responsible leadership

Authority should be based on responsibility. This is a natural law of social organisation. When this law is broken, certain clues emerge such as dishonestly, distrust and bullying.



Bullying is the misuse of authority. Workplace bullying is any repeated, systematic and negative set of behaviours directed from one employee towards another, when the target is unable to defend themselves. Bullying is characterised by an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim. The greater this imbalance, the greater the stress experienced by the victim. Ståle Einarsen defines workplace bullying as: “systematically teasing, tormenting, harassing or socially excluding someone at work”. To qualify as bullying this has to occur repeatedly and regularly over an extended period of time. Bullying is by definition a process of escalation. The victim ends up in an increasingly inferior position as time goes on becoming the regular target of systematic negative social action. A conflict cannot be labeled bullying if the incident is isolated or if the people involved are about equal in authority.

Einarsen’s definition emphasises that harassment needs to be repeated and frequent to rise to the level of bullying. This means that there is no way for a one-off confrontation to be classified as workplace bullying. The harassment in question may be focused on professional aspects of somebody’s life such as excessive control over their work, unfair criticism or setting impossible standards and deadlines; or it may be directed at their personal life such as hurtful comments about somebody’s appearance or spreading private gossip that reduces their social standing within the company.


The Responsible Leader’s Effect on Bullying


Between 60 and 80% of the victims of bullying are targeted by their superiors. The prevalence of workplace bullying is influenced by the style of leadership a superior chooses to adopt. Dissatisfaction with the leadership style of management is strongly correlated to workplace bullying.


The Autocratic Leader

Specifically, workplace bullying is closely related to autocratic leadership but  This is a leadership style that intimidates team members, provides no room for criticising management and offers no avenues for complaints about inappropriate behaviour from management. Autocratic management styles increase the prevalence of bullying in the workplace but absentee and arbitrary leaders also create an environment for bullying at the expense of mindful conflict resolution.


The Arbitrary Leader

The only thing worse than an autocratic leader is an arbitrary leader. Working for an autocratic leader, although unpleasant and difficult, is at least predictable. However, an arbitrary leader creates an inconsistent and unpredictable environment and this exponentially increases the distress team members feel at work.


The Absentee Leader

Another style common in workplaces that experience a higher rate of bullying is the non-interfering, laissez-faire style. These are leaders who are often trying to be the cool, egalitarian boss. However, this management style is an abdication of leadership because, in practice, all decisions are pushed downstream.

Laissez-faire leaders ignore the needs of team members, they are nonreactive when conflicts arise and they do not exercise control over the methods team members employ to achieve goals. Laissez-faire leaders clear the way for elevated levels of workplace bullying because team members are completely ignored and left to fend for themselves. When bullying does arise, this inaction is often interpreted as tacit acceptance.

An excellent Norwegian study demonstrated that laissez-faire management is tightly correlated to role ambiguity, role conflicts and total number of conflicts within an organisation. Any time there is a leadership vacuum, the number of conflicts rises exponentially until there is a complete breakdown of group dynamics. Chaos. This leadership style is indirectly facilitative of bullying within the workplace and creates an increasingly stressful environment.

The laissez-faire leader as a destructive element within a company. What is the alternative to the “nice guy” laissez-faire leader that generate unwitting chaos? What leadership style would emergently reduce pathological bullying within an organisation?


The Responsible Leader

It takes a refined level of self-awareness for a leader to understand how responsibility should be distributed amongst team members. Self-aware leaders hold an accurate picture of how other people see them as leaders. The ideal leader uses balanced processing to objectively analyse pertinent information before arriving at a responsible decision. Managers using balanced processing seek out the opinions of others, especially if those opinions challenge strongly held positions. A very strong moral GPS ensures actions serve as a good example for other team members. Ethical behaviour is an emergent property of responsible management.

The best leaders understand that their job is not about their ego or personal achievements, leaders are judged by the achievements of the team. Successful leaders focus on helping the team achieve valued goals by constantly trying to find new ways to give team members more responsibility.

A leadership style based on trust that increases enthusiasm, satisfaction, and well-being. All interactions between leaders and team members occur within a dynamic environment, so it is important to consider the organisational context. A supportive organisational climate is going to increase the prevalence of the responsible leadership style.  There are four characteristics that every responsible leader possesses:


Balanced processing

Moral GPS




Considering these characteristics, we can see how responsible leaders block bullying by their mere presence, thus improving the mental health of team members. The moral GPS of responsible leaders means that they are less willing to engage in unethical behaviour, including bullying. Responsible leaders, through positive modelling, transfer this attitude to team members and counter-bullying behaviour is an emergent property of this exchange.


Leading with Honour

Good management suppresses the baseline level of stress in an organisation while increasing its maximal stress tolerance. Trust-based organisations have a lower overall level of aggressive inter-employee conflict. This reduces maximal stress tolerance because when external pressures start to bite, trust-based organisations will hold together more tightly.


