Character and Responsible Leadership

Character and Responsible Leadership

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, and communities.

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 traits such as wisdom, humility, justice, resolve, courage, calm, compassion, creativity and hope is crucial to embedding responsible business practices across organisations. Yet despite the huge investment in leadership development in recent years, there is no consensus as to how we develop leaders with the right character.

We need to better understand the relationship between culture, character and leadership. And we need to design and implement leadership development programmes that enable diverse groups to cultivate character in a way that is measurable and impactful.


Researching Character and Responsible Leadership

This is a landmark research initiative, led by eminent academics from across the University of Oxford working in collaboration with other global universities. It will focus on financial services, technology, law, and more broadly across business. The input and involvement of industry leaders at every stage will ensure the project’s relevance, and the Forward Institute is partnering with the Oxford Character Project to help to drive this industry impact.

Over the next three years, we will explore the science and art of character and leadership development, combining rigorous empirical research from the social sciences with new advances in measurement technologies, and creative insights from the arts and humanities.

Research Insights

  • What character strengths or virtues are most important for existing and emerging leaders in to have the most positive impact in their organisations and on the people around them, and further values-based practice?
  • How does this vary across sectors? Are there specific virtues for leadership in Law, Technology, Financial Services or Business more generally?
  • What is the relationship between character, leadership development and culture? ﹥How is character taught through leadership development?
  • Is it possible to design, deliver and rigorously evaluate the impact of programmes that develop character virtues needed for ethical leadership?
  • To what extent can organisational culture and performance be influenced by developing the character of people within the organisation?

Research approach

The research will include:

  • Interviews with experts in the industry, including executive leaders and boards, HR, L&D, strategy and recruitment.
  • A major survey of people at every level across organisations.
  • In-depth, detailed case study of selected organisations and how they approach character. This will use new advances in measurement technologies (including leading experts in linguistics and computing).
  • Designing a bespoke, character-led leadership development programme within six major organisations within industry.
  • Developing a methodical and rigorous approach to the measurement of leadership development and responsible business behaviour.



Character Development Programmes

The research will lead to the creation of academically verified, industry applicable knowledge that will advance responsible practice, through the development of character programmes.

We will develop a character and leadership development programme that can be delivered both within organisations and universities.

We will also design a way of assessing and demonstrating the impact of character and leadership development programmes.


Industry Engagement

This is an opportunity for leaders in industry to shape a landmark piece of research with tangible outputs designed for businesses. The Forward Institute and University of Oxford are bringing together a network of industry experts from the key sectors - both in the UK and globally.

This network will form an expert community to act as advisors and contributors to the work. We will be bringing the community together at events and dialogues to help to shape the research, to contribute ideas and to hear findings and insights first as they develop. We want to hear from Leaders of organisations,and people with expertise or experience in how you embed responsible business practice through character, leadership development and culture.

We are especially keen to hear from those in financial services, technology, law, as well as across business.

There is also an opportunity for up to six organisations from across the four focal sectors to become significant partners to the project.

For these companies, the research team will develop a bespoke, character-led leadership development programme, piloting it within the organisations and measuring its impact. This is a unique opportunity for businesses to partner with the University of Oxford on developing these insights.

To find out more about getting involved in this project contact Scarlett Brown or Ed Brooks on the details below.