In 2017, the World Economic Forum at Davos issued a call for more responsive and responsible leadership. Klaus Schwab, the founder of Davos and influential thought leader on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emphasised a number of key challenges that face humankind, amongst them achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, responding to growing demands for increased economic security and social justice, adapting to change brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and cultivating the unprecedented levels of co-operation needed to combat global risks of nuclear proliferation, terrorism and the depletion of natural resources.
The latest 2017 Edelman Trust survey however, reports a precipitous decline of trust in our leaders. Over two thirds of the general population in all the countries surveyed do not trust their current leaders to address their country’s challenges. The credibility of CEOs fell by 12 points in one year, to a new low of 37%. Despite this, 75% of respondents believed that business could take action to increase profits whilst also improving the conditions in the communities where it operates. Furthermore, ‘amongst those who are uncertain whether the system is working for them, it is business (58%) that they trust most’ (Edelman, 2017).
We stand on a cusp. People all over the world are looking to business for leadership that might help to address many of our major social problems. Business leaders can either step up to the mark or retreat into self-interest using the old and discredited mantra of ‘maxmising shareholder value’.
What will make the difference? Whilst many of the forces we find ourselves subject to are systemic in nature (e.g. globalisation), there is no doubt that individuals make decisions that significantly impact that system. Responsible leaders in positions of power can have a huge impact. Today, for example, one of the world’s leading public relations firms, Bell Pottinger, was expelled from its trade association, for unethical behaviour, specifically for leading a campaign that stirred up racial hatred. This led, not only to the resignation of its CEO, but almost certainly the demise of the firm. This single decision has sent shock waves through the industry, signalling that breaches in ethics will not be tolerated – no matter how powerful the perpetrator.
This is an example of responsible leadership. Responsible leaders are those capable and willing to respond to the call to become ‘agents of world benefit’ (Maak & Pless, 2009). They are people at all levels who influence stakeholders throughout the system to build ethical and viable organizations that actively contribute towards a more equitable, just and sustainable world. Responsible leaders restore trust in their institutions, and in the institutions of national and international governance.
However, it is not easy becoming a responsible leader – some would say that our brains are not naturally wired for it. In situations of pressure, complexity and uncertainty, our brains are coded for personal survival and good intentions can be swamped by our natural personal defences. In this sense, responsible leaders have to be developed and raised to a higher level of self-awareness and consciousness, as half the battle takes place within. Indeed, it could be argued that up to 50% of an executive’s time should be spent on themselves, cultivating the deeper qualities of emotional intelligence, somatic awareness, mindfulness and metacognition all of which contribute to personal wisdom and deep integrity.
Another important quality of responsible leaders is deep empathy. By this, I do not mean simply the ability to enter into another person’s experience and to ‘feel’ it. Paul Bloom, in ‘Against Empathy’, has written about the limits of empathy in that we tend to empathise with those most like us and find it difficult to empathise with those least like us. Indeed, high levels of empathy can lead to hatred and violence towards those who may be seen to harm those we naturally empathise with. For me, deep empathy requires a combination of empathy, compassion and self-awareness; it is not a soft, wishy-washy quality, but a hard, spiritual discipline that takes a life time to develop.
We do know of ways of cultivating these qualities, specifically through the process of Corporate International Service Learning programs. These immersive experiences create emotional impact and cognitive dissonance while directing the efforts of participants to tackle important social issues. They provide the ingredients to help develop more responsible leaders as well as more operationally capable ones.
Data from the 2017 CISL Study by Emerging World
The CISL study provides important evidence to support this. However, we should also bear in mind, that this is just the start of the journey towards responsible leadership and we are looking at a range of means that will help to develop the leaders we need for the task ahead. Responsible leadership is a calling and as leadership developers we need to support those who have the courage and will to respond.
Join the CISL: Immersive Leadership Development that Lasts Webinar on 12 October 2017 at 3pm GMT, to hear more from Karen, learn about how CISL Programs help to create more responsible leaders.
A Note from Matthew Farmer:
Our mission at Emerging World is to ‘help business shape a better future’ and as a specialist leadership development provider one of our main areas of interest is to understand what is the essence of Responsible Leadership and how to effectively develop it.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been delighted to work closely with Dr Karen Blakeley, Head of the Centre for Responsible Management at Winchester University, and through our collaboration we have been able to deepen our understanding of Responsible Leadership and capture data that demonstrates how immersive Corporate International Service Learning program can develop more responsible leaders.
Some of this data will be published later this month in the 2017 CISL Impact Study by Emerging World in collaboration with BD, Credit Suisse, EY, Microsoft & Merck.
Matthew is the Founder and Managing Director of Emerging World. He is focussed on helping corporations tailor strategies and programs to be as impactful as possible. Emerging World’s clients include leading global organisations such as Microsoft, EY and Credit Suisse. Matthew holds an MBA from IESE Business School in Barcelona and a BSc. in Psychology from Cardiff University.