What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Meaningful Leadership? Seeking the Truth & Excavating Grey Areas Using Ethical Values

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. In Part 2 we explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. In Part 3 we looked at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on collective success. In Part 4, we’ll examine how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. 

Meaningful leadership searches for the truth in a complex world. This requires seeing the nuances and moving beyond oversimplified either/or choices. It means investing time and effort in peeling away the irrelevant and the inaccurate to get to the heart of issues.

“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Meaningful leadership requires being willing to live in disequilibrium, without having all the answers.

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

— Socrates

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Meaningful leadership makes a lifetime commitment to learning and competence.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

— Albert Einstein

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

— Viktor E. Frankl

Meaningful leadership sees complex issues from multiple perspectives, including the important perspective of what is best in terms of ethical values. Failing to see issues in terms of ethical values means abandoning the guidance system of human civilization.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

— Marcel Proust

Meaningful leadership uses ethical values to understand difficult issues, digging into intent and impact and revealing the best choices for multiple stakeholders.

Meaningful leadership requires working through discomfort but it is worth the effort. Ask yourself:

  1. How carefully do I excavate complex issues before I make a decision or take a side?  
  2. How consistently do I use ethical values as the basis for excavating the grey areas?
  3. What could I do with my teams to help us all get better at basing our thinking process on ethical values?


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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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