It’s Not About Us

By Linda Fisher Thornton 

You may have noticed that society’s expectations of us as leaders are continuing to increase. Consumers prefer to choose companies that genuinely care about their well-being. Employees want to work for companies that treat people well, do meaningful work and give back to the community. To survive in this new land where ethics is key to success, we must understand that it is not all about us.

Its Not About Us

In a human development sense, our understanding of leadership has essentially “grown up” and moved past personal ego and a self-centered view of things.

Leadership may have once been defined by eloquence, power, or charisma, but today’s successful leadership is defined by creating value for others.  In a human development sense, our understanding of leadership has essentially “grown up” and moved past personal ego and a self-centered view of things. It has progressed from being “all about us” to being about our long-term impact on others.



What does this less self-centered view of leadership look like in action? It looks like this in a typical day:

  • Talking with employees, customers and other stakeholders to learn their deepest needs
  • Treating everyone with respect
  • Asking how we can make things better for those we lead and serve
  • Being open to change, adapting quickly, and staying competent (because these things define how others experience our leadership)
  • Keeping ethics at the center of everything we do and every decision we make

We need to avoid thinking that it’s all about us. Today’s less self-absorbed leadership is all about proactively and ethically creating value for others.

About Linda Fisher Thornton          

As CEO of Leading in Context, Linda Fisher Thornton  helps forward-thinking leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.™ Linda’s book 7 Lenses (with a foreword by Stephen M. R. Covey) provides a clear multi-dimensional framework for leading ethically in  a global society.   @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses


How Do We Achieve Corporate Integrity?

Corporate IntegrityBy Linda Fisher Thornton

To achieve corporate integrity, we must do a number of things well. We need to have a clear message about what taking responsibility for ethics means to us; clear expectations for what it looks like in our organization day-to-day; and a congruent system for managing for ethical performance. 

There is a current ethics trend away from a “push” mentality when it comes to learning about ethics (making people do it) to a “pull” mentality (making it positive so that people will want to do it). Taking on a “pull mentality” involves creating a positive ethical environment, which includes:

  • Reaching beyond laws and regulations (they represent the punishment threshold, not ethical business)
  • Reaching for ethical values – respect, care, trust, doing good and avoiding harm

There are specific actions that we must take to develop a positive ethical culture where our ethics message and our day-to-day actions are clearly aligned. The 7 actions listed below are some of the most important ones to take on the journey to corporate integrity.

Companies With Corporate Integrity Develop:

  1. An ethical leader’s mindset.
  2. A multidimensional understanding of what ethical responsibility means in a global society.
  3. An ethics message that we keep current as times change.
  4. An awareness that profitability is not an ethical value and decisions about money must always be balanced with ethical values. 
  5. A well-informed leadership team that knows what leading ethically looks like in action.
  6. A quick response to problems, and full accountability for ethical behavior. 
  7. A consistent and integrated performance system that rewards ethical behavior.

About Linda Fisher Thornton        DSC_9672  As CEO of Leading in Context, Linda Fisher Thornton helps forward-thinking leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.™  Linda’s book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership provides a clear framework for proactive ethical leadership (foreword by Stephen M. R. Covey).  

Dealing With Complexity in Leadership

SAMSUNGBy Linda Fisher Thornton

Dealing with work complexity has become a major leadership development issue. And it is a challenge that has ethical implications. As our work becomes more complex, so do our ethical dilemmas.

What is Thinking Complexity?

We may want to lead responsibly but still struggle to make ethical decisions in highly complex situations. It would help if we could develop the thinking skills to navigate those situations more easily. If we were prepared to think at a high degree of complexity, we would be better able to understand the organization and its challenges from multiple perspectives when making difficult decisions.

“If managers and leaders are to scratch beneath the surface and delve into the substance of their organizations, what is needed is “cognitive complexity” which can be defined as “the intellectual ability of a manager or leader to envision the organization from multiple and competing perspectives so as to develop a depth of organizational understanding that is at least equal to the factors impacting its functioning.”

Richard Jacobs, Analyzing Organizations Through Cognitive Complexity, Villanova University

Considering multiple perspectives in decision-making provides an advantage to leaders and organizations as they juggle competing demands. How can we prepare leaders to do that?

Preparing Leaders

We are going to need to improve our thinking skills to be ready to deal with the increasing complexity of work in our networked global society. According to Nick Petrie, Center for Creative Leadership, we will need a completely new approach to developing leaders in order to deal with the level of change that is coming.

“There is one thing that I have become certain of and that is that the methods that have been used in the past to develop leaders really, truly, categorically will not be enough for the complexity of challenges which are on their way for organizations (and broader society).”

Nick Petrie, Future Trends in Leadership Development, Center for Creative Leadership

The ability to think through complex problems clearly is an asset to individual leaders and to the organizations they serve. We need to find ways to help leaders develop this ability, and to do that, it helps to understand what it is that leaders with a high degree of thinking complexity do.

