9 Developing Leaders in Place: Graduate Leadership Education for a Sustainable and Peaceful Future

Kate Sheridan; Rian Satterwhite; and Whitney McIntyre Miller

Kate Sheridan is the Associate Director for Career Development at the Falk School of Sustainability and Environment at Chatham University
Rian Satterwhite is the Director for Service Learning and Leadership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Whitney McIntyre Miller is Assistant Professor of Graduate Leadership Programs at Chatham University

Society is in an era of rapid change. Political and social environments are fraught with fear, uncertainty, and division on a global scale; war, conflict, and human rights abuses are widespread; democratic norms are strained; and society bears witness to, and is frequently complicit in, unprecedented degradation of the environment and natural world. In this time of accelerated change, society naturally seeks comfort in control and familiar structures; “we reach for old maps, the routine responses, what worked in the past” (Wheatley, 2010, p. 39). In doing so, society frequently looks for leadership that comforts or confirms rather than that which helps it grow, more effectively navigate, and make meaning of the challenges it faces. In this “Age of Disruption” (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013, p. 3), educators’ understanding and practice of leadership is deeply challenged and must adapt. As the frame of what constitutes effective leadership evolves, so must leadership education and development. Educators need to better prepare citizens, organizations, and communities to co-create a shared future in ways that center peace, justice, and sustainability. With such goals in mind, we perceive leadership as engaged citizenship and community participation rather than, or regardless of, the presence of authority; leadership can and should be practiced by all who seek to participate in creating their own future. As educators in this time and place, we are called to better equip graduate students with competencies that prepare them for effective leadership in a time of upheaval and change. This means preparing them to participate in constructing and enacting new ways of leading, whatever their discipline or career trajectory, in order to generate more sustainable organizations and communities.

Supported by conversations unfolding about the competencies necessary for students engaged in the academic study of sustainability, this chapter builds upon the argument that sustainability and peace are fundamental frameworks that will shape how educators in all disciplines teach and equip graduate students for leadership and creating change (Satterwhite, McIntyre Miller, & Sheridan, 2015). Bolstered by emerging paradigms of leadership that highlight systems thinking, human development, criticality, and complexity theory–as well as sources beyond the Western leadership canon that better illustrate our relationship with self, others, and the natural world–we call for graduate education programs of any discipline to integrate the following three key leadership development competencies: systems thinking, time and boundary navigation, and challenging normative constructs. As this chapter will demonstrate, these competencies help students develop the habits of mind, practical skills, and resiliency needed to thrive today, while helping to ensure that future generations will have similar opportunities. Further supporting these competencies is the emergent dialogue that has taken place within the academic field of sustainability about key competencies students need to be effective problem solvers and change agents.

pull quote

Wiek, Withycombe, and Redman (2011) identified key competencies critical to the academic study of sustainability including systems thinking, anticipatory competence (temporal and spatial acumen), and normative competence (the ability to question and reconcile competing values, ideas, and frameworks). This alignment indicates an important confluence of the fields of leadership and sustainability, reinforces the complexity of theory and practice in these two interconnected arenas, and reminds us that multiple disciplines are engaged in addressing society’s most pressing global challenges.

While still new and in need of validation, competency-based education in institutions of higher education has increased significantly over the past decade (Cunningham, Key, & Capron, 2016). Such approaches to curriculum development integrate broad professional skills with technical and context-specific knowledge and abilities to prepare students for success within their fields and the overarching landscape of organizational and professional life. This chapter argues that graduate education is the most fertile context in which to integrate such complex, developmental approaches to learning and illuminates the deep connection between the study and practice of leadership with concepts of sustainability. Each of the three critical competencies are discussed and further defined through the lens of emerging leadership constructs with nods to sustainability, ecology, and environmental science. Following the discussion of each competency, pedagogical considerations for integrating competency development into academic programs are introduced. Finally, several practical and applied ideas for addressing and developing these competencies in graduate education are offered.

