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Merging Leadership, Sustainability, and Contemplation
One beautiful day last month, hikers in Castle Rock State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains might have been puzzled to stumble upon a group of nearly two dozen fellow hikers, scattered around the grass of scenic Goat Rock scribbling in yellow waterproof journals.
They would have been even more disoriented to learn that these were Santa Clara University undergraduate business students—who devote a day and a half each month to researching and then hiking scenic spots, as a means of contemplating their future roles as business professionals striving to live in harmony with nature and others.
The novel group is CLASP, Contemplative Leadership and Sustainability Program. Part Sierra Club, part mindfulness and Ignatian-inspired reflection, and part leadership immersion, CLASP is the brainchild of Bill Mains, an avid hiker and Leavey School of Business leadership lecturer; Lindsey Cromwell Kalkbrenner, director of sustainability at SCU; and John Braverman, S.J., former visiting research associate at the Center for Science, Technology, and Society.
Mains says that for the growing number of students who care about sustainability, it helps to spend time thinking about the role of nature in your past and present, and to understand your current sense of place, both physically and as a sustainability-oriented leader.
“You can’t protect something unless you know it, and you can’t know it unless you experience it,” said Mains. "On these hikes, students appreciate being forced to ‘unplug’— it enables them to focus on observing the world around them and reflect on those observations."
With CLASP, “We pair three things together: leadership, sustainability and contemplation,” said Adrienne Syme, a junior business major who joined CLASP last year. She saw it as the solution to merge her love of nature with her plans to enter the business world. “This is something that can pair passions with practicality.”
The outings are always preceded by meetings where students learn the history of the sites. At a recent meeting, for instance, the group learned that the sandstone formation underlying Castle Rock Park was once a broad sea floor, and that logging has long been part of the park’s history.
Meetings also feature speakers from various business disciplines. At the Castle Park meeting, for instance, students learned about the nascent “Green Accounting” movement, in which firms like Johnson & Johnson explain in their financial reports how their corporate practices contribute to a more-sustainable environment. A guest speaker from Ernst & Young gave some additional thoughts on green initiatives in the accounting world.
Later in the year students will hear from guest speakers such as the former CEO of Energy Development Corp and SAP’s sustainability director.
The group also embarks on two service projects a year, such as building garden beds at the Alma Youth Center in downtown San Jose.
After all events, there is reflection and a potluck dinner.
The students are urged to keep a journal to help them focus on larger questions: What did you observe and feel? Where’s that coming from? What are you grateful for? What responsibility do you have to sustain what you are seeing for others? Is there a disconnect between your beliefs and what you see as necessary to maintain the environment as you now see it? How can you bridge that gap?
Participants are also asked to notice and reflect on how they are processing the experience. What are they learning about themselves and what they value? How should those values inform their present and future actions? Were they formulating a proactive solution for problem areas? Did they have an action plan?
The group hews to the leadership model espoused by SCU professors Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes: modeling the way, inspiring shared wisdom, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart.
Under this model, “everyone is a leader,” said Mains, so is within the grasp of everyone to take responsibility and find ways to protect their community and environment from whatever job perch they hold.
“The students come to understand that to be a sustainability-oriented leader means you must live in right relationship with self, others, nature, and God,” said Cromwell Kalkbrenner. “In all your decisions, you strive to find a balance between the consequences of those decisions—for social, environmental, and economic justice.”