Talking About What Matters (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In a previous post Talking About What Matters (Part 1), I explored how talking about ethical values engages people, helps them find meaning and improves the organization’s metrics. This week I want to begin to explore what the conversation should include. 

You may be surprised to learn that it’s not all about what WE COMMUNICATE about values – it’s their questions that will help us bring values to life.

Our carefully crafted messages about values don’t help people resolve the tricky issues. Those are just scratching the SURFACEWhen people are trying to apply them to resolve tricky issues, that’s when values count the most. 

We need to address their deepest questions. We need to explore the grey areas where they want to understand how to apply values.  Addressing their deepest questions helps them resolve REAL issues, and that brings values to life. 

Many leaders miss the questions or don’t help people resolve them. It’s our job as leaders to fill in the spaces around the words – to help people dig into the places where they see conflicting messages about values and sort them out. Here are two examples that drive home the need for conversations about conflicting messages about values:

Is Respect Really Valued Here?

What if we have always said that respect is critical, but our new manager was disrespectful to members of the team in the last meeting? What might people need to talk about?

How Am I Supposed To Choose Sustainable Options?

What if a project team member knows sustainability is a company value but the purchasing department isn’t offering sustainable paper options in the right size for the task? She knows she’s not supposed to go around purchasing to order items, but she is supposed to uphold the value of sustainability in her choices. Now what?

These kinds of situations are incredibly common. By helping people resolve them, we are moving organizational values from living “on paper” to their rightful place – central to our work. We are releasing the power and potential of those values to transform the organization. 

Some leaders shy away from tough questions like these because they don’t know the answers. Here’s the piece of information they lack: Leaders don’t have to know the answers themselves to help resolve questions like these. In fact, they need to be ready to “not have the answers.” 

The leader’s job is to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing, and to generate authentic conversations about values. By “not knowing” the answers themselves, leaders help others take the journey to meaning.

Top 100 Leadership Blog

What Are You Talking About (Ethically Speaking)?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

There are many layers of meaning in ethics conversations. How far down are you going? Do you stop at surface messages or do you dig into real problems? See if you can find your ethics conversations below:

Layers of Ethical Conversation

 

SURFACE:

Corporate Messages

Marketing Slogans

Posters About Ethics and Integrity

STANDARDS:

Ethics Codes

Ethics Training

REALITY:

Tackling Real-Life Dilemmas That Are Difficult To Handle

How to Apply Ethics Expectations in Grey Areas and Between the Lines

What We Do Around Here When We Don’t Know the Right Thing to Do

 

Don’t lock down the ethics conversation at Surface and Standards. The level of Reality is where your employees want to talk about ethics. Don’t believe it? Just ask them. 

Top 100 Leadership Blog

 

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Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses®. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®
 
©2015 Leading in Context LLC

 

Full Accountability For Ethics: The New Normal

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Recently, I blogged about trends in ethical leadership, sharing 10 forces that are fueling a movement toward higher expectations for values-based leadership. Today I want to explore how those trends help explain what we are seeing in ethics events in the news.  Recent headlines have described more severe sanctions than people have seen in the past, in response to ethical problems in sports, politics, business and beyond. Some people may have wondered, “Why are people now being convicted for doing the same things that others before them have done?”

HFull-accountability-forolding people accountable for ethical problems that were previously overlooked may appear on the surface to be inconsistent and unfair. But when you take a closer look at the trends, you will discover an important reason why people are more frequently being held fully accountable. It is because ethical expectations are increasing and expanding.

What does all of this mean? While everyone is still catching up with increased regulation and recent changes in ethics expectations: 

There will continue to be a predictable increase in the enforcement of ethics standards across industries. 

It is definitely time to move out of a “what worked before will work again” mindset and into a mindset of full accountability and increasing expectations.

Mindset of the Outdated Leader: “What Worked Before Will Work Again”

  • You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.  We’ll both be better off.
  • This is the way we’ve always done it and we’ve never been cited for it.
  • We go over the ethics codes once a year. That’s enough. 

