B&E | The Fundamental Concept of "Responsible Leadership"
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B&E | The Fundamental Concept of "Responsible Leadership"

By Yang Shi and Maolin Ye
The School of Management, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China

B&E | The Fundamental Concept of "Responsible Leadership"

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The responsible leadership has gained a considerable amount of attention in contemporary management practice. As per a new leadership theory, responsible leadership transcends traditional dyadic leader-subordinate relationship and focuses on a full-range spectral view of the leader-stakeholder relationship, which can effectively deal with new challenges from all sectors of society. 

In recent years, corporate scandals and managerial misconduct have been prevalent in media headlines such as tainted milk powder scandal in China. As a consequence, the ethics and responsibilities of leaders have been attached much importance. Given this, Maak and Pless propose that leader as a key manager of organizations should change traditional management concept of shareholder primacy, actively care about all stakeholders inside and outside the organization to fulfill corporate social responsibility [1] . 

However, present leadership theory such as transformational leadership, servant leadership, authentic leadership and ethical leadership mainly focuses on dyadic supervisor-subordinate relationship, but considerably ignores the influence of leaders’ behaviors and decisions on other stakeholders, so these leaderships sometimes can’t meet all other stakeholders’ interest well except shareholders’ interest. Under the background, some scholars propose the concept of responsible leadership from the stakeholder perspective [1] . 

As per the new leadership theory, responsible leadership makes up the deficiencies of existing leadership theories, and can effectively balance the conflicting interests of the stakeholders inside and outside organization [1] [2] , thereby contributing to promotion of corporate reputation, earning trust of the public and achieving sustainable development of organization and society as a whole. [3] Accordingly, responsible leadership becomes frontier research in the field of leadership and has been paid much attention. 

At present, Chinese and overseas scholars have understood and defined responsible leadership from stakeholder theory, but there are still some differences among these definitions. 

In relation to responsible leadership, the earlier researches are conducted by Maak and Pless [1] [2] . Maak and Pless understand responsible leadership as a relational and ethical phenomenon, which occurs in social processes of interaction with all relevant stakeholders [1] [2] . 

That is, responsible leadership weighs and balances diverse claims from all stakeholders in accordance with the code of ethics, then makes efforts to build and maintain lasting and trustful relationships with stakeholders, aiming to achieve sustainable development of corporate and society. 

In order to have a better understanding of responsible leadership, Maak and Pless provide a role model that presents how responsible leadership fulfills corporate social responsibility by playing different roles.

In line with Maak and Pless, Chinese scholar Song and colleagues offer a similar definition that responsible leadership is aimed at building mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders inside and outside the organization through carrying out corporate social responsibility actively, in order to realize mutual benefits and shared goals [4] .

However, Maak, Pless, and Song just emphasize the relationship is the core of responsible leadership, relatively neglecting the significance of leadership ethics. Given that, Voegtlin further explores the connotation of leadership ethics and considers discourse ethics and deliberative democracy as the philosophical foundation of leadership ethics, and puts forward the procedural conception of responsible leadership [3] [5] . 

Voegtlin understands responsible leadership as a process to mediate the conflict of interests of all stakeholders by the process of equal dialogue and democratic consultation to achieve mutual benefits [3] [5]. 

Furthermore, Voegtlin elaborates how responsible leadership to act in that process: first, leaders should consider the consequences of one’s actions for all stakeholders; second, they use their influence to provide the arenas for discursive conflict resolution and invite the affected stakeholders to join the discourse; finally, they weigh the arguments and balance the interests of the stakeholder claims to achieve a consensus [3] [5] .

Based on the above analysis, we conclude that responsible leadership is the integration of leadership ethics and corporate social responsibility, aiming to be responsible for organization and society. In particular, leadership ethics are the inherent requirement of responsible leadership which require leaders adhere to ethical principles to act ethically and make ethical decisions. And, corporate social responsibility is the external requirement of responsible leadership which requires leaders broaden their view from leader-follower relationship to leader-stakeholder relationship and fulfill social responsibility. 

In conclusion, we hold that only bridging the individual level of leadership responsibility and the organizational level of corporate responsibility, can make true leaders in the true sense.

Cite this Article:

Yang Shi, Maolin Ye (2016) Responsible Leadership: Review and Prospects. American Journal of Industrial and Business Management,06,877-884. doi: 10.4236/ajibm.2016.68083


1. Maak, Th. and Pless, N.M. (2006) Responsible Leadership in a Stakeholder Society—A Relational Perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 66, 99-115.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-006-9047-z   

2. Maak, T. (2007) Responsible Leadership, Stakeholder Engagement and the Emergence of Social Capital. Journal of Business Ethics, 74, 329-343.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-007-9510-5   

3. Voegtlin, C., Patzer, M. and Scherer, A.G. (2012). Responsible Leadership in Global Business: A New Approach to Leadership and Its Multi-Level Outcomes. Journal of Business Ethics, 105, 1-16.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-0952-4 

4. Song, J.W., Sun Z.Q. and Wei, J.F. (2009) Responsible Leadership and the Establishment of Corporate Social Capital: A Case Study of Yihai. Chinese Journal of Management, 6, 988-944.   

5. Voegtlin, C. (2011) Development of a Scale Measuring Discursive Responsible Leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 98, 57-73.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-1020-9  

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