Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

Modeling Ethical Behavior

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As leaders, we are not working in isolation. What we do sets the tone for what employees do. Because we are leading them, they will tend to follow and learn from our choices. What kinds of choices do we need to make to ensure that employees make ethical choices in their daily work? What does it look like when we effectively model ethical leadership?

The Manifesto

“We model ethical leadership and behavior. We realize that we can only bring out the best in those we lead when we embrace continuous learning. We know that our role is to listen, learn and improve, serving as a role model for what ethical behavior looks like. We learn just as much as we teach. We listen deeply to others, not sharing our own thinking without regard to theirs. We model ethical leadership, with our thoughts, words and deeds in full alignment. We are open to learning and model the ethical behavior we ask of others.

The Leading in Context® Manifesto

Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

How important is it to model ethical behavior? Think about the combined impact when everyone you lead follows your example. If your example is positive, then you get abundant ethical behavior. If your example is negative, then you get abundant unethical behavior.

It is simultaneously a burden and an opportunity for us as leaders to model ethical behavior. It is a burden in that we must work hard to ensure that we are modeling the highest ethics. It is an opportunity in that modeling ethical behavior brings out the best in us and those we lead.

A leader’s ethical shortcomings are magnified throughout the organization. However, consider that the same is true for ethical improvements. What could happen if you intentionally worked to improve the ethics of your day-to-day choices? The ripple effect that your improvement would generate would improve the ethics of many others. That’s the magnified impact of ethical modeling.

About Linda Fisher Thornton

In 2013, Linda was named one of the Global Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Linda’s new book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership is due out this fall.

Leading in Context provides clear tools for businesses of all sizes for implementing “ethical leadership future.”   For more information, visit


15 Ways to Encourage Moral Growth in Leadership

SAMSUNGBy Linda Fisher Thornton

Moral Growth Is a Lifelong Pursuit

Moral education needs to start early, and it also needs to continue throughout our professional careers.

Unlocking Moral Awareness

How can we help leaders develop the moral thinking and awareness that they need to make good leadership choices? What specific conversations and experiences will support moral development?

I have compiled a list of 15 things that we can do in our organizations to encourage ethical awareness and moral growth. These elements can be applied as part of ongoing leadership development in any organization.

15 Ways to Encourage Moral Growth in Leadership

1.  Provide Opportunities to Build Intercultural Competence

2. Create Cognitive Dissonance (an Uncomfortable Awareness That Our Thinking Needs to Change)

3. Build Awareness of the Flaws in Our Human Thinking

4. Teach Systems Thinking

5.  Teach Leaders to Honor and Value Differences

6. Teach Leaders About Global Resource Limitations and How to Use Sustainable Business Practices

7. Teach Global Thinking and Global Citizenship

8. Teach Leaders to Demonstrate Respect and Use Positive Interpersonal Behaviors

9. Model Ethical Leadership

10. Help Leaders Learn to Think Longer-Term (Generations, Rather than Quarters)

11. Teach Leaders How to Find Mutual Benefit When Solving Problems

12. Help Leaders Develop Self-Awareness

14. Help Leaders Develop Ethical Awareness

15. Talk About What Ethical Leadership Looks Like in Day-to-Day Practice

This list may get you thinking about other ways to encourage ethical awareness and moral growth. What would you add?

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development consulting firm. Linda was named one of the 2013 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America.

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© 2013 Leading in Context LLC. All rights reserved.

What is Conscious Capitalism?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Conscious Capitalism?

In last week’s post, I explored how Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self Interest. This week, I’ll explore the same question at the organizational level.

What are an organization’s ethical responsibilities? How is conscious capitalism a way to understand them?

Ethical Leadership is to the Moral Leader as Conscious Capitalism is to the Moral Company 

While ethical leadership is the term we use to describe what a moral leader does, conscious capitalism is a term that describes what a moral company does. According to BBC News E-Cyclopedia, “conscious capitalism stands for a more moral approach to what is often seen as ‘the dirty business of business.’” (Cited in Conscious Capitalism: Dirty Business No More by Ramla at

Conscious capitalism involves thinking beyond self-interests, demonstrating care for stakeholders at the global level, using a long-term time orientation and seeing the company’s role in the world through a systems view.

