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Systems thinking for systems leadership: promoting competency development for graduate students in sustainability studies

Emily K. Talley (Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
R. Bruce Hull (Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 3 January 2023

36

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to offer a case study for teaching specific systems thinking competencies that promote leadership for systems change. It uses leadership as a novel way to identify and organize systems thinking competencies that are important for successful multistakeholder collaboration.

Design/methodology/approach

Qualitative and quantitative approaches were used to assess learning outcomes across four cohorts of graduate students – with approximately 30 students per cohort – from 2017 to 2020 in the USA. The study examined a one-month-long assignment, out of a year-long program, that focuses on systems leadership for climate change.

Findings

Our findings demonstrate that higher education programs can successfully build these competencies in sustainability students and professionals. Our pedagogical approach enhances students’ systems thinking and leadership competencies.

Originality/value

We advance the understanding and teaching of systems thinking by integrating it with the direction, alignment and commitment model of leadership. Reframing systems thinking through the lens of leadership offers an important innovation and focus to the theory of systems thinking, and the pedagogy of building competencies sustainability professionals need.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge David P. Robertson for his help with this study and the students who were interviewed and surveyed.

Citation

Talley, E.K. and Hull, R.B. (2023), "Systems thinking for systems leadership: promoting competency development for graduate students in sustainability studies", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-11-2021-0489

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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