The Organisation of Emotion

Leading is emotional. When people talk about leadership they usually place a lot of importance on a leader’s ability to inspire team members and develop a common identity. Inspirational leaders are even more critical during crisis or when there is a large strategic opportunity to be capitalised upon. Managers need to be both inspirational and charismatic if they want team members to believe in their vision.

Employees are regularly exposed to emotionally charged events in the workplace. Emotional labor is the management of affect to present strategically advantageous emotions. This is how waiters keep polite when faced with rude customers. The emotional display allows the waiter to do his job effectively by only displaying emotions appropriate to work tasks. The people presented in these examples are not in leadership roles and yet effective emotional labour is critical for successful leadership.

The emotions experienced as a result of the affective experiences of team members is critical to organisational behaviour. Emotions are contagious and can spread between team members. Once emotions are out in the open they must be handled socially. Emotions arise in organisations at five different levels of analysis:








Emotions are a complex subject which we deal with in more detail elsewhere. Colloquially, they are described, at the individual level, as a short term feeling with a label like: sadness, fear, happiness, joy, shame, guilt, anger, or pride. Emotions are cognitively labeled subcortical responses to events.

When we respond to events, these reactions transfer emotion with such fidelity that it can even affect others who haven’t experienced the same triggering events. Emotional contamination is an automatic process. Organisationally, emotions converge within teams, and leak in proportion to the responsibility held by that team.


  • emotions are present in the workplace,
  • team members are going to bring emotions to the workplace,
  • team members, have the power to trigger emotional events throughout the working day,
  • emotional events that occur during the working day or are replayed in the minds of team members while they are at work will generate emotions,
  • emotions must be handled through effective emotional labor,
  • emotions can be transferred from one employee to another,
  • leaders are not immune,
  • leaders are able to influence emotion in proportion to their authority.


Level I Personal:

How do individual employee emotions fluctuate throughout the day in response to the work environment?

How does one’s emotional state vary from baseline in response to workplace events?

How can team members preserve positive emotions in challenging environments?

Level 1 emotional experiences influence personal enthusiasm, energy and outlook throughout the working day.

Managers are also vulnerable to emotional variance based on their work environment and coworker interactions. Employees may negatively or positively influence a leader’s mood through emotional contamination. Omnidirectional emotional contamination conforms to the law of affective gravity and so may either improve or damage the workplace environment.

Some team members are more sensitive to emotional events possibly affecting their judgment.


1. Emotional labor can help regulate energy levels during the workday and to figure out which emotional labor strategies may best enhance well-being and reduce distress.

2. Recognising that leaders are also susceptible to the same emotional triggers as team members.

3. Emotional contamination can be a positive or negative influence on organisational emotion.

4. Understanding of how events influence emotional labor, employee emotions, and decisions regarding appropriate emotional labor tactics.

5. Understanding the dynamic emotions of an organisation to guide action more efficiently towards organisational goals.


Level II Intrapersonal:

The second level concerns one’s psychological experience and how well you understand your emotions. Even though each of the big five personality traits are individually linked to leadership performance, extraversion and openness are the most predictive in determining a leader’s efficacy.  Extroverts are more likely to use deep acting and avoid surface acting. Neurotics have limited success using deep acting and frequently resort to surface acting, neurotic leaders surface act to manage their emotions but this appears fake to a plurality of team members.


1. The psychological resources required for emotional regulation.

2. The psychodynamics of emotional experience.

3. The psychological resources required for emotional labor in an emotionally charged environment.


Level III  interpersonal:

Good communication is at the heart of effective organisations, and it’s important to remember that good leaders don’t simply engage in one-way communication with team members. Bidirectional communication is interpersonal. Emotion is a form of communication. Leaders have the responsibility for telling team members what is required and for managing the emotions of the group. Emotional regulation is an important part of a leader’s job.

Emotions that leaders display are more valenced than the content of their messages. Emotional expressions are very powerful communication tools. Emotional influence is an essential part of effective management especially because leaders seek to influence the emotions of their team. These same functions can have an influence on a lot of team and leader outcomes when emotional contamination shifts from the individual employee to the team or the leader.

The message a leader intends to communicate may not be accurately received if it it transmitted with low fidelity. Individuals may have divergent interpretations which significantly affect the evaluation and interpretation of the message. In a trusting environment, team members share the leader’s emotions and will seek a sincere, convergent interpretation of messages.

When a leader praises an employee this, naturally, has positive effects. Employees feel more valued when they are recognised for their efforts in surmounting difficult obstacles. We know that leaders with a positive outlook tend to have team members who are more willing to make a special effort in their work. Team run by a positively minded leader have lower turnover than comparable teams with a negative outlook.

