaluation. SLI’s work is grounded in studies of complexity science, epistemology (the study of how people come to know what they know) and social constructionism in support of generative communication for solving problems and engaging with processes of transformative change.

We help sustainability leaders develop the capacity to learn-while-doing as part of a generative communication orientation, thus enabling them to better navigate the complex, uncertain, unpredictable situations they encounter. Working with others to build relational intelligence consisting of multiple points of view is a central feature of sustainability leadership.

Sustainability Leadership Relational Model©

Slide Take responsibility Embrace creative tension Look for holistic interconnections Convene constructive conversations Facilitate emerging outcomes Experiment, learn and adjust Understand social change dynamics Expand conscious awareness Sustainability leaders... Slide empower themselves to take responsibility, and step into a leadership role. Making Sustainability Relevant To Others. Articulating the ways in which sustainability strategies are relevant to the immediate and long-term success of business, organization and community; to understand and make visible the ways in which sustainable solutions are often the best solutions for core challenges. Related Practices Sustainability requires acknowledging the paradoxes and diversity inherent in all complex living networks, certainly among human beings in any context. This tension is the fodder for the emergence of dramatic shifts in thinking and the co-creation of innovative solutions. Leaders become adept holding a big enough space, first in their own minds and then with others, for dealing with seemingly contradictory or competing "truths" that must be understood and addressed openly to support a creative and productive social environment for change. Making Things Happen. Knowing how to collaboratively construct and implement strategic initiatives; Engaging in creative thinking and action within existing laws and policies while; Initiating changes in laws and policies needed to support sustainability progress; Developing techniques to hold self and others accountable for achieving agreed upon outcomes Sustaining Energy and Momentum. Finding ways to sustain one's own and others' energy, momentum and belief in what is possible in the face of daunting challenges; i.e., developing practitioner communities of reflection, learning and development. Sustainability leaders... Slide look for interrelationships among people, organizations and the actions they take, noticing the impact they have on one another in addition to society, the economy and the environment as a whole. Thinking Holistically: Being Mindful of Interdependent Connections. Building capacity for thinking holistically and recognizing relationships among seemingly independent entities or actions; producing sustainable solutions that build on one another; relate challenges and progress to what is happening within the whole. Related Practices Effective sustainability action requires holistic thinking: being adept at connecting the dots needed to maximize the impact of actions taken in one area; while, simultaneously noticing, and minimizing, the potential for unintended negative outcomes in another area. Marshaling and Amplifying Resources for Optimal Impact. Learning to acquire and leverage the optimal impact of resources through process building strategic partnerships. Sustainability leaders... Slide convene conversations among diverse thinker needed to generate broader understanding and workable solutions. Creating Spaces for and Participating in Constructive Conversations. Inviting inquiry that stimulates one's own and others' thinking as a matter of course; crafting good questions and holding them open long enough to explore and discover perspectives and connections that might otherwise be overlooked (See Leadership Engagement Framework). Related Practices Meaning - and purposeful actions - are co-created in ongoing conversations and interactions with others. Each individual contributes to the meaning-making process from a unique perspective informed by his or her unique experiences of the past and unique anticipation of the future as it unfolds moment to moment. Building Authentic Relationships. Building and expanding authentic relationships for developing and implementing integrated solutions; i.e., long-term partnerships, inter-generational engagement, learning and support relationships. Engaging Experts as Collaborators. Engaging outside resource people willing to work as part of a team in ways that invite collaboration, collective discovery and the learning needed to broaden system capability. Sustainability leaders... Slide understand that the creative tension emerging from paradox and diverse perspectives holds potential for breakthrough thinking. Inviting Diverse Voices and Perspectives: Expanding the Network of Leaders. Inviting and acknowledging diverse points of view, while simultaneously seeking common ground and figuring out solutions for the collective good. Related Practices A "sustainable leader" is any one of us who cares enough to engage in the process of creating transformative change with others - aimed toward a sustainable future. Sustainability leadership is conscious, individual and collective actions that lead to outcomes intended to nurture, support, and sustain healthy economic, environmental and social systems. Working with Relational Power Dynamics. Understanding the complex nuances of dynamic power relationships, and associated creative tension, when working with others whose active support is critical for learning