Unpacking responsible leadership

One of the richest papers presented at the BAWB conference was “Profiles in Responsible Leadership: Purpose, Passion and Transformative Practices,” co-authored by Keith Cox and Philip Mirvis. The authors looked at the characteristics and practices of 20 of the most successful leaders (CEOs and founders) of enterprises that are “doing well and doing good.” [Note: At the bottom of this post, I list the companies from which these leaders emerge, with links to their websites]. Some highlights follow.

First, these leaders are at heart entrepreneurs — but clearly driven by a personal, core purpose to lead social change and “‘live into’ their highest vision of themselves.” Second, they have worked to develop a more expanded worldview — enabling them to see linkages between social, political, ecological and commercial factors. They then internalize this worldview and make it part of their personal operating system (mental model) for the work they do (an example that comes to my mind — Ray Anderson at Interface Flooring). Finally, they continue to be open to learning more about this “expanded worldview,” reflecting on their insights, and using their commitment to their core purpose to fuel a passion for leading their organizations. The paper quotes one leader as explaining that their work “feeds the soul as well as the stomach” with the understanding that “the reward for doing well is the opportunity to do more.”

If those are the characteristics of these leaders, what then are the practices they undertake to transform their businesses? Cox and Mirvis point to four key ones:

  • They first repurpose the purpose of the business (“This is who we are and what we stand for”)
  • They engage a more broad set of stakeholders, through which they gather ideas, gain access to resources and develop other types of mutually beneficial relationships
  • The engage in “transformational interactions” such as regular and deep dialogue with stakeholders, helping find and support other change agents, and positive role modeling
  • And they are comfortable with “emergent organizing” — an example of which would be individuals coming together in some unplanned way and they just “made things happen.”

Leaders interviewed for this research came from the following companies: Interface, Inc.; Scott Bader; Trillium Asset Management; Nestle; Ben & Jerry’s; Wild Oats Markets; Honest Tea; Shorebank Corp.; Unilever Foods Asia; Stonyfield Farm; Seventh Generation; General Electric; Rejuvenation; Dragonfly Media; The Body Shop; AMD; Organic Valley Farms; Calvert Group Ltd.; Freeplay Energy Plc.; Green Mountain Coffee Roasters; Royal Dutch Shell; Idyll, Ltd.; Timberland; White Dog Cafe.