Taking A Systems View on the Moral Responsibilities of Business

According to Anne Federwisch,  Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University in Corporate Moral Responsibility and The Ethics of Product Usage … the idea of moral responsibility has been expanding over the years.”  While businesses that followed laws used to be considered “good,” there is now so much more that they need to do in order to be considered an ethical business.

According to John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, quoted in A Case for Conscious Capitalism: Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Brain Science, by Pillay and Sisodia in the Ivey Business Journal, “Conscious Capitalism is a philosophy of doing business that incorporates the principles of higher purpose (beyond profit maximization), stakeholder interdependence (rather than shareholder centricity), conscious leadership (instead of command-and-control or “carrots and sticks”) and conscious culture (in place of bottom-line obsession).”

When we lead with conscious capitalism, we assume responsibility for our impact on global markets and quality of life in addition to our impact on local communities.

“Conscious Capitalism stresses the importance of viewing stakeholders as interconnected and interdependent. All stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and community members – are regarded as important in their own right (not just as a means to better business results).”

“Conscious Capitalism® is a philosophy based on the belief that a more complex form of capitalism is emerging that holds the potential for enhancing corporate performance while simultaneously continuing to advance the quality of life for billions of people. The conscious capitalism movement challenges business leaders to rethink why their organizations exist and to acknowledge their companies’ roles in the interdependent global marketplace. “

What is Conscious Capitalism? Conscious Capitalism, Inc.,

In conscious capitalism, we don’t have to choose between caring about our business and caring about society. In an interview with Tom Palmer of Atlas Network, John Mackey explained that:

“A false dichotomy is often set up between self-interest, or selfishness, and altruism. To me it is a false dichotomy, because we’re obviously both. We are self-interested, but we’re not just self-interested. We also care about other people. We usually care a great deal about the well being of our families. We usually care about our communities and the larger society that we live in. We can also care about the well being of animals and our larger environment. We have ideals that motivate us to try to make the world a better place… I think that capitalism and business should fully reflect the complexity of human nature.”

What are the Benefits of Conscious Capitalism?

What are the benefits of thinking about and implementing business in a conscious way? How does conscious capitalism help businesses succeed in the global marketplace?

While conscious capitalism benefits people and communities, there are also clear benefits for the businesses that embrace this philosophy, including:

1. Better Financial Performance

“The pragmatic value of conscious capitalism is underscored by the fact that companies that adhere to these principles outperformed the market by a 9 to 1 ratio over a 10 year period.”

A Case for Conscious Capitalism: Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Brain Science, by Pillay and Sisodia in the Ivey Business Journal

2. Relationships and Synergies for the Long Term

He (co-CEO John Mackey, Whole Foods) also spoke about the virtues of being generous with vendors, noting that cultivating strong relationships with suppliers pays off when times become difficult. “Business is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “It is in fact all about deriving value from synergies.”

Mark Hamstra, Whole Foods Cites Benefits of Conscious Capitalism,

“Another result is long-term trusted relationships with suppliers, consistent with The Integrity Chain, which is more profitable for both parties.”

4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism,

3. Stakeholder and Employee Engagement

“A compelling sense of purpose can create a high level of engagement by the stakeholders and generate tremendous organizational energy.”

Mark Hamstra, Whole Foods Cites Benefits of Conscious Capitalism,

“The result of this is empowered employees who we know work harder, are more creative, care more and are responsible for driving greater customer experiences.”

CTSmithIII, 4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism,

4. Shared Meaning and Purpose

“I’m absolutely confident that practicing the principles of Conscious Capitalism brings both a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to your employees (and customers), as well as higher financial returns in the long run. It provides an authentic context to the “story of us,” the fact that business is about relationships, about creating value and not extracting value from those relationships.”

Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joes and CEO of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.  quoted in Conscious Capitalists Share Their Smarts,

5. Increased Innovation and Trust

“The benefits far outweigh this challenge. Employee morale and engagement increase, innovation flourishes and the principles of your brand relationship with consumers, namely trust, is reinforced by living core values that align with your consumers’ own values. We feel a remarkable sense of duty and accomplishment in building a better business model and caring today for seven generations of tomorrow.”