A Call for Leadership Development in Graduate Education

The broader social and environmental contexts in which educators are preparing graduate students to work, live, and thrive, are shaped by emergent, wicked challenges that cross traditional boundaries and cannot be solved by existing knowledge or processes (Grint, 2010). In order to engage in this environment of increased complexity and interconnectedness, educators must ensure that graduate students are “equipped to synthesize and bring together ideas from a variety of perspectives” (Stedman & Andenoro, 2015, p. 145). Additionally, graduate students should be capable of participating in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing oppressive narratives of leadership so that leadership can squarely “be placed…in service of justice and sustainability” (Bendell, Little, & Sutherland, 2018, p. 26). The challenges faced cannot be addressed by an individual leader or a privileged few; rather, “the human dynamics of how we operate socially must play a role in how we solve these problems where a singular response is no longer adequate” (Stedman & Andenoro, 2015, p. 146).

Preparing students to enter into shared and rapidly changing social and environmental contexts requires integrating intentional leadership development with a lens of reflective adult development. Multiple lines of inquiry into how adults continue to develop throughout their lifespans have yielded relevant insights for leadership development, including the need for attending to developing ecocentric perspectives over egocentric ones (Plotkin, 2008; Scharmer & Kaufman, 2013), first and second tier consciousness (Beck & Cowan, 2006), and a self-transforming mind (Kegan & Lahey, 2009). These insights, briefly discussed below, prepare graduate students to effectively confront the wicked challenges shaping our shared future.

In 2008, Plotkin explored a developmental path that requires a balance of the demands of nature and culture and a shift in human consciousness as society matures into “people who are citizens of the Earth and residents of the universe” (p.7). In work that emerged from Clare Graves’ research, Beck and Cowan (1996) located a shift between first and second tier consciousness where individuals develop a worldview that is multidimensional and complex, with a focus on flexibility, inevitability, collectivity, and openness. Finally, Kegan and Lahey (2009) identified the self-transforming mind that can “step back [further] and reflect on the limits of our own ideology or personal authority; see that any one system or self-organization is in some way partial or incomplete; be friendlier towards contradiction and opposites; seek to hold on to multiple systems rather than projecting all but one onto the other” (p. 17).

Taken together, these explorations of adult developmental trajectories point towards an adult mind that is increasingly capable of complex and dialectical thinking with a notion of self that arises from dynamic relationships and being in community with one another. While this may not be achievable in the short period that most students engage in graduate studies, graduate programs should nonetheless seek to actively accelerate this developmental process. One way to do this is through leadership development guided by the three competency areas discussed herein.

Ultimately, integrating leadership development into graduate education also meets Fink’s (2013) call for embracing a new paradigm in college teaching that is characterized by active forms of learning and a constructivist epistemology shaped by inquiry and invention where knowledge is jointly constructed by students and faculty. Each of the three competencies advance this educational paradigm by strengthening under-utilized categories of Fink’s (2013) taxonomy of significant learning: integration, human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn. Building competencies in systems thinking, time and boundary navigation, and challenging normative constructs requires students to connect ideas, learning experiences, and realms of life (integration); become self-directed learners (learning how to learn); develop new feelings, interests, and values — in this case regarding our shared responsibility for a just, peaceful, and sustainable world (caring); and learn about oneself and others (human dimension). As presented here, leadership development is inherently about finding identity and agency in communities and in integrating knowledge, experience, and structure in a way that inclusively co-constructs a better future. Fink’s (2013) larger critique about the state of U.S. higher education — namely that there are significant limitations in providing significant and transformational learning experiences — indicates that if graduate programs were to embrace these competencies (and support faculty in delivering such an educational experience), this work would go a long way towards enhancing the overall educational practice.

It is for these reasons that educators need to prepare graduate students to engage in leadership, both in their respective fields and, more broadly, in their workplaces and communities. While leadership studies education has arguably become a distinct discipline, it is one relevant to and essential in any industry, field, or area of shared human activity. The authors of this chapter believe that leadership development should increasingly be seen as a fundamental outcome of graduate education, not simply by virtue of acquiring specialized disciplinary knowledge, but through an intentionally designed curricular experience that develops skills in systems thinking, time and boundary navigation, and challenging normative constructs.

