Our Last Session: Collaborative Leadership for Sustainability

Plymouth University is an institution with a strong commitment to sustainability ranking 2nd in People and Planet for 2013 and 7th in International Green Metric. The University won three Green Gown Awards – for Enterprise, Courses and Learning, and Food and Drink – cementing its reputation as one of the most sustainability-minded institutions in the country.  It has been the overall best performing university in the People and Planet Green League since it began and it also ranked in the top ten universities in the global UI Green Metric league (Plymouth University Website).

Our last session of Collaborative Leadership for Sustainability gave us an opportunity to reflect upon the past weeks and months of our journey on the course. After many months we once again welcomed to Plymouth University Enrico Wensing who came all the way from the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

We started our session by selecting an image from a collection display on the table, using this image we were asked to share our thoughts and reflect on our development in thinking about collaborative leadership for sustainability throughout the course.

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There were many interesting pictures to choose from

As you can see from the photo below I chose two images one of a child and another of two angels. I chose the image of the little baby because it sometimes seems that our world is upside down.  The image reminded me that we need to stay flexible and open to new ideas and as much as possible look at the world’s problems from many different perspectives. The image of two angels shows the necessity to move from thinking to doing and taking action.

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My pick: baby and the two angles

The reflections from other students were very profound and thoughtful. I especially liked the reflection and image chosen by Enrico which was an image of two people having fun at the beach – Enrico reminded us that in spite of the seriousness of climate change and other environmental problems we must stay positive and always look on the bright side and the progress already achieved.

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Myself and Amber with our reflection photos

As it was the last session we once again revisited and reflected upon all the various topics such as leadership, resilience, connectedness, sustainability, mindfulness, values, identity, optimisation and transformation. We all know that sustainability is a complex issue and as somebody once called it ‘a wicked problem’. In reality we are dealing with complex social systems. Environmental problems are social problems. In spite of all the evidence there are still people who do not believe that global warming or other environmental problems do exist.

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Sustainability is a wicked problem

Sustainability is not a fixed ideal, but an evolutionary process of attempting to improve the management of systems, through improved understanding and knowledge. The process is not deterministic: the end-point is not known in advance. The starting point of the process is not some degree of sustainability because this cannot be known or observed. It is considered that unsustainability – which can be seen – is necessarily the starting point for this process (Wilkinson and Cary 2002).

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Sustainability, uncertainty & complexity

We have also discussed the history of leadership and the change from a domination model of leadership to a partnership model. American businessman Tom Peters once said that ‘Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders‘.

Enrico also talked about the importance of mindfulness and compassion. Mindfulness being an important drive for social competencies. If you would like to explore mindfulness in more detail we recommend looking at the work of Dr. Kristin Neff. Kristin Neff has defined self-compassion as being composed of three main components – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

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Connection of Mindfulness and Compassion with Collaborative Leadership for Sustainability

After a nice lunch, we discussed, amongst many things, the effect of Climate Change in different parts of the world. Enrico and Michelle recommended  watching a documentary film called  Chasing Ice (2012)  which received the 2014 News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Nature Programming. Chasing Ice is about the efforts of nature photographer James Balog who goes to extremes to prove the existence of global warming.

I must say that I will miss our discussions and meetings but I am looking forward to putting into practice all that I have learned.

In Enrico’s words, ‘it was truly enjoyable connecting with this year’s group and joining them on a Collaborative journey exploring sustainability leadership. I look forward to possibly many more years with Collaborative learning communities at Plymouth and, hopefully, linking them with others that we are developing worldwide.

In Michelle’s Virgo words, “Teaching this course has been particularly rewarding because it combines my years of experience as a practitioner with our most up to date theoretical understanding of deep learning for sustainability. It has been great to see how well the students engage with the material and I hope that each of them has taken away something that will be of value in their leadership journey”.

Thank you for reading my post.


Elena Novakova

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