 John Replogle, President and CEO of Seventh Generation, quoted in Conscious Capitalists Share Their Smarts,

 Doing “Good” Is Its Own Reward

Conscious capitalism is the view that we, as business leaders, can make money and make the world a better place at the same time. This is not an unrealistic dream – this is a new way of leading that an increasing number of companies are choosing. And those leaders choosing conscious capitalism are finding out that the old saying is true – that doing “good” is its own reward.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Are we leading in ways that make us part of the global conscious capitalism movement?

2. In what ways do we enhance lives and communities in the course of our business?

3. How could we better demonstrate systems thinking and a long-term view?

About The Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is also CEO/Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a consulting firm helping business leaders lead responsibly in a complex world.

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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.

Linda Fisher Thornton is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is also CEO/Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development consulting firm helping business leaders lead responsibly in a complex world.  

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Assessing Corporate Ethics

How Well Are We Doing?

Would you like to be able to assess your progress toward ethical standards?

This week I’m sharing tools for comparing business practices with global ethical standards in the areas of

  • human rights
  • labor
  • environment
  • anti-corruption and
  • culture.

Three Free Tools: 

Related Articles With Questions and Tools:

Responsible Management Education: UN Principles Leading in Context® Blog

Leadership and Human Rights Leading in Context® Blog

Precautionary Principle: Profiting With Care  Leading in Context® Blog

Trustworthy Business Behavior Leading in Context® Blog

About the Author Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context, a consulting firm that also publishes leadership development modules, graphics, case studies, discussion guides and videos. Her mission is to clarify what it means to lead ethically in a complex world. Linda is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor teaching Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies.

Her most recent publication is a Leading in Context™ Video called “The Evolving Leadership Context: Respectful Workplaces” which is downloadable at the

A Guide to Finding What You Need: How to Use the Leading in Context® Website

Becoming “Business Leader Future”

“Business Leader Future” Post Struck a Chord With Readers

The response to my February 1, 2012 post “Business Leader Future: A Sketch” has been overwhelming. Thanks so much to all of you who retweeted, commented on it and shared it on your favorite social media channels.

At the end of this post is a visual story, via Storify, of selected reader comments.

Becoming Business Leader Future 

One reader (Thanks, Alex!) asked about what kinds of opportunities would help us develop the skills referred to in Business Leader Future.

I recommend that we continue to look for opportunities to:

  1. Increase our thinking complexity
  2. Broaden our ethical awareness
  3. Learn to collaborate using today’s tools
  4. Treat others with care
  5. Understand global expectations for ethical business and leadership
  6. Learn to communicate using the new social channels
  7. Use systems thinking and mind mapping for solving complex problems
  8. Continually learn and adapt as the world changes
  9. Learn (and teach others) how to respect each other and our differences
  10. Learn across disciplines to get the complete picture
Be Part of the Story!
@Storify story: “The Leader of the Future”   (Sampling of responses shared in public forums)
Feel free to share a comment  and suggest sources that will help us lead ethically  in the midst of complexity.

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context. She is on a mission to clarify what it means to lead ethically in a complex world. Before becoming an external consultant, Linda was Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President for Central Fidelity Bank, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. She teaches Leadership as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies.

Top 100 Thinkers in Management, Leadership and Business

Multiple “Top Thinkers” Lists

It is no surprise that there is not just one list of thinkers in management, leadership and business. There are many, and they vary in scope and topic.

Global Thinkers

Many of the best thinkers listed here are demonstrating inclusive, global thinking, the kind of thinking we need for leading ethically in a complex world.

Here is a wonderful sampling of thinkers that impact business, management and responsible leadership:

The Management A-List: The Annual Global Management Survey

The 50 Most Influential Management Gurus

Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior

Thinkers 50  (World’s top 50 business thinkers)

The World’s Most Influential Business Thinkers

Top 100 Internet of Things Thinkers

Management A-List: World’s Most Respected Management Thinkers

Thinkers 50 2011 Awards (Strategy, Global Village, Breakthrough Idea, Innovation, etc.)

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context, and is on a mission to clarify what it means to lead ethically in a complex world.  She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor, teaching Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Before becoming an external consultant, Linda was Chief Learning Officer and Senior Vice President for Central Fidelity Bank, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia.

Visit the Leading in Context Store for engaging training modules, graphics and videos for leaders.