Authentically positive leaders have team members willing to offer them the benefit of doubt in unclear situations. Negative emotions have been proven to decrease the trust among team members. However, one cannot simply admonish leaders to be pathologically cheerful, that is not an effective strategy. One of the keys to responsible leadership is authenticity and sometimes it is justified to express emotions that are traditionally labeled negative.

The reasoning behind a leader’s emotional displays determine employee reaction. For example, one study found that during crisis, leaders who express sadness received more positive evaluations from team members than those exhibiting anger. When leaders display happy emotions it increases the creative performance of team members while sad emotions increase analytical performance. Such responses are vary by industry, positive emotions are more important within industries that require a lot of emotional labor. Emotional events that are created by the leader have a long term effect on the relationship between the team members and the leader. And this is why the reaction of team members, taken as a group, is so important.


Organisational citizenship behaviour

Emotional outbursts affect how team members engage with the company as well as their participation in organisational citizenship behaviours (OCB). Emotional conflict can erode employee trust in management which will prejudice the employee’s interpretation of future emotional information from that leader. This is especially important when a leader must correct the behaviour of a team member or address performance issues. If management feels it must consistently use negative feedback, to improve the performance of a certain employee, this indicates that the employee is either in the wrong role or at the wrong company.

Fully engaged team members only need positive reinforcement and autonoetic problem solving. Engaged team members understand when they’ve messed up, they own their mistakes. They are so engaged in the work they proactively seek to correct identified mistakes. If you find yourself, as a leader, using negative motivation, it is time to evaluate whether the team member has been given the appropriate responsibilities. There is no excuse for the use of negative motivation in the modern workplace.

When emotional displays are seen to be appropriate and authentic, this deepens rapport, even if that emotion is anger. Anger only has a positive on the team if members believe the leader is expressing anger at a mutual external threat. Negative emotions should not be directed at team members.

Emotions affect how team members interpret organisational decisions. Managers that build quality relationships with their teams generate more trust.

The effective management of emotional displays correlates strongly with a leader’s success in establishing productive relationships with team members. The emotional displays of leaders exert a strong influence on the degree to which team members interpret the actions of management as sincerely well-intentioned.

A myriad of factors make it difficult for leaders, even if they are able to say the right words, to display the correct emotions when dealing with team members. It is not enough for leaders, in their hearts, to sincerely care for the team. Effective leaders must also gather the psychological resources to show team members, objectively, that they care sincerely. This social message must be conveyed even when leaders are having a bad day. In fact, on bad days leaders must be on high alert for emotional contamination.

If leaders are forced to employ surface acting with team members, this makes matters worse. People are, generally speaking, excellent social evaluators and will detect true emotions seeping through any hastily donned mask. Better they see an angry or sad leader than one they feel is fake and insincere. Therefore, the quality of a leader’s emotional labour, can have a significant impact on a leader’s ability to build quality trusting relationships with their team members.


1. How the choice of emotional labor strategy influences the quality of relationships between leaders and team members.

2. How team members assess a leader’s emotional displays.

3. The connection between emotional displays and conflict.

4. How certain emotions relate to organisational outcomes.

5. The various contexts within which emotional labor, between leaders and team members, occurs.

6. The role of rhetoric in emotional labor, including the use of metaphors.


Level IV teams:

What effect does emotional contamination have at the team level?

What influence do leaders exert on team emotion and how does this affect performance?

Leadership takes place at the team level. Managers have significant the emotional influence over team members. However, all team members are capable of influencing each other emotionally. The development of team emotion is what defines a team and distinguishes it from a random grouping of individuals. Team emotion is not the average emotional state of the individual team members. Rather, team emotion is an emergent property of emotional influence between team members. Tighter team bonds serve as more efficient vectors for emotion.

Affective states can emerge at the group level. The emotional influence at this level is more obvious when team members are sharing the experiences that will be the foundation blocks of a team identity. Emotional influence in teams increases solidarity between members and promotes a shared identity by valencing collective action.

A distinction should be made between shared team emotions and team-based emotions. Shared team emotions are the overlapping emotions that members experience collectively while interacting with one another. Team-based emotions are experienced individually and are based on membership to the team without consideration of any of the other team members. Team emotions may diverge or converge. It’s unlikely that all team members ever feel exactly the same. Team members have asymmetric responsibility, some act as lynchpins of team cohesion.

The potential emotional influence of a leader is greatest during crises. Mismanagement can demotivate team members from performing above the firing line. The “firing line” is the level of work below which an employee may expect to be dismissed, this is always far below the ideal performance level of a team member. When team members simply perform along the firing line, they have disengaged from work, this is a leadership deficiency, not a team deficiency. When a team member decides to perform along the firing line, the fault lies with the leader.

Appropriate emotional displays, that are in alignment with the emotions of the group, play a pivotal role in developing rapport between leader and team. Such displays increase team cohesion allowing team members to entrain their behaviour to match the leader.

