Responsible Leadership in Global Business: A New Approach to Leadership and Its Multi-Level Outcomes

Christian Voegtlin • Moritz Patzer •

Andreas Georg Scherer

Received: 17 December 2010 / Accepted: 19 June 2011 / Published online: 1 July 2011

� Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Abstract The article advances an understanding of

responsible leadership in global business and offers an

agenda for future research in this field. Our conceptuali-

zation of responsible leadership draws on deliberative

practices and discursive conflict resolution, combining the

macro-view of the business firm as a political actor with the

micro-view of leadership. We discuss the concept in rela-

tion to existing research in leadership. Further, we propose

a new model of responsible leadership that shows how such

an understanding of leadership can address the challenges

of globalization. We thereby propose positive outcomes of

responsible leadership across levels of analysis. The model

offers research opportunities for responsible leadership in

global business.

Keywords Business ethics � Corporate social responsibility � Globalization � Leadership ethics � Responsible leadership


Amidst the various reports on the financial crisis, corporate

scandals and managerial misconduct that have been pre-

valent in media headlines for over a year, a common

denominator seems to be an interest in attributing the

failures to the challenges of global business. In a time when

it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to

delineate systemic outcomes and individual responsibili-

ties, ethics and morality have once again become front-

page news. As a consequence, theory and practice are

struggling with the task of re-conceptualizing the role of

corporations (Scherer and Palazzo 2008a, 2011) and their

leaders (Doh and Stumpf 2005a; Maak and Pless 2006a;

Waldman and Siegel 2008) in society, in order to address

the surge of public concerns.

So far leadership ethics, as the overarching term for the

inclusion of ethical aspects in leadership, has remained an

underdeveloped field (Ciulla 1995, 2005; Doh and Stumpf

2005b). Only recently, leadership research once again turns

its focus on the phenomenon of leadership ethics in its

different facets. Thus, many new approaches within lead-

ership connect to ethical or moral themes. Among these are

the concept of ethical leadership, which tries to measure

empirically what ethical leadership means (Brown 2007;

Brown and Trevino 2006; Brown et al. 2005; Trevino et al.

2000, 2003); the already well-established transformational

leadership concept, where more recent research (Bass and

Steidlmeier 1999) tries to regain an awareness of the

moral roots of its founder, James M. Burns (1978), also,

e.g., by looking at the connection between corporate social

responsibility (CSR) and transformational leadership

(Waldman et al. 2006); authentic leadership, understood as

leadership that displays leader behavior true to the inherent

moral values of the leader (Avolio and Gardner 2005;

Avolio et al. 2004a, b; Gardner et al. 2005; Ilies et al. 2005;

Walumbwa et al. 2008); an understanding of leaders as

‘‘servants’’ in the conception of servant leadership

(Greenleaf 1977; Liden et al. 2008), and other approaches

that address the ethical or moral challenges of leaders (e.g.,

Fry 2005; Johnson 2009; von Weltzien Hoivik 2002).

C. Voegtlin (&) � M. Patzer � A. G. Scherer Department of Business Administration (IBW), University

of Zurich, Universitätsstrasse 84, 8006 Zurich, Switzerland


M. Patzer


A. G. Scherer



J Bus Ethics (2012) 105:1–16

DOI 10.1007/s10551-011-0952-4

Though these efforts have undoubtedly made vital

contributions to the field, we argue that they are limited due

to conceptual constraints, because they do not adequately

encompass the causes and implications of present leader-

ship challenges. As we outline below, we see these chal-

lenges rooted in the economic and moral implications of

globalization (Scherer and Palazzo 2008b, 2011). An

appropriately extended understanding of leadership has to

take these into account with regard to the individual’s

actions as well as their organizational and societal em-

beddedness. The inclusion of the latter poses a significant

research gap, since present leadership theory remains pri-

marily focused on the micro level perspective of internal

organizational behavior (House and Aditya 1997, pp. 445f;

Osborn et al. 2002; Waldman et al. 2006, p. 1705). Yet, it is

our understanding that only by bridging the organizational

level of corporate responsibility and the individual level of

leadership responsibility does one do justice to the plu-

ralistic and multifaceted tasks present leaders have to

attend to (see also Bies et al. 2007; Doh and Stumpf 2005b;

Palazzo and Scherer 2008, pp. 583f; Waldman et al. 2006;

Waldman and Siegel 2008, p. 117). Furthermore, leader-

ship ethics can benefit from the discussions on the

responsibility of the firm with concepts like CSR, Corpo-

rate Citizenship, or Business Ethics (e.g., Garriga and Melé

2004; Matten and Crane 2005; Scherer et al. 2009; Scherer

and Palazzo 2008a, 2011; Windsor 2006) that have

addressed some of the present challenges of globalization

and global public goods problems.

This article acknowledges these challenges and the

indications offered by the CSR discourse. We thereby

connect to an upcoming research stream under the umbrella

term of responsible leadership. Responsible leadership is

understood by its proponents as an emerging concept at the

overlap of studies in ethics, leadership, and CSR (Ciulla

2005; De Hoogh and Den Hartog 2008; Doh and Stumpf

2005a; Maak 2007; Maak and Pless 2006a; Waldman and

Galvin 2008; Waldman and Siegel 2008). The concept tries

to answer the question: who is responsible for what and

toward whom in an interconnected business world?

Our approach adds to the discussion by drawing upon a

conception of leadership responsibility that reconsiders the

role of leaders in a globalizing society in the context of

Habermas’s theory of deliberative democracy (Habermas

1999, 2001b). Building on this normative conception of

leadership responsibility, the article suggests a model of

responsible leadership that provides the premise for future

empirical testing.

We thereby contribute, first, to the conceptualization of

an emerging concept of responsible leadership by offering

a philosophical foundation and a theoretical background

both for the analysis of responsible leadership and the

problems of globalization. Second, the article shows how

responsible leadership can address the challenges of glob-

alization. It thus adds the individual level of leadership to

the discussion on corporate social responsibility. Third, we

put responsible leadership in the organizational context by

highlighting possible influences of responsible leadership

on micro-, meso-, and macro-level organizational out-

comes. This shows important interdependencies and con-

tributes to the knowledge of an emerging research field.

Further, it offers a way of how to translate a philosophical

foundation into a practically relevant theory.

Accordingly, the article first recapitulates the argumen-

tation regarding our understanding of leadership responsi-

bility, depicting deliberative democracy (Bohmann and

Rehg 1997; Habermas 1998, 2001b) as our explicitly nor-

mative cornerstone with respect to the understanding and

integration of present leadership challenges. We transform

these philosophical foundations into a definition that is the

starting-point in modeling responsible leadership. Second,

we distinguish responsible leadership from prior leadership

concepts. Third, we present a model of responsible lead-

ership, pointing to outcomes of responsible leadership

conduct across levels of analysis. The outcomes that will

be discussed connect to the rise in problems organizations

are facing due to the process of globalization. The pre-

sented model of responsible leadership thereby connects

the micro perspective of leadership with the macro per-

spective of CSR, corporate legitimacy, and other important

future business challenges. The aim is to provide a research

agenda for responsible leadership in order to stimulate

future efforts in this field and to advance the understanding

of responsible leadership and its future empirical testing.

