Got Ethics? Are You Positive?

Got Ethics? Are You Positive?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Is your ethics training focused on positive values? In spite of all the bad news you’ve seen in the media about ethics, we don’t build ethical cultures by focusing on the negative. Let’s face it – thinking about fraud, embezzlement and conflict of interest won’t make us better leaders. But that’s what many of us are focusing on in our organizations.

The future of ethical leadership is intentional, proactive and positive. 

We need to stop focusing on NEGATIVE examples (what we don’t want) and start focusing on what ethical leadership looks like in action (what we do want). Ethical leadership at its best looks POSITIVE. That’s where we need to be focused in our conversations and our leader development.

Only by intentionally focusing on positive ethical values are we ethical leaders. 

Only by intentionally focusing on positive ethical values do we create ethical workplaces.

Operating in the realm of values means shaking off the temptation to become fixated only on laws and regulations. Laws and regulations are there to remind us of the minimum standards. We need to focus on the higher level values that should guide our work. Operating in the realm of values includes:

  • Having a positive vision of how values can transform our leadership and our organizations
  • Clearly understanding and communication the ethical behaviors we want people to use
  • Making day-to-day decisions based on positive ethical values

Being ready for the future of ethical leadership requires shaking off a compliance based mindset and operating in the realm of values. 

Have you “got ethics?” Is your ethics based on positive values?


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 
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© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

Leading the Conversation About Ethical Leadership

Leading the Conversation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Dialogue is a powerful tool for developing ethical organizations. Workplace issues are complex and opinions vary about what ethical leadership means. This combination creates a kind of “murky uncertainty” that keeps leaders from giving us their best, most ethical performance.

To move beyond this “murky uncertainty,” we need to take the time to talk about what ethical behavior means. Use the twelve questions in the discussion guide below to start building a shared understanding of your organization’s definition of ethical leadership behavior.


Here are some questions that may help you define ethical issues and appropriate leader behaviors in the context of your organizational values:

  • What are the specific ethical behaviors that are required of all organizational leaders?
  • What are the consequences if they don’t behave ethically?
  • What are the situations that people encounter that could lead them into a grey area?
  • How should those grey areas be handled?
  • What does it look like when leaders perform according to the organization’s stated values?
  • What does it look like when they don’t?
  • How should people make decisions when they encounter difficult situations?
  • Where might our leaders fall into grey areas while implementing our goals and values?
  • What are areas where we will not tolerate compromise?
  • What are areas of flexibility?
  • Where do we need to clarify our mission and values, to make it clear that we are an ethical organization, and ethics is not negotiable?
  • How can we more effectively recruit, recognize, and retain ethical leaders?

Linda Fisher Thornton, “Leadership Ethics Training: Why is it So Hard to Get it Right?”  reprinted in Training and Development: The Best of Leadership Development, American Society for Training and Development. (March, 2010)

Without a clear picture of what ethical behavior means in our organizations, we’re unlikely to achieve it.  While the conversation may take some time, it will take less time than dealing with the problems that happen when leaders work in “murky uncertainty.”

Let’s get the conversation started.


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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


Building an Ethical Leadership Culture (Webcast)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

How Does Ethical Leadership Impact “Brand?”

Our “brand” is determined in part by our ethical leadership choices. These connected trends increase what is expected of us, and make it important for us to manage ethical leadership carefully:

  • In a socially connected world, our leadership is more visible
  • Citizen journalism means that everyone has a voice (and may speak out about their experience with our brand)
  • Employees are seeking out ethical organizations and agencies where they can do their best work
  • Organizations and agencies are judged based on the ethics of the entire supply chain
  • There is a higher expectation for ethical behavior and more pressure on leaders to lead responsibly

How Can We Develop Ethical Leaders Who Will Build an Ethical Brand? 

I was recently invited to co-present an ASTD Public Manager Webcast “Developing Ethical Leaders and an Ethical Government Brand” with John Umana.  While the Webcast which aired on March 19, 2013 was customized for government HR and Training leaders, the content is applicable across industries. ASTD has now posted the recorded webcast and made it available to the public.

The Webcast includes:


  • Three very different perspectives on ethical leadership
  • Specific strategies for developing ethical leaders and an ethical brand
  • Managing ethical leadership as a performance system rather than a program
  • Understanding many connected aspects of building an ethical culture

Viewing the Webcast

This Webcast will help C-Suite leaders and HR/Training professionals discover the answers to these questions:

  1. What exactly is ethical leadership?
  2. How does an organization’s ethical leadership impact its brand?
  3. How is moral development related to ethical leadership?
  4. How should ethical leadership training be connected to the performance management system?
  5. What can we do to build an ethical culture?

