We find ourselves today, in the second decade of the 21st century, embedded in a knowledge-intensive era (Uhl-Bien et al 2007) framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation, massification of education and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability. The shift is towards a different approach, not yet named or fully understood, yet emerging as leadership perspectives appropriate today’s VUCA (Johansen, 2009) conditions that frame our work in Australia Tertiary Education today.
One definition of leadership that accords with these conditions is that “leaders are in the business of energy management” (Kets de Vries, 2003 p. 111). This definition acknowledges that leadership is deeply bound to the sustainable use of our creative energies. It also elevates the judicious governance of energy of self, others and the environment alongside, not subordinate to, financial governance, and therefore towards more holistic approaches to governance (Elkington, 1998; Bragdon, 2006). This approach calls different and deeper ways of thinking about our world, our worldviews and our leadership and research practices. It has resonance with the Human Relations Movement from the 1930s (Follett 1925) that remained unprivileged for much of the 20th century but has since been rediscovered in the 21st century as a theoretical basis to work with effectively with today’s VUCA environment. For example, it can provide the language for leaders and followers to articulate what they may have long felt—that profits above all else and rampant consumerism are not serving the purpose of our lives and they are leading to unsustainable business practices that are harming people and the planet (Evans, 2008).
My research has found that appropriate leadership literacies for the Knowledge Era rest on these humanist principles which expand governance to include human, environmental and financial energies. Such leadership understandings bring issues of sustainability and complexity into the leadership fold, based on the premise that leadership is not set apart from the living systems—human and environmental—that we serve (Davis, 2010a, b). Here the term literacy suggests more than just the ability to read and write, to be literate also implies a deeper understanding of the particular phenomenon under review and the ability to make sense of, embody, interpret and interact with complex sources of information and experiences inherent in that domain.The literacies emerging from my inquiry have been named as ‘Worldly’, ‘Sustaining’, ‘Leaderful’, ‘Relational’ and ‘Learningful’ Leadership Literacies for the Knowledge Era and these have been tested for signs whether they have yet been theorised and experienced in Australian universities. To test for signs of observation and experience, some ATEM members were asked about their lived experience of work and leadership during the period November 2009-February 2010 in an online survey. The results relating to whether the ‘Sustaining Literacy’ had been observed or experienced will be the focus of this presentation, particularly the results pertaining to human sustainability development and energy management drivers that have been investigated as part of this inquiry.
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