Existing efforts to prepare graduate students for the complex work they will be called to do largely fail to adequately prepare them for leadership within the world they will be operating. With only 11% of the U.S. population holding advanced degrees – and a much lower percentage of the global population – graduate students are an influential subset of the population who are equipped with specialized knowledge that is increasingly needed to address the complex challenges society faces (Ryan & Bauman, 2016). However, specialized knowledge and the ability to employ it in collaborative ways that center peace, justice, and sustainability in our communities and workplaces are needed even more. Regardless of the type and nature of their roles in organizations and communities, it is critical to prepare graduate students to be changemakers and learners that engage in leadership that creates solutions to the global community’s most pressing issues while building resiliency to new challenges as they arise.

Critical Competencies for Graduate Education

To explore the competencies of systems thinking, navigating time and boundaries, and challenging normative constructs and how they serve as a framework for leadership development within graduate education, it is important to establish a working definition of competencies and understand their use in an educational context. For this chapter, competencies are defined as “complexes of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that enable successful task performance and problem solving” (Wiek, Withycombe, & Redman, 2011, p. 204), specifically with regard to sustainability challenges and opportunities, including issues of peace. The development of competencies is meant to progress over time, so rather than equipping students with expertise in these areas, competency development should be concerned with establishing a foundation and planting seeds that will continue to grow as students immerse themselves in professional, community, and organizational life. Competencies themselves are not outcomes to be achieved; rather, they serve as thematic guides for the establishment of measurable outcomes that demonstrate their application.

The remainder of the chapter will explore these three graduate education leadership development competencies. The chapter will discuss the literature that supports each competency and explore practices that actively support their development. While these three competencies will be explored separately, there is significant interplay between them and overlap among them. It is critical for graduate students to integrate these competencies into a cohesive leadership practice.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking – the ability to recognize interconnectedness, see wholeness from the parts, hold the one and the many, and value emergent properties, among other things – is increasingly called upon as a necessary capacity in emergent notions of leadership. Ideas presented by Senge, ​Smith, ​Kruschwitz,​ ​Laur,​​ and ​Schley (2008), Wheatley (2006), Allen and Cherrey (2000), Scharmer (2013), Scharmer and Kaufer (2009), and Satterwhite et al. (2015, 2016) emphasize nurturing a comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity, collaborating across perceived boundaries, and engaging multiple perspectives as critical to effective leadership.

Senge et al. (2008) discussed how systems thinking can be integrated into all aspects of organizational life. They identified organizations as systems of relationships both within and beyond the organization itself and introduced the concept of “systems citizenship,” characterized by the capacity to see and operate within systems, collaborate across boundaries, and create desired futures. Further, they characterized organizations and institutions as living, dynamic systems with the capacity to grow, learn, and evolve. That capacity can be enacted through leadership that is conceived of and engaged by the system in order for it to adapt and evolve.

Emerging knowledge in the field of teaching and learning provides a rich lens for transforming leadership education into something that challenges graduate students to think beyond the self, consider deeper timelines, and integrate multiple perspectives — all of which are critical in order to operate from a systems perspective. Owen (2015) implores leadership educators to not only adopt new pedagogies but also new frameworks that increase the effectiveness of the learning experiences they create. Fink’s (2013) taxonomy of significant learning, discussed at length above and prominently featured in this chapter, places particular emphasis on the categories ‘integration’ and ‘learning how to learn’ and suggests that they are critical to leadership practice. When done effectively, intentionally integrating these categories into learning environments allows graduate students to move toward a capacity for continuous learning, perspective taking, and seeing more complex issues more holistically.

Practices that allow students to gain and integrate new perspectives are encouraged, and sometimes even required, in graduate university programs. These opportunities include campus and community engagement that incorporates critical service-learning, community involvement, co-op or internship opportunities, and international study, to name a few.

