Responsible Leadership: How do leaders respond responsibly whilst those around us may be doing otherwise?

responsible leadership

30th January 2017

Last week in Davos, some of the world’s most powerful men and women from the fields of politics and business attended the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. This year the theme of the event was Responsive and Responsible Leadership.

WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab defines ‘responsive leadership’ as recognising the increasing frustrations and discontent amongst those not experiencing economic development and social progress.

If ever there was a time for leaders to act more responsively and responsibly, the time is now. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States represent significant disrupters to our cultural, political and business landscapes.

What these tectonic shifts represent is nothing short of a failure of existing political and business leaders to address the growing frustrations and discontent amongst many votes and employees across Western democracies.

Of course one should never look to over simplify the connections between what are in reality two very distinct event. That said there are a number of obvious themes:

  1. Both the Brexit campaign and the Trump campaign engaged in a politics of immigration and hate (i.e. Let’s hate the immigrants), to appeal to voters’ fears of declining industries and perceived job losses
  2. Ironically both Trump and Farage played on their own status as (political) outsiders to demonise already outsider and marginalised groups
  3. Both campaigns were anti-diversity in nature, playing into the psychology of ‘it’s all gone too far’ accompanied by a mantra of ‘Britain First’ / ‘America First’

Within this anti-diversity narrative today’s global business leaders are presented with a number of key challenges. Besides the practical challenging of attracting diverse talent to UK businesses to ensure we remain competitive moving towards Teresa May’s Hard Brexit, a central question becomes paramount: What role should business leaders play within this current climate to counter the ‘alternative facts’ to the benefits of diversity to UK business? What does ‘responsive leadership’ look like within this context?

Acting responsively and responsibly to the ‘Britain First’ / ‘America First’ rhetoric requires business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic now more than ever to challenge the implications of this and to proactively think and act inclusively.

It is clear to me, that now more than ever, as stressed by Tony Baron in The Art of Servant Leadership, the world economy demands an alternative way of doing business and workers demand responsible leadership. In a Harvard Business Review special on leadership, John P Kotter reminders us that a key feature of leadership is to help followers cope with change. Coping with change becomes more critical in a world defined by volatility and disruption to existing cultural norms and values.

Indeed Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the Harvard Business School professor, states that there are three key aspects of globalisation that modern day business leaders need to navigate – uncertainty, complexity and diversity.

At enei, we are clear that inclusive leadership involves certain key competencies and behaviours. Our research has identified 15 core competencies that define inclusive leaderships. For me, the key ones include:

  1. Idealised Influence – Do you / your leaders provide an appealing vision that inspires diversity of thinking and being?
  2. Unqualified Acceptance – Do you / your leaders show acceptance of everyone without bias?
  3. Empathy – Do you / your leaders appreciate the perspectives of others and endeavour to understand how others feel?
  4. Listening – Do you / your leaders listen to the opinions of diverse groups?
  5. Growth – Do you / your leaders provide opportunities for all diverse employees to realise potential, make autonomous and unique contributions and progress with the organisation?
  6. Awareness – Do you / your leaders have self-awareness of how preconceived views can influence behaviour towards others?
  7. Stewardship – Do you / your leaders show commitment to leading by serving others for the good of everyone rather than for self-gain?

Finally, questions for today’s business leaders around responsible leadership include, are you aware of how you show up to others? Do you actively challenge bias thinking and decision-making? How do you work to move outside of your comfort zone and connect with your frustrated and disconnected work populations? How do you see insider / outsider dynamics play our in your organisations? Are you brave enough to stand up, stand out and challenge the status quo? Are you responding responsibly whilst those around you may be doing otherwise?

As Sheryl Sandberg stated at this years’ Davos meeting:

“Today’s leaders need to challenge existing bias.”

Dan Robertson is the diversity and inclusion director at the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion. He is highly respected as a subject matter expert on workplace diversity and inclusion management, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership. You can contact Dan on LinkedIn: Dan Robertson or Twitter: @dan_robertson1 or email: Dan.robertson@enei.org.uk

Photo credit: quapan / CC BY

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