Ethical Leaders Care Part 2: In Action

Author’s Note: As a follow up to the October 5, 2011 post “Ethical Leaders Care”, this post explores what leading with care looks like in action.

Encouraging and Supporting Others is a Leader’s Job

It is our job as leaders to bring out the best performance each person has to offer. When we do that with care we make sure that we demonstrate care and respect for others and encourage each individual and group we lead to be the best that they can be.

Leadership is fundamentally about relationships and ethical behavior.  It’s about accomplishing the mission of the organizations we serve in ways that enhance trust and relationships with people and honor ethical principles. Caring for others and supporting their success is an important part of that responsibility.

What Does Care Look Like?

Caring as leaders includes not only leading with care but also building cultures where people treat each other with respect. Encouraging ethical behaviors in those we lead while handling complex problems is a continual challenge.

To make this responsibility easier, we need a shared understanding of what caring leadership looks like in action. To respond to that need, Leading in Context published a color graphic showing interpersonal behavior in three zones.  This color-coded graphic excerpt (originally shared with readers on April 27, 2011) provides a visual context for how leaders show they care in their day-to-day interpersonal behavior choices.

I’m hoping that this graphic generates broader conversations about responsible and appropriate interpersonal behavior. Early feedback has been very positive, with readers saying that they see this as a starting rubric for talking about expected interpersonal behavior.

A leader using this graphic could explain it to a work team by saying “Behaviors in the green zone are what we want you to do, the yellow zone means “caution” and the red zone behaviors have no place in our workplace.”

Note: This graphic is an excerpt. The complete handout, designed to be used by experienced leaders, facilitators and leadership coaches, is downloadable at

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context. She can be reached at

Her color graphic titled “Ethical Interpersonal Behavior” is designed to be used by experienced trainers, consultants and coaches who are helping leaders understand their behavior choices in a broader context.

You are invited to access the full benefits that Leading in Context provides to customers and subscribers:

Ways That Leading in Context® Publications Meet Your Needs #3:

“I need to explain to leaders what respectful behavior looks like.”

Leaders & Social Media: 5 Reasons to Engage

Leaders and Information Overload

In today’s world of work, we have to

  • keep up with an overwhelming amount of information
  • scan trends and forecasts and
  • incorporate the needs of multiple stakeholders into workable solutions.

Our job is to make sense out of it all in order to make work life easier for those we lead. Since the world changes fast, we have to learn just as fast… and share it fast with our employees…and then adapt to what we’ve learned. Social media has become the fastest information media available, tackling emerging issues long before mainstream publications do.

Five Important Reasons to Engage in Social Media

1.  Not Embracing Social Media is a Risk

In today’s world that is connected at light speed, refusing to adapt to new communication channels means choosing to be out of the loop.  I am able to say this with confidence because I almost missed the social media information wave. Two and a half years ago I said out loud (quite confidently) “I’ll never go on Twitter.” My patient technology and learning advisor  Allison, said “Didn’t you say you were blogging?” I confirmed that yes, I was blogging. What she said next changed my understanding of social media and information. She said “People are organizing and accessing their blog subscriptions on Twitter using their smart phones. How will they find you?”

2.  Social Media Helps Us Adapt

While some people still think that social media is one more thing to add to their to-do list that they don’t have time for, I now know that social media is a great tool for keeping up with changes in the world, changes in my customer’s needs, changes in the emerging knowledge across disciplines, and changes in how we define leadership and learning.

Social media is much more than “one more thing to do” –  it’s how we do what we do in an information-connected society – and it’s an efficient filter for finding relevant information.

Searching social media platforms using multiple search terms, we can quickly access the intersection of any two, three or more fields. Learning something completely new at that intersection helps us expand our thinking, makes our work better, helps us serve our customers better, and helps our work be more relevant in today’s business context.

3. The Newest Information is Freely Shared There First

A lot of people are trying to make sense out of the sea of information.

They are sharing what they’ve learned so that we don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

They are sharing so that we can solve global problems together.

I am a social media convert who is enjoying getting insights about new research and feedback on my work from people around the globe. Social media channels shorten my research time, help me be better at what I do, and keep me in close touch with my customers, clients and readers.

4. It’s a Learning Connection to the “Global Brain”

We can even think about social media as a conduit to the “global brain.” Dean Pomerleau, a researcher at Intel labs Pittsburgh links Twitter to brain research on his blog ‘Thoughtful Cog” in a post called “Twitter and the Global Brain.”

