It’s Time For Ethically Adaptive Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Agility and adaptability are mantras for leaders during this time of global unrest and catastrophic change. Each day brings new challenges that consume our time and require us to grow into higher levels of ethical awareness to avoid missteps and miscalculations. As we try to find stable footing in unstable times, ethical agility will be a factor in our success.

Leadership is Not a “Plug and Play” Role

Leadership is not a “plug and play” role. Our strategies, approaches and mindsets quickly become outdated as situations change. Adam Bryant writes about the wonderful concept of the “frictionless mind” in his article “The Long Lasting Impact of 2020 on Leadership” in s+b.

Having a frictionless mind doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have opinions, even strong ones that you believe are built on a solid foundation of fact and well-reasoned ideas. To me, it means you have a willingness to quickly and easily let go of your beliefs, adopt other perspectives, and question the validity of your underlying thinking.”

— Adam Bryant in The Long Lasting Impact of 2020 on Leadership, s+b

This concept of the “frictionless mind” that Bryant shares is important. It includes the ability to quickly change one’s mind when new information warrants doing that, and includes continually examining long-held beliefs to be sure they’re still morally sound. Agility and adaptability include much more than just our strategy, operations and tactics. They also include our ability to adapt and improve our ethics as we learn and grow.

“Ethically Adaptive” is a New Measure of Success

Things don’t look like they’re going to get easier anytime soon. As Kepner-Tregoe shares in Embracing the Future of Work: The Importance of Agility and Adaptability, “Hang on tight, the future of work looks to be a wild ride!Leaders who succeed will need to stay open to changing any aspect of their thinking that no longer works.

When we are tempted to choose our response to a situation based on power, convenience, money, blind loyalty, or consistency with our previous choices, we should carefully examine our thinking process and beliefs to be sure that we are not blind to the ethical issues involved.

Sometimes when leaders change their thinking and approach based on new information, people mistakenly call it “being indecisive.” Changing our mind isn’t being indecisive when we have new information and have made a more informed ethical choice. When a situation has ethical implications, and we change our mind to make a more ethical choice, we’re being ethically adaptive.

Due to the relentless pace of change, maintaining consistency of character requires ongoing growth.

Being ethically adaptive goes beyond any lower level definitions of ethical competence. It allows us to handle crises and life-and-death challenges responsibly, including the ones we’re facing now during the pandemic. Staying ethically adaptive has proven to be so important that it may very well become the new leadership measure of success.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership


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