Socially conscious management has increased in recent years. It is based on accountability and transparency that goes far beyond the obligations to shareholders. In these cases, managers align the vision of the company with the values of its employees. They take initiatives that are in line with their company’s purpose, values, and stakeholder attitudes.
Servant leadership is an essential prerequisite for strengthening socially conscious leadership. To clarify, servant leaders focus primarily on the growth and well-being of the people and communities to which they belong. They put the needs of others first and enable people to perform as ideally as possible. Most companies – despite the rhetoric on their websites – continue to operate as pyramidal structures, with those at the bottom defining the ethics of their operations. Large organizations routinely defend their environmental, social, and governance (ESG), corporate social responsibility (CSR), and diversity, equality & inclusion (DEI) initiatives, among others, but it is clear that rhetoric and everyday life at the grassroots level must match to maintain credibility.
The impact of crises on socially conscious leadership
COVID-19 and now the war in Ukraine raised fundamental questions about how to protect the physical and mental wellbeing of workers, the responsibility of business leaders to their communities and their role in addressing global challenges. Socially conscious leadership and sustainability have become a global prerequisite for sustainable growth and resilience. Almost every global company defends its commitment to sustainable business practices that create powerful social and economic value. Yet many of these companies’ adherence to these principles is superficial. Every few years, a serious ethical scandal emerges that attracts the attention of the media and critical stakeholders.
In a time of global pandemic and climate change crisis, the role, status and importance of business in society is changing. It reflects the large-scale challenges facing the global community, which governments alone cannot solve, and the huge demand in the marketplace and opportunities for inventive private sector solutions.
What actions need to be taken and how to monitor them?
The purpose of a business must be driven from the top, but it cannot be on the shoulders of a single leader or based solely on personal philosophy or passion. Leaders must link the purpose of the company to the long-term viability and sustainability of their business models. They need to engage managers and executives in understanding why social awareness and purpose are essential for long-term success. This requires a clear understanding of stakeholders’ needs and expectations of ESG factors, as well as internal and external audits. Investors have started a major movement to push their target companies to step up climate action and financial climate risk disclosure. Managers need to understand how these trends impact economic and reputational risks, opportunities and competitiveness.
Another more mundane objective is to establish a global reporting standard that will allow investors, in particular, to compare similar companies from a sustainability perspective. While it is often difficult to put reactions to crises on any scale, reporting standard or otherwise, this is of great importance in the long term. The new EU taxonomy is an important step forward in this respect.
- Socially conscious management is about the ability of managers to adapt to societal changes and thereby prevent or mitigate potential reputational damage.
- Crises such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Covid-19 prompted management to look at the mental and physical well-being of employees on an unprecedented scale.
- In recent years, there has been a trend where young people in particular want to work for companies that share their values.