At the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, hosted by the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University asked Mark Mendenhall to answer the question “what is leadership?”

Watch for the answer and how to become a leader in your field:


Well, one of the intended activities of this summit is you have lots of opportunity to talk with one another, to meet those you may not know and to reconnect with those you might. I’m always a bit reluctant to cut things off, but we do have a program and I can be a slave to the schedule at times.  The next portion of our program is reflection remarks. And you might have been wondering when you looked at the schedule, why are we reflecting when we are only halfway through the first day? But the intent was to ask someone to reflect on the word responsible, as it was suggested earlier that there may be a lot of difference of perspective and opinion with regard to what that word means. And so I thought, one thing that might be useful is to focus on that. So I’ve asked Mark Mendenhall from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and probably, I will say the leading writer on global leadership and academic circles. Others might disagree, including Mark. But, he is certainly the most cited in that field. So we’re gonna turn the time over to Mark. I’ve asked him to leave some time for questions and discussion. And so without further ado, Mark.


Is this on? Okay. Well, I have to speak in this so they can record. Right? Okay. I don’t wanna stand behind there, if that’s okay. Is there a clicker? Anyway, I’m not going to define the responsible and responsible global leadership that’s really for us to do today or to try to do, but Allan asked me just to raise some issues as I’ve thought about it. And I’m gonna call on a good friend and colleague, Gunther Stalin, a few minutes to share some thoughts as well. I’m working with him and Christoff on some of this issue.  And so a lot of this reflects their thoughts as well. So this is sort of a team effort, which means if you don’t like it, you can also go talk to them afterwards.

So as Allan said, I’ve been working a lot in global leadership, and they got me interested in this notion of responsible global leadership. And my first reaction was, why do you need ‘responsible’ in front of global leadership? Wouldn’t somehow that construct just subsume that idea, but I’m not really necessarily holding to that. So let’s back up a minute though. What is leadership to start with? I mean, I teach general leadership in the EMBA and MBA program where I’m at. And, we spend two, we spend about six hours just on this because, you know, as all of you know, the empirical theoretical research on leadership cannot agree on what is leadership, right? So, Gary Yukl, who kind of has written, you know, his book is a good summary of the field. 

It comes out in multiple editions. You know, most people would agree with Gary that leadership involves something like that. Some would vehemently disagree, though. They would say leadership is not about one individual person. Leadership is actually a process. And then, you know, there’s very interesting stuff being done in shared leadership and things like that. I’m very tempted to kind of go off track here, but I won’t. Okay? But again, most would agree that it has something to do with that. So one of the things that we’re obviously doing today is looking at global leadership.

Well, what’s global? There’s probably, you know, if we really kind of ask each one of you to really unpack what you believe global is, I think we’d be surprised at the differences. Sebastian Reiche and Allan and I and Joyce, we’ve taken a shot at this, and I’m not gonna spend the time now to share with you, but we’ve kind of argued that global can be looked at in three dimensions; complexity, what we call presence and flow. And within flow, there’s a lot of focus on boundary spanning and stuff like that. So that looks like we can send you these articles if you’d like, but one of the problems in the field is people mean different things by the term global. In fact, one of the things that led to this, and I’ll try and do this very quickly, I think I was talking with Joyce and we were talking about a specific case, kind of a scenario of an expatriate overseas doing this stuff. And I believe Joyce said something like, ‘Well, you know, that person’s not really a global manager, they’re an expatriate’. And I got thinking, well, because of the nature of the work, I kind of think she’s a global manager, so we got into this kind of interesting, not debate, but discussion of, why did you think they’re a global manager? And I didn’t. And so, this is a sort of our initial attempts in the field to sort of flesh out the constructive global. But that’s not where we’re here to do today, right? What’s ‘responsible’ in global leadership, okay? And all I want to do today in the time we have allotted is raise some, I throw out some ideas that we, for us to really be pondering as we go forth the rest of the few days. And, Allan, gimme a sign when we need to do the discussion part.