and success. Working with Paradox, Ambiguity and Conflict. Letting go of the need certainty in the face of contradictory "truths"; holding open the space for disagreement and conflict, recognizing that the associated tension is a potent source of energy for generating creative shifts in understanding and direction. Sustainability leaders... Slide understand that outcomes unfold in the context of interactions with others in ever-changing circumstances in the absence of a predetermined plan. Continually Assessing Opportunities and Risks. Assessing risks/opportunities associated with sustainability strategies (which may not be immediately visible) as outcomes unfold over time. Assessing risk of not employing sustainability strategies. Supporting an environment in which calculated risks are encouraged. Related Practices Sustainability leadership is not prescriptive; leadership actions and the outcomes they produce emerge in context of continually changing dynamics. This is not to say that sustainability leaders don't establish goals and agreements, and hold themselves and others (as appropriate) accountable for what they say they will do. They help make things happen while paying attention to what is going on in each particular situation and then figuring out what to do next. Understanding and Working with Paradox and Ambiguity. Letting go of control, certainty and the need to predict outcomes; instead, engaging with others to find solutions in the face of uncertainty and contradictions.
Making Things Happen. Achieving concrete results with and through
Making Things Happen. Achieving concrete results with and through others by co-creating and abiding by agreed-upon "rules of the game" within a flexible strategic framework. Structuring tangible processes and agreements for timely execution of actions and joint monitoring of accountability Sustainability leaders...
Slide notice and attend to complex human dynamics of transformative change - whether in one individual, a group of people or a community. Noticing and Making Sense of Patterns. Understanding what people do and say, individually and collectively, from a behavior pattern perspective, experimenting with strategies to interrupt existing patterns that serve to galvanize the status quo. Related Practices Human beings learn and grow through the natural processes of change. They choose to engage in change through their own work of discovery and experimentation, instead of accepting beliefs that are imposed upon them by others. Effective leaders become catalysts for change by exploring human development capacity, learning to work with it, and being open to what happens next. Understanding Human Change Processes. Drawing from new social change models that help describe the ways in which diverse people experience the dynamic, natural rhythms of change in a chaotic environment when new and unconventional ideas are being introduced. Sustainability leaders... Slide continually experiment, reflect, learn, adjust and share their emerging findings with others. Adapting and Using Sustainability Frameworks for Integrated Analysis and Action. E.g., Five Domains of Sustainable Communities (and related EcoStep Model), The Natural Step System Conditions, Natural Capitalism, ISO14001 environmental management systems), and SLI Leadership Engagement Framework. Related Practices Sustainability leadership depends on informed participation. Active learning as a way of being is a fundamental component of leading the way to a sustainable future. Because we can't possibly know the answers as we move into uncharted waters, we have to literally learn our way into the future by experimenting with possibilities. Experimenting and learning are adaptive, creative processes of leading. Learning through Experimenting. Stretching, being willing to learn in new ways; taking calculated risks to test emerging ideas; reflecting on and learning from experiences of all kinds; looking for unrealized potential through experimental thinking and doing with others. Sharing Information and Knowledge as it Unfolds. Letting others know the thinking behind decisions and action; inviting others to learn with you in process of doing; strengthening the collective practice of experimentation, adaptation and learning. Sustainability leaders... Slide ground themselves in personal integrity, maintaining conscious awareness of how they come to think they know what is so. Grounding Conversations and Action in Personal Integrity. Being clear about one's own identity, principles and intentions before engaging others in the work of change. Frequently reexamining personal integrity to guide action in the present moment in the context of complex and ever-changing circumstances. Related Practices Human beings have a central core that yearns for meaningful connection with other human beings and with the earth. We long for a world in which there is a sense of meaning behind all things, a world in which our respect for each other and the earth governs our sense of purpose from which we choose purposeful action. Practicing Consciousness Awareness. Continually noticing self in relationship with others and the work; engaging in authentic interaction, (words and actions); encouraging joint reflection about what is happening, has happened, why, and what it means for future thinking and action. Sustainability leaders... Slide Take responsibility Embrace creative tension Look for holistic interconnections Convene constructive conversations Facilitate emerging outcomes Experiment, learn and adjust Understand social change dynamics Expand conscious awareness Sustainability leaders... Slide

© Mary A. Ferdig, Ph.D. (2009), Sustainability Leadership Institute.