Ethical Leaders Take Time To Think

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What sets ethical leaders apart from other leaders? They take the time to THINK before making decisions. And that’s not all they do that sets them apart. While they’re thinking:

  • They’re listening to those they lead and seeking input
  • They’re intentionally learning about the nuances of the context
  • They’re wrestling with how to do the right thing

The Quick Answer Is Risky

While it may be satisfying for leaders to give QUICK answers to a complex problem, there are risks associated with those quick responses:

  • The quick answers may create more problems than they solve (because the context is not yet fully understood)
  • The quick answers may not be as polite or inclusive or respectful as they should be (because there’s no thinking process, which is necessary for managing emotions)
  • The quick answers reveal a leader’s lack of careful thinking (to those who did take the time to understand the context).

When ethical leadership is required, the QUICK answer is risky business. 

When is ethical leadership required? – Every moment of every day, on every project, in every role, while taking on every challenge and making every decision. 

Ethical leaders take time to think before acting in all of these moments. When they encounter a similar problem in the future, they still take time to think. They don’t assume they have all the information they need, because they know that the context is perpetually changing. 

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  1. Cam,

    I heard Krista Tippett speak on the adventure of civility at The University of Richmond Monday night, and she also spoke about the importance of really listening and asking questions. She recommends sharing the questions we have in common instead of trading in competing answers. She said that “if we give up on civil dialogue, that means handing over our common life to the most strident voices.” Thanks for connecting this post back to the issue of multiple perspectives on the right thing to do, and encouraging people to listen and think together.



  2. Linda:

    I have been reading the intriguing book, Women’s Ways of Knowing. That book suggests that some women “think” by going inside themselves, examining their ‘heart of hearts,’ reflecting on personal experiences that are ‘true’ to them, and following their intuition.

    Perhaps there is also validity in this means of thinking . . . although most men tend to be somewhat more methodical, linear, and empirical in their analysis. I think leaders need to recognize that learning, teaching, and knowing are all related to thinking . . . but that we begin to learn together when we listen and ask others how they perceive ‘reality’ and what it means to them.

    This dialogue allows us to ‘think’ together, to acknowledge and validate each other, and to recognize that ethical perspectives and what is ‘right’ may often differ.

    Thank you, as always, for stimulating dialogue and for your valuable insights!



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