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Corporate message takes ASU professor to Holy Land

February 11, 2008

David Waldman, professor of management and director of the Center for Responsible Leadership at Arizona State University’s School of Global Management and Leadership, recently traveled to Israel to discuss corporate social responsibility (CSR) at universities, businesses and think tanks. Waldman was joined by Donald Siegel, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of California-Riverside, at a forum hosted by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, an Israel think tank with the mission of promulgating market-based economic policies in that country.

CSR is a subject that recently has commanded greater attention and larger headlines in the business world. The two CSR pioneers presented differing views on the subject, playing off a similar discussion between them that will appear in an upcoming issue of The Leadership Quarterly, a premier leadership journal that provides publication of leadership research and applications to a global audience.

Waldman, who recently completed a study with Thunderbird School of Global Management’s Mary Sully de Luque on the relationship of economic and stakeholder values to leadership and company performance, believes CSR is a responsibility of today’s leaders that should be pursued in a genuine or authentic manner, rather than just being pursued for strategic or image-enhancement purposes.

“Findings from scientific research are becoming increasingly clear with regard to how commitment to serving the interests of various stakeholder groups relevant to CSR is essential for the long-term sustainability of a firm,” he said in an article that appeared in the December 30 issue of The Jerusalem Post. “Firms that blindly and narrowly pursue the profit motive, without concern for the broad spectrum of stakeholders that are relevant to the long run, are increasingly shown to lack sustainability.”

Siegel, an economist, argues that leaders are driven by profit maximizing and that CSR is only one component of profit maximizing behavior and should be viewed in terms of return on investment. In other words, Waldman’s take on CSR is a holistic, leadership approach, while Siegel stresses more economic and strategic concerns.

CSR, according to Waldman, is not only about philanthropy or doing charity services in the community. It is, he believes, a holistic management approach that takes into consideration an integrated set of indicators and stakeholders – a willingness to advance the goals of diverse groups like employees, suppliers, the local community, non-governmental organizations, or even broader societal objectives. He also contends that managers should have a sincere or authentic desire to pursue CSR, not just calculative or strategic motives, in order to realize its benefits for themselves, their companies, and stakeholder groups.

“Firms must have visionary leaders who are able to connect the dots and understand how various stakeholders, and the satisfaction of their needs, represent interrelated challenges,” Waldman told the Post. “Strict calculation of profit maximization is too narrow a goal, and shareholders are increasingly demanding that their firms do more; they ‘do well by doing good,’” he noted.

Waldman, who received his Ph.D. from Colorado State University and joined the ASU faculty in 1995, is concerned about educational processes such as MBA degree programs that stress economic decision-making values, as opposed to understanding the connectedness of stakeholder values and interests. He is wary of the management and organizational cultures they tend to produce.

“With these forces at play, the CSR leadership challenge is made even more immense,” he says. “It’s not as if CSR isn’t mentioned in management educational programs, but it is typically done so in economic terms only. Little consideration is given to leadership values and behavior. MBA programs must get serious about teaching and developing leadership skills, and such skills have to be tied into decision-making – the hallmark of MBA-based learning. Overall, there must be more integration of leader behavior, strategic management and CSR.

“The good news is that the values and behaviors important to sincere CSR, if stressed and not viewed in a narrow, strictly bottom-line fashion, can foster impressions of inspirational leadership and integrity – a desire of most people in leadership positions.”

Waldman notes that the free-flowing dialogue between he and Siegel, a former ASU professor of economics (1994-2000), is an example of what he hopes the emerging Center for Responsible Leadership will offer on a variety of subjects.

“I want the center to be open to all ideas,” he says. “The center gives us an opportunity to examine how research, theory and practice come together to define leadership in relation to CSR.

“Ideally, one day the center might be the venue for such a discussion that is more inclusive, say a top-level business leader and I presenting one side of a topic, while Dr. Siegel and an executive of his choice present the other. It won’t be limited to CSR, but will include a broad range of subjects that impact effective leadership and management issues.”