Problem-based learning is another technique that has gained traction over the past several decades. It allows students to employ research, theory, and practice as a means of greater understanding, sense-making, and problem-solving (Savery, 2015). Such experiences, when facilitated well, provide a starting point for expanding one’s worldview and understanding different perspectives. Oftentimes, opportunities to integrate new perspectives fall short, allowing students to maintain distance and “otherness” between themselves and their experiences. Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers (2004) encouraged learning environments in which educators shift from looking at the outside world – the other – to looking at what happens internally as a result of external stimuli. Such opportunities “dissolve the boundaries between seer and seen” (Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, & Flowers, 2004, p. 43), allowing people to sense their connection to the whole, and to see their part in creating their reality. Not only do exposure to and engagement with new ideas and different perspectives allow for greater self and systems awareness, but these experiences also open new lines of inquiry and scientific investigation that can develop new knowledge and more sustainable practices (Wiek, Withycombe, & Redman, 2011).

Wheatley (2006) used systems thinking as a basis for understanding organizations through the lens of the natural world to illustrate the deep order and resilience that can arise from chaos and complexity. Her research and observations implore everyone to work with the natural flow within organizations; to understand themselves as a function of larger, dynamic systems; and to better understand the various ways that individuals and organizations are activated by different systems and contexts. Modeling the learning experience after natural systems is a central objective of the Burns Model of Sustainability Pedagogy (2011). This pedagogy is an ecological teaching design that integrates content, perspectives, process, context, and design to engage learners in the process of constructing solutions to persistent, complex challenges. This model promotes transformative learning, a style of learning that is ultimately concerned with challenging established frames of reference and expanding learners’ worldviews. It also calls on learners to engage systems thinking “to solve complex problems and make changes that regenerate and sustain places and communities” (Burns, 2011, para. 10). Systems thinking then becomes both a learning outcome and a guiding principle for instructors who are encouraged to thoughtfully weave together all aspects of the model and that allows learners to help shape their unfolding learning.

Time and Boundary Navigation

Discussions of systems thinking within the leadership canon often integrate salient insights about the nature of time and boundaries. Constructs of leadership that use a lens of systems thinking not only attempt to help students see beyond the self and the immediate cause-and-effect nature of their actions; they also call their attention to the artificial boundaries they create, of which time is one (Meadows, 2008). These frameworks further instruct that they cannot effectively operate in short-term, isolated contexts when faced with deeply rooted and interconnected challenges that have expansive implications for everyone’s shared future (Allen & Cherrey, 2000; Satterwhite et al., 2015, 2016; Scharmer, 2009; Wheatley, 2006).

Organizations that can effectively hold the emerging future in mind are also better equipped to lead in the present moment, creating approaches that not only address immediate challenges but also attempt to mitigate potential future issues (Scharmer, 2009; Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013). Satterwhite et al. (2016) identified the lack of time constructs as being a significant oversight of leadership literature to date, noting that “not only do we fail to look at distant and deep time in the future, we frequently fail to learn from the past, especially the distant and deep past” (pp. 48-49). The lack of time constructs has profound consequences for effective leadership and how society understands and experiences the challenges faced. Without a deeper understanding of deep and distant timescales, society limits its capacity for systems thinking and its ability to make decisions that nurture and benefit systems. The authors of this chapter suggest that expanding both the individual and collective abilities to relate to distant and deep timescales and operate beyond immediacy is a core outcome of effective graduate leadership education.

Learning environments that integrate collectivism and inclusive leadership may provide the most fertile ground for integrating time dimensions into graduate leadership development and education. It is within these spaces that time dimensions have a particular impact and influence since such environments are concerned with the impact of leadership development on a broader collective and create greater consciousness of and a deeper connection to the distant and deep past. Bordas (2012) identified Sankofa (learning from the past) as the first principle of multicultural leadership, noting that many cultures view the past as “the ‘wisdom teacher,’ and the source from which culture flows” (p. 27). She continued on to state that “understanding and healing the past” (p. 28) can create an inclusive future and allow for the integration of individual and collective identity. The past becomes a source of mutuality through which the present can be understood, and the future can be collectively constructed.