The Process of Globalization and the Concept

of Responsible Leadership

In accordance with Scherer and Palazzo and others, we

argue that globalization, understood as an increased inte-

gration of value creation transcending national boundaries,

impedes the capability of the nation state system to mod-

erate the outcomes of the economical, political, and social

systems. As a consequence, this development leads to

governance gaps so that the public interest is insufficiently

served (Chandler and Mazlish 2005; Kobrin 2008; Scherer

et al. 2006, 2009; Scherer and Palazzo 2007; see also, Beck

2000; Habermas 2001c). The regulatory power of demo-

cratic rule of law states is territorially bound, and due to

non-intervention in internal affairs international organiza-

tions cannot intervene in the public policy of sovereign

nation states. As a result, many externalities and global

public goods problems, such as protecting human rights,

enforcing labor standards, saving the natural environment,

or fighting corruption, remain unaddressed (Kaul et al.

2 C. Voegtlin et al.


2003). In order to fill the apparent gaps in global gover-

nance, many corporations and their leaders voluntarily

engage in self-regulation and the production of global

public goods (see, e.g., Young 2006). This is a widespread

phenomenon, as can be seen in the growing membership of

companies in the UN Global Compact, or booming CSR

initiatives like the Global Reporting Initiative, the Forest

Stewardship Council, or the Social Accounting 8000.

This political engagement, as well as prominent cases of

misconduct or negligence by leaders that have affected all

stakeholders alike (one might think of cases like Enron or

Siemens), have put corporate leaders in the spotlight of

public interest (e.g., Kellerman 2004; Lipman-Blumen

2005). It seems that the negative side effects of global-

ization and the increasing number of corporate scandals

lead to an erosion of corporate legitimacy (Palazzo and

Scherer 2006), a loss of public trust in leaders and corpo-

rations, and to a degradation of social capital.

The globalization of business has far-reaching implica-

tions for the constitutional elements of leadership, which

include the persons involved, their interaction and the

exerted influence as well as their common goal (Patzer

2009; see also exemplary, Bennis 2007; Drath et al. 2008;

Yukl 2006). Leaders (and followers alike) are increasingly

confronted with heterogeneous cultural contexts, devoid of

shared moral orientations or legal frameworks. As moral or

ethical conflicts arise in the process of economic activities,

business leaders are left without any orientation in regard

to morally adequate action. In this situation, the idea of

value maximization often becomes the sole surrogate for

moral principles. This problem is aggravated by the need to

transcend the traditional, internally bound focus of lead-

ership theory (Maak 2007; Maak and Pless 2006b). As

leaders increasingly interact with external stakeholders, the

notion of influence as based on hierarchical power has to be

reconsidered. It needs to be explained what form legitimate

influence takes in this context. Finally, CSR has become a

strategic impetus on the organizational agenda representing

the companies’ struggles to maintain legitimacy as a vital

resource of business conduct (Palazzo and Scherer 2006;

Suchman 1995). Hence, corporate leaders have to mediate

social and financial goals without divulging the one or the

other in the process of maintaining corporate legitimacy,

building trust, and producing social capital.

In order to address these challenges, research empha-

sizes a stakeholder-perspective of leadership (Waldman

and Galvin 2008; Waldman and Siegel 2008), under-

standing responsible leadership as a ‘‘value-based and

through ethical principles driven relationship between

leaders and stakeholders’’ (Pless 2007, p. 438). We connect

to this research stream (Maak 2007; Maak and Pless 2006a;

Pless 2007) and extend it by offering a philosophical basis

for the ethical principles that are called for.

We propose an understanding of responsible leadership

in the sense of deliberative processes.1 Our procedural

conception of leadership ethics is based upon Habermas’s

thoughts on deliberative democracy (e.g., Habermas 1998,

1999, 2001b) that refer to the idea of legitimate lawmaking

issuing from public deliberation, and that rest on the

philosophical foundation of discourse ethics (Habermas

1993, 1996). It represents an ideal of political autonomy

based on the practical reasoning of citizens. The systemic

means of coordination (money and power) are supple-

mented with solidarity as the premises of societal integra-

tion and coordination (Habermas 1999).

Within this societal deliberation process, business

leaders as exponents of powerful and resource-command-

ing organizations become central actors, who can secure

the quality and (moral) legitimacy of decisions through

proactive engagement in the process of societal self-

determination and the inclusion and mobilization of

stakeholders. This idea of business leaders involved in the

deliberative democratic processes as the premise of an

understanding of responsible leadership provides norma-

tive orientation as well as a pragmatic approach to the

problems of globally engaged leaders. It does the former

through an understanding of practical reason, anchored in

the conditions of communicative exchange that approaches

culturally alien contexts via an open and reciprocal learn-

ing process in which conflicting interests are evaluated

(and settled) through rational discourse (Habermas 1993,

2001a; Steinmann and Scherer 1998; Wohlrapp 1998).

Such a politically enlarged concept of leadership implies,

for the latter, the inclusion of all affected stakeholders in

the leadership process in a fair and balanced manner

(Waldman and Galvin 2008, pp. 330ff).

For leaders, this means that they should think of the

consequences of their conduct for all constituencies that

could be affected, that they recognize the legitimate claims

of the affected stakeholders, and that they use their influ-

ence to initiate active stakeholder dialogues where the

involved parties can come to balanced and fair decisions.

The inclusion of the (relevant) stakeholders supports a

legitimate process, while the weighing and balancing of the

legitimate claims leads to a fair outcome. Responsible

leaders thereby foster the public exchange of opinions and

try to establish institutional modes of communication with

stakeholders and the public.

With regard to this, responsible leadership as deliber-

ation and discursive conflict resolution forwards a

1 A more thorough discussion on the differences between the

approach of Maak and Pless and the conception forwarded by Patzer

and colleagues is presented elsewhere (Patzer and Scherer 2010).

Responsible Leadership in Global Business 3


pragmatic approach to the daily practice of leadership

that centers on a communicative engagement with its

stakeholders. In the context of this article, we therefore

understand responsible leadership as the awareness and

consideration of the consequences of one’s actions for all

stakeholders, as well as the exertion of influence by

enabling the involvement of the affected stakeholders and

by engaging in an active stakeholder dialogue. Therein

responsible leaders strive to weigh and balance the inter-

ests of the forwarded claims. Additionally, responsible

leaders foster the public exchange of opinions and

engage in public will formation (for a similar definition,

see Voegtlin 2011).