What Do Leaders With High Thinking Complexity Do?

As you review this list, consider how you can seek meaningful leadership development experiences that support these practices.

Think in Multiple Dimensions and in Relationships

“Persons who are high in cognitive complexity are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements; they are multidimensional in their thinking.”

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. (1986). Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press, online at The College of St. Scholastica

Deal Well With Ambiguity and Contradictory Findings 

“There are numerous studies which suggest that individuals who have high cognitive complexity tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, more comfortable not only with new findings but even with contradictory findings. Moreover, such individuals have a greater ability to observe the world in terms of grey rather than simply in terms of black and white.”

J. Rogers Hollingsworth, Knowledge, Communication and Creativity, University of Wisconsin-Madison, online at

Use Systems Thinking

“To meet the needs of requisite complexity, Knowledge Era leadership requires a change in thinking away from individual, controlling views, and toward views of organizations as complex adaptive systems that enable continuous creation and capture of knowledge.”

Uhl-Bien, Marion & McKelvey, Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era, University of Lincoln-Nebraska

Intentionally Seek and Integrate New Information

“Complex people tend to be more open to new information, rely on their own integrative efforts than new information, seek more novel information, search across more categories of information, and are less externally information bound. They tend to take in more information and form more well rounded impressions than less complex persons.”

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press, online at The College of St. Scholastica

Connect Employees, Processes and Tools to Meet Goals

Ultimately, these women and men – armed with cognitive complexity and the skills and techniques associated with best practice – will manage and lead their organizations to achieve their goals by uniting people, technology and process in a more efficient and effective human way.

Richard Jacobs, Analyzing Organizations Through Cognitive Complexity, Villanova University

Simplify Complexity For Those They Lead

Those leaders of the units judged to be ‘most successful’ were not those who demonstrated the higher levels of systemic thinking but, rather, seemed able to simplify complexity for their teams.

Keith Normal Johnston, Complexity of thinking and levels of self-complexity required to sustainably manage the environment, thesis submitted to Australian National University

Leaders who develop a high level of thinking complexity will be better able to help our organizations understand and work through a wide variety of challenges, problems and opportunities. They will make sense out of issues and problems that are multidimensional and connected. And they will be prepared to do what all great leaders do – help those they lead deal with increasing complexity.
To Learn More:
Capitalizing on Complexity (and Other CEO Reports), The IBM C-Suite Studies,

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development consulting firm, and was recently named one of the 2013 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. Her mission is to clarify what it means to lead responsibly in a complex world.

Testimonials - Learn about the Leading in Context difference from satisfied customers, readers and fans!


Business Leader Future : A Sketch

Leading in a Complex Global Context

I did some research about global trends and challenges and how they will change the way we will lead in the future.  The answers I found explain why we sometimes feel that we’re in a perpetual state of disequilibrium.

The Leader of the Future

This description was adapted from the sources listed below.

The Leader of the Future is a globally aware, fast-learning, socially and financially responsible leader with amazing digital skills and social media savvy, who is agile, resilient and collaborative, demonstrates exceptional thinking skills, deals well with uncertainty, has connections across disciplines, synthesizes information easily to find meaning, learns quickly and continually, adapts to solving new and complex problems and meeting competing demands, is environmentally responsible, open and transparent, internationally mobile, with a global view and local cultural sensitivity, who cares about others, behaves and leads ethically, holds people accountable while helping to develop their leadership potential, serves as a change agent promoting responsible leadership, values differences, and engages diverse collections of employees, customers and communities in a common purpose.

Improving Our Leadership 

Consider these questions:

1. What does this business leader of the future do well that I need to learn?

2. How will learning in those areas make me a more responsible leader?

3. How will I engage the other leaders in the organization in learning with me?

4. How will making these changes in leadership help us survive and thrive?


Key Global Trends Impacting Leadership Hay Group Press Release About “Leadership 2030″ Report

The Leader of the Future: Ten skills to begin developing now

Emerging Leadership Trends Rick Lash, Hay Group on YouTube

The 2020 Leader: Attributes for Success in the 2020 Workplace Jeanne Meister at

Emerging Leadership Journeys Spring 2011,

Shaping Health Systems Network: Emerging Leadership in a Global Context Center for Innovation in Health Management, UK

Emerging Leadership Issues  Lev Lafayette, doctoral candidate at the Ashworth Centre for Social Theory

Future Work Skills 2020 Research Institute for the Future

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. Her Leading in Context Store now offers engaging training modules, graphics and videos for leaders.

Responsible Management Education: UN Principles

What is the Purpose of Management Education? 

The purpose of management education is obviously to develop capable and responsible managers. But what does that mean?

Does it mean:

  • Responsible profitability?
  • Service to society?
  • Economic development?
  • Sustainability?

