Our Thinking is an “Ethical Driver”

What Influences Our Approach to Ethical Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What Influences Our Approach to Ethical Leadership?

When we talk about “ethical leadership” we are talking about the intersection of multiple connected variables that affect our choices. We choose our approach based on a number of variables that are influenced by our level of learning, growth and experience.

Here are some of the variables (which may be influenced by learning and development) that converge to define our sense of what “ethical leadership” includes.

  • Our Thinking
  • Our Behavior
  • Our Integrity
  • Our Performance
  • Our Traditions
  • Our World View
  • Our Values
  • Our Level of Moral Development
  • Our Ability to Deal With Complexity
  • Our Adaptability to Change
  • Our Motivation For Wanting to Lead
  • The Degree to Which We Hold Ourselves Accountable
  • The Degree to Which We Manage Our Emotions and Impulses
  • Our Assumptions About the Purpose of Leadership
  • Our Assumptions About the Purpose of Business
  • Our Perceptions of Our Responsibilities to Multiple Stakeholders

…And this list of variables that make up our conceptual understanding of ethical leadership is only a starting point. Feel free to add others to the list.

Our Thinking Drives the Other Variables

What we think influences how we behave. We could even say that our thinking is in essence an “ethical driver” in that it affects the other variables that make up our leadership. Here are some examples of how our thinking influences our ethics as leaders:

Does Good Leadership Mean Control or Creativity?

“Good Leadership” Means Maintaining Control 

If I think that I need to exert control to keep my workplace from becoming chaotic, then my behavior will likely reflect a need to hover and direct the actions of my employees.

“Good Leadership” Means Unleashing People’s Creativity

If I think that people will do a good job if I support them, and that a little chaos is just part of the creative process, then I will likely tolerate higher levels of chaos and give employees room to use their own creativity and make mistakes.

Is Ethical Business Win-Lose or Win-Win?

“Ethical Business” Means Making as Much Money as I Can Without Going to Jail

If I tend to think in a win-lose way, then I may be more likely to seek gain for myself without concern for my impact on other stakeholders.

“Ethical Business” Includes the Responsibility to Respect and Serve 

If I tend to think in a win-win, service-focused way, then I may be more likely to seek positive solutions for others and consider my responsibilities to them more broadly.

Who’s Driving?

These examples illustrate the importance of being aware of how our thinking affects our leadership choices. If our thinking is an “ethical driver,” then we need to be intentional about our thinking so that we stay in the driver’s seat.


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 


  1. It also makes the case for diversity in thought; bringing diverse thinking together to ensure a balanced decision. As you say, there are so many different reasons that people act, often influenced by a moment in time as well. Having thinking partners who complement your own thinking can work wonders….


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