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Building a Responsible Leadership Culture

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Committed to a Responsible Leadership Culture?

Organisations cannot expect a responsible leadership and sustainability culture to be built for them by HR, EHS and EMS teams. Orgamisational leaders through active involvement and participation, with commitment to the issues build responsible business cultures. Responsibility is a concept that is difficult to pin down. Responsible behaviors should permeate organisational culture, and direct thier societal accountabilities. Howeer, it is often percieved as something that is difficult to grasp, outside the personna of a ‘hard leader’ and less tangible than other business skills.

When questioned many business leaders struggle to define what exactly is responsible leadership, and often what defines corporate social responsibily. Their uncertianty adding to the leadership challenge of what desired form of responsible leadership they wish to enact, whilst this can be viewed as a ‘problem’. It is also an opportunity. In the abscence of clear guidance, strong leaders can develop thier own vision regarding what it can and should be.

Responsible Leadership – it is up to individual leaders to give direction and stand up for what they believe in

Aspects of Responsible Leadership

In organisations, the strengths and values of responsible leadership and sustainability lie amongst the beliefs and worldviews of its collective leaders.  Their influence over employees will determine the behaviours the organisation exhibits. Ultimately this influence spills over into how the organisation starts to be percieved by customers, shareholders and stakeholders.

There is general agreement that a number of key leadership traits are valued by employees amd by individual leadership groups. These comprise

  • The ability to make informed ethical and sustainable judgments about existing norms and rules;
  • A mindset that seeks to employ long-term thinking and a strategic perspective on issues;
  • A willingness to display moral courage in the face of inertia, and aspiration towards positive behavioural change;
  • A willingness to communicate openly and effectively with stakeholders on business actions and activities; and
  • A system thinking approach that enhances collective problem-solving.

As a leader you can work hard to cultivate a strong leadership culture around you. It may be personally satisfying, but ultimately it means little if long term performance fails to have a positive impact on wider organisational culture.  We have all experienced ‘crash and burn’ hires or ‘parachute’ managers. Candidate who promise everything at interview but who fails when presented with operational reality!   Having a positive impact on teams and organisational culture is one of the most in-demand skills that leaders possess. It is especially prized when it is tied into leadership traits encompassing ethical behaviour, sustainability and enterprise transformation.

Leadership – What do you believe strongly in?

Your personal leadership culture is not only centred on you what believe or care about. It also centres on what people around you perceive, value and react to.  If the parameters of personal belief and external perception aren’t in alignment, then your effectiveness in role will be limited.  You may shout but downt’t expect others to follow. To progress those around you must have trust in the strength and validity of your inner beliefs. The transparency of your behaviours in this area and how well you communicate this worldview

Responsible Leadership – WYSIWYG

Your own personal WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) dilemma! If you cannot inspire trust or lack accountability for your actions, then others will find it ghard to follow you as a leader. Only be the power inherent in your post that defines you as a ‘leader’ in the eyes of others.   So, building a leadership culture around yourself can be a successful and empowering enterprise. However it needs critical self-reflection in ‘who you are’ and ‘what you believe in’.

Values – Know who you are and what you stand for

Honesty and Integrity lie at the heart of a great leadership culture.  Leaders exist to inspire the employees and colleagues around them to give their very best.  These two traits inspire trust more than many other visible behaviours.   Why would we want to follow anyone who was dishonest in their dealings with people and who lacks integrity in their follow up actions?  We are also more comfortable and at ease (and thus productive) when everyone else around us behaves this way. 

Daily and strategic issues are rarely a simple choice between ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  There is often a kaleidoscope of competing issues to integrate.    We are also often reluctant to decide upon specific courses of action knowing that they will be unpopular with our staff, peers and basses.

 From experience, and in the case of a past director who always distanced himself from making any unpopular decisions. The greatest leadership tests arise when we face making tough decisions. Do you stand up or do you delegated to others. It will be your personal principles and values, how you combine them within your own leadership personna, that determines you response. It is vital that you have clarity in your core values and how they integrate within your own leadership philosophy.