Now, Yukl has said the following, just about the general leadership literature, it’s a mess on this whole ethical leadership, okay? It’s like we don’t really know what it is. So responsible or ethical global leadership fits right into this category. But the good news is the domestic and general people don’t have anything on us yet, because they’re still messed up on this. So it brought to mind after talking with Christoph and Gunter, the parable of the blind men and the elephant came to mind, and I think all of you’ve been exposed to that. It’s a parable where blind men were asked to touch different parts of the elephant, and the one that touched the tail said, described the tail and said, this is what the elephant is. And of course, this is the moral at the end of one of the versions of the poem.

So I’m not suggesting that we think anyone here thinks they know what responsible global leadership is, but it did strike me, as I sort of peruse through the literature with the help of Christoph that many studies come at this from kind of a stakeholder agent lens, kind of we’re looking at responsibility through that lens of others through the shareholder primacy lens, and in some cases near the twain do meet, right? It’s almost like a belief system. Okay? Then of course we have, I’m not gonna go through all these, but you know, there’s all kinds of ways that people are trying to understand responsible in global leadership.

We can kind of look at these at a level of analysis. I’m up in the blue. Okay, that’s where I’m at. That’s where I’ve been trained. But I think the purpose of this summit is to get us out of our color orientation up here to some degree, think a little more broadly. In fact, to put a plug in at the academy, Gunther and I and Joyce Osland have organized a PDW, a professional development workshop where the whole point of it is to get people who are in talent management and sustainability and CSR and other areas to bring those lenses to bear on global leadership. So if you want, if you happen to be going down to Orlando after this, come to the PDW. And again, some of these are more orient, and then even within the color scheme, sometimes, you know, there’s a bias on how we’re looking at it within the color scheme.

So, as we go through the rest of the summit, maybe place, think about where you’re at, think about where your biases are at, think about what kinds of ways could I learn more about this from people working in some of these other levels of analysis and perspectives. And what we probably need in the field is more integration of perspectives than just working with what we know best. Okay? I’m gonna turn just a few minutes over to Gunther. This is how he and his colleagues have kind of framed this working definition. And rather than I butcher it, I’m gonna let him defend himself.


Thank you, Mark. Well, there are many people in the audience who are better qualified to offer definition of what responsible global leadership is, but this is the working definition that my team, my doctoral students and I have adopted, and that we have found useful in guiding our empirical work on the antecedents of responsible leader behavior, or responsible managerial behavior is actually a term that I prefer. The term leader has a connotation that is not always very helpful, especially in this context. And being German, I usually try to avoid the term leader, but anyway, the definition that we have adopted is consistent with two major themes in the CSR literature, namely; concerns about businesses, detrimental impacts on society, and the goal of contributing to society. What Lord Hastings talked about earlier today and accordingly, we distinguish between two different sets or types of responsible behaviors.

What we call do no harm behavior and do good behavior. Now, ‘do no harm behavior’ includes decisions and actions taken by managers to avoid harmful consequences for society, including ensuring product safety, helping to protect the environment, making sure that minorities are not being discriminated against and so on. So this is consistent with everyday moral intuition, right? I mean, it seems intuitive to claim that managers who engage in these activities, such as ignoring safety regulations or cheating, participating in a price fixing scheme or ordering the dumping of waste into a river in order to save money, are acting irresponsibly. And the managers who refrain from engaging in these activities are acting responsibly, right? So most people would agree with that. This dimension has to be an integral part of any definition of responsible behavior, my view. But the other category do good behavior is much less clear. Do good behavior includes decisions and actions aimed at enhancing societal welfare, such as engaging in philanthropic activities or community involvement projects.

