Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Leadership, Sustainability, Sustainable development -- Study and teaching


This project focuses on how we are not preparing students to step into much-needed leadership roles. Leadership, when it is taught at all, is typically taught in a traditional and linear way – as a set of skills, a particular role to be filled, or as a hierarchy of one person above others. This type of leadership is not effective in solving today's problems. First, it is fragmented and specialized while the world's problems are complex and interconnected. Second, it is exclusive and disempowering. By defining leadership as a specific role or skill set, fewer people are likely to see themselves as capable of stepping forward as leaders. In contrast, sustainability leadership proposes that everyone is a leader and encourages community and collaboration. While there is a need to teach about sustainability leadership, it is not enough to simply tell learners about it. In the United States, typical methods of teaching and learning are informational. In most public school environments, there is a focus on what students know and whether or not they can provide the correct answer. This view holds teachers as experts, qualified to know truth, and students as amateurs, qualified to received truth (Palmer, 1998). Teaching sustainability leadership in this way would be counterproductive because it would reinforce the myth that knowledge and power flow from the top down. To more effectively support students in learning about leadership and making it more personally meaningful, educators need to consider theories around how students learn in ways that are transformational, not just informational. Whereas informational learning changes what learners know, transformational learning changes how they know and how they view the world (Baumgartner, 2001). To more effectively support students in integrating the idea of sustainability leadership into their world view and ultimately identify themselves as potential leaders for sustainability, educators also need to consider theories around how learners develop their identities, integrate new learning into their sense of self, and ultimately come to see themselves as leaders in both their own lives and in the world around them. In order to empower and prepare learners to identify as sustainability leaders in their communities and the world, as well as in their own lives, there is a need for training in sustainability leadership that is grounded in learning theory and identity development theory.