Leadership Reflection

So, ask yourself:

  • Are you clear on your core values and what you stand for as a leader?
  • If not, what steps do you need to take to gain that clarity? and
  • What impact is this having on your leadership behaviours or desire to be the best leader that you can?

If you are ready to explore new, principles of responsible, environmental and sustainability leadership. Then look through Leading Green’s unique range of leadership training courses specifically in this area. Courses are delivered either directly to organisations or through training venues.

For leaders in Sustainability

Responsible Leadership is a Collective Accountability.

In combination with other ‘leaders’, you set ollective strength and behaviours for organisational culture, ethics and business behaviours.  Research shows that the leadership styles demonstrated, personnaly and collectively, has a significant impact on business. Leadership behaviours strongly what starts to define an organisations’s DNA This impact can either be positive or negative in terms of business success. negative behaviours whilst they may be initially successful rarely have a positive impact on business longevity, adaptability, innovationm sustainability and how well the senior leadership team acts as models and mentors for staff. Effective leaders prove extensive life experience and the ability to focus their teams’ interests away from conflict and towards results, providing progress opportunities as well as constructive approaches that benfit the business’s ambitions (Carmen et al, 2015).

Integrating the concept of shared responsibility into many leadership teams can be a two-edged challenge.  Some teams will respond positively as a challenge and an opportunity to create a team of Leaders.    A team in which are all empowered and feel comfortable holding each other accountable to the business’s vision, goals and culture’.  The individual accountabilities each manager brings to the Boardroom table, makes and is willing to accept — a shared-responsibility.  The risk is that some teams ‘collective responsibility’ falls into the dangerous realm of Groupthink. 

The organisational DNS is dependent on its leadership culture

Unresponsible leadership – The risk of Groupthink

Groupthink is a leadership scenario that occurs within a group of organisational leaders in which the desire for harmony or decision-making conformity in the teams results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.   The VW emission-rigging scandal is an extreme case study and warning to other corporate leaders.  The overwhelming desire for cohesiveness in the leadership team resulting in consensus through banality – poor strategic decisions which satisfy all, but which lack critical evaluation or strategic consideration of the long-term risks.

While the concepts of ethical and responsible leadership place the accountability for moral conduct only on individuals, organisational structures and the required behaviours in executives within not-for-profit and for-profit organisations results in a shared responsibility, making leadership a collective effort.

Key collective responsibilities

The key collective responsibilities for a Board of Directors will often include:

  • Determination of the Organization’s Mission and Purpose
  • Selection of the Executive
  • Support the Executive and Review thier Personal Performance
  • Ensure that an Effective Organizational Planning framework is in situ
  • Ensure Adequate Resources to meet the legal and statutory obligations of the business
  • Manage the Tangible and Intangible Assets of the Organisation Effectively
  • Determine and Monitor the Business Sustainability of the Organization’s Products, Services and Programs
  • Enhance the Organization’s Public Image
  • Serve as a Court of Appeal for Internal Disputes
  • To Reflect on and Assess thier Own Performance

A Leadership warning

As a leader your ‘display’ should match your ‘performance’!

If your organisation’s leadership culture is too skewered towards the independent actions of its respective leaders, then you run the risk of a leadership culture composed of self-deluding peacocks each following independent agendas.

If it is too skewered towards a dependent leadership culture, then you run the risk of ‘group think’ and the deluding belief that only those around the board room table are responsible for existing practices, patterns of behaviour and leadership interactions. 

Building a Responsible Leadership Culture

Every experienced and budding leader in business, especially if they hold sustainability or environmental responsibilities, should hold an opinion about what company culture means and why it’s important.   As mentioned previously, strategic decisions are rarely simple.   Making an economically beneficial decision may require the balanced consideration of ethical and environmental considerations.   Thus, responsible leaders require strong cognitive, relational, and ethical behavioural capacities that can assist a flexible mindset that can allow them to tailor their responses to a wide variety of often seemingly contradictory demands.

So how do you start?

As business’s grow, organisational culture will start to exert a powerful influence on the behaviour and employee engagement.  Initially it is the founder’s personality, values and behaviours that apply the greatest influence on people.  Opportunities existing for the owner and first employees to interact and talk through decision collectively.  Problems may be simpler, more direct and there will be less ambiguity about what business is critical and how to act.