Imagine a Twitter user as a neuron.  He/she makes the equivalent of a synapse with each of his/her followers.  When a Twitter user sends out a tweet, it is the equivalent of a neuron firing.  Followers who receive the tweet decide whether to propagate the activity by retweeting the message, in a sense by deciding whether they too should fire in response to the tweet…

On a macro scale, this will represent the equivalent of thoughts emerging in the Global Brain, in the form of rapid, coordinated firing of millions of these virtual neurons.  These thoughts will propagate and potentially trigger other thoughts in the network.

5. It’s a Hub Connecting You to the Meaningful Information You Need

Social media is really a hub that connects you to the information you need, not in a random sense, but in a way that has meaning. Whatever topic has piqued your curiosity is likely being studied by somebody else somewhere in the world. Other people who are curious about what you’re curious about have already researched it and are recommending the next article or book or blogger that you can learn from.

Social media is more than just noise, and doesn’t have to add to information overload. Its connections and knowledge-sharing help us cut through the ocean of information out there so that we can learn and grow. Those connections help us understand this global community that we find ourselves a part of.

Have you jumped into the social media information wave yet?

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context. She can be reached at

You are invited to access the full benefits that Leading in Context provides to customers and subscribers:

People-Based “Ethics”: The Mindset Behind it

How People-Based Ethics Plays Out in the Business World

If I interpret ethical leadership as people-based, then I will make decisions that maximize people benefits and reduce harm to people.  Using “People-Based Ethics” I may choose to help people manage workplace stress, ensure a healthy culture for them to work in, hold people accountable for good leadership and offer generous benefit and vacation programs so that employees may balance work and home responsibilities. I may offer community volunteer programs and support local programs that feed the hungry or support other human needs.

The Trouble With Using Only People-Based “Ethics”

Being concerned about people is a very important aspect of ethical leadership. The trouble with using only a people-based definition of “ethics” is that by using the impact on people as the only way to make decisions we may be ignoring these other variables:

  • The impact of our business operations on the planet
  • The long-term unintended consequences of our choices
  • The changing consumer mindset toward sustainable business and avoiding harm

Moving Beyond “People-Based” Thinking

Whenever we think about ethics in only one dimension, even though we are diligently managing that area of focus, we are always ignoring another. In order to avoid limiting our ethical thinking to “people” we need to broaden the variables that we consider when making business decisions to also include the planet and long-term consequences of our actions on society.

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC. She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.

Visit the Leading in Context® Digital Store for ebooks, training modules, discussion guides and graphics supporting ethical business leadership. The newest publication is a “stoplight” graphic showing “Ethical Interpersonal Behavior. “

Business Metrics Evolve to Reflect the Need For Meaning

Traditional Metrics Focus on Financial Gains

Traditional metrics have often focused on financial gains to measure success or return on investment. Focusing on financial gains as the desired end result of a business venture creates the impression that profits are more important than the overall impact of the business project. But are profits more important than ethics? A profitability focus makes it more likely that leaders and employees will justify unethical actions as the “right” actions because they lead to higher profits for the business.

Measurement is Evolving to Reflect the Need for Meaning

Today’s global marketplace and complex work life require employers to fully engage employees at all levels in order to compete. Employees are seeking meaningful work and want to work for responsible businesses. At the same time that the search for meaningful work and the push for ethical business leadership are heating up, there is a related movement toward meaning-focused metrics. Newer broader metrics that measure individual and collective meaning and growth are gaining popularity as an alternative to narrow profitability and income measures.

Movement From Profit-Focused Metrics to Meaning Focused Metrics

Profit-Focused Measure               →               Meaning-Focused Measure

Return on Investment                                         Return on Life, Return on Culture

Gross National Product                                      Happy Planet Index

The ways that we think, act and lead when we focus on creating profits and generating income is very different from how we think, act and lead when our focus is on creating meaning for those we serve.

Related Articles

Wanted: Chief Meaning Officer by Tim Leberecht,

The Meaning Organization by Umair Haque

Free Book: The 6 New Management Imperatives by Bruce Temkin, Temkin Group

The Happy Planet Index

Questions for Business Leaders

1. How can we adapt and broaden our measurements to include more of what matters?

2. How can we engage employees in that process?

3. How will the process of adapting what we measure help us improve how we engage and serve our customers?

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC, providing Tools for Ethical Leadership in a Complex Workplace.  She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.

