What is responsible leadership?

Nudge Forward

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2023 Growth Through People campaign.

Responsible leadership is;

  • Balancing the paradox of traditional vs emergent leadership, to do the right thing.
  • Doing the right thing, at the right time, with the right resources, in the right way.
  • A challenging and rather ambiguous equation to get our heads (and our hearts) around.


Here are 7 concerns for responsible leadership:

1 Ethical behaviour: prioritising ethical behaviour and appropriate governance in decision-making processes, taking into account the impact of decisions on stakeholders, the environment and wider society.


2 Transparency: being transparent in communication and decision-making, sharing information openly and honestly with stakeholders, and being accountable for actions.


3 Sustainability: focusing on sustainability, considering the long-term impact of decisions on the environment, society, and the economy, rather than just short-term gains.


4 Empathy: showing empathy for employees and stakeholders, actively understanding needs and perspectives, to create a culture of mutual respect and understanding.


5 Equity, diversity and inclusion: creating a culture valuing and respecting individual differences, promoting equal opportunity and fostering a sense of belonging.


6 Corporate social responsibility: promoting corporate social responsibility, supporting initiatives that benefit society, such as charitable giving, volunteering and community involvement.


7 Continuous learning and improvement: committing to continuous learning and improvement, seeking out new knowledge, feedback and opportunities for growth in order to become more effective.


Leadership is a dynamic process that is more about attitude, mindset and capability rather than an ascribed role, level or job title.

Leading responsibly - in the post-pandemic, post-Brexit, resource-challenged, digitally connected, climate crisis world with inflationary pressures, international conflicts and growing inequality – defies leading in ways we’ve always led to guarantee business success and economic benefit.

Traditional leadership ways, where command and control, hierarchical and authoritative power ruled has become outdated in favour of a more emergent leadership style favouring more of an inquisitive style, a nimbler and more adaptive, less controlling approach provide a responsible (and effective) leader with a complex choice of approaches in attempting to do the ‘right’ thing.

Truth is, in the current environment, most leaders need to be good at both styles of leadership to succeed.

Any leader relying on positional authority will run into trouble – business, technology and workforce expectations are changing too quickly for this approach to be sustainable and effective, yet a leader who never tells and only listens, who shares but doesn’t hold power will also struggle to be effective.


A recent Harvard Business Review article written by executive education specialists at International Institute for Management Development (IMD) highlights 7 main tensions that leaders are facing, being:


  • The Expert vs The Learner
  • The Constant vs The Adaptor
  • The Tactician vs The Visionary
  • The Teller vs The Listener
  • The Power Holder vs The Power Sharer
  • The Intuitionist vs The Analyst
  • The Perfectionist vs The Accelerator.


The challenge of current, responsible leadership is in choosing how to show up as a leader.


Here are 3 ways to help:

1 Self-awareness – understanding one’s own tendencies is an important first step;


2 Learn and practice – broadening and adapting from your natural leadership comfort zone;


3 Contextual awareness – building confidence to adapt to fit the specific needs of the current environment.


Having a safe space for encouraging self-awareness, learning and practicing, and building contextual awareness is possible through effective leadership coaching.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2023 this involves 4 free webinars and events sharing best practice advice and guidance taking place throughout March, and a Growth Through People conference on 10th May. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing podcasts and blog content.

Thanks to our Headline Partners and Sponsors – Aston University, South and City College Birmingham and the West Midlands Combined Authority - all Growth Through People events and webinars are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend here.