Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 156, Issue 1, pp 25–43 | Cite as

Relational Leadership for Sustainability: Building an Ethical Framework from the Moral Theory of ‘Ethics of Care’

  • Jessica NicholsonEmail author
  • Elizabeth Kurucz
Original Paper


The practice of relational leadership is essential for dealing with the increasingly urgent and complex social, economic and environmental issues that characterize sustainability. Despite growing attention to both relational leadership and leadership for sustainability, an ethical understanding of both is limited. This is problematic as both sustainability and relational leadership are rife with moral implications. This paper conceptually explores how the moral theory of ‘ethics of care’ can help to illuminate the ethical dimensions of relational leadership for sustainability. In doing so, the implications of ethics of care more broadly for the practice of relational leadership development are elaborated. From a caring perspective, a ‘relational stance’ or logic of effectiveness can be fostered through engaging in a reflective process of moral education through conversation. In starting this dialogue, we can begin to build capacity for relational leadership for sustainability and, thus, support the development of individual well-being and organizational and societal flourishing.


Dialogic ethic Ethics of care Moral education process Relational leadership Relational leadership development Sustainability 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management, College of Business and EconomicsUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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