Leading responsibly, according to this understanding,

means for leaders to open up to a broader target group

(the stakeholders) with the goal of securing the legiti-

macy of the organization in a given society and estab-

lishing and maintaining mutually beneficial stakeholder

relations. The definition comprises the steps of discursive

conflict resolution (Habermas 1993, 1996). Leaders are

thereby seen as the exposed persons in an organization

who should be able to recognize (moral) problems in

their decision-making processes (by being aware of and

considering the consequences of one’s actions for all

stakeholders). They use their influence to provide the

arenas for discursive conflict resolution (by enabling the

involvement of the affected stakeholders) and invite the

affected stakeholder-groups to join the discourse (by

engaging in an active stakeholder dialogue). During the

discursive decision process, the task of the responsible

leader is to try to achieve a consensus among the

participants (by weighing the arguments and balancing

the interests of the stakeholder claims). This allows for

leaders to influence through cooperation and to aim for

consensual solutions, as they interact not through a

supervisor–subordinate relationship but eventually with

equally powerful or resource commanding entities.

Responsible leaders, thus, represent the position and the

interest of their organization by joining the discourse

with arguments that emphasize their point of view.

This definition represents an ideal of responsible

leadership that can encounter restrictions in the organi-

zational day-to-day business (see, e.g., Stansbury 2009).

We therefore assume that the conceptualization of

responsible leadership represents a continuum, ranging

from the non-responsible leader to the ideal responsible

leader. The end of the continuum, representing the non-

responsible leader, could be characterized as self-inter-

ested, egoistic leadership behavior acting solely on an

instrumental rationale. The other end, representing the

fully responsible leader, would be based on discourse

ethics and deliberation as proposed in our political con-

ception of responsible leadership.

Responsible Leadership in Relation to Prevalent

Leadership Conceptualizations

In studying the literature, one will find that aspects of an

enhanced responsibility of leaders that go beyond the

narrow scope of profit earning are rare (Brown and Trevino

2006; Ciulla 1995; Doh and Stumpf 2005b; Maak and Pless

2006c), despite the early recognition of an enlarged lead-

ership role in Barnard’s work (Barnard 1960). In this part,

we discuss our approach in relation to prior leadership

conceptualizations. As the field of leadership is very broad

and fragmented, we cannot discuss all leadership concepts

in relation to our proposed concept of responsible leader-

ship in this article. Rather, we try to highlight the differ-

ences of the approach that set it apart from most other

leadership concepts. These differences appear most prom-

inently in the limitations of current concepts in addressing

the problems of globalization.

First, leadership remains predominantly focused on the

influence process between leader and employees (see also

the common concepts in leadership textbooks, Bass 1990;

Rost 1991; Yukl 2006). It does not take into account

stakeholder interactions, which become important for

securing the legitimacy of an organization. Second, the

new approaches to leadership in relation to ethics (e.g.,

ethical leadership; Brown et al. 2005) remain mostly

descriptive in their approach to assessing leadership ethics.

Yet, by only describing prevailing moral norms, they do

not allow for a critical justification of what is ethically

correct. This leads to common sense being the only actual

benchmark for what is ethically right (Ciulla 1998). These

theories cannot provide ethical orientation for leaders or

offer normative advice. Thus, there is still a need for a

philosophical foundation of responsible leadership that

provides an orientation of how to deal with the conflicting

norms of a heterogeneous stakeholder society. This leads to

the third point, the tension between ethics and effective-

ness. It is often implicitly assumed that a good leader is

ethical and effective (Ciulla 1995). The ‘‘usual answer

[of what a competent leader is,] is a leader who knows how

to get results, make profits, etc.’’ (Ciulla 2005, p. 333). But

does this mean that he or she is acting responsibly? This

question is not fully addressed in leadership research.

Thus, the points where our concept of responsible

leadership differs from prior leadership conceptualizations

are that, first, responsible leadership is based on an explicit

normative framework of discourse ethics and deliberative

democracy that goes beyond ethical concepts based on

values or deontological monologism that have been sus-

ceptible to critique (Habermas 1996; for a similar critique

on concepts of CSR, see Scherer and Palazzo 2007); sec-

ond, responsible leadership is conceptualized as a process

model of leadership that is not explicitly related to ethical

4 C. Voegtlin et al.


characteristics of the leader (like most of the other lead-

ership theories concerned with ethics), as these character-

istics (e.g., good virtues) pose problems with regard to their

intercultural justification. Rather, these ethical character-

istics are conceptualized as antecedents of responsible

leadership conduct (see Voegtlin et al., 2010); third,

responsible leadership transcends the internal view of

leadership as leader–follower interaction to a view of

leadership as leader–stakeholder interaction, which seems

to be an important necessity for leadership in a globalized

world (see Liden et al. 2008; Maak 2007; Maak and Pless

2006c; Schneider 2002); finally, responsible leadership

does not conceptualize leader effectiveness in the sense of

financial performance as the main driver of leadership

behavior, but, rather, through the effectiveness in estab-

lishing consensual solutions that are accepted as legitimate

by all affected parties (for a discussion about what is

‘‘good’’ leadership, see, e.g., Ciulla 1995). This is at the

heart of the responsibility toward stakeholders and to a

certain extent it implies mediating social and economic


A Research Agenda of Responsible Leadership

The understanding of responsible leadership as presented

above offers the possibility to derive a model relating

responsible leadership to important outcomes. In this sec-

tion, we will deduce formal propositions of causal

relationships between responsible leadership behavior and

important organizational variables in order to advance

future research (this approach has similarly been applied

for the advancement of other leadership conceptualizations,

see, e.g., ethical leadership, Brown and Trevino 2006 or

authentic leadership, Avolio et al. 2004a). We propose a

model of responsible leadership (see Fig. 1) which high-

lights important influences of responsible leadership on

organizational outcomes across levels of analysis.

For each of the relationships anticipated in Fig. 1, we

theoretically derive formal propositions in order to advance

future research in the field of responsible leadership. These

relationships highlight potential causal effects in relation to

responsible leadership that are designed for further

empirical investigation. This is not meant to be an

exhaustive list of all the possible influences being affected

by responsible leadership. It rather presents proposals that

advance the conceptualization of the political concept of

responsible leadership.

The focus was laid especially on future business chal-

lenges caused by an ongoing globalization process, which

we think can be best addressed by responsible leadership

conduct. The globalization with its consequences of loss of

shared moral orientation, widening governance gaps and a

growing public awareness of critical company conduct,

puts business firms in an ever greater need to build and

secure their (moral) legitimacy, to maintain trustful rela-

tions with stakeholders and to leverage the social capital

inherent in these relations.

Responsible Leadership

Macro-level: Relations to External Stakeholders

Legitimacy Trustful Stakeholder Relations Social Capital

Meso-Level: Shaping Organizational Culture and Performance

Ethical Culture CSR Character Social Entrepreneurship Performance

Micro-Level: Personal Interactions

Effect on Followers’ Attitudes and Cognitions E.g., OCB, Motivation, Job Satisfaction

Globalization Challenges


Fig. 1 Outcomes of responsible leadership across levels of analysis

Responsible Leadership in Global Business 5


On the one hand, leaders will have to be role models in

terms of good corporate social responsibility practices,

thereby trying to foster an ethical culture, as well as

emphasizing the need for CSR and providing employees

with sense and meaning of the socially responsible activi-

ties of their organization. On the other hand, the increasing

global competition forces companies to enhance their

performance, to innovate faster, and to wage new (social)

entrepreneurial ventures.

