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Responsible global business: norms, ideas and evolving leadership practices.

In the past few years, the quest for responsible and sustainable business has emerged as a major theme in academic and practical management discourse.

The increasingly intensive debate on ethical and socially responsible business initiatives and the quest for globally responsible leadership (see for instance The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative and United Nations Global Compact) put contemporary business models and current leadership praxis under severe public scrutiny. The business climate is changing as a result of increased transparency, political demands for sustainable development, and higher expectations regarding top management’s commitment and willingness to embrace corporate social responsibility.

Over the past decade, we have seen numerous examples of deteriorating leadership and failing business models, in Sweden and elsewhere. In a complex world, where organizations are constantly spotlighted in all kinds of media, the lack of alignment between internal and external views of responsible business is becoming increasingly problematic for businesspeople in general and for top management in global organizations in particular.

This study aims at a better understanding of how leadership practices develop in organizations that act in the global arena where ethical, cultural, or accountability dilemmas constantly challenge everyday work and leadership practices.

The project addresses the following questions:

  • How are norms and ideas about responsible leadership, framed, expressed and translated into organizational practices in organizations with global reach? 
  • What events (or activities or initiatives) trigger the framing and definition of “responsible business” in a particular setting? And more specifically, how do leaders respond to internal and external pressures and to what extent does pressure help or hinder the implementation of responsible leadership behavior?
  • How are companies, and their leaders, reacting to the external pressures and demand for responsible business?
  • How is the call for responsible business affecting the corporate governance and management control structures of a company?

In order to capture the interdisciplinary nature of responsible leadership, we study how practices evolve in a series of sampled cases. The study was carried out as a longitudinal real-time study (2-3 years), using a multi-method approach (i.e. a mix of data-collection methods: conversational data, interviews, observations (shadowing), document analysis, etc.).

The research findings are presented in the book Ansvarsfullt Ledarskap: vägen till hållbara affärer, by Ingalill Holmberg and Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg.

Research team:  

Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg, Ingalill Holmberg, and Anna Romberg


Holmberg, I and Petrelius Karlberg, P. (2020) Ansvarsfullt ledarskap: vägem till hållbara affärer, Studentliterutur.

Holmberg,I and Romberg, A. (2018) Telia Case Study. Addressing (ir)responsible business behavior. Stockholm School of Economics.

Holmberg, I., and Petrelius Karlberg, P. (2018) EQT Case Study. An ownership approach to responsible business practices, Stockholms School of Economics

Holmberg, I, and Petrelius Karlberg, P. (2018) Stora Enzo Case Study. A centralized approach to sustainable business practices

Holmberg, I., and Petrelius Karlberg, P. (2018) Responsible ownership – systematic agilty for future-proofing companies and societies, SSE Working Paper Series in Business Administration, No 2018:2, Stockholms Stockholm School of Economics 

Holmberg, I., and Petrelius Karlberg, P. (2018) Stora Enso – Addressing responsibility challenges by breaking new ground, SSE Working Paper Series in Business Administration, No 2018:1, Stockholms Stockholm School of Economics.

Romberg, Anna, 2021, Is it not just common sense to do the right thing? PhD Dissertation, Åbo Akademi University