This multi-stakeholder or ‘people-planet-profit’ perspective is what leadership makes sustainable. “Aligning self-interest to social responsibility is the most powerful way to sustaining a company’s success,” quotes Austin (2006) Starbucks’ CEO Orin Smith. Or as Professor Kurt April formulated it: “We need leaders who seek to be the best for the world, not only the best in the world.”

Maak & Pless (2006) argument that a larger notion of responsibility is moving to the centre of business leadership in the 21st Century. We’re moving away from the Milton Friedman adagio “live up to the law and maximize shareholder wealth”. The complexity of the relational dynamics makes that “leadership is being in multiple relations and playing different roles in different contexts”. “It is no longer leading followers toward determined objectives on established guidelines and rules”, says Bill George [ii]. “Leadership in the 21st century is authentic aligning people around shared mission and values and empower them.”

Pruzan and Mikkelsen (2006) make the same statement in their collection of business cases on ‘leading with wisdom’. Two core elements unite the 31 successful ‘spiritual’ leaders: introspection and the care for the larger world. They all feel part of an interconnected world and let their day-to-day decisions and actions be inspired by as much of this complexity as possible. As Wouter De Geest puts it: “I want society to say “we want a company like that. This company does good things.”


- AUSTIN, J. (2006). Leadership through social purpose partnering. In MAAK, T., & PLESS, N. (2006), Responsible Leadership. London: Routledge, p. 208.
- MAAK, T., & PLESS, N. (2006). Responsible Leadership. London: Routledge, 251 p.
- Bill George is Harvard Business School professor. This quote was taken from the personal blog of Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne while he was following a leadership course at HBS. http://www.vincentvanquickenborne.be/blog/harvardblog/
- PRUZAN, P., & MIKKELSEN, K. (2006). Leading with wisdom. Spiritual-based leadership in Business. Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing Ltd., 329 p.


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