To learn more about developing ethical leaders, see the complete ASTD Webcast Developing Ethical Leader and an Ethical Government Brand at


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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


Which of These Is Ethical Leadership?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Which levels shown in the graphic below represent ethical leadership?

Is Just Following Laws Ethical Leadership?

The first level on the left, sidestepping laws and ethics codes, is clearly not ethical leadership. This self-focused, opportunistic approach to leadership represents a leader operating below the law or seeking loopholes for personal gain.

Which of These is Ethical Leadership

What about the second level, in the middle? Is complying with laws and ethics codes ethical leadership? When leaders and businesses operate below the level of  laws and regulations, they are punished.

The punishment threshold, though, is definitely not the same as the level of ethical leadership that we need in organizations. If we settle for leadership at this level, we will be missing many other important aspects of ethical leadership that are well above the punishment threshold.  

Increasing Expectations

Following laws and regulations is just above the punishment threshold for ethical leadership.

Expectations are moving to a much higher level, a level at which we are expected to do much more. Look at the third level, the highest level of the graphic. Aren’t transparency, sustainability and honoring human rights now expected of all businesses? I believe they are, and there are other factors we need to consider that are not on this list. The minimum standard is gradually moving to a higher level as we better understand the impact of our choices on others in a global society.

There are more ways of interpreting ethical leadership than just the three shown in this graphic, but the graphic illustrates the point that leaders are interpreting “ethical leadership” at very different levels. 

As we understand our global interdependence more clearly, the expectations for leading ethically will only increase. Aiming for the principled level of ethical leadership, the highest level, prepares us to meet our challenges as responsible global citizens.

Questions For Reflection

  1. Which of the three levels shown in the graphic best depicts my perception of what ethical leadership includes?
  2. How can I convey the message to those I lead that expectations for ethical leadership and ethical behavior are increasing?
  3. How will I systematically learn what I’ll need to know in order to respond to the higher expectations of ethical leaders?
  4. How will I share what I learn with others?


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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


Ethical Voices on Service

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethics is fundamentally about thinking beyond ourselves, and service is an extension of that thinking. Service in leadership involves dedicating ourselves to the success of others.

Service“A servant leader does not consider himself above those he leads. Rather, he is primus inter pares from Latin, meaning ‘first among equals.’ That is, he sees those he leads as peers to teach and to learn from. He is willing to lead others in order to reach an agreed upon goal, but he doesn’t believe that being the leader makes him better than others.”

Servant Leadership: Accepting and Maintaining the Call to Service, Community Toolbox, The University of Kansas,

Through serving others, we quickly remember that we are not the only one trying to get somewhere, and that we are not the only one with challenges, struggles and victories. When we serve, we focus on making the journey richer for others – and in doing that, we grow our leadership capability in important ways.

Ethical Voices on Service 

Here is a hand-picked collection of quotes that reveal how service, ethics and leadership are connected:

“Words only reveal half of your heart. Service defines the other half. Character is the combination of the two.”
― Shannon L. Alder

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”   ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself – to serve.”
― Wm. Paul Young

“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.”  ―Jesse Jackson

“True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.”   ― Sheri L. Dew

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.”  – Leo Tolstoy

“Leaders in all realms and activities of life knew that the power they had come to hold existed because they were responsible to serve the many, thus power was position of service.”    ― Vanna Bonta

“Life is for service.”     ― Fred Rogers

“Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. when you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”― Rachel Naomi Remen

I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.  ― Thomas Edison

“The more you become aware of and respond to the needs of others, the richer your own life becomes.”   ― Mollie Marti

“Service is the measure of greatness; it always has been true; it is true today, and it always will be true, that he is greatest who does the most of good. Nearly all of our controversies and combats grow out of the fact that we are trying to get something from each other–there will be peace when our aim is to do something for each other. The human measure of a human life is its income; the divine measure of a life is its outgo, its overflow–its contribution to the welfare of all.”     William Jennings Bryan

Through Service to Ethical Leadership

It is through service to others that we grow as leaders and begin to understand the fullness of what ethical leadership includes. This understanding informs our choices as leaders. As James McGregor Burns said, “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.”

Without service to others, isn’t leadership just self-serving?