As Bordas’ (2012) perspective illuminates, viewing deep pasts and futures as fixed points on a linear time scale creates significant limitations when educators seek to help graduate students see themselves as part of these timeframes. If educators can effectively integrate the deep past into an understanding of the present, they can begin to make meaning of shared histories and help graduate students do the same. With regard to the future, Senge et al. (2004) stated that “the core capacity to access the field of the future is presence – being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of sense-making, (p. 13),” going on to say that as society integrates and better understands its past it can then move into “manifesting or realizing the emerging future” (p.13). Rather than focusing on a fixed point in time that people are always anticipating, they have the opportunity to envision the future as a field – “an open space with vague boundaries” (Senge et al., 2004, p. 14), a field that people are not destined to encounter but are collectively responsible for creating.

One concept that may help graduate students grasp their connection to deep pasts and futures is Elise Boulding’s notion of the 200 year present which frames the present moment by the effects of past actions and potential future consequences. Through the consideration of the life spans of the oldest and youngest living individuals at a given period of time across past, present, and future, a time span of roughly 200 years is generated. This mental exercise reminds people that the past is always represented and will act upon the unfolding future. As described by the Metta Center for Nonviolence (2018), the 200-year present “demands that we shift from a materialist view of human beings to a consciousness-based view that embraces the unity of life across time.”

The pattern of falsely dividing our world, “making a division where there is tight connection, and seeing separateness where there is wholeness” (Senge et al., 2004, p. 190), is an epidemic in modern organizational life. Meadows (2008) reminds us that “there are no separate systems. The world is a continuum. Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purpose of the discussion” (p. 190). Dividing reality into component parts – maintaining a binary “subject/object” worldview – masks, perpetuates, and exacerbates complex organizational and community challenges. In doing this, people make decisions based on limited information and apply technical solutions that may temporarily solve a problem for one part of the system, only to create new problems for other parts of the system.

As patterns like this persist in organizations and communities, people’s behavior becomes habitual and unconscious and they begin to blame the patterns that they created for their failings (Senge et al., 2004). According to noted theoretical physicist David Bohm and co-author Mark Edwards (1991), “fragmentation in our view of the universe and of ourselves as separate from one another and nature – [is] ‘the hidden source of the social, political, and environmental crises facing the world’” (as quoted in Senge et al., 2004, p. 190). Systems thinking is largely concerned with developing the capacity to see beyond artificially and arbitrarily created boundaries and sensing both the singular and the many. Pedagogies and practices that engage graduate students in developing systems thinking will allow them to also navigate, question, and see beyond boundaries that restrict peace, justice, and sustainability.

Challenging Normative Constructs

The final critical competency is challenging normative constructs. Two sources of academic literature provide significant support for the need to challenge normative constructs of leadership: critical theory and non-dominant leadership perspectives. Critical theory:

The final critical competency is challenging normative constructs. Two sources of academic literature provide significant support for the need to challenge normative constructs of leadership: critical theory and non-dominant leadership perspectives. Critical theory:

questions the hidden assumptions and purposes of competing theories and existing forms of practice… [it] insists that thought must respond to the new problems and the new possibilities for liberation that arise from changing historical circumstances. Interdisciplinary and uniquely experimental in character, deeply skeptical of tradition and all absolute claims, critical theory was always concerned not merely with how things were but how they might and should be (Bronner, 2011, pp. 1-2).

Similarly, the multidisciplinary nature of the unfolding challenges global communities face has created a strong call for prioritizing interdisciplinarity in academia (Holley, 2009). Significant limitations in providing structures and support that facilitate interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the faculty and institutional level and create limitations in teaching and preparing students to think and operate from an inter- or multi-disciplinary lens remain. As Pfeferman (2011) noted, “many important research questions require integration of multiple perspectives… and an interdisciplinary approach” (p. 8).

Embedding a culture of interdisciplinarity within graduate education and engaging graduate students in projects, coursework, and experiential opportunities where they must consider complex issues from a range of disciplines and approaches can support the framing, naming, and solving of problems in ways that would not be possible if the issues were looked at through a solitary lens. For graduate students to be effective in their work in the complex world we now live in, they must be guided to bring new and untapped perspectives to address the deep challenges that cannot be solved through the narrow analysis and singular disciplinary approach to problem-solving.

