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Theoretical Development and Empirical Examination of a Three-Roles Model of Responsible Leadership

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Abstract

This article develops theory on responsible leadership based on a model involving three leadership roles: an expert who displays organizational expertise, a facilitator who cares for and motivates employees and a citizen who considers the consequences of her or his decisions for society. It draws on previous responsible leadership research, stakeholder theory and theories of behavioral complexity to conceptualize the roles model of responsible leadership. Responsible leadership is positioned as a concept that requires leaders to show behavioral complexity in addressing all three roles. In three studies, we provide a first empirical test of antecedents and outcomes of the roles model of responsible leadership. The results of the studies indicate that responsible leadership is positively related to the leader’s perceived effectiveness, favorable stakeholder evaluations and employee engagement with the organization and society. Responsible leadership behavior, in turn, seems to be facilitated by leader empathy, positive affect and universal value orientation.

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Notes

  1. Scholars have argued that responsible leadership overlaps to a certain extent with other leadership conceptualizations (see e.g., Miska and Mendenhall 2018; Voegtlin 2011). Especially the responsibility of leaders associated with their task- and employee-related obligations are reflected in the behavioral dispositions of previous leadership operationalizations. We draw on one of the most influential conceptualizations in this regard. The LBDQ dimensions reflect our theoretical roles of expert and facilitator. What is different in our model is the combination, and, more importantly, the balanced display of the two roles. Moreover, as we will lay out in the following, the additional citizen dimension has not been prominently placed in leadership measures, i.e., as being equally relevant as the focus on work goals and employee consideration. Miska and Mendenhall (2018) observe in this regard that “the consideration of stakeholders both within and outside organizations makes [responsible leadership…] distinct from other approaches which frequently tend to focus on followers residing solely inside the organization”. This quote highlights that responsible leadership is more encompassing by giving equal weight to external, or secondary, stakeholders. This external focus is related to the idea of stewardship.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Yehuda Baruch and William McKinley for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper and Daniella Laureiro-Martinez for helpful insights into the think aloud method.

Funding

We acknowledge the financial support by the Swiss National Science Foundation for the projects “Making Responsible Leadership Relevant: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure” (100018_149937) and “When individuals become social innovators: Investigating social innovative behavior and its individual and contextual preconditions” (100010_165699).

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Voegtlin, C., Frisch, C., Walther, A. et al. Theoretical Development and Empirical Examination of a Three-Roles Model of Responsible Leadership. J Bus Ethics 167, 411–431 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04155-2

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