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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


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What Does Respect Look Like?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Evolving Graphic

This graphic is a revision of one originally published on April 27, 2011 and includes multiple changes based on reader feedback. It was created to help leaders visualize what respectful and ethical behavior looks like in organizations.

WWhat Does  Respect Look Like?

The Respect Zones

The Green Zone is the optimal behavior for creativity, innovation, engagement and ethical behavior. The Yellow Zone is the minimum standard for ethical interpersonal behavior. The Red Zone includes behaviors that are not acceptable in the workplace.

If you want to build a respectful workplace, teach people to stay in the Yellow and Green Zones, and let them know that behaviors in the Red Zone are not acceptable.

This excerpt shared with you today is an abbreviated version of a full graphic called The Ethics of Interpersonal Behavior.


For 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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
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© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

Ethics is fundamentally about acting beyond our own self-interests. Can we be ethical without considering others and acting in ways that benefit them? Here are some interesting questions and quotes on the subject.

As you read, think about the business leader’s responsibility to act beyond the interests of the business and beyond personal gain.

Questions About Ethics, Ego and Acting Out of Concern for Others

1. Is ethics moving beyond the ego to show concern for others?

“While egoism may be a strong motivator of human behavior, ethics traditionally assumes that human beings are also capable of acting from a concern for others that is not derived from a concern for their own welfare.”

“The moral point of view goes beyond self-interest to a standpoint that takes everyone’s interests into account. Ethics, then, assumes that self interest is not the basis for all human behavior, although some philosophers, e.g., Hobbes, have tried to base ethics on self-interest. Their efforts, however, have not been widely accepted.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

2. Can we define ethics based on reason, when reason doesn’t involve others?

“Justice can’t be determined by examining a single case, since the advantage to society of a rule of justice depends on how it works in general under the circumstances in which it is introduced.”

“Thus the views of the moral rationalists on the role of reason in ethics, even if they can be made coherent, are false.”

David Hume,, quoting from Hume’s autobiographical essay, “My Own Life”

3. If we serve others now, will we benefit long-term?

“Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.[1][2][3]   It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will “do well by doing good”.[4][5][6]”

“Enlightened self-interest also has implications for long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits to oneself.[7] When an individual pursues enlightened self-interest that person may sacrifice short-term interests to maximize long-term interests. This is a form of deferred gratification.”

Enlightened Self-Interest,

4. Are we at our best when we consider others?

“The motives which lie behind our behaviors are often mixed and complex. But studies such as these are among the challenges to the long held view that even at our best, we are only out for ourselves. Rather, at our best, we may only be out for others.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

5. What, then, is ethical behavior?

“In some ways, putting the greater good before your own can be thought of as the definition of ethical leadership, since it underlies so many of the other components.”“Ethical behavior reflects a value system that grows out of a coherent view of the world, based on equity, justice, the needs and rights of others as well as oneself, a sense of obligation to others and to the society, and the legitimate needs and standards of the society.”

The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas,

What does all of this mean for leaders?

We are all responsible for acting beyond our own self-interests. In this age of ‘infotainment’ and information overload, we have to know ourselves, know our responsibility to others, and choose to act beyond self-interest and short-term gain.

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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 


Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?

by Linda Fisher Thornton

Abandoning Civility to Prove We’re “Right”

Why do people sometimes abandon civility at work?

One reason is that when the discussion gets heated, sometimes we just like to be “right.”  And we may abandon civility to try to prove that we are right.

We may not always be able to resist the temptation to argue that our perspective is better, more accurate, more current or more relevant than someone else’s. While there may be a sense of satisfaction (short term) that comes from loudly proving that we are “right” and they are wrong, verbally attacking someone else for what they believe is not an ethical approach.

Why is Attacking Others Unethical?

When we don’t agree with someone, attacking them and trying to discredit them is an attempt to reaffirm the status quo as we see it – to prove that things are exactly the way we understand them and that we don’t need to change our thinking. 

But attacking others with different views is not a responsible or respectful behavior. So regardless of how intelligent we think our view is, our attacking behavior will not be “right” from an ethical standpoint.

There is a danger we face when we make our point too strongly. A powerful desire to be “right” can completely blind us to how we are treating others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “There can be no high civility without a deep morality.”

“Passively, tolerance and respect simply mean accepting that a person with different beliefs and perspectives has a right to exist and doesn’t deserve to be attacked merely because of those differences – no matter how great they are.”

August Cline, Why Be Civil? (The Ethics and Moral Obligations of Civility),

Being Careful About Our Behavior

Joshua Lederberg said that “A lack of civility is sometimes attributed to unchecked anger.” We do have to work to contain our anger and to be careful about our behavior when we don’t agree.