A further important aspect of business leadership in a

work environment with a growing culturally heterogeneous

workforce and increased economic pressure is to motivate

and satisfy the employees by encouraging them at the same

time to engage in citizenship behaviors. These conse-

quences will be discussed in the new model of responsible

leadership (see Fig. 1).

How Individual Leadership Can Affect Outcomes

Across Levels of Analysis

Before we discuss the proposed model in detail, we will

point to the interaction between leadership agency and

(organizational) structures. This implies two questions that

need to be addressed: first, in how far is individual lead-

ership action constrained by structures and in how far can

agency, in turn, evoke change. Second, how does individ-

ual leadership agency affect meso- and macro-level struc-

tural dispositions. Both questions also warrant further

research and discussion in the (responsible) leadership


Addressing these questions will add to the discussion

around leadership and CSR, guide the reader through the

framework, and offer a starting point for future research

that may investigate this duality in more detail. In this

regard, there are limitations to the scope of the discussion

in this article. The aim is therefore to present an overview

and, at the same time, to encourage other researchers to

carry this further.

The macro-level as a point of reference encompasses the

interaction of organizations with the broader (global)

society, the meso-level is regarded here as the level-of-

analysis of internal organizational structures and practices,

and the micro-level is understood as the level of personal

interaction of individual agents.

On the meso-level organizational structures can be

viewed as historically evolved and socially embedded

practices that are enacted through organizational routines,

actions, and discourses across all organizational levels

(Giddens 1984; Whittington 2010). A similar definition can

be applied to institutions on the macro-level: ‘‘[institutions]

are historical accreditations of past practices and under-

standings that set conditions on actions’’ (Phillips, Law-

rence and Hardy 2004, p. 637).

Structures and institutions, on the one hand, constrain

individual agency in that they limit the possibility of

socially desirable or non-sanctioned actions and, in turn,

increase the costs of nonconformity (Giddens 1984;

Phillips et al. 2004). On the other hand, individual agency

shapes these conditions either by reproducing them or by

introducing new ways of doing things, i.e., individuals can

foster changes in structural conditions over time, especially

by facilitating collective action.

The possibilities for leaders to influence these conditions

can be derived from the common understanding of lead-

ership as an influence process to foster such collective

action (Yukl 2006). Leaders have enhanced possibilities to

promote change, as they, first, can draw on a broader set of

organizational resources (including authoritarian power

provided by the hierarchical position), second, are often

seen as role models employees rely upon or look to when

directing their actions, and third, can provide meaning or

visions that direct change (see, e.g., Bandura 1986; Bass

1990; Yukl 2006).

In the following description of the responsible leader-

ship model, we will not focus on the constraints imposed

by structural conditions, but rather on the possible influ-

ence of agency through responsible leadership. We thereby

assume that the favorable implications of responsible

leadership agency can trigger collective action and, sub-

sequently, affect meso- and macro-level outcomes. This

should be applicable for all the relationships discussed in

the following.

How Responsible Leadership Can Help to Address

the Challenges of Globalization: Discussing

the Proposed Model

The research agenda of responsible leadership can be

extended to possible outcomes of responsible leadership.

Responsible leaders are leaders that exert influence by

fostering an active stakeholder dialogue. They estimate

consequences of their actions and try to weigh and balance

different stakeholder claims, in order to achieve mutual

beneficial solutions for all involved parties. Such leader-

ship behavior can have an effect on the quality (and

quantity) of stakeholder relations as well as on follower

attitudes and other important organizational factors.

In the following, we propose positive effects of

responsible leadership on stakeholder relations (in the form

of legitimacy, trust and social capital), on the ethical cul-

ture of an organization, the perceived CSR-Character,

social entrepreneurship and organizational performance, as

well as on follower attitudes and cognitions (see Fig. 1).

These relationships will be discussed based on the macro-

level of leadership relations with external organizational

stakeholders, the meso-level of shaping the internal

6 C. Voegtlin et al.


organizational culture and affecting organizational perfor-

mance, and the micro-level of personal interaction with


Macro-Level Outcomes: Fostering Stakeholder Relations

The negative side effects of globalization and the increase

in corporate scandals lead to an erosion of corporate

legitimacy (Palazzo and Scherer 2006). On the one hand,

leaders are faced with a loss of public trust. On the other

hand, the actions of organizations are being monitored to a

greater degree by different stakeholders. Leaders are

confronted with the challenges of securing legitimacy,

(re-)building trustful stakeholder relations and enhancing

their social capital (Maak 2007).

We propose that engaging in responsible leadership will

help leaders to address these challenges as such conduct

will have a positive effect on the relationships with

stakeholders. In the following, we will present hypotheses

on how responsible leadership can maintain corporate

legitimacy, build trustful relationships with stakeholders,

and enhance the social capital inherent in those relations.

Legitimacy The new challenges of globalization for the

corporation and subsequently for its leaders will eventually

lie in the problem of building up and securing the (moral)

legitimacy in a given society (Palazzo and Scherer 2006).

The post-national constellation, in which the latitude of

control by nations over multinational organizations is

eroding, leads to a politicization of organizations and thus

to higher demands for building up or maintaining their

legitimacy (Palazzo and Scherer 2006; Scherer and Palazzo


Suchman (1995, p. 574) defines legitimacy as ‘‘a gen-

eralized perception or assumption that the actions of an

entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some

socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and

definitions.’’ The ascribed legitimacy of an organization is

important for its long-term survival. It guarantees a license

to operate in a given society and is ‘‘a precondition for the

continuous flow of resources and the sustained support by

the organization’s constituents’’ (Palazzo and Scherer

2006, p. 71). Suchman (1995) distinguishes three types of

legitimacy: pragmatic, moral, and cognitive legitimacy.

Pragmatic legitimacy is ascribed when an organization can

satisfy the self-interested expectations of the organization’s

immediate audiences, i.e., its main stakeholders. Cognitive

legitimacy rests on the taken-for-granted assumptions of an

organization’s role and behavior in a society. And moral

legitimacy is based on conscious moral judgments and

normative evaluation of the organization’s activities.

Palazzo and Scherer (2006) argued that the process of

globalization, which is also the starting point for our

considerations, puts forward an enhanced emphasis on

moral legitimacy, as the pluralization of modern society

and its resulting cultural heterogeneity erodes the taken-for

granted assumptions (of cognitive legitimacy) and cannot

be secured solely by changing (exchange-)coalitions with

stakeholders (pragmatic legitimacy).

We, therefore, propose responsible leadership as a pre-

condition for securing the moral legitimacy of an organiza-

tion. Responsible leadership rests on deliberative practices

and discursive conflict resolution. Moral legitimacy is built

and maintained through communication and participation in

public discourses, justifying organizational actions in an

active stakeholder discourse with relevant societal actors

(Palazzo and Scherer 2006; Suchman 1995). The incorpo-

ration of stakeholders in the decision making process and the

acknowledgment of their arguments secures legitimate

decisions in terms of a fair access (input legitimacy) and in

terms of accepted outcomes (output legitimacy).

