This paper reviews a number of huge challenges to ethical leadership in the twenty-first century and concludes that the need for global ethical leadership is not merely a desirable option, but rather – and quite literally – a matter of survival. The crises of the recent past reveal huge, and in some cases criminal, failures of both ethics and leadership in finance, business and government. We posit that mainstream economic theory’s construct of ‘homo economicus’ and its faith in the ‘invisible hand’ of the market constitute deeply flawed foundations upon which alone policy may be built and, farthermore, that these problematic foundations exert substantial shaping power over the institutional and discursive landscapes in which international business is transacted. Analogously, we argue that dominant approaches to business ethics and corporate social responsibility are, if not incorrect, at least in need of revisiting in terms of questioning their basic assumptions. Instead of the smugness of Western (especially Anglo-American) attitudes towards other ways of thinking, valuing and organising, it appears clear that openness, cooperation and co-creation between the developed and developing worlds is a basic prerequisite for dealing with the global challenges facing not just leaders, but humanity as a whole. This objective of stimulating discussion between dominant and marginal voices has guided our selection of papers for this Special Issue. We have thus included not only representatives of research from within the parameters of mainstream business ethics, IB or leadership scholarship, but also innovative contributions from fields such as military history, information technology, regulation, spirituality and sociology.