Sub-theme 57: Responsible Leadership: Addressing Social, Environmental and Business Implications of Leadership

Nicola M. Pless
ESADE Business School, Spain
Günter K. Stahl
WU Vienna, Austria, & INSEAD, France
Christian Voegtlin
University of Zurich, Switzerland

Call for Papers

Recurring corporate scandals and extended social and environmental responsibility expectations directed at multinational business corporations have sparked increasing research on ethical and responsible leadership in recent years. However, the predominant research approaches that address business leaders' ethicality and responsibility still remain mainly focused on internal ethics management (e.g., Brown & Trevino, 2006; Walumbwa et al., 2008). This research misses the broader social and environmental implications of leadership decisions – decisions that can have negative effects on a range of internal and external stakeholders.

Emerging research on responsible leadership addresses the gap at the intersection of organizational leadership and responsible engagement with, and of, stakeholders. Research on responsible leadership investigates the scope of responsibility of business leaders in an increasingly complex and uncertain global business environment, contrasting a shareholder and broader stakeholder orientation. However, despite a growing body of literature (Doh & Stumpf, 2005; Maak & Pless, 2006; Miska et al. 2013; Pless et al., 2011; Voegtlin et al., 2012; Waldman & Galvin, 2008), we still have a limited understanding of a leader's scope of responsibility, stakeholders' expectations of a responsible leader, the challenges of behaving ethically and responsibly as a business leader, and the individual, organizational, and institutional antecedents of responsible leader behavior.

This sub-theme seeks to encourage further research and to advance the discussion on responsible leadership. The aim is to move towards a common understanding of what responsible leadership is and what it can achieve. We seek contributions that theoretically and empirically assess responsible leadership and its relation to individual ethical decision-making, stakeholder engagement, and corporate social responsibility. We thereby address aspects connected to responsible leadership at the individual level (e.g., leader decision-making), the group level (e.g., role of shared leadership in corporate responsibility), the relational level (e.g., the leader-stakeholder interaction), the organizational level (e.g., responsible leader behavior and ethical climate), and societal level (the impact of responsible leadership on social and environmental firm performance).

We encourage contributions that address (but are not restricted to) the following topics:

Conceptual and theoretical issues:

  • What is responsible leadership? How can we move towards a unified definition of responsible leadership?
  • Various attempts have been made to reconcile the shareholder primacy model and the stakeholder perspective. Do these (seemingly) polar opposites adequately represent the range of beliefs or perspectives that business leaders hold with respect to corporate responsibility and ethics?
  • What frameworks exist to model the linkages between individual-, situational-, organizational- and country-level influences and responsible leadership?
  • What are the boundary conditions and contingency factors for responsible leadership?

Empirical research:

  • How can responsible leadership be modelled and measured at multiple levels of analysis?
  • What is the role of individual leaders in the formulation of CSR and sustainability strategies, the creation of ethical norms, and their gradual integration within the company?
  • What is the relative importance of individual, organizational, and societal influences on responsible leadership, and how do these factors combine and interact to influence leader behavior and ethical choices?
  • Little attention has been given to cross-national variations in leaders' responsibility orientations. How does the wider cultural and institutional context within which global corporations and their leaders operate affect the nature and enactment of responsible leadership?

Practical implications:

  • Finally, an overarching goal of this sub-theme is to develop recommendations of how organizations can effectively prevent managerial misconduct and promote responsible leadership. What approaches, practices or tools can be utilized to minimize the risk of irresponsible leader behaviour?




  • Brown, M.E., & Trevino, L.K. (2006): "Ethical leadership: A review and future directions." Leadership Quarterly, 17 (6), 595–616.
  • Doh, J.P., & Stumpf, S.A. (2005): Handbook on Responsible leadership and Governance in Global Business. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
  • Maak, T., & Pless, N.M. (2006): "Responsible leadership in a stakeholder society – A relational perspective." Journal of Business Ethics, 66, 99–115.
  • Miska, C., Stahl, G.K., & Mendenhall, M.E. (2013): Intercultural competencies as antecedents of responsible global leadership." European Journal of International Management, 7 (5), 550–568.
  • Pless, N.M., Maak, T., & Stahl, G.K. (2011): "Developing responsible global leaders through international service-learning programs: The Ulysses experience." Academy of Management: Learning & Education, 10 (2), 237–260.
  • Voegtlin, C., Patzer, M., & Scherer, A.G. (2012): "Responsible leadership in global business: A new approach to leadership an its multi-level outcomes." Journal of Business Ethics, 105 (1), 1–16.
  • Waldman, D.A., & Galvin, B.M. (2008): "Alternative perspectives of responsible leadership." Organizational Dynamics, 37 (4), 327–341.
  • Walumbwa, F.O., Avolio, B.J., Gardner, W.L., Wernsing, T.S., & Peterson, S.J. (2008): "Authentic leadership: Development and validation of a theory-based measure." Journal of Management, 34 (1), 89–126.


Nicola M. Pless is Associate Professor at ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, in Barcelona, Spain, and the recipient of the Aspen Faculty Pioneer Award 2013. She received her PhD at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and is Associate Editor of the 'Journal of Business Ethics'. Prior to joining ESADE, she was a faculty member of the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), a Senior Research Fellow at INSEAD (France), and pursued an executive career serving in senior leadership roles in the financial services industry.
Günter K. Stahl is Professor of International Management at WU Vienna, Austria, and Adjunct Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, France. He received his PhD in business administration at the University of Bayreuth (Germany), and was a visiting professor at Duke University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Northeastern University, and Hitotsubashi University.
Christian Voegtlin is Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Business Administration at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where he received his PhD in business administration. He is currently project leader of two research projects on responsible leadership funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.