Taken together, we hold that responsible leadership

produces legitimate decisions and thus helps to secure the

legitimacy of the organization. It closes the gap with cor-

porate social responsibility in that it guarantees legitimacy

for the organizational actions, which could be regarded as

the main goal of an extended social responsibility of

organizations (see, e.g., Palazzo and Scherer 2006, p. 73).

Proposition 1 Responsible leadership helps to build and

maintain the legitimacy of an organization.

Trustful Stakeholder Relations Trust has received a lot of

attention in scholarly research (see McAllister 1995;

Rousseau et al. 1998), also in the field of leadership (e.g.,

Burke et al. 2007; Dirks and Ferrin 2002). Trust, seen as a

relational process between individuals (e.g., between

leaders and followers), has been defined as ‘‘a psychological

state [comprised] of the intention to accept vulnerability

based upon positive expectations of the intentions or

behaviors of another’’ (Rousseau et al. 1998, p. 395). Dirks

and Ferrin have distinguished two qualitatively different

perspectives of trust in leadership research, a relation-based

perspective and a character-based perspective (Dirks and

Ferrin 2002, p. 612). The relation-based perspective

emphasizes the social exchange process and relates

trust to relationships of mutual obligation that inherit

goodwill. In relationships that build trust issues of care and

consideration are central. From a character-based perspec-

tive, the employees place trust in the leader depending on

the leader’s positive characteristics like, e.g., integrity,

fairness, or ability.2

2 Trust in leadership studies is conceptualized and measured in the

form of a perception of followers, attributing trust to the respective

leader, and is not based, e.g., on measuring the quality of the

relationship directly (Dirks and Ferrin 2002, p. 612).

Responsible Leadership in Global Business 7


We propose that responsible leadership conduct evokes

trust among those stakeholders a leader interacts with more

frequently (not only his or her direct employees or fol-

lowers) and helps to build mutually beneficial stakeholder

relationships. From this point of view, the relation-based

perspective will play a more central role than the character-

based perspective, as we do not align responsible leader-

ship with certain characteristics of the leader (which does

not mean that responsible leaders will not have those

characteristics that promote trust; it could maybe even be

hypothesized that they will be more prone to have them).

Trust as a relational construct presupposes positive

expectations of the intentions or behaviors of leaders from

the side of the stakeholders. Preconditions of trustful

stakeholder relationships that have been identified are,

e.g., transparency, open communication, inclusion and

involvement of the stakeholders in the decision making

process, and coming to accepted and traceable outcomes

(see Burke et al. 2007, pp. 610ff; Dirks and Ferrin 2002,

pp. 612ff).

These preconditions are addressed by responsible lead-

ership conduct. Responsible leaders are more likely to

build up such trustful stakeholder relationships when they

estimate the (negative) consequences of their decisions, use

their influence to engage stakeholders in an active dia-

logue, and weigh and balance the different interests,

thereby coming to accepted and mutually beneficial solu-

tions. Being aware of and considering the consequences of

decisions helps leaders to avoid negative consequences and

enables them to justify the decisions afterward if held

accountable by stakeholders. This can lead to more trans-

parent, traceable, and also acceptable outcomes, which in

turn are promoters of trustful relationships (Burke et al.

2007; Dirks and Ferrin 2002).

Further, by engaging in an active dialog responsible

leaders establish arenas for open communication and foster

the inclusion and involvement of the stakeholders, and by

aiming for discursive communication situations they create

opportunities for acceptable and traceable solutions for all

affected parties. Thus, through their frequent engagement

in fair and balanced stakeholder dialogs, responsible

leaders are able to establish lasting and trustful relation-

ships. Stakeholders who experience a leader as being

responsible will generate positive expectations of the

intentions or behaviors of this person. This will increase the

trustworthiness of the leader and the trust in the relation-

ship to this leader.

Proposition 2 Responsible leadership has a positive

effect on building trustful stakeholder relations.

Stakeholder Social Capital Social capital reflects the

goodwill inherent in social relationships and is a resource

in social networks that can be used to facilitate collective

action (Adler and Kwon 2002, p. 17). Social capital was

used in the literature as an umbrella term for resources that

can be accumulated through social relations (e.g., trust was

equated with social capital) (Adler and Kwon 2002;

Fulkerson and Thompson 2008). What distinguishes the

notion of social capital from what we referred to as trust in

the last section is that it is framed as capital that can be

mobilized to facilitate collective action. Social capital is

built through social exchange processes that rely on

exchanges of favors and gifts, in contrast to exchanges that

rely primarily on market or hierarchical modes of inter-

action (Adler and Kwon 2002). The extent of social capital

is dependent on the formal structure of the network ties and

the content or quality of those ties.

Maak and Pless conceptualized social capital as an

essential part of their responsible leadership model (see,

e.g., Maak 2007; Maak and Pless 2006c). Maak argues that

responsible leadership conduct, which places an emphasis

on stakeholder interaction, contributes to building social

capital (Maak 2007). Responsible leadership behavior

builds social capital in that it facilitates the establishing of

a formal stakeholder network by engaging in frequent

stakeholder interaction and an active stakeholder dialog.

Additionally, responsible leadership behavior should help

to accumulate social capital by positively affecting the

quality of the stakeholder network as responsible leaders

engage in fair and balanced stakeholder dialogs, aiming for

discursive decision situations. This signals to stakeholders

that their interests will be taken into account and that those

relations with responsible leaders go beyond a pure market

orientation (in interaction with external stakeholders)

or hierarchical exchange processes (in dealing with


The goodwill inherent in social capital could then, in

turn, be mobilized to create innovation and to facilitate

entrepreneurship (Chong and Gibbons 1997).

Proposition 3 Responsible leadership behavior enhances

the social capital inherent in stakeholder relations.

Meso-Level Outcomes: Affecting the Internal

Organizational Environment

In relation to meso-level outcomes, we propose effects of

responsible leadership conduct that may change the shared

practices and dispositions of an organization.

In the following, we want to establish a preliminary

theoretical link between the individual leadership level and

the organizational level of corporate responsibility in that

we discuss the influence of responsible leadership on the

ethical culture and the perceived importance of CSR of an

organization. This is a needed future research direction, as,

8 C. Voegtlin et al.


first, globalization increases the relevance of CSR for

multinational firms and, second, as the link between indi-

vidual agency and corporate responsibility is still insuffi-

ciently addressed (see, e.g., Crane et al. 2008; Heugens and

Scherer 2010; Scherer and Palazzo 2008a).

Further, due to the growing complexity and dynamic of

the global business environment of organizations, compa-

nies are confronted with the challenge of continuous

adaption and innovation, also in the form of social entre-

preneurial ventures. With regard to this, we focus in the

following on the relation between responsible leadership

behavior and social entrepreneurship. Finally, leader

effectiveness and the effect of responsible leadership on

organizational performance will be addressed.