Michael Brannigan explains that civility “requires us to discipline our impulses” and “free ourselves from self-absorption:”

“Civility cultivates a civic code of decency. It requires us to discipline our impulses for the sake of others. It demands we free ourselves from self-absorption. By putting ethics into practice in our day-to-day encounters, civility is that moral glue without which our society would come apart.”

Michael Brannigan, The Pfaff Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY [This quote is from his column in the Sunday Times Union in Albany]

Listen to Learn

When we disagree, it is responsible to listen to the other person, and to see what we can learn from their perspective. When we attack first, before listening in order to understand another view, we ignore this very important aspect of our responsibility as leaders – being open to learning. 

Responsible leadership requires that we be open-minded and civil. Fiercely defending our viewpoint as “right” without being open to learning from others does not qualify as open-minded, and demonstrates a lack of civility.

Ethical Leaders Disagree Respectfully

Ethical leaders know that respectful behavior is part of our responsibility as citizens of a global society.  Withholding respect when we disagree signals a departure from civility, but it also represents something more harmful:

The immorality of incivility goes deeper than that, however. When we withhold tolerance and respect from a person, we stop treating them as a fellow human being.

August Cline, Why Be Civil? (The Ethics and Moral Obligations of Civility),

More Leading in Context® Posts About Civility and Ethical Behavior

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior Graphic: Red, Green and Yellow Zones

Why We Need a Strong Moral Center

Civility and Openness to Learning


For 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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
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© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Why We Need A Strong Moral Center

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Need for A Strong Moral Center

The ethical challenges we face are increasingly complex, and we need a strong moral center to guide us through them. We can think about it as having a strong character, being principle-centered, having integrity, or following an ethical compass. No matter what we call it, we need a strong moral foundation.

“You don’t get the opportunity to think when those challenges to your moral integrity arise. You’ve got to have an anchor already out there. Sitting in these classrooms, getting this great education, is the perfect time to think about who you are and what you’ll allow yourself to do. Because you will be challenged at times when you least expect it and are least prepared to deal with it. If you don’t have a moral foundation, then the winds assaulting your integrity can blow you off course.”

Wharton Leadership Digest, FINDING YOUR MORAL COMPASS: Reflections From General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, online at

This moral center that we cultivate helps us make good choices in interactions with other people. It reminds us that we need to think beyond our own interests to the long-term well-being of others and society. It reminds us that how we treat others is an ethical choice.

“people with a strong moral identity were more considerate of others—and they were significantly more considerate if they were also good at regulating their emotions.”

Jason Marsh, The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence, Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley , online at

Developing a strong moral center is a long-term process. We build the foundation with support from our parents in our early years. We seek experiences that strengthen our moral center. We read throughout our lives. We learn. We study. We teach others.

I have noticed that many people who have a strong moral center also have a sense of humility.

Humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues.
— Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu), Chinese sage (551-479 B.C.)

How are humility and a strong moral center connected?

A strong moral center helps us see beyond ourselves. Seeing beyond ourselves helps us realize our responsibility to others. Realizing our responsibility to serve and care for others keeps us humble.


For 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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

The Leadership Development Advantage

by Linda Fisher Thornton

Developing Leaders Pays Off

Ongoing development for leaders helps companies. According to several recent reports, businesses that invest in leadership development enjoy clear advantages. These advantages include improved bench strength, improved talent retention and greater market value over time.

Here is a list of some of the financial and non-financial advantages of investing in leadership development, and the white papers that document them. As you read, consider how improving leadership improves the entire organization in ways that benefit companies, leaders, customers, employees, and communities.

Advantages of Investing in Leadership Development

  • Improved business growth
  • Improved bench strength
  • Improved employee retention
  • Improved bottom-line performance
  • Improved ability to attract talent
  • Solving problems earlier and at lower levels
  • Increased organizational agility
  • Improved business sustainability
  • Greater market value over time

Reports Documenting the Benefits of Leadership Development

Bersin & Associates found that businesses that invest in leadership development enjoy improved business growth, bench strength and employee retention. (New Bersin & Associates Research Shows that Organizations with High-Impact Leadership Development Strategies Build a Different Breed of Leader and Generate Seven Times Greater Business Impact, online at

JP Dolan wrote in 40 Best Companies for Leadership Development: How Top Companies Excel in Leadership Development that companies that excel in leadership development generate dramatically greater market value over time (online at

The Center for Creative Leadership report Driving Performance: Why Leadership Development Matters in Difficult Times (online at says that leadership development during difficult economic times helps companies emerge stronger than the competition, improves bottom-line financial performance, improves ability to attract and retain talent and increases organizational agility.