Again, some of the things that Lord Hastings talked about earlier, or sponsoring  to people who ride on their bike through North America would probably also fall into this category, and including this dimension, and a definition of responsible behavior is problematic for a number of reasons. One is that although the aims of these activities are laudable, in most cases, the business case for engaging in this type of responsible behavior is not always clear. For instance, Tim Vinny, Don Siegel, and others have shown, in other words, engaging in this kind of responsible behavior might put executives in conflict with their economic responsibilities, their responsibilities towards the shareholders, for instance, and the findings of recent meta-analysis suggest that the good behavior doesn’t seem to destroy shareholder value. But if the goal is return on investment, there are many other ways for companies to invest their money that deliver greater returns, right?

I’m not saying the company should not engage in these activities, but making it a part of a definition of responsible behavior is very problematic. Also, because the absence of this behavior, the fact that a company or an executive does not engage in philanthropic activities, CSR activities, doesn’t mean that this executive is behaving irresponsibly. Why should it? Right? On the contrary, some people might argue that managers should actually refrain from engaging in these activities unless, you know, they enhance shareholder value. Again, that’s not my personal opinion, but, it shows that including this dimension in a definition of responsible behavior might be problematic. Despite these conceptual issues, we found it useful to distinguish between these two sets of socially irresponsible behaviors. For instance, Christof Miska found in his doctoral dissertation that managers propensity to engage in the good behavior and do no harm behavior is predicted by very different and decedent factors. So we are, in our research, we are looking at both types of behaviors.


Thank you. We do know a few things, it’s argued that there’s some actual micro kind of behavioral competencies that influence responsible global decision making, but here’s a few thoughts to ponder through and I’m going through these very quick. And then we will open it up for some of your thoughts about what we should think about the rest of the time. We’ve talked about the need for a construct refinement. What does it mean, if there’re any doctoral students here, there’s no trouble working on a dissertation because the field is so nascent and new <laugh>. Okay? So what if though, we believe that we should some kind of somehow merge these two perspectives? If so, how do we conceptualize? Is it a snapshot in time? We take a snapshot of KPMG or Northeastern University and it’s like, okay, they’re responsible. Or do we look at sort of how management teams are doing against corporate goals? Or is it systemic? Do we somehow look at some kind of an index level based on multiple measures of corporate? I don’t know the answer to that. I just went to Tim’s presentation, loved it. It was great. And I’m probably butchering this because I don’t think he would like to take it this far, but, how possible is this? He would say it’s possible, I think from listening to it, but I mean also I think from what I took away from his presentation earlier, is that you need to think, think this through carefully. And, you know, it’s not just a straightforward, aspirational, easy thing to do, which maybe sometimes we get into and also, what are the out, what would outcomes look like? How do we measure it? How do we operationalize responsible global leadership? I mean, here’s just three options, it’s like in the general leadership literature, the dependent variables are everywhere. How do we know it when we see it? Is it like art or pornography? We know it when we see it. Well, that’s not good enough.

Okay. And, I’m just gonna flip through these and let you read them and we need to get to some who, who are the responsible global leaders? I mean, I think some of you could probably name some, but I really can’t off the top of my head. But then again, I don’t really work in that area, but I would love to know who they are, who are the expert examples, how can we integrate the two perspectives. And, I’m sure this is gonna be talked about later, so discussion. Okay. And I’ve been asked to, to sort of facilitate it. How long do we have, Allan? 10 minutes. So what are some of maybe your goals, what kind of clarification are you looking for over the next rest of the day and tomorrow? What thoughts come to your mind from this? This is very open-ended, meaning this is your turn to talk or to raise issues? 

Okay, maybe both of them are valid, and how do they integrate? I know that Douglas McGregor, after he wrote theory X in theory Y and tried to be university president or something like that, became very enamored with Theory X <laugh>. He realized that reward systems, do have certain kinds of consequences. But that’s a great point. And, when do they move from figure to ground? Right? And what kind of situations are that? As I was listening to Lord Hastings this morning, I enjoyed his discussion, but at each point I could think yes, but yes, but yes, but you know, I mean, liking all the points he was making, but in this situation, what about this? And I think you’re suggesting that context can change ethical or evaluations of what is responsible and what is not sometimes based on national culture, sometimes on other things. There was another hand I thought, Paul. Okay, but what provoked it?

