Who is a ‘Responsible Leader’?

Sai Kumar Chandran

In our communities, institutions, and organizations today, there is a unique opportunity and space available for each one of us to occupy. This unique opportunity and space are about living in a progressive way, while positively influencing the rhythm and culture of things happening around us. This approach is about contributing purposefully and becoming sustainable in all aspects of the life we are creating for ourselves.

This is what a ‘Responsible Leader’ brings to play for themselves and for everyone around.

A Responsible Leader needs to have the right approach i.e., a combination of mindset and skills and can master this by following the 5 pillars of the model.

This is not a personality-dependent approach or a subject matter-driven work. Anyone can learn, master, and apply the Responsible Leader’s way of life. This is a focus-driven approach wherein leaders understand the key pillars, find the resources to take action and make sustained efforts to get results. Free from any stereotypes, this is an ‘Everyone Can Do It’ approach to leadership. The Responsible Leader framework is applicable to a businessperson, an employee, an independent professional, an official, or a social worker alike, and across industries and segments of society.


1. Learning to stay Relevant and Futuristic: It is of utmost importance to keep yourself updated and stay current in your field of work. Strengthening your skills and enhancing your business acumen helps you grow as an individual and a leader. This pillar primarily focuses on your development as a ‘Responsible Leader’ and would include the following focuses:

a. Updating subject matter – Develop and master one core area of expertise and excel in that subject area, while developing deep generalist capabilities. In case you are in a management role, you can have mastery in 2 – 3 areas and have working knowledge on remaining to be well-rounded.

b. Upgrading 360° knowledge – Ensure you have a holistic view of work, people, systems, technology, laws, and governance in your area of work. Use your discretion where you would require cursory knowledge and where you would want to have in-depth insight. This holistic view will facilitate deeper dialogues and responsible decisions.

c. Updating thinking-feeling-action – We listen, read, and get exposed to new things but have to internalize this. A major failure is when we hear-see-experience things but do not internalize relevant lessons that will help us live and perform better. Modify your thinking, feeling and actions based on what you learn.

d. Being in touch with reality – Know and stay updated and relevant. Keep yourself well-informed about socio-economic trends, new technological advancements, market landscape and its impact on you. Know your immediate environment well; be it your society, organizations, institutions, or even your home.

e. Generating Insights – Reflect on what’s happening in your life, and what you could have done better or chosen differently. Write down these lessons and insights. Gain accurate and deep understanding through these insights to enhance how you operate in the world. Every week must be better than the previous, and eventually, every day has to be better. Make the effort, it will be worth it.

2. Rally others for a Cause: Leadership is nothing without followership. Now, more than ever, it is vital for us to influence others to act and do the right things within and around our ecosystems. Connecting people with a cause is a key focus of a ‘Responsible Leader’. They ensure time, resources and space is set aside for a cause and actions. This goes a long way in encouraging and motivating others around. The causes supported by a Responsible Leader can be towards the growth of your organization, introducing new practices in your area of work, and could be about compliance, governance, or any other thing. The key focuses of a ‘Responsible Leader’ in this area are:

a. Helping people adopt a cause – Purpose focuses people. A Responsible Leader helps people adopt a cause in their respective area of work or influence. Sometimes this cause is a part of a larger focus, hence creating a large group of aligned individuals. They also help people to adopt the required mindset to achieve impactful outcomes in the cause of choice.

b. Helping people network & be inclusive – Any purpose needs the sponsorship or support of others. A Responsible Leader also supports building connections and networks that are inclusive and sustainable. A Responsible Leader force multiplies for themselves and for the whole system. They also facilitate people to contribute to each other’s work or focus effectively.

c. Facilitating a collective identity – Responsible Leaders support and facilitate a collective identity, be it in originations, communities, social networking spaces, or small groups. They clarify collective values, establish norms and influence how the group behaves using positive and ethical benchmarks. A Responsible Leader does this to create the influencing power of their group.

d. Ensuring diversity is respected – Responsible Leaders themselves and through their network continue to respect the diversity of point-of-views, thoughts, and orientations. They take diversity as a gift and hold it together, so they and the groups can perform at their best using the many lessons that diversity brings. Great leadership is creating this space, where we make the effort to integrate and maintain diversity.

e. Enabling a self-correcting system – Every system grows to a point where it needs to start self-monitoring and correcting, instead of a positional leader or an influencer doing it. A Responsible Leaders create such a system that learns within itself, a system that generates feedback and acts on that feedback to constantly evolve.