Success brings culture challenges into organisations

As success brings growth, the new tiers of management and a larger more distant workforce can start to alter the personalities and values of set by this founding group.  Their concept of ‘business as usual’ may start to differ significantly from your own.  How they act, how responsive they are and how they prioritise behaviours as activities become more complex and diverse.  Individual behaviours will become increasingly dependent on the positive or negative leadership strengths of these intermediate managers.  How these confront and interact with an employee’s own values, worldview and ethics will impact on the organisational culture.

The First Steps towards building a strong leadership culture lies in:

A diversity of leadership mindsets

A diversity in leadership mindsets is often quoted as being a ‘good thing’ in business. However, in market competitive businesses what does it exactly mean? There are two hard headed but fundamental questions that have to be asked about leadership diversity.

  • Does increasing leadership diversity affect organisational performance in terms of factors such as profit, growth, brand and reputation. And if so,
  • How?

If you only employ engineers or accountants as managers, don’t be surprised if your organisation is logical and analytical. The leadership group may then struggle to tune into and respond to intangible CSR issues facing the business. Negative accusations of poor performance in sustainability, social justice and human slavery can impact on brands. Reputation and trustworthiness is dependent on more than product reliability, quality of manufacture and innovative engineering.

If you possess sufficient emotional intelligence (EQ) then you should understanding of your own core values. EQ will also help you to understand, appraise and value the input of colleagues into group decesion-making. When considering new executives and leaders into key posts consider your blind spots. Recruit those who not only align with your values but who also possess insights the areas you lack or are deficient in. When recruiting past leadership teams I have always tried to source a range of collective leadership skills around me. This not only strengthens the group, adds wider perspectives into strategic discussions and curbs some of my own reckless enthusiasms! Occasionally this led to ‘creative tension’ when views were significantly different or challenged my own in outlook and mindset. However the goal was always to collectively examine issues responsibly, not to be a member of an elite social club.

Teamworking requires core leadership skills

Working with others who are significantly different to us in personality, outlook and experience can be personnaly hard. Teamwork requires internal tolerances and an openness that respects and learns from the opinions of others. It is thus important that throughout the leadership group, there is the responsibility to foster:

  • Listening skills: Do you hear what others are saying. Do you understand why they feel it is important for them to say it?
  • Self-Humility: The recognition that your own worldview and past experiences are not the only way to see the world
  • Curiosity: That EQ desire to know or learn more about people, social values, ethics and morals. As well as the differences and similarities between diverse groups
  • Perspective – An openness to different perspectives, opinions and organisational experiences. Acceptance that not everyone is similar to you in outlook and ability
  • Self-awareness – One of the hardest traits for leaders to absorb and percieve. The ability to recognise and set aside with ones own biases and opinions when seeking a balanced or responsible decission.
  • Courage – A willingness to continually move forward from ones own comfort zones. Stepping voluntarily into the handling of disagreement, conflict and misinterpretation between factions or personalities.

If you have been on a C-level psychometric based executive training programme. Then you will recognize that this list contains many of the leadership qualities now in high recruitment demand by organisations. Outside the course, responsible leadership practices help embed and centre these attitudes. Only though application will your authenticity as a leader be fully appreciated….and remembered by others. 


Business Critical activities require an owner. It shounds simple, but in many organisations there is often a significant disparity between leadership commitment and involvement. The old parabable of the egg and bacon breakfast may assist in helping to differentiate between the two terms. The pig is ‘committed’ whilst the hen is ‘involved’ in its contribution to the breakfast!

We can see this failing in many organisational approached to environmental management and sustainability. In cross-organisational areas such as these, there is a need for an effective responsible culture. Organisations need leaders with a holistic attitude, willing to cross-boundaries amd who is senior enough to be respected. Someone who not only oversees policy or process, but who also holds others accountable for the organisatio’s overall environmental culture. In larger corporate bodies, it would be difficult to achieve as individually. It is acceptable for leader to deputise others to act, as long as they retain authority to move the business in the desired direction.

