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
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
A. G. Scherer
J Bus Ethics (2012) 105:1–16
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
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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- Responsible Leadership in Global Business: A New Approach to Leadership and Its Multi-Level Outcomes
- 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
- 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
- Macro-Level Outcomes: Fostering Stakeholder Relations
- Responsible Leadership in Global Business: A New Approach to Leadership and Its Multi-Level Outcomes