“With power comes responsibility – it is as simple as that” said Professor Peter Tufano as he welcomed visitors to a discussion about business leadership and responsibility to celebrate the creation of the Kim B. Clark Fellowship in Responsible Leadership at Saїd Business School at Oxford University on September 7th. “Business organisations have power. How should they wield it? What does responsibility mean in business?” Professor Tufano asked as he opened the discussion.
Professor Tufano was joined by four other eminent speakers who contributed their perspectives on responsible leadership:
Kim B. Clark, in whose honour the Fellowship is named, President of Brigham Young University, Idaho, and formerly Dean, Harvard Business School
Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; Visiting Professor, Saïd Business School; the first recipient of the Kim B. Clark Fellowship. Professor Christensen is a Rhodes Scholar with an MPhil in Econometrics from Oxford
Kim S. Cameron, Professor of Management and Organisations, Ross School of Business
Charles Conn, Warden, Rhodes House, University of Oxford. Mr Conn is a Rhodes Scholar, and read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford.
Professor Christensen began the discussion by highlighting the role that academic institutions have in fostering the next generation of leaders. He stressed that responsible leadership begins with a discussion of values – but suggested that, rather than teaching a set of values that individuals should always abide by, a more effective approach is to teach students how to think, rather than what to think. He believed that students should be introduced to well-researched, reliable theories that can be applied in a wide range of situations.
”If we give the next generation good theories they might provide us with better leadership in the future,” he said. “Understanding what theory is and how it applies might give our graduates, as tomorrow's future leaders, a better way to work their way through all of the pitfalls that might arise than if we try to teach certain values which always ought to be applied.”
As an academic who has spent over a decade researching organisational virtuousness, Professor Cameron proposed that organisations driven by responsible leadership reap diverse benefits such as greater financial return, cohesion and morale.
"One of the things my research has taught me is that responsible leadership matters and it makes a statistically significant difference in the performance of organisations even in ways you would never expect, like profitability," he said.
Charles Conn contrasted the leadership style of scholarship founder, mining magnate, politician and businessman, Cecil Rhodes, with that of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, a California-based sports clothing company well-known for its ethical and environmentally-friendly production practices where he sits on the Board. "Rhodes was a remarkably effective leader," Conn commented, "but history hasn't judged him to be a responsible leader. The difference between being an incredibly effective leader and a responsible and moral leader amounts to this- that our means are responsible, not just our ends.”
President Clark continued by drawing attention to every individual's role as a leader, whether they are operating in government, as a CEO or within the family, describing leadership as “always and everywhere, a moral act”. We teach other people about leadership through our actions, even if unwittingly, and it is important therefore to do it with intent.
He described his own experience of inspiring his faculty to adopt responsible leadership, encouraging them to invest in each other and work together, even sacrificing their own self interests to create a stronger more powerful organisation which in time, would better serve their own interests. “At Harvard Business School, we chose to educate for responsibility’ he said, concluding that "Responsibility is about the heart and the mind.”
In closing the discussion Professor Tufano reflected on advancing responsible leadership from the perspective of the Dean at Oxford’s business school. He commented that while most discussions of responsible leadership focus on individual leaders, we must also think about creating organisations and systems that foster responsibility.
Business schools can help organisations to give due attention to the other levers at their disposal in encouraging responsible behaviour such as who is promoted and praised, how we reward people for “doing the right things” and how—and whether—we discipline those who do the wrong things. At a system level, he noted the important role of institutions like Oxford in influencing the “rules of the game”—the written and unwritten rules that order society. Our institutions’ responsibility is to celebrate responsibility and to help policymakers and regulators encourage better behaviour, which in part includes not preferencing one set of stakeholders above all others.
President Clark closed the session reinforcing these comments and adding that “responsibility is not easy to do. It is not only about the heart (who are you, what you stand for) but also about the mind. And it takes a great deal of thought to identify what it takes within a company to address these issues.” He cited William James, the famous nineteenth century philosopher and psychologist, who saw the virtues of being tough minded but not hard hearted.
John Hoffmire teaches at SaÏd Business School at the University of Oxford.