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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Empathic leadership in sustainability planning Senbel, Maged


Analysis of planning practice has led theorists to claim that planners are increasingly involved in communicative work as they negotiate between competing interests' and opposing parties. A normative study of the resultant theory of communicative planning, alongside a review of current trends in leadership and mediation literature, leads to a set of guiding attributes of conduct and action. This research begins by synthesizing these guiding attributes of effective planning into a framework of Empathic Leadership. In sustainability planning Empathic Leadership is particularly concerned with mediating between different perspectives while simultaneously advancing a specific agenda. The work of eight sustainability planners in the Vancouver region, each a leader in her respective field, was analyzed using the Empathic Leadership framework. Planners were interviewed shadowed and observed, and their staff and colleagues were surveyed to gain multiple perspectives on the significance of the various attributes of leadership. Empathic Leadership was found to permeate every aspect of the practitioners' work and they were found to possess many of the skills necessary for being exemplary leaders. The research also revealed that their work is an iterative pentad of: visioning, engaging emotions, building community, employing strategy and implementing action. The visions are compelling, seductive and infectious yet ambiguous. Emotions are strong and recognized as being significant, yet poorly integrated into the other elements of the pentad. Communities rallying around the visions are cohesive, fluid, diverse and context-specific, but largely untested. The strategies are political, relatively transparent but rarely uphold the inclusive values of the vision. Actions are varied, innovative and often democratizing, yet implicitly homogenous and classist. While ample evidence of communicative planning exists, it is an unrealized ideal; the reality is a temporally larger scope of relational planning whereby change is achieved through the building of relationships over time.

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