Organizational structure drives Culture

Who reports directly to you, and who you report to has a disproportionate effect on organisational culture. Organisational structure is important and not the equalk sharing of ‘power’ through the executive community. In one re-structure Apple made the bold decision to elevated their Design Group. The group now directly reports to the CEO. Why? Because Apple realise that they percieved themselves as a Innovation and Design led organisation. Having the Design team buried within the organisational structure did little to emphase its importance to the rest of Apple Inc.

There is a similar pattern in organisations that see themselves as Sustainability leaders. The majority of organisations situate environmental management (and sustainability if it exists) low down the organisatiuonal structure. Many groups sit 3 to 4 tiers down from the CEO. It is common for such groups to be part of teams where the primary corporate emphasis is on Safety or Quality. It is thus unsurprising that the amended ISO14000 standard now requires veritable prooof of senior leadership engagement. It is often a useful to look at CSR reports and then map the reporting location of the Environmental Manager in the organisation.

If you take pride in being a responsible organisation in a specific area, or if that area is important to brand and reputation. Make sure it is visible to the rest of the organisation. Do not bury thier leaders under several layers of management. Do not hide them under a non-related function for ease of reporting. If they are seen to be secondary by the rest of the organisation, then the organisations culture will reflect this. Placing them permenatly, or even temporarily, under your control highlights thier value to the business. It also provides an opportunity to ask questions of how these elements are viewed and valued by the rest senior leadership team.


An adaptable mindser and outlook helps individual leaders and organisations to react effectively to business change. All businesses encounter turbulent times, internal and external scenarios when change happens unexpectedly. Many public and private organisations have a mindset that allows them to do a fair job in ‘muddling through. Organisations with a more dynamic and strategically minded leadership group are better survivors in the long run. Taking time to run future scenarios and options across a variety of tangible and intangible factors.

Responsible Leadership – Can your organisation adapt rapidly to threats and disruptive market trends

Adaptability – The 10 Greatest Threats to Global Business Stability in 2019.

The 2019 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report is a valuable tool for business leaders. It annually identifies likley risk and the impact of risks. Environment-related risks now account for three of the top five risks by likelihood and four out of the top five for business impact. Despite this it is still common for many business models and Boardroom agenda to focus on short term financial and economic risks. Important, yes but not at the exclusion of the larger long-term risks emerging over the horizon! So ask yourself:

  • Have you developed internal systems to enable horizon and future risk scanning?
  • Do you benchmark your performance against others?
  • To what extent do you solicit information externally?
  • Are you prepared to adapt to global challenges and emerging megatrends outside the organisation.

A willingness to change

Leaders set cultural tone within enterprises. They also must possess a willingness to change that culture to suit current market conditions and changing business need. One of the great business killers is a reluctance to percieve risks from new competitors and to adapt. Customers are increasingly fickle and ameniable to changing suppliers. Tracking alterations in customer values and standards is a key example of where risks lie. Leadership team constantly need to determine the desired organisational response to global trends.

Responsible organisational cultures are primarily moulded by how the leadership group acts. If you are in charge, them ensure that your team reflect the type of business you aspire to lead and the level of internal collaboration it should exhibits. In this area, transparency is important in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR). So, ask yourself whether the organisation’s most significant and social risks are also a priority with your leadership team. Do they take personal accountability and responsibility for these areas. Have thier behaviours changed since being made aware of thier accountabilities.

If not, are your own actions transparent? Do you exhibit a willingness to change even if it is personnally difficult? Don’t set standards that you personnally cannot or do not aspire to. If you need phrases to mull over, consider the following commonly abused corporate sentences:


To be an effective leader in any organization, you must be able to influence those around you. Your fellow executives, managers and most importantly your employees responses determine your personal influence. The power of your position is not always sufficient in the long run to sway others. Neither do some executive posts carry the kudos to sway other Sites, Groups or Departments across a corporate framework.

What is influene? In simple terms it is the personal ability to affect others’
actions, decisions, opinions or thinking. From this it should be clear that postive influence will assist a responsible elader in thier work. Whilst negative influence will build only distrust, avoidance and poor motivation to work with you.