Ethical Environment The work environment, which we

refer to as an organization’s culture, plays an important

part in shaping and directing people’s behavior (Schein

1996; Schneider 1975). In relation to responsible leader-

ship, the prevalent ethical culture and the importance of

corporate social responsibility, as perceived by the

employees within an organization, are important levers for

creating a socially responsible organization.

We will look here at the understanding of an ethical

culture as proposed first by Trevino and colleagues

(Trevino 1986; Trevino et al. 1998) and later expanded by

Kaptein (2008). The research stream that focused on the

concept of ethical culture in organizations was brought

forward by Trevino et al. (Trevino 1986; Trevino et al.

1998). Ethical culture was conceptualized as being part of

the overall culture of an organization. It was later advanced

by Trevino and colleagues to encompass ‘‘the formal and

informal behavioral control systems […] that can support either ethical or unethical conduct in an organization’’

(Brown and Trevino 2006, p. 601).3 The conception of

Trevino and colleagues thereby aims at discovering what is

generally perceived as ethics within an organization. The

normative implications of the ethical culture conception are

not specified.

Responsible leadership can gradually influence the eth-

ical culture over time. By enacting responsible leadership

practices such leaders may shape the formal (e.g., through

their position power and discretion) as well as the informal

(e.g., in terms of role modeling) behavioral control systems

that direct the ethical behavior in organizations. By con-

tinuously displaying a concern for long-term consequences

of decisions, by fostering an active stakeholder dialog, and

by practicing inclusive communication that considers the

arguments of others, responsible leaders as role models

provide an ethical vision of discursive conflict resolution

for others. This in turn may affect the perceived ethical

culture in organizations by shaping the collective, shared

expectations of what is perceived as right or wrong.

In continuance of this, one could also draw on Kaptein

(2008) to illustrate the impact of responsible leadership.

More recently, he has refined the construct of ethical cul-

ture by forwarding a corporate ethics virtues model which

proposes seven virtues that prevent employees from acting

unethically and, at the same time, stimulate them to act

ethically. Those virtues were derived from qualitative

interviews, and Kaptein drew on them to develop an

expanded measure of ethical culture. The virtues comprise

the virtue of clarity, congruency, feasibility, supportability,

transparency, discussability, and sanctionability (Kaptein

2008, pp. 924ff).

These are also virtues that can be positively affected by

responsible leadership. If, e.g., responsible leaders dem-

onstrate clear ethical standards (in terms of discourse eth-

ical conflict resolution) (clarity) and if those standards are

recognized by the employees as a visible guidance for

action (congruency), if employees are given the discretion

to act upon them (feasibility), and if the ethical standards

are supported and made transparent by leaders, as well as

left open to discussion, this should encourage an ethical

culture with an emphasis on stakeholder dialog and


Taken together, we propose that responsible leadership,

enacted over time, should be able to influence the ethical

culture of an organization. Responsible leadership prac-

tices will thereby encourage a culture of discourse and


Proposition 4 Responsible leaders can gradually change

the ethical culture of an organization over time. Respon-

sible leadership will thereby encourage a culture of dis-

cursive conflict resolution and deliberative practices.

Perceived Corporate Social Responsibility Another part

of the prevalent culture in an organization that responsible

leadership can help to shape is the perceived importance of

corporate social responsibility (CSR) within the organi-

zational setting. CSR is often used as an umbrella term for

concepts dealing with social issues and has been used in

many different ways (Scherer and Palazzo 2007). It was

often defined in terms of what organizations do in relation

to social responsibility (e.g., doing more than what is

expected by the law) (see, e.g., Waddock 2008). Basu and

Palazzo (2008) argued that this content-driven under-

standing is not sufficient when it comes to examining how

managers and employees think, discuss, and act in relation

to CSR.

3 The informal and formal (social) control systems encompass to a

certain extent what is debated in the CSR literature as compliance and

integrity approaches, referring to formal rules and laws as well as to

informal values (see critically, Stansbury and Barry 2007; Weaver

and Trevino 1999).

Responsible Leadership in Global Business 9


They propose a process model of sensemaking and

define ‘‘CSR as the process by which managers within an

organization think about and discuss relationships with

stakeholders as well as their roles in relation to the com-

mon good, along with their behavioral disposition with

respect to the fulfillment and achievement of these roles

and relationships’’ (Basu and Palazzo 2008, p. 124).

According to this understanding, the importance of CSR in

an organization can be perceived by members of the

organization through sensemaking processes. Basu and

Palazzo advance their model of CSR-sensemaking along

the dimensions of cognitive, linguistic, and conative

dimensions through which people in organizations make

sense of CSR-related activities. Those dimensions form the

‘‘CSR-character’’ of an organization.

The process model of sensemaking emphasizes the

importance of mental models and frames that affect how

the external world (including issues of CSR) is perceived

by organizational members. This means that these collec-

tive, shared mental frames in an organization shape and

direct attention toward what is perceived as important by

the people working there.

The influence process, which is regarded as a key aspect

of the definition of leadership (Yukl 2006), is connected to

the management of meaning (Fairhurst 2009). That is,

leadership is also a process of sensegiving that affects the

mental models of how the world is perceived by organi-

zational members (Fairhurst 2009).

Responsible leaders as managers of meaning can influ-

ence the perceived ‘‘CSR-character’’ of an organization by

sensitizing their employees for possible social and envi-

ronmental consequences of corporate actions, by empha-

sizing, and also by demonstrating in their actions the

importance of stakeholder engagement and involvement.

If responsible leaders can convince their employees that

CSR is an important topic in their organization, those

employees will more readily engage in active stakeholder

dialogs when social and environmental issues are at stake.

Additionally, if leaders can provide a sense of purpose for

the CSR-activities of their organization, their employees

will more readily recognize issues of CSR as part of their

daily practice and engage themselves in CSR-related


Therefore, we conclude that responsible leadership can

contribute to an enhanced awareness of the CSR-character

of a firm.

Proposition 5 Responsible leadership can positively

affect the perceived importance of CSR in an organization.

Social Entrepreneurship Responsible leaders will be able

to foster social innovation. Innovation can be defined as

‘‘the generation, acceptance and implementation of new

processes, products, or services for the first time within an

organizational setting’’ (Pierce and Delbecq 1977, p. 29).

Innovation is an important driver of organizational change

and was related to organizational success and competitive

advantages (Gumusluoglu and Ilsev 2009).

We propose that the interrelation between responsible

leaders and stakeholders from the social and political

environment, e.g., NGOs or social movements, can trigger

social innovation. For example, expanding the knowledge

base and the (technical) knowledge resources was consid-

ered to foster innovation. Responsible leadership behavior

helps to expand the knowledge base by fostering an active

stakeholder dialog where all participants can contribute

their knowledge and expertise to solve problems. The same

holds for internal and external communication. Both were

related to a positive effect on innovation.4 Responsible

leaders engage in communications with external stake-

holders like government officials or NGOs. This creates

opportunities for exchanging information and for bringing

up innovative ideas. The dialog with internal stakeholders

will in turn facilitate the dispersion of ideas within the

organization and create a favorable internal environment

for innovation.

