, Volume 66, Issue 1, pp 99-115
Date: 23 May 2006

Responsible Leadership in a Stakeholder Society – A Relational Perspective

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We understand responsible leadership as a social-relational and ethical phenomenon, which occurs in social processes of interaction. While the prevailing leadership literature has for the most part focussed on the relationship between leaders and followers in the organization and defined followers as subordinates, we show in this article that leadership takes place in interaction with a multitude of followers as stakeholders inside and outside the corporation. Using an ethical lens, we discuss leadership responsibilities in a stakeholder society, thereby following Bass and Steidelmeier’s suggestion to discuss “leadership in the context of contemporary stakeholder theory” (1999: 200). Moreover, from a relational and stakeholder perspective we approach the questions: What is responsible leadership? What makes a responsible leader? What qualities are needed? Finally, we propose a so-called “roles model” of responsible leadership, which gives a gestalt to a responsible leader and describes the different roles he or she takes in leading stakeholders and business in society.

Dr. Thomas Maak is a Research Director at the Institute for Business Ethics and Reader in Corporate Responsibility at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). He earned his Ph.D. in Business Ethics, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of St. Gallen and held visiting appointments at Columbia University and Georgetown University. Currently, he is a member of the executive committee of the European Business Ethics Network EBEN.
Dr. Nicola Pless is a former Vice President of leadership development at a large financial services institution. Currently she is a Research Director at the Center for Public Leadership and Reader in Responsible Leadership at the University of St. Gallen. She holds a Ph.D. in organizational theory and social issues from the University of St. Gallen and a diploma in clinical organizational psychology from INSEAD.
 Both the authors are Visiting Senior Research Fellows at INSEAD, France, where they co-direct a research stream on “Developing responsible leadership for sustainable business” within the PwC-INSEAD initiative on high-performing organizations. They are the editors of “Responsible Leadership”, published by Routledge in 2006.