So, consider:

  • What is the best way to position yourself as an influencer in internal communications.
  • How do you motivate your colleagues to support your initiatives and adopt your ideas?
  • How can you become the go-to person that others look to for guidance and expert advice?

Communicate, communicate and communicate

Staff members and especially your direct teams want to understand how you act. They want to analyse your decissions, vision and motivation – and its impact on thier job or career. It never hurts a responsible leader to constantly communicate the values and team culture they desire directly to individually and to groups. If colleagues understand your motivation and aspirations for the team they can be placed in a more co-operative mode. When percieved as authenic and contributory to the business, they tend to repect and follow the direction being given to them. The converse tact is to be open, honest and challenging with those who don’t!

No one step will provide success. Few organisational cultures derive immediately from a well crafted misssion staement. Progress will be especially slow in mature, complacent and previously poorly managed organisations. Success ultimately will be dependent on a combined assault across all or several of the initiatives outlined above. The strategy is to slowly ratchet up the pressure on staff to follow the direction being set beforethem. When they respond they crucially will start to take others with them as a business as usual ‘norm’ is set. Remember that in terms of responsibility and leadership, others tend to follow those who they believe are authentic, possess values that they admire and are seen to ‘walking the talk. The desired goal is to align organisational culture with business performance!

Responsible Leadership – Why is this important?

Organisational culture reflects the beliefs and values that build up in its employees. They encapulate the corporate mindset from the top to the bottom that builds up over time.  In successful organisations it gives staff a freedom to operate in the business’s best interests. Great customer stories are based on individuals using this licence to operate to go above and beyond normal service paramerters. They understand that the decission is thiers and will be respected by thier leaders. They act for the collective and not just for the indiviudal. The workplace culture. Employees respond positively when they know that they and thier r work is valued.  This has a significant impact on efficiency and organisational performance.  As all good leaders know, it isn’t about you, it is about them! 

If they are inspired by positive leadership it is likley that thier personal well-being, attitude, approach to customers and behaviours. In organisations who wish to retain skilled employees) it also imporves their longevity in employment. Without inspiration, without direction and without positive leadership – staff will adjust their work patterns accordingly. Often setting a level that allows them to operate within the leadership cultures that they find themselves.    

  • Why act responsibly if it is under valuesd
  • Why risk your inspiration on a leader who only reflects on his own position within the leadership?
  • Why work hard for a leader who fails to hold others accountable for poor performance?
  • Why seek system thinking from a leader whose judgement, design and thinking is poor?
  • Why follow the vision of a leader you don’t trust?

In seeking to act as a ‘leader’ or a ‘leader of others’. Individuals managers must understand the close relationship between organizational culture and individual (and collective) responsible leadership behaviours. Applying them to drive positive outcomes in business performance, sustainability, staff satisfaction and retention.

To help you in this, I recommend that you reflect on the following three leadership insights:

  • To what extent is the organisational culture having a positive or negative impact on sustainability
  • Is our collective leadership culture helping us to achieve the sustainability strategies that have been set?
  • What do I need to address internally and who do I need to challenge openly to change matters?

The last question as always is the most difficult to answer. It is the one requiring the greatest self -reflection and desire to act as a leader!


There is much to be gained from embracing responsible leadership. An organisation’s sense of purpose, success and collective strength can be enhanced for internal and external stakeholders to see. When visible it can be communicated out to the wider marketplace as a ‘value’. An attractive element to attract new employess and customers. Why do many leadership groups resist a concept that holds out so much long-term value in difficult economic times. Yes, it is difficult, demands much from the leadership team and it requires a different mindset. However, when looking outwards from the boardroom. Who wouldn’t want to work for, and dedicate ones skills to, an organisation that respected them as individual. An enterprise that was a market leader. A business that sought high standards of personal integrity. OPne led by leaders who sought to limits any adverse impact on people and the environments they inhabit.

For Leaders in Sustainability

The full range of Leading Green’s Responsible Leadership Training courses can be accessed at https://www.leading-green.com/


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