3. Building a Progressive Culture: Groups are more than individuals, and systems are more than groups. A system has a vital cultural component, and a Responsible Leader understands this well. They make a significant effort to develop an operating culture that is progressive and forward-looking. The key focuses of a Responsible Leader in this are:

a. Establishing learning as a priority – Nothing assists growth and change like learning. Responsible Leaders master and facilitate the exchange of learning, teaching, coaching, mentoring, and helping each other generate insights. They also regularly invite learnings from outside the group and hold themselves and the group accountable for learning.

b. Establishing dialogue as a method – A Responsible Leader encourages dialogues and conversations on various subject matters. Dialogue has been one of the effective ways of clarifying and building a progressive culture. Dialogue enables collective reflection and learning through the elimination of what the group finds sub-optimal. A Responsible Leader develops the capability to spark and direct such progressive dialogues.

c. Enabling decisions for responsible action – A powerful cornerstone of culture is clarity (on what to do and what not to), and how to keep progressing. Responsible Leaders understand this and make decisions. They also help people in making decisions, which are responsible and hence move things forward. Responsible Leaders have a clear threshold of how much to contemplate or debate and they ensure there is no paralysis of analysis in their environment.

d. Facilitating verifiable rationales as logic – Decisions must be backed by a rationale. The best form of rationale is one that connects with an ethical framework, is unbiased and can withstand public scrutiny, if required. A Responsible Leader will also call-out that the reference for a decision is intuition and not a laid-out rationale if they must take that path, hence avoiding any ambiguity about how they are doing things.

e. Ensuring giving as a spirit is practiced – Another powerful cornerstone of culture is giving. Giving in this spirit is not about material charity or donations. This is about benevolence, it is about giving a part of yourself, dedication, and kindness. This is about making the culture tolerant and a space where everyone is generous with time, attention, respect and with helping.

4. Enabling Ethical Practices: Ethics has been a critical pillar of society and historically in many cultures it has been discussed and debated extensively. Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right, and wrong, virtue and vice, justice, and crime. Unfortunately, this is one of the most fragmented human spaces. Much of this is because of a lack of education in the subject. Hence, today everyone needs to get educated on this subject and then bring it into their context of work. We must get out of the localized way of looking at things, based on convenience. A responsible Leader focuses on the following:

a. Internalizing ethics as a practice – Responsible Leaders spend sufficient time understanding the logic of ethics. They debate and evolve their understanding of absolutes and relatives. They identify black, white and greys. They understand the history and culture of people and why they think in a specific way.

b. Establishing ethics as a decisive Lens – Responsible Leaders use ethics as a decisive lens. They use it to understand the logic of decision making, what inspires people and what will not create problems going forward.

c. Sustaining debates on ethics – Debates help the ethics formation of any group. Responsible Leaders participate and encourage others in these debates. They not only play their part, but create a space for others to voice their point of view, clarify things to learn, and grow together.

d. Choosing ethically for common good – Responsible Leaders hold the common good, above all other. This also means not sacrificing the needs of the smaller sections of people. They help establish the purpose and ethical frameworks that are inclusive and focus on such common well-being. Ignorance or ignoring is not the quality of such an effort.

e. Updating ethics framework to stay relevant – All systems and systemic constructs need maintenance and upgrades. So, do ethical frameworks. Responsible Leaders ensure they track violations, gaps, suboptimal results, and shortcomings of the ethical frameworks and update them as required.

5. Ensuring Sustainability : Sustainability is a matter we can’t ignore anymore. It is not only a matter of the collective wellbeing of the human race but of selective purposeful action in 17 areas that need special attention. To ensure all-round sustainability Responsible Leaders focus on:

a.   Care for self – We need to begin by caring for our own self. Our health and well-being need to be at the forefront of our plan to do good things with our life. No previous generation has seen burnouts, outbreaks, or lifestyle diseases the way we have seen in the last 30 years, and it is only getting worse.

b. Care for Others – Caring for others around you and not taking a self-centered approach is equally important. This form of care is not about providing material support but being genuinely interested in the well-being of others around. Not everyone has everything figured out, and a Responsible Leader can help others find a way.

c. Care for the Environment – This is an area that requires much action. In whichever way you define your environment, home, or society everyone has the option of reducing some wastage, eliminating some garbage or pollutant, or choosing a more sustainable life; do it. Planting trees, conserving water, and forests, protecting delicate ecosystems and other such macro-environmental concerns also require our attention.

d. Contributing to Local Communities – An important aspect of sustainable living will be collective actions. As a Responsible Leader, participate and contribute to governance, cleanliness, structure, resources management and good living wherever you are. The community is a critical unit of change for our collective well-being.

e. Contributing to SDGs – Learn and act around UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. As a part of the societal focus of any group or organization you are a member of, choose areas you can directly or indirectly influence, and do something about it.

The Responsible Leader framework is a belief system and a way to bring impact through the way we live our life. This approach is about establishing fundamental belongingness to an ideology – that a Leader is meant to make Progressive, Inclusive, and Ethical contributions to any environment to that they belong. It is through these contributions made in an integrative way of daily living, that a Responsible Leader drives collective outcomes and Impact. This helps a Responsible Leader, to accelerate the growth of the communities, institutions or organizations and leave them a better space compared to what they began with.

Sai Kumar Chandran is the founder of OrbitShift. He is a coaching and consulting practitioner and an entrepreneur at heart. He can be reached at saikumarchandran@orbitshift.com.

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