5 Reasons Ethical Culture Doesn’t Just Happen

EthCultureBy Linda Fisher Thornton

Don’t assume that an ethical culture will just happen in your workplace. Even if you are a good leader, ethical culture is a delicate thing, requiring intentional positive leadership and daily tending. It requires more than good leadership, more than trust building, and more than good hiring.

Why does building an ethical culture require so much more than good leadership? Ethical culture is a system of systems, and just putting in good leadership, trust-building and good hiring doesn’t make it healthy.

Managing people systems requires that we pay just as much attention to what we “take out” as what we “put in.”

Just dealing with obvious ethics lapses won’t ensure that they don’t happen again, and fixing them won’t build an ethical culture. Building an ethical culture requires that we both “put in” ethical values and “take out” negative behaviors that erode trust. Culture is subtle, and we must be just as careful with “unspoken rules” as we are with “corporate messages.” 

Here are 5 reasons why ethical culture doesn’t just happen, followed by a 10 minute podcast with proactive strategies for building an ethical culture.

5 Reasons Ethical Culture Doesn’t Just Happen 

1. Ethical culture is a human performance system that must align across multiple functions.

2. Ethical culture depends on consistent messages about ethics across the organization and a safe space to talk about grey areas not covered by corporate values and ethics codes.

3. Ethical culture requires zero tolerance for abusing situations for personal gain, and quick correction of behaviors that fall outside of expected values and behavior.

4. Ethical culture requires trust, and must be built on a high foundation of positive values (respect, care, sustainability), not on a low foundation of compliance with laws.

5. Ethical culture requires that every member of every team be held accountable for living out ethical decision-making and ethical behavior. No exceptions.

I was recently interviewed on Federal News Radio “In Depth With Francis Rose” about strategies for developing an ethical culture.  Key points raised in that conversation are important for all leaders. For more detail about ethical culture building, listen to the full 10 minute interview.

There’s another important variable that makes building an ethical culture tricky – it requires a learning mindset. Making ethical choices in a global society requires high level thinking, and we must approach it as a long-term learning process. We must avoid the easy temptation to look for a quick fix, because linear problem-solving never fixes a broken system.

522For more, see new 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

© 2014 Leading in Context LL

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership

Toxic Culture 2By Linda Fisher Thornton

A reader commented on the post Can A Toxic Leader Be Ethical? Yes and No  requesting more information about the organizational side-effects of toxic leadership. If you have ever worked for a toxic leader (myself included) you have already experienced the powerful negative side effects first-hand.

When people are treated as “less than human,” “less than capable” or as “pawns in a game” some extremely negative things happen in the organization that derail its success. Attempts to control what people do and say makes them feel inadequate and unappreciated. Withholding information to preserve power creates an environment of suspicion. 

The effects of these behaviors over time is numbing. The downward effect on morale and productivity is easily visible in the fear, frustration and uncertainty on people’s faces. 

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership on Organizational Culture

  1. Low productivity

  2. Low morale

  3. Rampant fear

  4. High stress

  5. Decreased learning

  6. Employees becoming detached and insulated to protect themselves

  7. Detached employees help each other less and don’t communicate as proactively

  8. Lack of proactive communication and teamwork leads to diminished company reputation

  9. Employees fail to find meaning in their work

  10. People dread what each day may bring

  11. Trust in each other and in the organization is lost

  12. People leave, generating high turnover

  13. The ripple effect from #1-12 above leads to deteriorating organizational results

Toxic leadership is unethical. It harms people, groups and organizations. The side effects are crippling. We must carefully prevent this kind of un-leadership from happening in our organizations.

To learn more, see Can a Toxic Leader Be Ethical? Yes and No . You may also enjoy Marla Gottschalk’s article Managers Beware: What Toxic “Jane” or “Joe” Can Do To Your Team.

 

522For 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

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

Building Trust: What to Weed Out

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I was weeding in the garden this week, and I discovered two new weeds that were taller than I was. I started thinking about how quickly things can get away from us, in the garden and in our organizations. There are actions we must take to build a high trust workplace. But there are equally important things that we must prevent or weed out for trust to flourish.

What are the things that can get away from us if not corrected quickly? What can damage the trust we have worked so hard to build? What do we need to weed out for trust to flourish?

Blog Photo 4

A “Weed Out” List For Trust Building

  • Needing to be “right”
  • Being too busy to listen
  • Saying one thing and doing another
  • Treating people like “resources” rather than humans
  • Being disrespectful to any one or any group
  • Selectively praising only favorite employees
  • Blaming instead of resolving the problem
  • Correcting employees in public
  • Withholding information from people who need it to be successful
  • Asking people to do something you are not willing to do
  • Vague values
  • Mixed messages (“use the highest ethics” AND “do whatever it takes to make the numbers”)
  • Oversimplified conversations about ethics (which leaves it to individual discretion)
  • Fear-based or controlling leadership
  • Failure of leaders to learn and grow as times change
  • Not listening to employees who want to improve processes and results
  • Using profit-centered (instead of values-centered) leadership
  • Ignoring work complexity and leaving people to “figure it out”
  • Status-based communication (top down, don’t ask questions)
  • Using cause-and-effect thinking in a systems world
  • Generating high stress situations (without providing support for employee well-being)

I realize now that this list could go on… and on…. What else do you think we should “weed out” to build and nurture high trust cultures?

