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Values-Based Leadership Drives Corporate Responsibility

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The corporations named to CR Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens List have seen the benefits of social, environmental and fiscal responsibility, and they have a secret that is not little. Such corporations have identified human values as the connective tissue that attracts the best talent, builds community support and brand loyalty, and will lead their organizations to a more sustainable future. The presenters, panels and informal discussions at the recent COMMIT!Forum conference uncovered even more opportunities for finding and keeping values such as trust, compassion, fairness, cooperation and respect in business for (the) good.

Interestingly, the findings of the CR Magazine/AllegisTalent2 survey provide timely insight into how women may, in fact, be responsible for causing a shift in how corporations recruit and maintain their talent pool. Specifically, the survey found that 83% of women (compared with 75% of respondents overall) said they would not take a job with an ill-reputed corporation, even if they were unemployed.  Yes. Even if they were unemployed. Women, whether as leaders, employees or consumers, I'd argue, are increasingly expecting business to integrate human values into their practices.

So, what's the connection? Historically the "softer", universally human values have been stereotyped as feminine. This may be just because women have more practice holding to them, not because men don't have the same capacity. In reality, men and women who've been raised to or just gotten used to aligning their personal and professional values will have an advantage in translating them for broader corporate responsibility. Thanks to emerging corporate leadership trends, responsibility, trust, compassion, fairness, cooperation and respect now get their due, and their non-gendered, respect from the business world. A few ways this was reflected at COMMIT!Forum include:

• Joan Blades of MomsRising.org (and co-founder of MoveOn.org), discussed the significance of work/life balance in corporate responsibility development. She made the point that universally human values get more priority once people - men AND women - become parents. With kids added to the mix, people are more compelled to find work that will offer: flexible scheduling, telecommuting, job sharing and part-time work options (among other things). Work that "fits" is connective tissue for having employees that operate and make decisions based on the values of their "whole" lives.

Dov Seidman who discussed the topic of his book,"HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything," has been quoted arguing that the "soft stuff" - leadership, trust, reputation, relationships - is, in fact, fast becoming the hard currency of advantage. He also notes that that values animate, or "give life to," decision-making. Integrating this so-called soft stuff into our business practices, and soon, is the key.

• Women are well represented in senior corporate responsibility and sustainability leadership, and this was evidenced through COMMIT!Forum speakers and participants. If women seem particularly attracted and well-suited to the type of thinking necessary for integrating the "soft stuff," that should inspire corporations to work to get more leaders - women and men - thinking that way, toward continuing down the path of developing responsible organizations.

As Tony Schwartz put it in his recent Harvard Business Review post, "What Women Know About Leadership That Men Don't," the best blend of analytical and emotional strengths for leaders has shifted:

"An effective modern leader requires a blend of intellectual qualities -- the ability to think analytically, strategically and creatively -- and emotional ones, including self-awareness, empathy, and humility. In short, great leadership begins with being a whole human being.

I meet far more women with this blend of qualities than I do men, and especially so when it comes to emotional and social intelligence."

CR Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens for 2012, including Campbell's Soup Company and IBM, understand that softer values are universally human values. It's not a gender issue. While putting more women in leadership roles would likely, in and of itself, help drive corporate responsibility, companies will advance even further along the responsibility continuum by tending to the broader issue. They should reward their leaders, one and all, for being truly values-based, using soft skills and emotional intelligence to make better decisions.

Good business will only get better if corporations commit to it.