The Career Management Consultants in “Enhancing Leadership Capability” ( reported that The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) “found that high performing organisations are five times as effective at leadership development than low performing organisations and 86 per cent of respondents cited leadership development as a critical business issue” (The Best Get Better: Critical Human Capital Issues of 2012, i4cp, April 2012). The report also noted that “leadership capability has a direct impact on bottom line results and business sustainability.”

The Growthwave White Paper “Unleash Leadership Talent – Increase Business Performance (online at reports that “Companies that focus on developing leadership abilities deep into the organization are able to identify and solve problems earlier and at lower levels. This allows higher-level leaders to not get distracted by the details at the expense of strategic performance. Unleashing leadership potential deep in the organization creates capacity to significantly increase business performance.”

Questions for Reflection

1. How well does our leadership development prepare leaders for successful leadership in our organization?

2. What problems are we experiencing that improving leadership competence would help resolve?

3. What are we going to do about it?


For 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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Collaborative Leadership in a Global Society

What is Collaborative Leadership?

What does collaborative leadership look like in a global society?

At the societal level it’s taking the best that all of us know and can do and putting it together in ways that help everyone.

At the partnership level, it’s working across organizational and group boundaries to solve problems and accomplish shared goals.

At the workplace level, it’s respecting each other, clarifying complex issues and managing productive conflict.

Accomplishing these things requires that we learn a new set of approaches that are vastly different from the leadership that we may have used in the past.

What Do Collaborative Leaders Do?

Share Control

The problem is that companies face a mismatch: They have developed a strong base of operational leaders who perform well when they have direct control over a specific set of resources that they can deploy to achieve accountable results. Unfortunately, the matrixed, global structure that is becoming the norm for many organizations requires leaders who can subordinate their agenda, yield power and give up resources for the greater good.

Rick Lash, The Collaboration Imperative, Ivey Business Journal,

Build Connections and Influence Outside of Formal Systems

Collaborative Leadership is an influence relationship, which engenders safety, trust and commitment.

John Dentico, Collaborative Leadership Defined,

In her 1994 Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Advantage”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter talks about leaders who recognize that there are critical business relationships “that cannot be controlled by formal systems but require (a) dense web of interpersonal connections…”[1]., Collaborative Leadership

Work Through Ambiguity and Complexity Using Creativity and Innovation

It is clear that collaboration is a necessity in navigating today’s complex work environments where ambiguity and change are constants.

Susan Hoberecht, Ph.D. student in organizational systems at Saybrook University, Rethinking Complexity,

Collaboration, by its very nature, tends toward disorder at times and a lack of central control by any one entity.

Academics and Practitioners on Collaborative Leadership, Turning Point Leadership National Excellence Collaborative

The CEO’s in the IBM study saw the need to work with ambiguity in ways that engage creativity and support innovation. Our belief is that leaders who understand the nature of transformative learning will stop focusing on discredited controls and instead embrace creative collaboration – the lifeblood of truly 21st century organizations.

Nancy Southern, Organizational Systems Program, Saybrook University, Organizational Systems, What Leaders Need to Know,

Respect Others and Build on Differences

David Archer and Alex Cameron in their book Collaborative Leadership: How to succeed in an interconnected world, identify the basic task of the collaborative leader as the delivery of results across boundaries between different organisations. They say “Getting value from difference is at the heart of the collaborative leader’s task… they have to learn to share control, and to trust a partner to deliver, even though that partner may operate very differently from themselves.”[4], Collaborative Leadership

Align Goals and Accomplish a Shared Outcome

Collaborative success depends on trust, and trust depends on good communication. Collaborative leaders must not only be clear about their own goals, they must also understand and respect their collaborative partners’ goals in order to find ways to bring these diverse goals into alignment.

Rick Lash, The Collaboration Imperative, Ivey Business Journal,

Hank Rubin author and President of the Institute of Collaborative Leadership has written “A collaboration is a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome.” In his book “Collaborative Leadership: Developing Effective Partnerships for Communities and Schools” Rubin asks “Who is a collaborative leader?” and answers “You are a collaborative leader once you have accepted responsibility for building – or helping to ensure the success of – a heterogeneous team to accomplish a shared purpose ., Collaborative Leadership

Continuously Learn and Adapt

In the years ahead volatility and uncertainty will tyrannize markets, and companies will need leaders who are highly adaptive, continuous learners, able to lead diverse groups across functional disciplines, regions and cultures.