Mindset of the Ethical Leader: “Full Accountability and Increasing Expectations” 

  • Everyone is fully accountable for ethics, and favors are not “ethics-free.”
  • Ethical violations that may have been overlooked in the past are being enforced vigorously now. 
  • Dealing with increasing expectations for ethics now requires intentional effort, ongoing learning and frequent conversation.

You will be hearing more about this trend toward full accountability for ethics. It’s not just a phase. It is becoming the new normal.

Follow the Leading in Context Blog for weekly posts that help you Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership™ 

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For more, see the new guide book to ethical leadership future called 7 Lenses and the related 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  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

What is Ethical Leadership?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is ethical leadership? I have been exploring that question on the Leading in Context Blog for the last four years. This week, I’ve chosen some highlights from popular posts to illustrate what leading in a complex world requires of each of us.

Leading ethically in a global society requires much more than following laws and regulations. We must take on a global mindset, maintain an openness to learning, actively build trust, and so much more.

We must move away from a compliance mindset, and reach for a values-based mindset that considers much more (see the highest level on this three-level graphic).

Which of These is Ethical Leadership

Expectations Beyond Compliance and Laws

“Following laws and regulations is just above the punishment threshold for ethical leadership. Expectations are moving to a much higher level, a level at which we are expected to do much more. Look at the third level, the highest level of the graphic. Aren’t transparency, sustainability and honoring human rights now expected of all businesses? I believe they are, and there are other factors we need to consider that are not on this list. The minimum standard is gradually moving to a higher level as we better understand the impact of our choices on others in a global society.”       

Linda Fisher Thornton, Which of These is Ethical Leadership?

Openness to Learning

“When we are not open to learning, we can easily misinterpret another perspective that does not match our own as a threat. That perspective that we are actively arguing against may in fact reflect a more current, more advanced, or more ethical perspective than ours. Failing to acknowledge that there are other perspectives on an issue (and that the people who hold them have a right to their views as much as we do) shows a lack of respect, and a lack of awareness…”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Civility and Openness to Learning

Inclusion

“Managing diversity without inclusion as the ultimate goal can make a big difference in the way employees experience our organization. We choose a way of thinking that represents what we’re trying to do and then build a process/program/structure or measurement based on that foundation. If diversity is our way of thinking, we may get an approach based on “differences,” rather than one based on creating an inclusive culture where a diverse group of people can do their best work.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Differences or Inclusion: Which Are We Focusing On?

Service and Care

“One of the elements of ethical leadership that may be overlooked when we view ethics using a “legal lens” is supporting and developing the potential of the people we lead. While many leadership ethics programs focus on the risk side of ethics – compliance with laws and regulations, avoiding lawsuits, etc., there is an equally important side of ethics that involves care.” Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Leaders Care

A High Trust Environment

“On the surface, it doesn’t seem that curiosity and imagination are related to ethics. But think about what would happen in an environment where people were not able to use them. Could employees still be relied on to consistently behave ethically in an environment where they were not engaged in their work, and where they did not feel respected or fairly treated?”

Linda FIsher Thornton, Curiosity and Imagination Necessary Ingredients in Ethical Business

A Global Mindset

“When we see the world as a global society, we see that we need to act as if what happens to others, even people we may never meet, matters. We all share space, food and natural resources. We also share international communication and transportation systems and a global economy. Thinking about our planet as home to a global society, it is clear that we must act as if what happens to the environment matters. Our survival is dependent on the limited resources we have available and how responsibly we use them.” 

Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Leadership and… a Global Society

Honoring Human Rights

“As leaders, we are expected to protect human rights in all that we do. In our quest to lead responsibly, we must continually consider the question “How do we need to change in order to better honor human rights?” If you are in the process of developing a corporate human rights policy, A Guide for Business: How to Develop a Human Rights Policy (UN Human Rights, Global Compact) is helpful in beginning the discussion.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Honoring Human Rights is Essential

Staying ready to lead ethically in a globally networked world will require continual learning and a broad understanding of what ethical responsibility includes. Let’s get started…

 

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

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 

Dealing With Complexity in Leadership

SAMSUNGBy Linda Fisher Thornton

Dealing with work complexity has become a major leadership development issue. And it is a challenge that has ethical implications. As our work becomes more complex, so do our ethical dilemmas.

