Character and Leadership

What character qualities are important for responsible leadership and how are they developed in business organisations?

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Research overview

The expectation that business furthers the good of society is fast becoming a norm. Good business means prioritising purpose along with profit, and taking seriously the responsibility to care for employees, customers, communities, and the natural world.

This places new demands on leaders. It calls for an authentic commitment to responsible leadership that places purpose and people at the heart of operations. It depends on leaders who not only profess important values but possess the strengths of character needed to put them into practice.

Developing leaders with character qualities such as resilience, kindness, humility, honesty, and hope is central to embedding responsible business practices across organisations. Yet despite huge investment in leadership development in recent years, there is no consensus as to what character qualities are most important and how businesses can help their people to develop them.

Character and Responsible Leadership is a 3-year landmark research initiative, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and involving academics from across the University of Oxford working in conjunction with experienced business leaders and experts from other universities. Its focus is on the sectors of tech, law, and financial services as well as business more broadly. The input and involvement of organisations from these sectors will ensure the relevance of our work, and the Forward Institute is partnering with us to help drive industry impact.

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We are adopting a mixed-methods approach to explore the science and art of character and leadership development, combining rigorous empirical research from the social sciences with new advances in measurement technologies. We are undertaking:

  • Qualitative analysis of 120 In-depth interviews with people from across business functions and at all levels of organisations
  • Administration and statistical analysis of a multitude of leadership surveys
  • A longitudinal study of the first phase of the leadership journey, tracking participants through their early career for up to 10 years
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Our research seeks to advance understanding of the relationship between culture, character, and leadership in organisations across business sectors. We aim to produce business-relevant insights and empirically validated leadership development methodologies and programmes that enable diverse groups to cultivate character in a way that is meaningful and impactful.

We will discuss insights with business leaders in roundtable events and publish our research in industry reports and peer-reviewed articles.