Responsible leaders fostering social innovation can be

regarded as what an evolving stream in the literature calls

social entrepreneurs (Nicholls and Cho 2006). Social

entrepreneurship is understood as pursuing ventures that

bring together a social mission, an emphasis on innovation

and a market orientation (Nicholls and Cho 2006, p. 115).

Social entrepreneurs thereby play the role of change agents

in the social sector (Bloom 2009, p. 128). The change of

the institutional systems that social entrepreneurs can

achieve depends on the influence they can exert. We pro-

pose that responsible leaders, especially in top level man-

agement positions, can advance social entrepreneurial

ventures that can achieve considerable changes (De Hoogh

and Den Hartog 2008; Ling et al. 2008; Waldman et al.

2006), as responsible leadership addresses the balance

between a market orientation and recognizing the interests

of stakeholders pursuing a social mission, and as respon-

sible leadership conduct brings with it an enhanced possi-

bility for innovation.

Proposition 6 Responsible leaders are more likely to act

as social entrepreneurs than non-responsible leaders.

Organizational Performance An important issue con-

cerning the intersection of leadership and responsibility, or

ethics, respectively, is the question of what an effective

4 For further literature on the determinants of innovation, see the

meta-analysis of Damanpour (1991). The relationships between the

determinants and innovation were based on theoretical reasoning and

empirical findings (Damanpour 1991, p. 557).

10 C. Voegtlin et al.


leader is. It revolves around the issue whether an ethically

good leader is always an effective leader and vice versa

(Ciulla 1995, 2005). The main goal of responsible leader-

ship as proposed here is to contribute to the fulfillment of

organizational performance goals. Responsible leadership

connects to the understanding of leadership in general, in

that it can be regarded as a ‘‘process of facilitating indi-

vidual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objec-

tives’’ (Yukl 2006, p. 8).

Yet, to act responsibly additionally implies an ethical

qualification, which can be understood as an evaluation of

the means to accomplish performance goals in the light of

moral norms or ethical considerations. This ethical com-

mitment can lead to situational amendments of perfor-

mance goals if the social cohabitation in a society is in

danger of being breached (Scherer 2003, pp. 427ff). A

negative example of not considering an ethical qualifica-

tion would be the case of BP and the 2010 oil spill in the

Gulf of Mexico. Previous insights suggest that the man-

agers involved chose the cheaper solution for drilling,

taking into account higher risks for the people working on

the oil platform, the surrounding environment and those

people living on the nearby shores. Their decisions were

driven by financial performance pressure from the com-

pany (Oil Spill Commission 2011; The New York Times

2010a, b).

An ethical qualification is implicitly built into the defi-

nition of responsible leadership, as responsible leaders

evaluate their decisions and actions according to the pos-

sible consequences and engage in an active dialog to find

solutions that can be accepted by the affected parties. Thus,

responsible leaders contribute to financial performance

under the caveat of only implementing means that are

morally legitimate to reach their goals.

Apart from the direct link of responsible leadership and

effectiveness, we assume additional indirect positive

effects of responsible leadership on the performance of an

organization. Mediated by the other outcome variables in

Fig. 1, responsible leadership could have a positive effect

on social and financial performance of the organization.

Responsible leadership was hypothesized to build up

trustful relationships and social capital, to foster social

innovation and will in the next section be proposed to

positively affect followers’ attitudes and cognitions. Trust

was shown to have a positive effect on performance (Burke

et al. 2007; Dirks and Ferrin 2002). The accumulated social

capital in stakeholder relations built up by responsible

leaders can be used to facilitate collective action (Adler

and Kwon 2002), with the aim of enhancing either the

financial or social performance of an organization. Social

innovation can be hypothesized to enhance the social per-

formance of an organization. Finally, follower attitudes

like job satisfaction, motivation, or commitment have been

identified as performance drivers (Locke and Latham 2004;

Mathieu and Zajac 1990). Thus, taken together, it could be

hypothesized that responsible leadership has an effect on

the financial and social performance of an organization.

Proposition 7 Responsible leadership contributes

directly and indirectly to the performance of an organiza-

tion under the caveat of ethical or moral means.

Micro-Level Outcomes: Effects on Followers’ Attitudes

and Cognitions

Apart from the proposed outcomes, responsible leaders will

also have a direct and considerable effect on their imme-

diate followers. To satisfy and motivate employees is still a

key challenge of leadership and this aspect should therefore

not be neglected in the discussion on responsible


Leaders in organizations occupy an exposed position

and as such are often regarded as role models (Brown et al.

2005; Trevino et al. 2000). Bandura’s social learning the-

ory (Bandura 1986) emphasizes the importance of positive

role models that help individuals to learn and reinforce

what they have learned. Brown et al. (Brown et al. 2005;

Brown and Trevino 2006) build their concept of ethical

leadership around the reinforcing effect of leaders as

positive ethical role models in organizations.

Responsible leaders will have a twofold effect on fol-

lower attitudes and cognitions. First, we propose a positive

effect of responsible leaders as role models (Bandura 1986;

Brown et al. 2005). If followers see that their supervisor

incorporates the affected parties in the decision-making

process and seeks to make balanced decisions, ideally

resolving decision situations in a consensus, they may

perceive their leader as an attractive and legitimate role

model from whom they can learn the importance of

involving others and engaging in discursive practices. An

example of how responsible leaders as role models could

have a positive effect on follower behavior would be an

enhanced organizational citizenship behavior of followers

(OCB) (Konovsky and Pugh 1994; Podsakoff et al. 2000).

OCB is defined as behavior that shows engagement beyond

what is requested from the organization or what would be

an enforceable part of the job description or employment

contract (Podsakoff et al. 2000, p. 513). Responsible

leaders will be positive role models in relation to citizen-

ship behavior, as they think about consequences for

stakeholders from the social and political environment and

incorporate them in decision situations. This helps to solve

the needs of both sides and shows an engagement with

societal interest groups, which moves beyond what is

requested from the immediate job description. Employees

may learn from such appealing leadership behavior.

Responsible Leadership in Global Business 11


Second, there will be a direct effect of responsible

leadership on followers, since engaging in an active

stakeholder dialog means that responsible leaders also

incorporate the immediate followers in far reaching deci-

sion-making processes if those decisions would affect

them. Participative practices and involving followers in the

decision making process was shown to enhance work

related attitudes (e.g., empowerment, see Spreitzer 1996).

If employees feel that they can actively contribute to

decision situations, and if they feel they are regarded as

important by their supervisor, this may be hypothesized to

affect their attitude toward satisfaction with their job

(Spector 1997), their motivation (Locke and Latham 2004),

or their commitment to the organization they are working

for (Mathieu and Zajac 1990).

Proposition 8 Responsible leadership will have a posi-

tive effect on followers’ attitudes and cognitions (e.g., job

satisfaction, motivation, commitment or organizational

citizenship behavior).


