Responsible leadership as an adaptive process

June 11, 2012 | By | 1 Comment

Drastic change will not materialize without leadership. Specifically, we will need globally responsible leadership in order to manage the transformation and build a new society. In this context,  the concept of leadership not only concerns individual traits but represents an adaptive process that encompasses multiple levels of society and knowledge. Responsible leadership for a sustainable world is a culture of responsibility, a collective phenomenon that occurs within a global context.

Responsible leadership begins (but does not end) with individuals. Globally responsible leaders will need more cognitive sophistication to cope with the complexity of multidimensional responsibilities on a global level – as well as reflected awareness, critical thinking, multicultural and societal wisdom and the moral depth to weigh competing choices. These new dimensions complement existing known traits such as entrepreneurship and leadership competencies.

On a larger scale, shared leadership requires multiple individuals to expand their interpersonal, group, and social integration skills while operating in increasingly fluid, loosely-structured teams. Their decisions will be guided by distributed intelligence, whereby local managers take locally appropriate decisions that are mindful of the global context.

Shared leadership leads us to organizational leadership within an ecosystem, where divisions by hierarchy and function give way to cross-functional forms of collaboration that span countries and cultures. Such forms of collaboration will require a multi-generational and multicultural workforce with a strong empathy of what stakeholders want within the context of social and environmental challenges. Most importantly, globally responsible leadership guides organizations through the transformation based on their moral authority and values-based ethic, through which renewed purpose and goals are disseminated throughout both organizations and society in favor of sustainability.

Responsible leadership can be considered a combined function of the individual leader (Me), of responsible institutions (We), and of the entire planet – including all inhabitants and ecosystems (Us). Responsible leadership is therefore a commitment to leadership for the world.

But how will we develop globally responsible leadership?

The challenges for leadership development in business and society are increasing with the size, interconnectedness, and complexity of business organizations in a globalized world. With business organizations increasingly interacting with all kinds of different institutions, today’s most pressing challenges span multiple boundaries – as must leadership. Without a strong development framework, our efforts to progress toward more responsible leadership will remain limited, constrained,  episodic – and more often as not marginalized in commerce and trade. In order to develop globally responsible leadership we must re-think our entire management education framework, which will require participation from all players who contribute to the field.


Filed in: Uncategorized

About the Author (Author Profile)

Comments (1)

  1. Jürgen’s description of a need to move from ME to WE to US captures a key challenge in the education of managers and leaders in commercial and noncommercial organizations. The model shared in this blog post leverages understanding from the world of organizational behavior and its tiered approach based on psychology, sociology, and anthropology.

    A difficulty with such a model, however, lies with the possible operationalisation into management education. Most management education programmes today are set up to to deliver a range of skills rooted in the Foundation reports of the 1950s. Some programmes graft on coursework providing business context and analysis. What remains lacking is teaching around the skills of defining and managing a shared reality of a sustainable economy.

    The issues we face are grounded the propagation of a shared “reality” of how an economy works. Today’s shared reality is unsustainable and on a collision course with a range of physical limits.

    Change in the shared reality of economy will happen. The question is whether it will happen as a reaction to catastrophic events or in a proactive fashion.

Leave a Reply

Trackback URL | RSS Feed for This Entry

You must be logged in to post a comment.