Corporate Social Responsibility Needs Leaders

Topic(s): culture, leadership
Publication: Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2013)
Article: Responsible Leadership: A Missing Link
Authors: S.C. Esper, K. Boies
Reviewed by: Arlene Coelho

When an organization works to benefit an environmental, social, or humane cause – whether by donating money to non-profit organizations or providing goods and services to them pro bono – it is called corporate social responsibility. What seems on the surface to be a purely charitable effort also helps to further the company’s work culture. But according to the current study (Esper & Boies, 2013), responsible leadership is required to ensure sustainable grassroots involvement.


The authors found that corporate social responsibility initiatives tend to work best when there is involvement from the very top to the very bottom of the organizational hierarchy. The current paper defines responsible leadership in terms of a supervisor who is able to engage the organization’s stakeholders on a personal level, aligning the individual employee’s values and interests with those of the company. This trait ensures that employees will remain dedicated to the cause on both a personal and organizational level, ensuring long-term sustainability.

The authors make an important distinction between embedded corporate social responsibility (i.e. those activities thoroughly ingrained in the company’s routines and policies) and peripheral corporate social responsibility (i.e. volunteering and donations). The study found that the embedded variety is ultimately more effective for organizations because it is more meaningful, reflecting responsible leaders focused on the company’s charitable initiatives. As a result, corporate social responsibility becomes pervasive and central to the company’s vision and mission.


In summary, the authors concluded that responsible leaders are crucial to the success and sustainability of an organization’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, and that it is in their best interest to make those initiatives as central to the company’s success as possible. The key to doing so lies in making the message of corporate social responsibility appealing to each individual employee on a personal level.

Whether through the use of formal or informal means, it is through the organizational leaders’ championing of noble causes that a corporate culture of social responsibility can be created. As the missing link between the company’s macro-level strategy and micro-level actions, these responsible leaders are key to ensuring sustainable corporate social responsibility programs.


Esper, S., & Boies, K. (2013). Responsible Leadership: A Missing Link. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 6(4), 351-354.