 

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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

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

250th Blog Post: Beyond the Comfort Zone

250th Blog PostBy Linda Fisher Thornton

In the 200th Leading in Context Blog Post, I wrote about Learning at the Speed of Life. To celebrate the 250th post, I want to reflect on what it’s been like to work every day in the stretch beyond the comfort zone.

In the past year, I finished writing my first book 7 Lenses, editing and publishing it in paperback and three different digital formats (Kindle, iTunes and Nook). Many times during that period, I felt like I had ended up in the middle of nowhere without a map.

Embracing the Stretch

Although I knew where I wanted to end up, I had no idea how to get there. Have you felt that way as you took on new challenges? Here are some of the questions I wrestled with:

  • How do you know when a book is good enough and ready to be edited?
  • How do you choose a good book title?
  • What cover design will best catch people’s attention and convey the book’s message?
  • Which is the more responsible paper choice, recycled or sustainable forestry initiative?
  • How do you spread the word in responsible ways so people who can benefit from the book will find out about it?

I have “learned through” finding answers to hundreds of questions like these in the past year. To stay motivated, I posted this saying on the bulletin board beside my desk:

“Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone”    

Neale Donald Walsch

It reminded me that growth is good… Wouldn’t it be easy if growth happened without the need to stretch outside of our comfort zones? These song lyrics describe the simpler way we yearn for:

“Wake me up when it’s all over. When I’m older and I’m wiser.”

Song Lyrics, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii

If only it were that easy. 

The Good Stuff Doesn’t Happen on Autopilot

When we live and work on autopilot, we tend to “stick to the known,” repeating what we did last year that worked and making incremental progress.  This dooms us to only achieving what we have already imagined and set into motion. There’s so much more that we’re missing. While we’re waiting to be “older and wiser”, we miss big opportunities to learn right now.

Growth doesn’t happen by itself. It takes an effort.

Because growth can be uncomfortable, it is often tempting to stick to the known path, the usual way, the “regular things” we do. But when we do that, we get into a routine and may end up going through the day on autopilot.

Instead of being easy and comfortable, real growth requires stretching outside of our comfort zones, believing we can grow and accomplish more, and continually working to get better.

Pushing the Boundaries

Once we stretch into new capabilities, we have to keep practicing them until they become comfortable. In the process, we are expanding our comfort zone to make room for these new abilities.

When We Are Learning and Growing, Our Comfort Zone is Expanding

Instead of avoiding the stretch and getting through the day on pre-programmed autopilot, we have expanded our comfort zones to include new abilities and roles, and new possibilities.

As you read about my journey, reflect on how stretching outside of your comfort zone might be transformational for you.

What has taken me outside of my comfort zone in the past year? 

  • Finishing, editing and publishing an ethical leadership book (that recently won Bronze in the Axiom Business Book Awards!).
  • Author book signings.
  • Doing virtual booktalks, guest lectures, videos and keynotes based on 7 Lenses.
  • Keeping up with a growing and highly engaged global audience on social media.

This growth process has happened in waves, sometimes extremely difficult and other times exhilarating. That’s how growth is, like riding a roller coaster in the dark and not seeing the road ahead clearly. It’s exciting and unpredictable. I am grateful that pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone was easier with the help of a strategy coach who urged me on and asked me to continually reach higher.

When we embrace the roller coaster ride of growth, as unpredictable as it may be, we tap into our human potential and we grow into our better selves. We make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of others. 

What meaningful work have you been wanting to do? Go ahead – step outside the zone and enjoy the ride. That’s where your best work is waiting to be done.


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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

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

100 Systems Thinking Resources for Leaders

 

Why is Systems Thinking So Important?

People are made up of systems (circulatory, respiratory, etc.).

Organizations involve people (who are made up of systems) and organizations themselves are systems.

Organizations (which are systems) themselves work within systems (regulatory, legal, etc.).

Those systems that organizations operate within also work within larger societal and global systems.

Thinking in Connections

…Systems and connections are the stuff we and organizations are made of.  To begin to solve today’s complex problems, systemic and connected thinking is the kind of thinking we need to use.

