Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the third post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed them, take a look at Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1) and Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2).  I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your plans for developing leaders in 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

Ethics codes and manuals are detailed but don’t provide high level direction on how to apply ethical values to decisions and actions. To make matters worse, the way we teach ethics is often low level, only based on laws and regulations, or oversimplified, describing whether something is “ethical or not” without exploring its ethical dimensions. 

Col Fernando Giancotti says in Strategic Leadership and the Narrow Mind: What We Don’t Do Well and Why – “Stepping up to a more comprehensive, less fragile ethic than the “good or bad” one is necessary to induce ethical, and not cynical, answers to the ambiguity and contradictions of our era.”

Leaders need a coherent ethical framework to help them navigate global and ethical complexity 

Giving leaders a robust framework for understanding ethical issues and choices is a must. The framework leaders use should be easy to remember so that they can recall it when they don’t have their materials at hand. They can’t lead well in a highly complex evolving global society without it. Here are some of the powerful benefits we gain when we meet the leadership need at a high enough level: 

Helps Leaders Remember and Apply Learning

“Coherence: Every part fits together. Every recall re-embeds the whole map.”

— David Rock, Why Leadership Development is Broken & How To Fix It Webinar, 2017

Avoids Guesswork

“What’s important is that having an ethical framework provides you with a basis for making difficult ethical decisions, rather than leaving you to struggle with each separate decision in a vacuum. It’s like the difference between building a house from a set of plans, and building it from guesswork, one piece of wood at a time.”

The Community Tool Box Chapter 8: Ethical Leadership,  Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas.

Provides a Clear Basis For Decision Making

“Ethical reasoning is hard because there are so many ways to fail…. Individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of the steps are completed, they are not likely to behave in an ethical way, regardless of the amount of training they have received in ethics, and regardless of their levels of other types of skills.”

Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, Developing ethical reasoning and/or ethical decision making

Fills The Gap Between “Wanting to Do the Right Thing” and “Knowing How”

“That persons with management responsibility must find the principles to resolve conflicting ethical claims in their own minds and hearts is an unwelcome discovery. Most of us keep quiet about it.”

Ethics in Practice, Kenneth R. Andrews, Harvard Business Review

Piecemeal leadership development, with no connection to a coherent framework, doesn’t “stick.” Worse, if we teach leadership and ethics separately, we can’t expect leaders to figure out how to integrate the principles on their own. Leadership development is only coherent if the ethical values are built in. 

Read the Next Post in the Series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)


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©2018 Leading in Context LLC

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