Employees, generally speaking, look to leaders to gain an initial interpretation of unexpected events. This happens because team members believe management has access to privileged knowledge that may provide context to events. If the leader looks scared then the team infers that there must be something to be scared about, such communication predates declarative language. Emotions are a lower resolution, louder form of communication.


1. How choices of emotional labor strategy alters team cohesion, morale and emotional influence.

2. Team emotions are usually not homogeneous.

3. Group-shared versus group-based emotions.

4. Emotional labor labor at the group level.


Level V organisational:

How can leaders increase the emotional resources of an organisational?

Senior management sets the strategic direction of an organization. There are a lot of ways that organisations can develop organisational culture and inspire team members to identify with the organization. A unique cultural identity requires no mascots, flags or special jargon.

The very interactions between team members are bound by subtle rituals and routines. These microbehaviours can become as valenced as physical cultural artefacts. Emotions influence the general mood of the organization. The organisational culture acts as social reference guiding team members’ interpretations about each other’s behaviours.

Social norms guide guide the behaviour of team members by setting limits for negatively valenced action and assigning rewards for positively valenced action. First hire the right people, and then ensure that they are intelligently demonstrating the cultural behaviours that senior management wants to see across the organization. This builds a resilient culture. Human beings are so good at mirroring that when the culture is strong enough the right people will assimilate with minimal orientation.


1. Organisational emotion is contextualised by organisational culture.

2. How individual team member emotions affect organisational culture.

4. How organisational rituals, stories and other cultural artefacts can enhance the development of organisational culture.   

5. Using the marketplace of ideas to organically root a culture that is intrinsically attractive to team members.


Leadership Attitude

Some leaders use a well reasoned strategy of management and some employ ad hoc attitude in their behaviour towards team members. Most leaders make decisions based on subjective experience, beliefs, and guesswork. Normal leadership only appeals to the team’s extrinsic motivations.

Alternatively, when rewards are decoupled from work, intrinsic motivation emerges. It is only intrinsic motivation that inspires team members to come into the office on the weekend, if necessary, to help the organization through a tough period. You simply will not see that kind of commitment from team members that are purely extrinsically motivated.

It’s important that organisations build their leadership philosophy on empirical foundations. Managers have the biggest impact on an organisation’s ability to innovate. Frontline leaders are especially important to organisational success, they are often promoted to management positions based on expertise in prior, non-management, roles. Frontline leaders too often receive inadequate support and training regarding the extra complexity they will experience at that level of responsibility.

Responsible management is important for developing an organisational climate of positive attitudes and freedom of innovation. There are many leadership styles but two are more common than all the others combined: the first, most common is Normal and the second, less common, is Responsible.

Managers are Responsible to degree that their teams move productively towards a set of metagoals.

Responsible leaders make an effort to support team members with their responsibilities, giving each team member individual attention because the responsibilities of each team member are totally unique.

Empowering team members is an excellent way of improving job performance. Empowerment gives team members the adaptability to go beyond the normal boundaries of their work towards the metagoal. Job flexibility is a precondition in developing the decision-making skills that allow team members to respond accurately in shifting conditions.


Leadership Development Programs

A leadership development program is better conceived as a leadership consistency program. Most leaders have no issue with peak performance, the problem is performance variability. Strategic failures are the enemy of consistency. Leadership development must include developing these abilities:

1. Make clear, to team members, the performance expectations associated with their responsibilities.

2. Ensure team members understand why they have been given these responsibilities.

3. Explain to team members how their individual responsibilities relate to the metagoal.

4. Makes decisions at a level of analysis most conducive to long term progression towards the metagoal.

5. Articulately and consistently frames short term goals in the context of the metagoal.

6. Team members are attracted to the leader on a personal level.

7. The leader allows team members autonomy of decision-making within their area of responsibility.

8. Finds justification for instructions based on the metagoal.

9. Takes an interest in all current and potential team members.

10. Employees trust first and clarify misunderstandings later.

11. Uses positive rewards and autonoetic problem solving with team members.

12. Acts  proactively to remove obstacles interfering with valued team goals.

13. Aims at distal rather than proximal goals.

14. Delegates the authority required for a team member to fulfil their responsibilities.



Four Points of Strategic Failure


1. Fragmentation of effort: a company moves forward with no co-operation between the different teams. Each team’s partial approaches never fully harmonise, causing strategic dissonance.

2. Unrealistic time frames: making significant change takes time and up to five years, in some cases, to produce results. Updating leadership systems is a long-term effort.

3. No basis in systems management: Interventions are usually not integrated very well with the best practices of systems thinking. Systems are often fragmented in companies and those with responsibility typically do not have enough data to do an optimal job.

4. Key stakeholders excluded: all senior leaders must play a role in the solution.