This article has advanced a model of responsible leadership

that embeds the leader’s responsibility in the process of

globalization and the societal efforts of self-regulation in

the light of regulative deficits of the nation state and the

new quality of global problems. As leadership is increas-

ingly confronted with problems of cultural heterogeneity,

moral dilemmas, and ethical conflicts, our understanding of

responsible leadership places deliberative and discursive

practices at the heart of leadership, thereby aiming for a

legitimate and peaceful mode of conflict resolution.

In pragmatic terms, this means that responsible leaders

should think about the consequences of decisions for all

affected parties and engage in an active stakeholder dialog,

weighing and balancing the differing interests. Based on

this approach, we discussed positive outcomes of respon-

sible leadership in order to advance the understanding of

responsible leadership and its consequences. We addressed

the outcome variables along various levels of analysis and

focused especially on future business challenges that

companies will face due to the globalization process. We

proposed responsible leadership as a lever to handle these

globalization challenges by highlighting how responsible

leadership conduct could positively affect them.

Responsible leadership is distinct from extant leadership

approaches, such as, e.g., transformational leadership,

ethical leadership, or authentic leadership, as it draws

on the theory of discourse ethics and deliberative democ-

racy, conceptualizes leadership as leader–stakeholder

interaction, implies an ethical qualification, and proposes

consensual solutions as an effectiveness criterion. Subse-

quently, we suggest that responsible leadership as active

stakeholder engagement and discursive conflict resolution

should be better able to address the challenges of global-

ization than existing leadership conceptions. Our model

tries to show this theoretically by relating the distinct

aspects of responsible leadership to these challenges.

We thus contributed to the literature, first, by advancing

the concept of responsible leadership (Maak 2007; Maak

and Pless 2008; Waldman and Galvin 2008), and second,

by providing a new model that presents a research agenda

for the field. The model allows a highlighting of positive

effects of responsible leadership and offers a way of how

to translate a philosophical foundation into a practically

relevant concept.

Finally, we will highlight directions for future research

that directly connect to the model of responsible leader-

ship. The first direction would be to empirically test those

propositions set up in the article. Therefore, responsible

leadership would have to be operationalized. Thoughts

could be given on the advancement of an empirical mea-

sure of responsible leadership (Voegtlin 2011). In addition

to a quantitative research agenda, qualitative approaches

could offer further insights for the field in that such

research may help to understand how people in organiza-

tions make sense of the proposed responsible leadership

practices. A fruitful direction would be, for example, to

analyze stakeholder dialogs or discursive practices around

leadership (Fairhurst 2009; Phillips et al. 2004).

Further, we acknowledge that the presented model of

responsible leadership is not final and does not encompass

all possible factors that are affected by responsible lead-

ership. Future research could advance the concept by

offering additional factors that relate to responsible lead-

ership, such as focusing on drivers of responsible leader-

ship or opportunities for training and development.

Additionally, there still needs to be addressed the limita-

tions of the ideal of responsible leadership in daily busi-

ness, e.g., by discussing the problems of stakeholder

dialogs, the costs of establishing consensual solution, or the

limits of engaging in public will formation (Stansbury


Therefore, we suggest expanding the model to a con-

tingency model of responsible leadership. Such a model

can be helpful to show the contingencies that foster or

allow for responsible leadership behavior in an organiza-

tional setting. These contingencies comprise antecedents or

moderating influences of responsible leadership (Voegtlin

et al. 2010).

In terms of antecedents, it can be distinguished between

the structural conditions of hierarchical organizations that

constrain or enable leadership and the personal predispo-

sitions of the individual. The structural characteristics of

12 C. Voegtlin et al.


organizations can impose constraints on the alternatives for

action (i.e., the way how people in organizations conduct

and experience their work and act in their respective work

environment). For example, a centralized and bureaucratic

organization and highly specialized tasks with low auton-

omy and decision responsibility do not offer many possi-

bilities for responsible decisions and active involvement of

internal and external stakeholders. On the other hand, job

characteristics can offer possibilities for high involvement

and active engagement (with one’s work). A broader scope

of job responsibility, challenging tasks, and participation in

important decisions may also encourage leaders further

down the hierarchical line to engage in responsible lead-

ership and may support the realization of the positive

outcomes mentioned in our model. To examine this more

closely could be a fruitful future research direction.

Individual characteristics that may be relevant in fos-

tering responsible leadership behavior are, e.g., moral

predispositions. Herein we would subsume personal char-

acteristics and cognitive abilities that encourage moral

decision-making. There is a great deal of research that has

dealt with morality or ethical questions in the business

sphere, addressing the numerous steps in coming to an

ethical or moral decision from a psychological or cognitive

perspective (see, e.g., Kohlberg 1984; Reynolds and

Ceranic 2007; Trevino et al. 2006). If leaders are cognizant

of these steps of moral decision-making, if they can reason

on a high moral development level (Kohlberg 1984; Rest

1986) and have a strong moral identity (Aquino and Reed

2002; Reynolds and Ceranic 2007), they will be more

capable of acting responsibly as understood in our con-

ception of responsible leadership.

Finally, moderating influences on responsible leader-

ship, we would suggest to investigate are, e.g., the hierar-

chical position of the leader and the department he or she is

working in. Both should make a difference in terms of the

scope and possibilities of responsible leadership conduct.

The hierarchical position of leaders has an impact in terms

of the range of the leaders’ authority and their access to

resources, the frequency of their interactions with stake-

holders, the kind of stakeholder engagement, or the scope

of their decisions. The department that leaders are working

in can restrict or enable responsible leadership conduct by

the mere fact that leaders in some departments will have

less frequent stakeholder interaction than others. An

example would be a supervisor working in a highly spe-

cialized and formalized production facility department

compared to a leader working in a CSR department.

Taken together, there should be many possibilities to

advance the research agenda of responsible leadership

theoretically and empirically, possibilities that could offer

relevant insights for researchers and practitioners.


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  • c.10551_2011_Article_952.pdf
    • Responsible Leadership in Global Business: A New Approach to Leadership and Its Multi-Level Outcomes
      • Abstract
      • Introduction
      • The Process of Globalization and the Concept of Responsible Leadership
      • Responsible Leadership in Relation to Prevalent Leadership Conceptualizations
      • A Research Agenda of Responsible Leadership
        • How Individual Leadership Can Affect Outcomes Across Levels of Analysis
        • How Responsible Leadership Can Help to Address the Challenges of Globalization: Discussing the Proposed Model
          • Macro-Level Outcomes: Fostering Stakeholder Relations
            • Legitimacy
            • Trustful Stakeholder Relations
            • Stakeholder Social Capital
          • Meso-Level Outcomes: Affecting the Internal Organizational Environment
            • Ethical Environment
            • Perceived Corporate Social Responsibility
            • Social Entrepreneurship
            • Organizational Performance
          • Micro-Level Outcomes: Effects on Followers’ Attitudes and Cognitions
      • Conclusion
      • References