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Exploring student leaders for sustainable development: Leadership components & personal practices

Eike, Rachel Jean
The increasing complex global sustainability challenges that society faces, call for leaders that are skilled in collaborative sustainable development (SD) change. Leaders that possess the capacities to encourage collaboration will be more effective helping society move toward sustainability. Leaders equipped with mastery of personal capacities possess the abilities to engage members with a holistic understanding of self and society.
The purpose of this study was to explore the leadership components (leadership roles, leadership personal capacities, and leadership styles) and personal practices of student leaders who have indicated an interest in supporting sustainable development within the higher education system. These student leaders are referred to student leaders for sustainable development (SLfSD). Leadership personal capacities directly influence the style of leadership that may be brought to an organization or situation. A clear understanding of leadership components and personal practices of SLfSD may help to cultivate sustainability promotion. Preparing student leaders, who possess the personal capacities to impart SD change during time in academia, may ultimately assist in the development of strategies that will allow organizations/institutions to move towards SD.
Leadership component and personal practice data were gathered and analyzed from 293 SLfSD who attended the 2013 AASHE (Association of the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference. This exploratory study was designed with the intent of developing a baseline of knowledge pertaining to SLfSD upon which: formal and informal programs may be developed and future qualitative and quantitative research may be conducted.
Key findings from this study included: unequal distribution of ethnicity in formal leadership roles, low involvement from adult learners, the interaction of role, age, and/or gender on leadership personal capacity outcomes, particularly Optimism and Confidence: Perseverance. Ethnicity was found to be particularly influential on transactional leadership style scores, contrary to previous transformational leadership literature. Gender, in combination with role and age were found to be influential on transformational leadership style scores, where gender was previously considered as an individual influencer. Demographic dynamics significantly influence the exercise (frequency) of personal practices.
This study contributed to the literature regarding education for sustainable development, student leadership, and overall SLfSD leadership components and personal practices. This study suggested variables for consideration when developing programs for student development and outlined personal practices that SLfSD parameter groups may prefer to exercise in the programs. This study gathered information that will assist in planning and development of future studies regarding SLfSD.