Understanding and Implementing Socially Responsible Business Leadership

Successful businesses operating in the 2020s recognize that there is no choice between profit growth and a focused mission. The concept of responsible leadership marries the two, understanding that positive social and environmental responsibility is a necessity in a global and increasingly accountable marketplace. 

What does responsible leadership entail?

Research from the consulting firm Accenture found that 61 percent of the “World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and Global Shapers” say that business models should only be pursued if they generate profitable growth and improve societal outcomes at the same time. “The health, economic and social crises of recent times have raised people’s expectations about the role of business in solving global problems,” Accenture writes. This and other comprehensive Accenture data led to the creation of its concept of the five categories of responsible leadership. They include: 

  • Stakeholder Inclusion, which means making decisions with an understanding of the impacts they may have on a diversity of those who will be impacted and making sure they feel that their voices are heard.  
  • Emotion & Intuition, making decisions that show compassion, humility, and openness. 
  • Mission & Purpose, making decisions surrounding a specific shared vision 
  • Technology & Innovation, responsibly utilizing emerging technologies. 
  • Intellect & Insight, continuously working toward understanding 

It’s easy to create corporate sustainability strategies that talk about these concepts, but actually doing them requires an understanding of system-wide change and willingness to re-write “business as usual.” 

How is responsible leadership actually implemented?

This organizational structure above and responsible leadership concepts more generally provide mechanisms for business decision-making. For example, when one business seeks software for its employees’ or customers’ use, a business focused on responsible business leadership mindset might consider the responsible use of a technology that protects the privacy of its users, and choose to only collaborate with software companies that share this value. Or, for another example, a products company may seek to better understand where the materials it uses for its products are sourced and devote extra resources to ensuring the products are created in sustainable ways that do not exploit workers or ecosystems. 

In an article for AACSB, the business school accrediting organization, one author explained, “the world needs business schools to graduate responsible leaders who will prioritize sustainable business practices, no matter what industries they enter or what careers they pursue.” 

One program cited keeps in mind the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals such as ending poverty, hunger, and inequality, and promoting quality education, gender equality, and decent work and economic growth, and fighting climate change, among others. How does a business program teach its students leadership to advance such broad social missions? Simply put, by teaching graduates first, to recognize their value, and second, to understand how companies can identify and manage to make decisions with these in mind. 

Becoming a Responsible Business Leader

John Carroll’s AACSB-accredited MBA is an MBA program that provides a business foundation with a focus on building responsible leaders who understand the impact of their decisions beyond the bottom line. The Emerging Leader MBA utilizes a problem-based or case method where you make decisions based on both business strategy as well as responsibility perspectives. Additionally, all MBA graduates are required to take Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, which provides conceptual approaches to decision-making that keep responsible leadership concepts in mind. 

JCU is a private Jesuit university located in University Heights, Ohio, near Cleveland.