A Responsible Leadership approach enables people to pause and create space to ask tough questions, challenge leaders’ assumptions and beliefs and to explore practical steps that can be taken personally and collectively to bring about change. It encourages a redefinition of success focusing on factors that have been considered, either wilfully or accidently as less important. For example, the increasing pressure on businesses to consider alternatives to a “growth” strategy perhaps to focus on reputation and service and what that might mean.
We live in times of economic turmoil. Nations, societies, organisations and individuals are all impacted both directly through changes in their circumstances and subconsciously as peoples’ values and beliefs are challenged to the core. Citizens no longer trust their elected representatives and business leaders to behave ethically, responsibly and selflessly. Cynicism prevails and in a world where individuals have more power than ever before to effect change, many are exercising this power through on line campaigns and the emergence of pseudo movements.
The response from governments around the world has been to scratch their collective heads, look for someone to blame and then create yet more regulation across business sectors.
The response from business leaders has been seen anywhere along a spectrum of burying heads in the sand – “it wasn’t me sir” at one end, through to “we need to stop and think about this more carefully as we’ve clearly got some things very wrong” at the other.
Sadly, those at the latter end of the scale are few and are struggling to find the magic pixie dust to change their cultures and behaviours. Too often they return to tried and trusted approaches, processes and rules to do so. Examples proliferate of yet further “thou shall not..” and “we must..” Businesses insist on dipping all their people through change programmes presumably in the belief that by respraying people, changes in behaviour will happen as if by magic.
We believe that amongst many interventions that could be important, one aspect is for leaders to rediscover what it actually means to be a leader who sees his/her role fundamentally as a significant part of an interconnected system rather than the historical view in which dog eats dog and short term performance is the justification for all decisions. This is to be truly responsible. Responsible leaders see beyond the obvious and see connections and interdependencies as a matter of routine. They hear through the noise and listen attentively, being mindful of distraction and loss of focus. Importantly they see their role as enabling rather than controlling, as stewarding rather than owning.
Some leaders are beginning to get this. Banks particularly are looking for ways to change their culture and rebuild trust amongst their stakeholders. And yet with organisations that embrace hundreds of thousands of people, how can this be done quickly and in a way that sticks? How can it be more than a traditional sheep-dipping, box ticking exercise of compliance? What is beyond compliance?
A Responsible Leadership strategy may require cultural evolution against a backdrop of rapidly changing organisational models and an interconnected world. It asks leaders to think about how they view their worlds and how they learn so that they can move forward more confidently and bring their stakeholders with them.
Fundamentally, Responsible Leadership is a hopeful message, pointing to the future and calling to leaders who want to make things better, for the greater good.