Christian Voegtlin PhD, Audencia Business School, introduces the idea of responsible leadership in part 1 of this 3 part series.
The increasing dynamic and complexity of daily business, a variety of lifestyles and beliefs about what is right or wrong, as well as differing legal regulations make the task of leading responsibly in a globalizing economy more difficult, complex and uncertain.
In addition to this, grand challenges like global warming, rising inequality, global migration and poverty, put not only pressure on governments and international organizations, but also on business firms, to contribute to a sustainable future for people and planet.
As a consequence, those in leadership positions in our firms find themselves increasingly facing demands to assume responsibility, not only toward shareholders, but also toward society and the environment. Societal groups and NGOs ask for transparency of business conduct as well as socially and ecologically responsible decisions from business leaders. The notion of responsibility is therefore clearly an important one for a firm operating in the 21st century. Yet, unlike other more traditional aspects of the company world, it is fraught with questions for which the answers are not always simple.
One reason for this is that it is a concept that is difficult to pin down. While responsibility can and should permeate through the whole firm, underpinning and influencing every business action, it runs the risk of being perceived as something that is difficult to grasp, less concrete than other aspects of doing business.
Because of the far-reaching yet sometimes hazy nature of responsibility, business leaders often find themselves faced with an initial and key challenge: how to define what responsible leadership really is. The problem is that the term can appear vague, and mean different things to different people. How does one become a responsible leader without having a clear definition of responsible behaviour as a guide?
Theoretical thoughts, as well as asking managers facing these challenges, revealed common themes. Managers tend to agree on a series of common aspects. These aspects also reflect what scholars increasingly consider responsible leadership to be in today’s globalised business environment.
In a very basic sense, responsible leadership can be defined as the management of a corporation’s interactions with society, aimed at addressing the corporation’s various stakeholder concerns and contributing to the multiple bottom lines of economic, social and environmental performance. The leader enables and moderates interactions with the various stakeholders of the company.
More specifically, in our research, we identified five relevant aspects that seem important for responsible leadership in the 21st century.
1) being able to make informed ethical judgments about existing norms and rules;
2) displaying moral courage and aspiring to positive change;
3) engaging in long-term thinking and in perspective taking;
4) communicating effectively with stakeholders; and
5) participating in collective problem solving.
I will elaborate on these in Part II — “The key elements of responsible leadership,” soon to be published in this blog space.