New Book by Faculty Authors Addresses Wicked Problems and Leadership Skills

This image shows a book cover, title Leadership for Sustainability: Strategies for Tackling Wicked Problems.

Three faculty members from the College of Natural Resources and Environment are celebrating the publication by Island Press of their new book Leadership for Sustainability: Strategies for Tackling Wicked Problems—and hoping that it provides the skills and practices to allow all people to lead from where they are.

“Wicked leadership skills emphasize connection, collaboration, and adaptation,” say the book’s authors. “Our hope is that [the book’s] lessons inspire and empower readers to create a desirable future for people and planet.”

Dr. R. Bruce Hull, Dr. David P. Robertson, and Dr. Michael Mortimer, collaborators for more than a decade, have developed and tested the book’s ideas and practices in their executive graduate education program and other work with Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability.

Motivated by a recognition that we’re living in “a time of unprecedented change, risk, and interdependency” in which “good leadership has never been more necessary,” the authors put their years of experience down on paper.

Leadership for Sustainability is divided into three sections that provide an overview of the wicked problems facing humans; a set of skills, practices, and principles for addressing these challenges; and several case studies that show readers how the tools they’ve learned can be put into practice.

Connection skills and practices are needed, the authors argue, because wicked problems require that we connect and communicate with “people located in different organizations, sectors, time zones, countries, and supply chains.”

Collaboration tools can help people solve wicked problems across “widening differences of opinion, identity, expertise, and culture.”

And leadership practices that help people adapt are needed because wicked problems are characterized by “confounding uncertainty and accelerating change.”

The kind of wicked leadership our problems call for now, the authors argue, boils down to direction, alignment, and commitment. Stakeholders need to agree on a direction for their efforts, they need to align their resources, and they need to commit to delivering those resources and to supporting one another as they work to solve problems.

The authors end the book with some challenges for readers: “Will you try some [leadership tools and strategies] and lead from where you are? Will you work to generate direction, alignment, and commitment to help stakeholders connect, collaborate, and adapt?” They ask readers to imagine a time when we are looking back at this challenging era in human history: “What will be your story?”

Hull will speak about sustainability and hope at the March 25 Science on Tap: “Leading from Where You Are: Sustaining Hope for a Sustainable Future.” Registration information will be available at the Science on Tap Facebook page.

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