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.

Need more help discussing the issue of respect with employees? Download a Sample from the latest Leading in Context LLC eBook “Different”  at the Leading in Context® Store.  “Different” is a complete leader module designed for use in leadership training or meetings.

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development firm publishing about grey areas in what it means to lead ethically in a complex world. She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies.

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

The Role of Tone From the Top

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

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

Why Trust Improves Both Ethics and Returns

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.

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC, providing Tools for Ethical Leadership in a Complex Workplace.  She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.

Download a Sample from the latest Leading in Context LLC eBook “Different”  at the Leading in Context™ Store for Digital Goods (via

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.

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC, providing Tools for Ethical Leadership in a Complex Interconnected Workplace.  She teaches “Strategic Thinking for Leaders” and “Leadership, Conflict Management and Group Dynamics” as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.

Download a Sample from the latest Leading in Context LLC eBook “How Leaders Perceive Different”  at the Leading in Context™ Store for Digital Goods (via

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

Thinking About Decision-Making and Choosing Filters: Overdependence on Budget

If we don’t think about how we want to make leadership decisions, then the crisis of the moment becomes our filter for making decisions.

When the economy is unpredictable and profits are lower, the budget is often the crisis that becomes the thinking filter.

It’s dangerous to make important strategic decisions based only on money and short-term crisis. In the case below, see how different the outcome is when using strategic long-term thinking versus crisis-response short-term thinking.

Cutting the Budget - Using Short Term Thinking

We get the mandate from senior management: We have to cut the budget by 15%. If we have not strategically selected our budget items based on the top goals of the company and principles of responsible business, then by cutting, we are hitting blind. In our confusion, we may choose to cut:

  • Big Line Items (which may be the most important)
  • New Projects (which may be critical innovations)
  • Highly Visible Projects (which would impact our reputation in the company)
  • Staffing (which would obviously impact our ability to get our work done)

When we cut these areas, we literally cut off our ability to help the organization succeed. We forget why we’re here in the first place. We show our lack of thinking ahead. We prove ourselves disconnected from the company’s strategic future.  The outcome is very different if we have been thinking long term.

Cutting the Budget  - Using Long Term Thinking

We get the mandate from senior management: We have to cut the budget by 15%. We have only budgeted for items that directly support the organization’s mission, and directly support the organization’s top business goals and directly support our ability to meet those needs with high quality services.  Here are some good options for how to cut the budget and still have the capacity to accomplish our mission and goals:

  • Since we have used long-term thinking, we have built a high level of trust within our team. They are disappointed by the budget cuts, but don’t see them getting the way. We schedule an innovation meeting, bring in our best discussion facilitator and get to work. By the end of the meeting, the team has come up with 5 ways to cut the budget 15% without reducing the quality of our services!
  • Since we have given back unused budget money twice in the last 5 years when we used innovative and resourceful thinking to meet business goals, we can ask if we may skip the cuts this time. When we have proven our responsibility and diligence, and built a high level of trust with company leaders, this may work.
  • Because there is no fluff in the budget and we have always managed it honestly and strategically in the past, we can ask senior management which of the top business goals they recommend pulling back resources from.  There may be a corporate answer to this question. This could help if the team is not able to come up with creative ideas on its own.

Did You Say to Give Back Unused Budget Money?

“Why would I ever give back unused budget money?” you ask. Here are some very good reasons why you should:

  • It’s honest
  • It builds trust with senior leaders
  • It shows long-term thinking
  • It is in the best interests of the company
  • It’s not your money
  • It may allow you to negotiate keeping money later when you really need it, or keeping valuable employees the next time money is tight

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC, providing Tools for Ethical Leadership in a Complex Interconnected Workplace.  She teaches “Strategic Thinking for Leaders” and “Leadership, Conflict Management and Group Dynamics” as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.

Download a Sample from the latest Leading in Context LLC eBook “How Leaders Perceive Different.”   To be notified when new resources are posted, subscribe to the Leading in Context™ Blog via e-mail, RSS, Twitter or Facebook.


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