Resources for Learning About Systems Thinking

Becoming a Strategic Thinker on a Daily Basis by Stephen Haines

Resources, Pegasus Communications Inc. Pegasuscom.com

Systems Thinking and Practice The Open University

10 Favorite Systems Thinking Books of the Past 10 Years (Or So) Pegasuscom.com

Systems Thinking and Systems Tools Managementhelp.org

Socio-Technical Systems anniversary and Systems Thinking Resources argentaeurop.wordpress.com

Systems Thinking Elementary School Resources FacingtheFuture.org

Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling Books iseesystems.com

 

522

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

© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 

Leadership and…Respect: The New Minimum Standard for Workplace Behavior

Respect is the New Minimum Standard for Workplace Behavior

This a themed post featuring earlier Leading in Context™ Blog Posts about respect. Each post illustrates a different way that ethical leaders show respect.  Enjoy!

Leaders are Expected to Build Respectful Cultures

Have you noticed a trend toward more respectful behavior? Customers and employees aren’t accepting anything less. People are helping each other more, and sharing what they know more. They are expecting a higher standard of trust, respect and ethics. Here are some ways that we are expected to respond:

1. Leaders respect others and to teach other leaders how to show respect.

Respecting People and Ideas Fuels Business Innovation

2. Leaders attack issues, never people.

Ethical Leadership Thinking: When We Attack an Issue

3. Treating people with respect builds trust.

5 Unethical Phrases: Low Trust

4. Our views aren’t necessarily the only ones that are “right.”  We must respond to “different” views with an open mind, avoiding the urge to judge, and listening to see what we can learn.

Ethical Leadership: Perceptions of “Different” Impact Our Behavior

Author’s Note: This post may be used as a discussion-starter for leader groups and leadership classes. To use it that way, have each leader read the articles in advance, then discuss what you learned when you gather as a group.

522

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

© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 

Ethical Leadership Culture: The Case of the Dissenting Senior Leader

The Impact of the Unethical Senior Leader

When organizational leaders are trying to create an ethical culture, sometimes one of the Senior Leaders is not helping or is even blocking their efforts.  The distraction, fear and chaos created by an unethical Senior Leader can drain the company of engagement, creativity and productivity.

Is blocking a company’s efforts to create an ethical culture unethical? You bet. It may be the cause of company failure because of the negative systemic effects that it creates. The systemic effects created by even one Senior Leader leading unethically include loss of trust, loss of employee engagement, loss of customers, lowered productivity, increased complaints, failure of departments to work together, sabotage, blaming, etc…

Correct it Quickly

When a Senior Leader is operating against the best interests of the company and its stakeholders, the problem needs to be corrected by the other Senior Leaders as quickly as possible. How?

Clear Standards for Behavior

First, be sure that you have clear standards for leadership performance that include expectations for ethical leadership. Often companies have leadership standards, but they are vague and/or do not include specific expectations for leading ethically.

If you have clear standards, be sure that the behavior of the disruptive Senior Leaders is specified in the standards as not acceptable. If not, it’s time to change the standards.

Clear Accountability

If you have standards for ethical leadership, and they clearly state that the behaviors used by the dissenting Senior Leaders are not allowed, it’s time to hold the Senior Leader accountable for following the standards.  The individuals who are not following the company’s standards need to be made aware of:

  • the need for the Senior Leadership team to consistently model the leadership that is expected of others
  • the need for an ethical culture to appeal to today’s ethics-savvy consumers
  • the need for consistency and trust that starts with the Senior Leadership Team to be able to attract and keep good employees

Below are some articles about the Senior Leader’s impact on the company and the need for an ethical culture that could be the basis for discussion in Senior Leader meetings.

Articles About the Senior Leader Role in Building Ethical Culture

The Right Thing? Leaders Speak Out on Corporate Ethics CCL.org

The Role of Tone From the Top Ethisphere.com

Leadership, Not Codes, Are True Test of Company’s Ethics Newswise.com

The Importance of Ethical Culture: Increasing Trust and Driving Down Risk Ethics.org Research Brief

Why Trust Improves Both Ethics and Returns BPMMag.net

Author’s Note: This post may be used as a discussion-starter for leader groups and leadership classes. To use it that way, have each leader read the articles in advance, then discuss what you learned when you gather as a group.

 

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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

© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 

Leadership And…Ethical Thinking

5 Things to Remember About Ethical Thinking

This is a Themed Post featuring earlier Leading in Context™ Blog Posts about Ethical Thinking. Each Post illustrates a different aspect of ethical thinking.  Enjoy!

1. There’s a new way we need to make decisions, and it’s not linear.

Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem Solving

2. When we blame, we are not taking responsibility for our leadership.

Think Before You Blame: The Culture May be the Cause

3. As leaders, we need to include sustainability as a factor in every decision.

Sustainability is a Mindset, Not a Job

4. When budget drives us, our decisions are not strategic.

Traps in How We Think About Leading: The Case of Focusing Too Much on Budget

5. We need to be thinking broadly, deeply and long-term about our leadership responsibilities.

The Financial Crisis and the Sustainability Crisis Have a Common Cause

Author’s Note: This post can be used as a discussion-starter for leader groups and leadership classes. To use it that way, have each leader read the articles in advance, then discuss what you learned when you gather as a group.

 

522

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

© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 

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