Dr. Karen Blakely: Developing More Responsible Leaders

Dr. Karen Blakely, Head of the Centre for Responsible Management, Winchester University

Emerging World’s mission is to ‘help business shape a better future’ and one of our main areas of interest is to understand the role of Responsible Leadership and how best to develop it.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve been delighted to work closely with Dr Karen Blakeley, Head of the Centre for Responsible Management at Winchester University. Through our collaboration we have been able to deepen our appreciation of the value of Responsible Leadership and capture data that demonstrates how immersive Corporate International Service Learning programmes can play an important role in developing more responsible leaders.

What is Corporate International Service Learning (CISL)?

Some of the data demonstrating the links between CISL and Responsible Leadership will be published later this month in the 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study by Emerging World.  The following blog by Dr Karen Blakeley considers what qualities make up responsible leadership, and how Corporate International Service Learning contributes to its development.

In 2017, the World Economic Forum at Davos issued a call for more responsive and responsible leadership.  Klaus Schwab, the founder of Davos, emphasised a number of key challenges that face humankind, amongst them achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the growing demands for increased economic security and social justice, adapting to change brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and cultivating the unprecedented levels of co-operation needed to combat global risks of nuclear proliferation, terrorism and the depletion of natural resources.

The latest 2017 Edelman Trust survey however, reports a precipitous decline of trust in our leaders. Over two thirds of the general population in all the countries surveyed do not trust current leaders to address their country’s challenges.  The credibility of CEOs fell by 12 points in one year, to a new low of 37%.   Despite this, 75% of respondents believed that business could take action to increase profits whilst also improving the conditions in the communities where it operates.  Furthermore, ‘amongst those who are uncertain whether the system is working for them, it is business (58 percent) that they trust most’ (Edelman, 2017).

We stand on a cusp.  People all over the world are looking to business for leadership to help address many of our major social problems.  Business leaders can either step up to the mark or retreat into self-interest using the old and discredited mantra of ‘maximising shareholder value’.

What will make the difference?  Whilst many of the forces we find ourselves subject to are systemic in nature (e.g. globalisation), there is no doubt that individuals make decisions that significantly impact that system.  Responsible leaders in positions of power can have a huge impact. Earlier this month, for example, one of the world’s leading public relations firms, Bell Pottinger, was expelled from its trade association, for unethical behaviour, specifically for leading a campaign that stirred up racial hatred.  This led, not only to the resignation of its CEO, but almost certainly the demise of the firm.  This single decision has sent shock waves through the industry, signalling that breaches in ethics will not be tolerated – no matter how powerful the perpetrator.

The stance of the trade association and its head, Francis Ingham, is an example of responsible leadership.  Responsible leaders are those capable and willing to respond to the call to become ‘agents of world benefit’ (Maak & Pless, 2009).  They are people at all levels who influence stakeholders throughout the system to build ethical and viable organisations that actively contribute towards a more equitable, just and sustainable world. Responsible leaders restore trust in their institutions, and in the institutions of national and international governance.

 

However, it is not easy becoming a responsible leader – some would say that our brains are not naturally wired for it.  In situations of pressure, complexity and uncertainty, our brains are coded for personal survival and good intentions can be swamped by our natural personal defences.  In this sense, responsible leaders have to be developed and raised to a higher level of self-awareness and consciousness, as half the battle takes place within.  Indeed, it could be argued that up to 50% of an executive’s time should be spent on themselves, cultivating the deeper qualities of emotional intelligence, somatic awareness, mindfulness and metacognition all of which contribute to personal wisdom and deep integrity.  

Another important quality of responsible leaders is deep empathy, which is needed to relate effectively to the complex array of organisational stakeholders.  By this, I do not mean simply the ability to enter into another person’s experience and to ‘feel’ it.  Paul Bloom, in ‘Against Empathy’, has written about the limits of empathy in that we tend to empathise with those most like us and find it difficult to empathise with those least like us.  Indeed, high levels of empathy can lead to hatred and violence towards those who may be seen to harm those we naturally empathise with.  For me, deep empathy requires a combination of empathy, compassion and self-awareness; it needs to be combined wth a responsible use of power and is not a soft, wishy-washy quality, but a hard, spiritual discipline that takes a lifetime to develop.

We do know of ways of cultivating these qualities, specifically through the process of Corporate International Service Learning programmes.  These immersive experiences create emotional impact and cognitive dissonance while directing the efforts of participants to tackle important social issues. They provide the ingredients to help develop more responsible leaders as well as more operationally capable ones. Emerging World’s CISL Impact Benchmark Study provides important evidence to support this.  However, we should also bear in mind, that this is just the start of the journey towards responsible leadership and we are looking at a range of means that will help to develop the leaders we need for the task ahead.  Responsible Leadership is a calling and as leadership developers we need to support those who have the courage and will to respond.   

The 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study provides a rich vein of data incorporating responses from nearly 700 employees from various CISL programs.  To dive deeper into the results of the research and to explore how you can leverage your community partnerships and learning programmes with international service learning you can join one of three webinars on 28th September, 12th October and 2nd November:

Insights into the 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study
28th September 2017 at 1000 EST, 1500 GMT, 1600 CET 

Learn more about Corporate International Service Learning, the results of the 2017 Impact Benchmark Study and hear from participating companies BD and EY
Click to register
 

CISL: Building Responsible Leaders (IEDP)
12th October 2017 at 1000 EST, 1500 GMT, 1600 CET

Hear more from Karen and from participating company Microsoft, learn how CISL Programs help to create more responsible leaders and gain further understanding of the impact that these programs have on broader leadership development

Click to register
 

Building Stronger CISL Programmes
Understand how to use the data from the 2017 CISL Impact Benchmark Study to build stronger programmes
2nd November 2017 at 1000 EST, 1500 GMT, 1600 CET 

Click to register

References
Maak, T., & Pless, N. M. 2009. Business Leaders as Citizens of the World. Advancing Humanism on a Global Scale. Journal of Business Ethics, 88(3), 537–550.

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