Developing the Ethical Leader of the Future

by Linda Fisher Thornton

On Thursday, I spoke with Human Resource leaders attending the Richmond SHRM Strategic Leadership Conference about The Future of Ethics and Business Leadership.

The lens I used to frame the discussion was leadership development – how we can prepare leaders to lead ethically in a highly complex, connected future.

Here are some highlights from my presentation – a few of the important success principles for developing “Ethical Leader Future.”

Use a Values-Based Approach

  • When we aim our leadership ethics training toward meeting laws and regulations, we are aiming at the minimum standard.
  • A compliance-based approach to leadership ethics focuses on avoiding violations and penalties.
  • A values-based approach to leadership ethics teaches our leaders the values we want them to use as they make decisions every day.

Acknowledge Complexity

  • When we ignore complexity, we tend to teach the part of “ethical leadership” that is crystal clear and easy to explain (and that they probably already know).
  • Oversimplified messages lead to boredom and do not help leaders deal with the complexity that they face in their work.
  • When we acknowledge complexity, we help leaders resolve the natural tension between our leadership and performance expectations and our ethical expectations.
  • When leaders are able to practice dealing with complex ethical issues while they are learning, they are better prepared to make ethical decisions when faced with difficult decisions on the job.

Expect Respectful Behavior

  • We have a responsibility to expect respectful behavior, including teaching people what it looks like and how to use it successfully in conflict situations.
  • We are increasingly aware of the importance of honoring human rights and building workplaces that demonstrate full inclusion.
  • As the “Human” supporters and developers of the organization, Human Resources, Learning and Training departments have a responsibility to teach leaders how to create respectful workplaces, where people can do their best work.

Make Leaders Aware of Their Mindsets and Assumptions

  • Our behavior tends to follow our mindset. If we think that there is only one “right” way to do things, that is usually reflected in how we treat people who are doing things the way that makes sense for them.
  • Since we lead other people, and that involves relationships, we need to examine our assumptions and biases so that we don’t blindly let them influence our behavior.

Integrate Ethics and Leadership

  • Ethics and leadership should never be separated. To separate them when we are training leaders sends the message that there can be good leadership without ethics. What behavior might we get if all of our leaders believe that there can be good leadership without ethics?
  • Making ethics an integral part of all leadership development sends the message that “we lead ethically.”

Hold Leaders Accountable

  • Every leader at every level of the organization should be held accountable for ethical behavior.
  • With accountability for ethical behavior should also come opportunities to practice, and support while applying new skills.

Using these principles for success will help us prepare leaders to behave and lead ethically in an increasingly complex and connected world. Leaders already struggle with complex problems. We need to acknowledge that complexity and help them build the mindset to deal with it responsibly.


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For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

About Linda Fisher Thornton
Leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership™, Linda is CEO of Leading in Context, a 2014 Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior and author of 7 Lenses (foreword by Stephen M. R. Covey).

8 Responses to Developing the Ethical Leader of the Future

  1. Pingback: Developing the Ethical Leader of the Future | HENRY KOTULA

  2. Thanks for your comment, Grace. The Leading in Context Blog is designed to provide the definition you seek about what a values based approach looks like and how to lead in values based ways. There is a Blog Index at this link – http://leadingincontext.com/2011/09/28/leading-in-context%C2%AE-blog-index/ – where you can look for the specific information that you need. If it’s not there, let me know what you need and can’t find!

  3. Grace anderson-webb says:

    I like the article, but I think more definition needs to be available to the reader around the values based approach.

  4. RAFIK LABIB says:

    Dr. Linda,

    Thanks for the hot topic of ethical leadership, allow me please to add me personal comment and views on the subject, I think now it is becoming more important to develop a sustainable leadership ethics, it is an on going process to ensure the sustainability of such ethics, and not only to develop the ethics. .

  5. Pingback: The HR Carnival UK arrives! « Thinking About Learning

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  7. Pingback: Developing the Ethical Leader of the Future « Leading in Context | Values Based Leadership | Scoop.it

  8. Tom Ledford says:

    Insightful article! Your description of the compliance based approach goal as a minimum standard made a clear and sharp distinction from the values approach.

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