Okay. Yes. In the back, in the far back and then here. 

Yeah, that’s great because I appreciate that. Now we’re all gonna run into that one and they’ll kick us out because they have these rules. Whether those rules are ethical about keeping us from sessions or not, I don’t know.

Yeah. So you’re concerned about the do good end of it to some degree, right? Because we also have sayings, no good deed goes unpunished and help strikes again, you know, we’ve all suffered when somebody’s tried to help us with great intentions, right? And so, you know, there was another hand, was there a hand? Was I hallucinating? Okay,

Yeah. So basically some people would argue, right, that the people at the top management of McDonald’s should quit selling hamburgers and just serve salads, right? That would be the responsible thing. If they were truly responsible. 

That’s exactly right. Right? And so now it’s not just national cultural differences, it’s philosophical differences, right?

So I’m Apple computer and I say I pay lots of taxes. In fact, let me tell you how much PA taxes I pay. And I’m not gonna say this, right, but if you want it to change, change the law. Quit messing with me. I’m being very authentic and transparent. Well, you know, I’m not telling you where I stand on that, but, you know, one way to change things is change the law too. 

Now, I’ve been over on this side a whole bunch. There’s people over here, go ahead

From German family firms, how do you define responsible leadership? And they said it’s balancing stakeholder interest. It’s not prioritizing, but it’s balancing over time. Over time, you cannot solve this if you have to prioritize one point of time because you know, at one moment you cannot solve the situation and you have to prioritize one. But that doesn’t mean that a second instance and time two, you cannot go for a different stakeholder. So their issue is that responsibility as defined by German. 

They’ve taken that systemic sort of well process to some degree, but over time they’re not trying to do the snapshot. We’re gonna solve it all at once. We’re, okay. Interesting. Jenny, you had something?

At least with the business executives that we’re engaging with the level of either benefit or consequent and measurable terms to being responsible begins to be a discussion that can get their attention. And I think that field, we could explore that more about how to implement the measurement component, begin to, I think, raise the bar of real change rather than it just being a philosophical

All of you who are consultants in the room, how many of you sort of like agree with Jenny that would be a huge, well, how many are consultants? <laugh>

Okay, so we got about, you’re in the minority, but some of you have some compatriots there who share that need? Yeah. Tim, I guess

Back to the leadership side and the question is, what’s really the fundamental aspect of the leader? And in essence, a lot of the things that we discuss about when there were no conflicts, then leadership is an issue, right? In other words, it simply becomes figuring out what the best of a mixture of things are, what leadership arises. It arises in a case in which there are losers, that there are hard decisions to make in which there have to be tradeoffs. And that the individual who can make those decisions effectively is not, is the individual who can convince the individuals who are sacrificing in that tradeoff that that sacrifice is worthwhile. And, and I think that, one of my issues when I go back to having put my quote up there, one of the things we have is that that Big Mac can remain thin. No, you can’t have that Big Mac and remain thin. Fundamentally, there’s a choice that has

Leadership cases, iconic leaders, they make choices would be involve trade offs, but then convince the vast majority of the individuals

And if we were to go back to the UL quote or you know, the summaries, right? Leaders, one could make the argument that what differentiates a leader from a manager is vision. And having a strong vision does that right? Because it’s like, we’re going this way and other people may not want to go there. So, this whole notion of vision has its, is not necessarily a win. Yeah. 

Whatever that some people may not chosen.

Easy to tell people we’re going in a different direction than you don’t have to go. It’s very hard to teach people. So they actually have to go, there’s something easy.

Oh, okay. Excellent. They say to end a party at its peak, right? So we’re ending the discussion at its peak.

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