Christian Voegtlin PhD, Audencia Business School, concludes his three-part series on understanding responsible leadership in global business.
While the second part talked about the key elements of global responsible leadership, in this last part we will highlight some challenges responsible leaders may face and talk about the implications for individuals and organizations who want to overcome these challenges.
For those interviewed, the challenges of collective problem-solving are to find a common language and to accommodate conflicting goals. In this regard, responsible leadership relates to the management of complexity.
For instance, responsible leaders might need to be able to handle an economic and a social logic simultaneously, which involves often displaying seemingly contradictory traits in their behaviour and decision-making. Thus, responsible leaders require strong cognitive, relational, and behavioural capacities to tailor their responses to a wide variety of different demands.
Cognitive complexity enables leaders to recognise and comprehend various interests and to deal with a greater multitude of news and information; relational complexity comprises the ability to communicate and negotiate with different groups and is based on emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity; behavioural complexity is the capacity to draw on a broad behavioural repertoire, including different leadership roles, to display these different roles in interactions with diverse stakeholders and to switch between (sometimes conflicting) roles, depending on the setting or situation.
Organisations can try to foster individual skills to deal with complexity by providing training and development, for instance by sending managers to take part in activities with NGOs, social entrepreneurs, or international organisations in developing countries. Alternatively, such skills can be encouraged through the creation of a stimulating company context. This can include HR policies that favour the recruitment of open-minded people, that offer training in situations of ambiguity and conflict, and that encourage staff to practice auto-evaluation and self-criticism.
What research therefore highlights is that the responsibility for responding to current societal and environmental problems is much more a shared, collective, and communicative endeavour than is portrayed in current leadership approaches. We have data that indicates that leaders who care for their company, their employees and society simultaneously, are perceived as more effective compared to others in the organization. They also appear to have a positive influence on their employees’ commitment to the firm as well as on employees’ engagement for the broader community.
Clearly, there is much to be gained from embracing responsible leadership. A firm’s sense of collective strength can be enhanced as can image and communication. It seems that today’s business leaders have little excuse not to adhere to a logic that promises much. It is time they accepted that what might previously have been viewed as a fad by many, is now a necessary and desirable culture change.
Moreover, we propose that responsible leadership can contribute to solving pressing problems of our time, like the problem of how to integrate foreigners into the workforce in countries where the tolerance for other cultures and other ways of living is diminishing. It might also be a relevant counterbalance in what appears to be an age of emerging populism. In such an environment, where discussions are no longer based on facts and reason but on sentiments, it would require responsible leaders who can steer these discussions toward a more rational exchange of arguments about the values that members of an organization, but also members of the community in which the organization is doing business, want to endorse and how they could solve problems collectively.
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Voegtlin, C., Frisch, C., Walther, A. & Schwab, P. 2017. Why responsible leadership is relevant: An empirical examination of its antecedents and outcomes, Working Paper, Audencia Business School/University of Zurich.