The responsible leadership movement may be seen as part of the wider sustainability revolution. Sustainability was defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as “economic development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Since then, guiding principles have been formulated and a growing number of business leaders have issued a call to action. Still one expert, Orr, recently concluded that “virtually no indicator of planetary health is moving in a positive direction, and we should ask why.” The purpose of this paper, heeding the admonition to “ask why”, is to examine what it means to be responsible as a leader at this time, in this context.
A consensus view of the context and the accountabilities it implies is gleaned from an analysis of sustainability principles. A psychological approach to conceptualizing leader responsibility as a variable in personal development is elaborated under the normative construct of generativity. A new model for coaching developing leaders and promoting leader responsibility is proposed. It is based on recent advances in psychoanalytic psychology, and aspects of its theory base and method are illustrated in a case example.
Development of responsibility is found to hinge on personal value commitments that can best be awakened and cultivated through professionally‐relevant personal development in conjunction with experiential development strategies such as stretch assignments and action learning.
The approach offers a practical, developmental pathway for promoting leader responsibility.
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