Critical studies of leadership have exposed limitations in prevailing constructs of leadership that perpetuate habits of constructing artificial boundaries. Alvesson and Spicer (2012) call attention to the binary nature of common notions of leadership which, no matter how inclusive or fluid, still tend to draw distinctions between positions of leadership and followership. This places those who are responsible for various aspects of organizational life into an informal and yet powerful hierarchical structure, even if these roles are not themselves hierarchical. “Leadership,” they point out, “is studied in splendid isolation” (Alvesson & Spicer, 2012, p. 43), and these studies often perpetuate a dominant, normative leadership ideology.

When students hold the idea of leadership, in all its nuances and multiple meanings, as a pinnacle for individual and organizational behavior, they construct their expectations for ‘good leadership’ through their own lenses and biases. “Recent forms of leadership discourse push issues of personal identity to the fore” (Alvesson & Spicer, 2012, p. 43), meaning that when organizations and groups must negotiate the definition and purpose of leadership in their context, they are also doing so through the lens of their own self-concept and may give added weight to skills and abilities they believe they already possess. Through this process, students perpetuate the idea that it is their own individual ability that is responsible for leadership when it is, in fact, the product of a series of complex variables, of which an individual is only a part.

Despite this general critique of the field, several authors have begun to employ a critical lens to examine leadership. Dugan (2017) offered an integrated model of critical leadership development, highlighting three critical elements or meta-themes: stocks of knowledge, ideology/hegemony, and social location. Dugan and Humbles (2018) explained that critical perspectives

…represent meta-themes or distillations from the complex and expansive body of knowledge that comprises critical social theories. These meta-themes are topical or content areas that can be drilled down into as a means to examine taken-for-granted assumptions, power, and inequity. The depth of knowledge and skills with which a person engages critical perspectives is directly related to human development” (p. 11).

Graduate education should increase students’ ability to dive deeper into these challenging meta-themes. Experiences that promote metacognition and create the conditions in which learners can progress to increasingly higher developmental stages of sense-making will allow them to view the world and their place in it in more complex and inclusive ways (Petrie, 2014). The perspectives domain in the Burns Model of Sustainability Pedagogy also supports questioning assumptions and dominant ways of making sense of the world. By reflecting on systemic causes and “questioning and examining dominant attitudes and behaviors, learners may recognize that many aspects of sustainability crises are cultural” (Burns, 2011, para. 16), and thus challenge underlying cultural assumptions, economic structures, and power dynamics. This process allows graduate students to unpack persistent narratives and shift mental models to create new possibilities for action.

Much of the aforementioned leadership discussion has arisen from Western discourses and ways of understanding. It is essential that graduate students also understand perspectives of leadership that are non-Western in nature, including those that extend further beyond the practices and skills of working in global contexts (Cohen, 2007; Mendenhall et al., 2018), to fully understanding the contexts and cultural norms of individuals and groups from other cultures (Kessler & Wong-MingJi, 2009). This also includes understanding the diversity that permeates the Western context, thinking beyond the dominant discourse to include discourses that speak to Latinx, Black, and native communities in Western spaces (Bordas, 2012). “Multicultural leadership has broad relevance and application to our diverse world…and offers practices and tools that [are] effective with many populations” (Bordas, 2012, p. xi). It is essential that graduate leadership understand and embrace these non-Western leadership discourses to further enhance their practice and efficacy.

Multicultural and indigenous leadership and ecology teachings, such as those discussed by Bordas (2012) and Berkes (2008), remind educators that wisdom and practices in these areas have ancient roots that are passed down through vast networks of culture.  These frameworks connect with broader and more complex perspectives than the dominant Western constructs that inform many existing approaches to leadership and scientific ecology. Bordas (2012) invited educators to investigate the origins of many dominant leadership teachings, noting that many prevailing constructs embrace dominant cultural values at the expense of deep and ancient wisdom. Berkes (2008) brought together knowledge and practices of indigenous and remote populations regarding caring for natural resources and conserving land. Collectively, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) can inform and support scientific ecology and conservation practices and serves to inextricably link humans and nature. Integrating these perspectives with pedagogies that allow graduate students to awaken to new ways of meaning-making, unlearn old assumptions, and integrate new ways of being will create powerful learning environments that support the exploration of critical perspectives and new ways of effecting change. Just as the theories and frameworks discussed in this chapter move beyond old notions of leadership, programs that prepare graduate students to be change agents must engage them in the collective process of leadership, equip them with the capacity to let go of old ways of thinking, and encourage them to develop new practices that evolve as they engage in co-creating the future (Scharmer, 2009).

