Social responsibility, ecological awareness, sustainability. These topics are ever-present nowadays. But what exactly do they mean for modern leadership? Which responsibilities do modern leaders have in their work environment in these areas, even if they aren’t among their core responsibilities per se?

We at Leaders21 are no experts in topics like sustainability, yet we do have a clear opinion on the role of leaders when it comes to ethical leadership: we firmly believe that, besides their work-related duties and their responsibility towards their employees, leaders of the 21st century also have an equally heavy responsibility towards society and the environment. Why? The answer is simple: the fact that leaders tend to have a huge influence on their surroundings elevates their possibilities to “do good” for their organizations with regard to ethical behavior.

Ethical leadership as a mindset

This mindset can be summarized under the term ethical leadership, with the core message being that every leader, as well as every company, is a role model for others. Companies shouldn’t just act with the aim to care for their employees and to reach their business goals, but also take action for the common good and to protect the environment. Inspired by this mindset, we created our Leaders21 concept “Leading from the Inside.”

What does ethical behavior mean?

Philosophers have been debating for centuries what exactly encompasses the term “ethics” and how “ethical behavior” looks in detail. At the end of 2020, Harvard Business Review dedicated an interesting article to the question of how this complex topic can be aligned with the reality of everyday work.

Even if there won’t be a definitive, generally valid answer to the question what the “right” behavior entails, and even if terms like “sustainability” and “social responsibility” are used excessively in corporate marketing, leaders must not shy away from their responsibility for ethical leadership. How ethical leadership is defined in detail and lived is up to every company—within the scope of a general, wider definition of ethical behavior.

Ethics in business

The actual room for maneuver is individual to and greatly depends on every single company. Whether business-specific challenges stem from environment-related topics like transport, packaging, or the use of natural resources, or whether leadership decisions directly affect employees or society strongly depends on the respective situation of a company. However, there are three things which distinguish great leaders from good ones in all areas: being conscious about their responsibility to act ethically, having the strength to stand by difficult decisions, and the ability to exert a positive influence on others by being a role model.

If you want to know more about our take on modern leadership and the role of leaders, check out our new podcast. And, as always, we’re happy to hear from you via email too!