Rick Lash, The Collaboration Imperative, Ivey Business Journal,

The journey to a collaborative way of working is a daily challenge of learning and transformation., What is Collaboration?

Learning how to lead collaboratively will stretch us and transform how we work. We will need to learn continuously and become comfortable with not having the answers and not controlling the process. We will need to build trust across boundaries. While we will not have the answers ourselves, using collaborative leadership we will discover them together.

Related Posts: 

Complexity, Creativity and Collaboration, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

What is Creativity, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

10 Reasons to Embrace Complexity, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog


For 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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

7 Reasons Ethics Matters in Brand Value

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethics Impacts Brand Value

In the article Brand Promise: What’s Your Ethical Brand Value, highlights a shift in corporation value from predominately tangible value to intangible value:

The way in which corporations conduct business has changed dramatically in recent decades. The industrial complex, traditionally based on hard assets, has evolved. Three decades ago, according to a report published by Thomson Reuters and Interbrand, 95 percent of the average corporation’s value was composed of tangible assets. Today, 75 percent of the average corporation’s value is now intangible. Accordingly, the most valuable asset for most corporations is their good name, or their brand and reputation.

Brand Promise: What’s Your Ethical Brand Value,

The report “Brandz™ Top 100: Most Valuable Global Brands 2011”   at describes consumer trends and how ethical behavior impacts a company’s brand value. Customers now shop globally, and when they buy, they compare products more and more often based on ethics. In addition to shopping cautiously during the recession when money is tight, there is also a trend toward thinking about how each purchase impacts the global community and the planet.

“The new ethos frowned on flaunting and encouraged awareness of how one’s purchases, whether diamonds from African mines or apparel stitched in Asian factories, impacted the environment and people all along the supply chain.”

“Brandz™ Top 100: Most Valuable Global Brands 2011”

Ethical Businesses Benefit From the New Ways Consumers Shop

Millward Brown uses the term ‘considered consumption’ to describe the current trend in consumer behavior.

Frugality eased last year, but consumers didn’t spend frivolously, suggesting that brands will continue to feel the impact of the recession-accelerated shift to considered – rather than conspicuous – consumption.  “Brandz™ Top 100: Most Valuable Global Brands 2011”

7 Practical Reasons Why Ethics Impacts Brand Value

  1. Customers are thinking more before buying
  2. They are evaluating the ethics of companies and products
  3. They are making responsible consumption a priority
  4. They place their “vote” for ethical business by purchasing from ethical companies
  5. They value trust
  6. They expect ethical behavior
  7. They spread the word when companies are responsible and offer quality and value
Advice to Build On
Alexander F. Brigham and Stefan Linssen highlight the importance of reputation in brand value in their article Your Brand Reputational Value is Irreplaceable. Protect It! at
In a recent survey released jointly by the World Economic Forum and the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm, three-fifths of chief executives said they believed corporate brand and reputation represented more than 40% of their company’s market capitalization. That value is the organization’s brand reputational value.
In addition to reporting about global brand value and industry changes, “Brandz™ Top 100: Most Valuable Global Brands 2011” includes advice for companies and their brands about how to reach today’s consumers during difficult economic times.



For 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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Complexity, Creativity and Collaboration

By Linda Fisher Thornton

How are Complexity and Creativity Related?

We are living in a complex world. Dealing with complexity is easier when we utilize collective knowledge and creativity. IBM interviewed more than 700 Corporate Human Resource Officers and found that creativity, flexibility and collaboration need to play a major role in leadership development:

Based on the key capability gaps revealed in this study, we believe organizations should focus on three critical workforce imperatives: cultivating creative leaders, mobilizing for speed and flexibility and capitalizing on collective intelligence.

Working Beyond Borders Executive Summary,

Complexity is the Path We’re On 

It’s tempting to repeat the same strategies we’ve always used successfully as leaders – but those same approaches may not work well when we’re solving complex problems. To be successful leaders in a global society, we need to learn how to navigate through complexity.

The world’s private and public sector leaders believe that a rapid escalation of “complexity” is the biggest challenge confronting them. They expect it to continue — indeed, to accelerate — in the coming years. They are equally clear that their enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment.

Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Survey,

Creativity is a Way Through It

In his article in Psychology Today, The Creative Personality , Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that “Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.””

In his Note to Fellow CEOs, IBM Chairman Samuel J. Palmisano shares that “We occupy a world that is connected on multiple dimensions, and at a deep level — a global system of systems. That means, among other things, that it is subject to systems-level failures, which require systems-level thinking about the effectiveness of its physical and digital infrastructures.” The IBM report Capitalizing on Complexity found that Executives are realizing that creative thinking is critically important for business leaders.

…they identify “creativity” as the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through this complexity.

Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Survey,

Diversity of Ideas Provides Perspective

When dealing with complexity, we need fresh thinking.  We need to listen to all ideas that may help, regardless of where they come from.  We need to build solutions together. To do that successfully requires giving up the notion that we are “right.” In their HBR article “Creativity and the Role of the Leader” Amabile and Khairi recommend that we foster creativity in those we lead by:

  • Not thinking of ourselves as the source of ideas and bring out and champion the ideas of others
  • Opening our organization to diverse perspectives
  • Knowing when to impose controls on the creative process and when not to
Key Elements For Dealing With Complexity
As leaders, we are all “learning through” complexity and we need to use:
  1. an open mind
  2. the collective wisdom of the groups and organizations we lead
  3. respect for others
  4. respect for ideas, and
  5. respect for differences.


For 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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Developing Globally Responsible Leaders

Global Guidance Beyond the Law

Laws serve as the minimum standards for society, but responsible leadership requires that we go well beyond those minimum standards.

This post explores resources that help us understand (1) what it means to be a globally responsible leader and (2) what kinds of learning opportunities help leaders develop a global sense of responsibility.

Who is the Globally Responsible Leader?

Leaders build responsible cultures and companies through strong ethical values and their own daily responsible actions and choices.

As leaders, we will help shape the future of the businesses and societies we serve through our small actions and big decisions.

What if we’re not a leader in a global business? What if we’re part of a small, local company? In our complex connected society, we all need to be thinking about ethical issues beyond our customers, our employees, our communities and our profits.

What is globally responsible leadership and why does it need to be a business priority? If we did think beyond our geographical boundaries, what would that look like? How can we help develop the present and future generation of globally responsible leaders?

Today I share a collection of quotes from varied sources that describe the “thinking process” of a globally responsible leader.


“The globally responsible leader gets out of bed every day and goes to work energised by a sense of purpose. S/he has a strong enough sense of self not to subordinate personally important values but to impose those values on production.”

To Be a Responsible Leader by Grant Jones, GRLI Magazine, June 2011

Following Ethical Principles

“Guiding principles that establish a starting point for globally responsible leadership include: fairness; freedom; honesty; humanity; tolerance; transparency; responsibility and solidarity; and sustainability. These are not fixed ethical points but need to be constantly refined and developed.”

Globally Responsible Leadership: A Call for Engagement, An Invitation to Join the Founding Members of http://www.globallyresponsible, at

Societal Responsibility and Sustainability

“Corporate policy in its widest sense – that means including the ethics around bringing their products to the market – should set objectives that take the corporation’s societal (global) responsibility into account. That will be less complicated for the marketers of baby-food than for those trading arms; but both will have to do it.”

Global Responsibility,  The European Foundation for Management Development (

“It is no longer acceptable for a corporation to experience economic prosperity in isolation from those agents impacted by its actions. A firm must now focus its attention on both increasing its bottom line and being a good corporate citizen. Keeping abreast of global trends and remaining committed to financial obligations to deliver both private and public benefits have forced organizations to reshape their frameworks, rules, and business models.”

Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Business, by Amato, Henderson and Florence, Center for Creative Leadership

Creating a Globally Responsible Culture

“Create economic and societal progress in a globally responsible and sustainable way.”

The Globally Responsible Leader: A Call to Action, Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative,

“Leadership for global responsibility goes beyond setting a vision and goals. The central point is action to create alignment and to maintain commitment, such as: configuration of resources, development of supporting policies, implementation of globally responsible decision-making criteria, setting personal examples, stakeholder engagement and alliances, and development of a globally responsible mindset.”

Global Leadership Competence: A Cultural Intelligence Perspective, Chin and Gaynier at

How Can We Develop Responsible Global Leaders?

Embracing Complexity

“Multiple-perspective analysis helps students to understand the points of view of others who live in their community or across the world. Multiple-perspective analysis deals with difficult questions of power, money, resource distribution and conflict of interest. Such questions have complex answers.”

