Campus - 30.11.2012 - 00:00 

Examining Responsible Leadership

The CEMS network of international business universities concluded its Annual Events in St.Gallen with a panel discussing the theme “Responsible Leadership.”

$alt30/11/2012. What do we mean when we say “Responsible Leadership”? Are we speaking simply of ensuring a company’s success? Are we speaking of leading in an ethical manor, or are we talking about ensuring the company’s impacts are socially beneficial? A high level panel at the University of St.Gallen concluded the week long Annual CEMS event by examining this very topic.

Defining responsible leadership
Before the panel began, HSG Professor Dr. Wolfgang Jenewein gave an introduction in which he described what he felt should be imparted to students as the three levels of responsible leadership – knowing, being and doing. That is to say, one must be well and fully informed; one must be self-reflective of one’s own values in every situation; and one must have the courage to act upon those values.

Upon the opening of the panel dissection, Prof Dr. Thomas Bieger, HSG President and CEMS Chairman added that one must be willing to be answerable for their decisions and take responsibility for them. He also pointed out that one should be embedded in one’s community as this will lead to a clearer understanding of one’s social responsibility. However, Head of Human Resources for ABB, Gary Steel added that curiosity can be a compensation for being embedded.

“ABB is a global company, and we send people all over the world,” Mr. Steel said. “When someone first gets to a community they have no connection to it, but if they have a strong sense of curiosity they soon will.”

Culture of responsibility
Ruth Metzler-Arnold, a former member of the Swiss Federal Council, said that a person may be a responsible leader, but it also depends on the people following him. HSG Professor Dr. Heike Bruch agreed, saying that responsibility must permeate the team.

“Traditionally the focus for responsibility would only be on the top, but as the world becomes more complex, that is no longer enough,” said Prof Dr. Bruch, adding that one must enforce a uniform sense of responsibility throughout one’s team. It must be a culture of responsibility within the organization from top to bottom.

Not always black and white
Robert Glasser, Secretary General of Care International pointed out that setting values based standard within an organization does not always lead to a black and white choice. He cited an incident when Care was offered a great deal of money to initiate a program that could have help people in a specific conflict zone. However, Care would have been indirectly assisting a regime pacifying their rebelling citizens. While they could have helped people with the money, and possibly justified it publicly, it would have violated the values of the organization.

“It really starts with individuals,” Mr. Glasser said. “You have to ask what are your values? What is the voice you are going to listen to within yourself, and then what are the accountabilities within the organization to reinforce that?”

Teaching responsible leadership
The panel eventually turned to how universities can teach responsible leadership. Prof Dr. Bieger explained that at HSG they try to instill the proper wide lens perspective in their graduates on the impact they can create as leaders.

“What you want is graduates who know about the environments they are effecting with their decisions,” said Prof Dr. Bieger. “So they have to have an understanding of the social systems, the ecological systems, so they can how they will affect those environments.” Prof Dr. Bieger went on to say that HSG has launched a number of business and social projects that students take part in which allow them to learn by doing in the field.

Mr. Steel added that it goes beyond what a student will learn in the class. “You don't become a responsible leader just after you first hear that phrase," he said. "This is a lifetime journey for people, learning day by day."

The panel discussion also included, Nannette Hechler-Fayd’herbe, Managing Director of Credit Suisse. It was the concluding event of the CEMS Annual Events, which takes place at a different CEMS University each year. This is the second time HSG has hosted the events.

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