Practical and Applied Applications within Graduate Education

While this chapter has offered a theoretical basis and pedagogical practices that can be incorporated to develop the three critical competencies in graduate students, it is also useful to supplement these approaches with practical experiences and exercises that may be more readily applied. For graduate students studying ecology, environmental science, and sustainability, steps can be taken to integrate these critical competencies into existing research and fieldwork. Engaging students in collaborative and sustained applied research and incorporating resulting learning into classroom dialogue can move knowledge-building and discovery out of individual silos to generate collective learning. Dekay (1996) noted that, “Intelligence and learning are thought to be the province of individual will and talent. In truth, learning is almost always a collaborative event” (p. 4). Extending these opportunities into local communities builds in another layer of perspective-taking and further engages systems thinking. Applied research projects that allow students to employ technical skills and knowledge and engage multiple disciplines while also developing an understanding of how their work affects real people and communities further contextualizes and gives meaning to the scientific process (Atalay, 2012). One such project, that is currently underway within a graduate school of sustainability, employs students with varied specializations within the field, including business, urban development, and natural resources, to conduct research on local streams and runoff areas to assist a nonprofit serving an impoverished area to develop a stormwater management plan and improve the water quality in the community. This requires students to integrate multiple and sometimes competing perspectives, understand cultural and historical considerations that impact their work, and work across multiple disciplines (Atalay, 2012).

Moving into the Unfolding Future

In a speech accepting the John Burroughs Medal, Rachel Carson said:

“Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself…from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world” (as cited in Lear, 1999, p. 94).

Carson’s insights emphasized the danger of artificial boundaries and people’s separation from each other and the natural world almost 70 years ago. Given the increasing complexity and volatility of our unfolding present, it is safe to say that, collectively, we have failed to heed Carson’s warnings. The work of unlearning these deeply ingrained patterns of behavior to find new ways of being and leading that align with desired visions of the future is difficult but necessary. Incorporating this work into graduate education will help to ensure that those who are equipped with critical technical knowledge and expertise are also able to use that knowledge to create solutions to problems that require input from multiple disciplines.

In conclusion, we are hopeful about the possibility of re-conceptualizing the delivery of graduate education to include leadership development that creates change-makers in all disciplines but challenges exist and more work is needed. Singular, stand-alone leadership courses do not allow for sustained, context-driven learning or the development of the critical competencies discussed here. Beyond this, there are real program design constraints that make adding a new course an unrealistic expectation. Because of this, we advocate for broad integration of the three critical graduate education competencies covered in this chapter. Through the practical applications suggested here, these competencies provide a framework for effectively weaving together disciplinary/technical knowledge and the engaged learning practices that will help graduate students grasp the complexity of the world they inherit and develop the ability to create just, sustainable, and peaceful communities through their collective work.


Allen, K. E., & Cherrey, C. (2000). Systemic leadership: Enriching the meaning of our work. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.

Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2012). Critical leadership studies: The case for critical performativity. Human Relations, 65(3), 367-390.

Atalay, S. (2012). Community-based archaeology: Research with, by, and for indigenous and local communities. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.

Beck, D. E., & Cowen, C. C. (1996). Spiral dynamics: Mastering values, leadership, and change. Malden, MA; Blackwell Publishing.

Bendell, J., Little, R., & Sutherland, N. (2018). The seven unsustainabilities of mainstream leadership. In B. W. Redekop,  D. R. Gallagher, & R. Satterwhite (Eds.), Innovation in environmental leadership: Critical perspectives (pp. 13-31). New York, NY: Routledge.

Berkes, F. (2008).  Sacred ecology (2nd ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Bordas, J. (2012). Salsa, soul, and spirit: Leadership for a multicultural age. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publications.

