of debates about the nature and char-
acter of corporate social responsibil-
ity (CSR). However, where many
organizations struggle is in defining
and developing the leadership skills
and abilities necessary to translate the
principles of CSR into practice.
A recent research study from the
Ashridge Centre for Business and
Society and the European Academy
of Business in Society set out to pro-
vide clarity in this nebulous area and
resulted in the articulation of a set of
reflexive abilities required for respon-
sible leadership.
In essence the study involved two
distinct but related strands of inquiry.
The first comprised a large-scale
questionnaire distributed to managers
operating in public- and private-sector
organizations across Europe. The
questionnaire focused on the attitudes
and beliefs that drive responsible
management practice. More than a
hundred senior managers responded
to this questionnaire.
The second, qualitative approach
comprised a series of in-depth inter-
views with senior managers in lead-
ing, European-based, multinational
companies. For each interview the
research team attempted to bring
together senior representatives from
functions including CSR, human
resources, and operations. The inter-
views focused on how to equip man-
agers with the knowledge, skills, and
attitudes required to operate effec-
tively in today’s complex business
environment. These in-depth inter-
views involved twenty-four senior
managers in eleven leading multina-
tional corporations: BP, Cargill,
Dexia, Eni, IBM, Johnson &
Johnson, Microsoft, Shell, Solvay,
Suez, and Unilever.
When the wealth of qualitative infor-
mation gathered from the interviews
was combined with the quantitative
data derived from the survey, it
became clear that defining and
describing behavior that leads to and
supports CSR requires a considera-
tion of leadership qualities, manage-
ment skills, and reflexive abilities.
Leadership qualities. When defin-
ing responsible business behavior, the
starting point is the leadership quali-
ties found in individuals’ personal
attitudes and beliefs. These qualities
are values driven and relate to the
moral aspects of decision making—
distinguishing between right and
wrong and good and bad, for
instance. As such, they comprise
individual characteristics such as
honesty and integrity. They are deep-
seated personal qualities that change
and develop only slowly and over
Management skills. Management
skills can be seen as the antithesis of
leadership qualities—they are amoral,
normative, and entirely instrumental.
They are the aspects of management
practice that are the tangible manifes-
tation of socially and environmentally
responsible business behavior. They
include expertise in areas such as
stakeholder relations and building
partnerships. Unlike leadership quali-
ties, management skills are amenable
to being taught and developed over
the short term.
Reflexive abilities. The reflexive
abilities identified through the
research are a synthesis of leadership
qualities and management skills.
They are the core characteristics of
responsible behavior and are made up
of a mixture of skills, attitudes, and
knowledge sets. Reflexive abilities
can be considered the key competen-
cies required to integrate social and
environmental considerations into
core business decision making.
Five interrelated reflexive abilities
were identified by the research.
Systemic Thinking
Dealing with complexity requires the
ability to think strategically, to under-
stand the bigger picture, and to
appreciate the diverse networks in
which an organization operates. At its
simplest, systemic thinking is the
ability to understand the interdepend-
ency of systems across the business
and between the business and society.
Interviewees suggested that sys-
temic thinking requires a deep under-
standing of both internal organiza-
tional relations and external social,
economic, environmental, and cul-
tural dynamics. To be successful,
Andrew Wilson is a director
of the Corporate Citizenship
Company, a London-based
consultancy firm. He is an
associate of Ashridge, an
international business
school based in the United
Kingdom, where until
recently he was director of research.
Businesses of all sizes,
in all sectors, and in
many different coun-
tries are facing increas-
ing pressures to make a
positive contribution to
society beyond the tra-
ditional economic bene-
fits that derive from
corporate activities.

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