Exploring Sustainable Development: A Multiple-Perspective Approach UNESCo Education Sector

Seeing From Multiple Perspectives

“A multiple-perspective approach promotes interdisciplinary and intercultural competencies as it addresses challenges to local or planetary sustainability. Interdisciplinary thinking, in which concepts and knowledge from different academic traditions are used to analyze situations or solve problems, allows students to use knowledge in new and creative ways. ‘Intercultural dialogue contributes to sustainable development by facilitating knowledge exchange – traditional, local, and scientific. Through combining all these valuable forms of knowledge, more sustainable practices can be developed and better resolutions to current issues may be achieved’ (Tilbury & Mulà, 2009, p. 7).”

Exploring Sustainable Development: A Multi-Perspective Approach, United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005 – 2014),

Educating Responsibly

“But above and beyond these considerations, the developed world, its universities and its corporations must show in practice where the priorities lie. Foremost among them must be the need to bring global responsibility to the level of the individually educated person, which means committing the necessary resources to educating socially responsible citizens for a world desperately in need of them.”

Global Responsibility The European Foundation for Management Development,

“Principle 3 | Method: We will create educational frameworks, materials, processes and environments that enable effective learning experiences for responsible leadership.”

United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education,

Leading Into the Future

Seeing issues and problems from multiple perspectives, and seeing ourselves as part of a global community will help us lead our businesses into the future. For anyone training, coaching, mentoring, teaching or simply setting a good example for other leaders in the organization, demonstrating globally responsible leadership should be a top priority.


For 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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Scholars and Practitioners: Debate or Collaborate?

Working Together to Advance Our Understanding

Scholars and practitioners often see the world from different perspectives, providing an opportunity for them to learn from one another.  Such an opportunity only helps us advance our understanding of ethics and ethical leadership if we take advantage of it.

Marshall Goldsmith, in his article “The Sunk Cost Fallacy” in Talent Management Magazine (November 2011) remembers behaviors he has observed in his colleagues.

When my UCLA colleagues would respond defensively, even violently, to well-meaning constructive criticism of their research papers, I saw it as another sign of the sunk cost fallacy. They were so attached to their years of hard researching they couldn’t brook an alternative viewpoint.

Marshall Goldsmith in The Sunk Costs Fallacy, Talent Management Magazine, November 2011

Scholars seek to prove that ideas are valid through research, and practitioners seek to prove that ideas “work” in today’s complex and connected society. It takes both a research focus and a focus on real-world relevance to provide the kind of clarity about ethical leadership that today’s leaders need.

Choosing Respectful Collaboration

I am saddened by the many times I see scholars and practitioners judging one another and trying to prove each other wrong. Defensive and judgmental reactions to other people’s ideas and feedback signal an unwillingness to learn.

Linda M. David, in her article “Perspective Shift – The Power to Change Your Mind” (Training and Development, November 2011) says that “the concept of shifting perspectives is a tool that will give you a wider view of most situations you encounter and, with practice, expand the options for how you perceive your world.”

Philip Friedrich points out in his article “Feedback as a Gift” (Training and Development, January 2012) that

Too often we reject the gift of feedback before we even understand it by explaining, justifying or rationalizing our actions. Explaining why we did or didn’t do something is a form of defensiveness that slams the door on opportunities for growth.

Choosing A Learning Perspective

Learning to shift our perspective and to be open to the ideas of others keeps us learning. The alternative choices (being defensive and  judging others) do not.

When we are defensive, we aren’t hearing valuable insights and observations that others offer, and we are:

  • Protecting our “turf” (our ideas)
  • Pushing away anyone who is “too interested” and “getting too close for comfort”
  • Closed to the ideas of others that could make our work better

When we are judging others, we are not open to learning from them.  When we judge we are:

  • Discouraging others from doing their “good works”
  • Moving away from a collaborative mindset, and
  • Missing the learning opportunity

When we choose to adopt a learning perspective, we believe that:

  • Ideas are made to be talked about and improved
  • We are more knowledgeable collectively than we are individually
  • We grow and advance our work by learning
 I am optimistic that we can enrich our understanding of ethical leadership with the experience of executive leaders and the rigor of scholarly inquiry, without devaluing either, and achieve the clarity that today’s leaders need.
Related Leading in Context Blog Posts: 

Thinking Beyond Disciplines: Why We Need It

Ethical Leadership Thinking: When We Attack An Issue

The Ethical Leadership Puzzle: A Broader View

Ethical Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us


For 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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 


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