Bronner, S. E. (2011). Critical theory: A very short introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Burns, H. (2011). Teaching for transformation: (Re)Designing sustainability courses based on ecological principles. Journal of Sustainability Education, 2.

Cohen, E. (2007). Leadership without borders: Successful strategies from world-class leaders. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons.

Cunningham, J., Key, E., & Capron, R. (2016). An evaluation of competency‐based education programs: A study of the development process of competency‐based programs. The Journal of Competency Based Education, 1, 130-139.

Dekay, M. (1996). Systems thinking as the basis for an ecological design education. In Proceedings of the National Passive Solar Conference, 21, 366-373. American Solar Energy Society INC.

Dugan, J. (2017). Leadership theory: Cultivating critical perspectives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Dugan, J., & Humbles, A. (2018). A paradigm shift in leadership education: Integrating critical perspectives into leadership development. New Directions for Student Leadership, 159, 9-26.

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grint, K. (2010). Leadership: A very short introduction. Oxford, England: Oxford Press.

Holley, K. (2009). Interdisciplinary strategies as transformative change in higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 34(5), 331-344.

Kegan, R. & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Kessler, E. H., & Wong-MingJi, D. (2009). Cultural mythology and global leadership. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Lear, L. (1999). Lost woods: The discovered writings of Rachel Carson. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Meadows, D. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

Mendenhall, M. E., Osland, J. S., Bird, A., Oddou, G. R., Stevens, M. J., Maznevski, M. L., & Stahl, G. K. (2018). Global leadership: Research, practice, and development. New York, NY: Routledge.

Metta Center for Nonviolence. 200-year present. Retrieved from: https://mettacenter.org/definitions/gloss-concepts/200-year-present/

Owen, J. (2015). Transforming leadership development for significant learning. New Directions for Student Leadership, 145, 7-17.

Petrie, N. (2014). Future trends in leadership development. Retrieved from http://insights.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/futureTrends.pdf.

Pfeferman, S. (Ed.) (2011). Interdisciplinary hiring and career development: Guidance for individuals and institutions. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington, DC: NCSE.

Plotkin, B. (2008). Nature and the human soul: Cultivating wholeness and community in a fragmented world. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Ryan, C. R., & Bauman, K. (2016). Educational attainment in the United States: 2015 (Current Population Reports). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/

Satterwhite, R., McIntyre Miller, W., & Sheridan, K. (2015). Leadership for sustainability and peace: Responding to the wicked challenges of the future. In M. Sowcik, A. Andenoro, M. McNutt, & S. E. Murphy (Eds.), Leadership 2050: Critical challenges, key contexts, and emerging trends (pp. 59-74). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Satterwhite, R., Sheridan, K., & McIntyre Miller, W. (2016). Rediscovering deep time: Sustainability and the need to re-engage with multiple dimensions of time in leadership studies. Journal of Leadership Studies, 9(4), 47-53.

Savery, J. (2015). Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. In A. E. Walker, H. Leary, C. E. Hmelo-Silver, & P. A. Ertmer (Eds.), Essential readings in problem-based learning (pp. 5-16). Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Scharmer, O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Scharmer, O., & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future: From ego-system to eco-system economies. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Senge, P., Scharmer, O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. (2004). Presence: An exploration of profound change in people, organizations, and society. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Senge, P., Smith, B., Kruschwitz, N., Laur, J., & Schley, L. (2008). The necessary revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Stedman, N. L. P., & Adorno, A. C. (2015). Emotionally engaged leadership: Shifting paradigms and creating adaptive solutions for 2050. In M. Sowcik, A. C. Adorno, M. McNutt, & S. E. Murphy (Eds.), Leadership 2050: Critical challenges, key contexts, and emerging trends. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Wheatley, M. (2006). Leadership and the new science (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koheler.

Wheatley, M. (2010). Perseverance. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. (2011). Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203-218.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Developing Leaders in Place: Graduate Leadership Education for a Sustainable and Peaceful Future Copyright © 2019 by Kate Sheridan; Rian Satterwhite; and Whitney McIntyre Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book