What is Thinking Complexity?

We may want to lead responsibly but still struggle to make ethical decisions in highly complex situations. It would help if we could develop the thinking skills to navigate those situations more easily. If we were prepared to think at a high degree of complexity, we would be better able to understand the organization and its challenges from multiple perspectives when making difficult decisions.

“If managers and leaders are to scratch beneath the surface and delve into the substance of their organizations, what is needed is “cognitive complexity” which can be defined as “the intellectual ability of a manager or leader to envision the organization from multiple and competing perspectives so as to develop a depth of organizational understanding that is at least equal to the factors impacting its functioning.”

Richard Jacobs, Analyzing Organizations Through Cognitive Complexity, Villanova University

Considering multiple perspectives in decision-making provides an advantage to leaders and organizations as they juggle competing demands. How can we prepare leaders to do that?

Preparing Leaders

We are going to need to improve our thinking skills to be ready to deal with the increasing complexity of work in our networked global society. According to Nick Petrie, Center for Creative Leadership, we will need a completely new approach to developing leaders in order to deal with the level of change that is coming.

“There is one thing that I have become certain of and that is that the methods that have been used in the past to develop leaders really, truly, categorically will not be enough for the complexity of challenges which are on their way for organizations (and broader society).”

Nick Petrie, Future Trends in Leadership Development, Center for Creative Leadership

The ability to think through complex problems clearly is an asset to individual leaders and to the organizations they serve. We need to find ways to help leaders develop this ability, and to do that, it helps to understand what it is that leaders with a high degree of thinking complexity do.

What Do Leaders With High Thinking Complexity Do?

As you review this list, consider how you can seek meaningful leadership development experiences that support these practices.

Think in Multiple Dimensions and in Relationships

“Persons who are high in cognitive complexity are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements; they are multidimensional in their thinking.”

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. (1986). Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press, online at The College of St. Scholastica

Deal Well With Ambiguity and Contradictory Findings 

“There are numerous studies which suggest that individuals who have high cognitive complexity tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, more comfortable not only with new findings but even with contradictory findings. Moreover, such individuals have a greater ability to observe the world in terms of grey rather than simply in terms of black and white.”

J. Rogers Hollingsworth, Knowledge, Communication and Creativity, University of Wisconsin-Madison, online at wisc.edu

Use Systems Thinking

“To meet the needs of requisite complexity, Knowledge Era leadership requires a change in thinking away from individual, controlling views, and toward views of organizations as complex adaptive systems that enable continuous creation and capture of knowledge.”

Uhl-Bien, Marion & McKelvey, Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era, University of Lincoln-Nebraska

Intentionally Seek and Integrate New Information

“Complex people tend to be more open to new information, rely on their own integrative efforts than new information, seek more novel information, search across more categories of information, and are less externally information bound. They tend to take in more information and form more well rounded impressions than less complex persons.”

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press, online at The College of St. Scholastica

Connect Employees, Processes and Tools to Meet Goals

Ultimately, these women and men – armed with cognitive complexity and the skills and techniques associated with best practice – will manage and lead their organizations to achieve their goals by uniting people, technology and process in a more efficient and effective human way.

Richard Jacobs, Analyzing Organizations Through Cognitive Complexity, Villanova University

Simplify Complexity For Those They Lead

Those leaders of the units judged to be ‘most successful’ were not those who demonstrated the higher levels of systemic thinking but, rather, seemed able to simplify complexity for their teams.