How Do We Know What to Teach?

The UN Principles for Responsible Management Education guide us so that we can be sure that we are incorporating the global principles of  responsible management into our teaching and training. They provide clarity about the values we should focus on when teaching managers.

Principle 1 provides a great deal of clarity about the purpose and scope of our teaching:

Principle 1 | Purpose: We will develop the capabilities of students to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large and to work for an inclusive and sustainable global economy.

United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education at

Principles 2 through 6  provide guidance about how to achieve that purpose through Values, Method, Research, Partnership and Dialogue.

Our Clear Responsibility

If we had no guidelines, we’d be left to determine just what we wanted responsible business management to mean. Because these guidelines exist for us as educators, we are now compelled to stretch beyond whatever definition of  “responsible management and leadership” we are now using to incorporate this broader global definition.

There is no longer a place for the kind of management and leadership training that teaches only how to make money while following the law. There is so much more required of us that it is irresponsible to teach only profitability and law to the exclusion of other variables like sustainability and service to society that are important for our global future.

“We urge business schools to adopt the Principles and organizations to balance their economic and social objectives.”

Declaration for the 2nd Global Forum for Responsible Management Education

As Teachers and Trainers, We Need to Be Role Models for Others

When teaching managers and leaders in universities and corporations, we need to be sure that we are teaching the global values that will serve leaders well in our connected society. When we do, we are demonstrating and modeling responsible leadership and preparing leaders to be part of the solution as we solve problems that cross organizations, continents and disciplines.

“The Principles for Responsible Management Education have the capacity to take the case for universal values and business into classrooms on every continent.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, quoted on

Questions for Discussion:

1. How well does our management and leadership education align with the UN Principles?

2. What are the major differences between what we are teaching and the UN Principles?

3. How will we realign what we do to be in line with the UN Principles?

4. How will our realignment with UN Principles help the leaders we teach be more responsible corporate and global citizens?

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.  

If you like these resources, also visit the Leading in Context® Store  which sells training modules, graphics, videos and discussion guides supporting today’s ethical business leadership.

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

  • Access selected publications via Slideshare
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Shared Ethical Values: Global Consensus?

Are we Approaching a Consensus About Global Ethics? 

Rushworth Kidder in Trust: A Primer on Current Thinking says that “the work of the Institute for Global Ethics suggests that there are indeed core global values that transcend individual cultures.”

As we struggle day-to-day with what ethics means in business, groups of concerned leaders around the world are studying common ethical values that could clarify ethical behavior and unite us in a common global code of ethics.

Global Values Transcend Boundaries

The Institute for Global Ethics conducted a survey to discover whether or not there are universally shared global values:

“The 272 survey respondents–representing 40 countries and more than 50 faith communities–identified a core of values centering strongly on truth, compassion, and responsibility. This core appears to be largely unaffected by the respondents’ gender, nationality, native language, or religious affiliation.”

Global Values, Moral Boundaries: A Pilot Survey  (download requires registering) The Institute for Global Ethics,

A Global Understanding of  Business Ethics

There are two resources readily available that present ethical values in a global context and provide guidance for ethical corporate behavior.  The Caux Roundtable Principles for Responsible Business and Principles for Responsible Globalization provide benchmarks for ethical corporate behavior and are available free online. Responsible businesses are reviewing them and discussing ways to abide by the principles.

 “The CRT Principles for Business are a worldwide vision for ethical and responsible corporate behavior and serve as a foundation for action for business leaders worldwide. As a statement of aspirations, the CRT Principles aim to express a world standard against which business behavior can be measured.” Caux Round Table Principles for Business at

The CRT Principles of Globalization include new principles for Governments, in addition to the Principles for Business. Just as the Principles for Business, these Principles of Government derive from two ethical ideals: “Kyosei” and “Human Dignity.” The Japanese concept of “Kyosei” looks to living and working together for the common good, while the moral vision of “Human Dignity” refers to the sacredness or value of each person as an end, not simply as a means to the fulfillment of others’ purposes or even of majority demands.”   Principles for Responsible Globalization at

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO/Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a consulting firm helping business leaders lead responsibly in a complex world and serves as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of
Richmond School of Continuing Studies. Her Leading in Context® Store sells training modules, discussion guides
and graphics supporting ethical business leadership. For more information about Linda and her work, visit or contact her via email at 

Global Ethics and Integrity Benchmarks

The link for the Caux Roundtable Principles for Responsible Business appeared in a previous post. Here are more global ethics benchmarks that may be useful to you in your journey toward responsible business leadership:

Global Ethics and Integrity Benchmarks article by Dubinski and Richter

Global Business Oath article by Connor

It’s a global marketplace, and these benchmarks detail the ethical qualities that customers, suppliers, partners and job-seekers will be looking for in your organization.


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