Keith Normal Johnston, Complexity of thinking and levels of self-complexity required to sustainably manage the environment, thesis submitted to Australian National University

Leaders who develop a high level of thinking complexity will be better able to help our organizations understand and work through a wide variety of challenges, problems and opportunities. They will make sense out of issues and problems that are multidimensional and connected. And they will be prepared to do what all great leaders do – help those they lead deal with increasing complexity.
To Learn More:
Capitalizing on Complexity (and Other CEO Reports), The IBM C-Suite Studies, ibm.com

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

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 

 

Testimonials – Learn about the Leading in Context difference from satisfied customers, readers and fans!

 

10 Reasons to Embrace Complexity

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leading Through Complexity and Uncertainty

In The Center For Creative Leadership’s White Paper, The Future of Leadership Development, Nick Petrie describes the new work environment as “typified by an increased level of complexity and interconnectedness.” This new work environment requires new leadership skills, including a willingness to lead when the situation is complex and the outcome uncertain.

“Embrace complexity,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos told about 3,000 graduates who persevered through a national financial crisis and devastating Nashville floods during their tenure at Vanderbilt University.

“Challenge your assumptions, welcome disagreements and along with others make a mission of discovery and education,” Zeppos advised in his May 11, 2012 Commencement address. “Be confident that the habits of mind you have practiced here … will help you face the future and all the unexpectedness it brings. … Living in this way you will make us all proud, and you will make this world a better place.”

Chancellor Urges Vanderbilt Grads to Embrace Complexity, Vanderbilt University, insidevandy.com

 Complexity Presents New Challenges for Leaders

Leading through complexity is not easy.  According to Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights From the 2010 Global CEO Study at IBM.com, “Today, CEOs are telling us that the complexity of operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world is their primary challenge. And, a surprising number of them told us that they feel ill-equipped to succeed in this drastically different world.”

Why Should We Embrace Complexity?

Embracing complexity means acknowledging that we do not have the answers, and we do not know the outcome. It means being willing to think and lead in new ways.

10 reasons why we need to embrace complexity and learn our way through uncertain times:

1. Because complexity is the way things are

2. Because by embracing the way things are, we seek to understand them at the level where we need to resolve problems

3. Because embracing complexity helps us avoid oversimplified, knee-jerk reactions

4. Because it forces us to rethink what we do at a higher level, and keeps us from just going through the motions of leading

5. Because it helps us get beyond the surface chaos to see naturally complex and connected systems

6. Because our organizations are relying on us to make decisions in ways that benefit multiple stakeholders

7. Because it is how we learn and grow

8. Because it is one of the key competencies sought in leaders, and it will make us highly employable and highly valuable to the organizations we serve

9.  Because it makes problems and solutions clearer

10. Because considering the impact of our choices at multiple levels helps us make more responsible decisions

What Happens If We Don’t Embrace it?

The old ways of thinking (linear, analytical, sequential problem solving for example) are not going to help us lead successfully through complexity.

The linear mindset does not reflect how organizations are structured (they are systems made up of subsystems), so solutions generated using linear thinking are generated “out of context” and are not likely to be successful.  This means that more problems are generated by each solution.
Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem Solving, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

If we fail to acknowledge and wrestle with the complexities of leadership in a global society, then…

  1. We see only parts and fragments of problems, not natural complexity and connectedness
  2. We attempt to solve problems at the level of the parts and fragments, and in doing that,
  3. We create new problems

Related Posts

Leading Ethically Through Complexity: How to Prepare Leaders, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem Solving, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

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For more, see new 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  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 
 
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Ethical Leadership Context

The Context for Ethical Leadership is Broader Than You May Think

The context for understanding ethical leadership is evolving as we connect information from a wide variety of disciplines that have not traditionally worked together. Here are some quotes from the Leading in Context Blog that illustrate the edges of  its context:

Curiosity and Imagination

On the surface, it doesn’t seem that curiosity and imagination are related to ethics. But think about what would happen in an environment where people were not able to use them. Could employees still be relied on to consistently behave ethically in an environment where they were not engaged in their work, and where they did not feel respected or fairly treated?

Linda Fisher Thornton, in Leading in Context Blog Post “Curiosity and Imagination Necessary Ingredients in Ethical Culture” published May 18, 2011.

Beyond Profit

The trouble with using a profit-based definition of “ethics” is that by using profitability as a way to make decisions an entire spectrum of other issues is conveniently ignored. In order to avoid this trap and to move away from profit-based thinking, it’s important to broaden the variables we consider when making business decisions to include:

  • The impact of my products and services on consumers and society
  • The impact of my business operations on the planet
  • The long-term unintended consequences of my choices
  • The changing consumer mindset toward ethical business and avoiding harm
  • The erosion of customer confidence in my products, services and ethics
Linda Fisher Thornton, in Leading in Context Blog Post “Profit-Based Ethics: The Mindset Behind It” published May 11, 2011.
Harm and Inclusion

As we better understand how we are connected as a global society, and our thinking about ethical leadership evolves, our standards of  expected behavior begin to change.

We don’t accept treating people disrespectfully or abusively.

We tolerate less harm.

We think of harm more broadly.

We expect leaders to be inclusive.

We think of inclusion more inclusively.

…It raises the stakes for all of us.

Linda Fisher Thornton, in Leading in Context Blog Post “Curiosity and Imagination Necessary Ingredients in Ethical Culture” published May 18, 2011.

Respect and Trust
Have you noticed a trend toward more respectful behavior? Customers and employees aren’t accepting anything less. People are helping each other more, and sharing what they know more. They are expecting a higher standard of trust, respect and ethics.
Linda Fisher Thornton, in Leading in Context Blog Post “Leadership and…Respect: The New Minimum Standard for Workplace Behavior” published February 2, 2011.

 

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For more, see new 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

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

Curiosity and Imagination Necessary Ingredients in Ethical Business

Questions About Curiosity and Imagination 

What happens in business environments where curiosity and imagination flourish?  How are curiosity and imagination related to ethics and business leadership?How are curiosity and imagination important in today’s business environment?

Why Curiosity and Imagination Matter

Some of the ways that curiosity and imagination matter in business environments include that:

  • Curiosity Helps Keeps People Open, Listening to Each Other and Engaged in Working Together
  • Curiosity and Imagination Allow People to See Issues From Multiple Perspectives
  • Curiosity and Imagination Help People Solve Problems
  • With Good Leadership, Curiosity and Imagination Become Innovation
  • Innovation Helps Companies Adapt
  • Adapting Helps Companies Stay Competitive

But are Curiosity and Imagination Really Necessary in Ethics?

On the surface, it doesn’t seem that curiosity and imagination are related to ethics. But think about what would happen in an environment where people were not able to use them. Could employees still be relied on to consistently behave ethically in an environment where they were not engaged in their work, and where they did not feel respected or fairly treated?

“I shall argue that the role of curiosity and imagination for both science and ethics is so important that nurturing them can be seen as an ethical obligation and suppressing them as ethically problematic.”

EH Loewy, University of California, Davis Medical Center in his article  “Curiosity, Imagination, Compassion, Science and Ethics: Do Curiosity and Imagination Serve a Central Function?” in Health Care Analysis

Thinking More Broadly, Within Boundaries

We wouldn’t want people to be limited to only using familiar ideas, and on the other hand we wouldn’t want people to act on every idea they may come up with. The paradox is resolved by cultivating imagination in the context of ethical boundaries for behavior. A high-trust, high-expectation culture sets the stage for both imagination and ethical behavior.

“Why do we need an ethics of imagination?  Because ethics without imagination is dogma, and imagination without ethics is dangerous. ”

Wrye Sententia, in her article The Ethics of Imagination: The Space Between Your Ears, Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. ”

Albert Einstein

 For Further Reading: 

I’m Curious: Can we Teach Curiosity? by Chris Guthrie, Hamline University

Curiosity, Imagination and Failure: The New Big Three by Zane Safrit, American Express Open Forum

5 Unethical Phrases: Low Trust by Linda Fisher Thornton, LeadinginContext.com

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior Graphic: Red, Green and Yellow Zones by Linda Fisher Thornton, LeadinginContext.com

Cultivating Curiosity, CuriousMind.com

 

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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

© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 


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