Why Do People Lead?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Have you ever thought about why people lead? If you could look into the window of their motivations, what would you discover? I have noticed that people want to be in positions of leadership for very different reasons. Some of those reasons benefit them, and some benefit others.

Below is a starter list of motives that answer the question, “Why do people lead?” As you read the list, consider this question: Which motives reflect the highest levels of human development? 

Unethical Motives

“I Want Access to Money and Power for Personal Gain”

“I Want Employees To Do The Work While I Pursue Other Interests”

“I Want to Sabotage Others to Make Myself Look Good”

“I Want to Treat People Like Pawns in a Game, Keeping Them Guessing”

“I Want to Control Information To Cover Up Ethical Problems”

Self-Focused Motives

“I Want Power”

“I Want Control”

“I Want Visibility”

“I Want Decision-Making Authority”

“I Want Recognition”

“I Want a High Level Position So I Can Make a Lot of Money”

Other-Focused Motives

“I Want to Set a Good Example For Others To Follow”

“I Want to Build a Cohesive Team”

“I Want to Help Others Succeed”

Growth and Learning Motives

“I Want Responsibility”

“I Want to Bring Out the Best in Myself – To Stretch Myself and Learn How to Lead”

“I Want to Help Others Stretch Themselves and Learn”

“I Want to Find Out How Much We Can Accomplish When We Work Together”

Service Motives

“I Want to Serve Others”

“I Want to Help Others Serve Their Constituents”

“I Want to Leave Things Better Than I Found Them”

“I Want to Be in Service in the Community”

Societal Motives

“I Want to Help People Fulfill Their Responsibilities in Our Communities and Our World”

“I Want To Make the World Better Through My Leadership”

“I Want to Make Life Better For Future Generations Through My Leadership”

The journey to ethical leadership is a journey of human development. As we learn and grow, we begin to think beyond ourselves in ways that transform us and those we lead. We move from concern for self-interest to concern for self and others.

Which category of motives do you think reflects the highest level of human development? What reasons for leading would you add to this list? 

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics 41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
  2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner “7 Lenses” 
  Your Roadmap For The Journey to Ethical Leadership (Foreword by Stephen M. R. Covey)  
Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership™                                                                                                



©2015 Leading in Context LLC

Top 10 Leading in Context Posts of 2015


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2015, these 10 were the reader favorites. See if you notice a theme that connects these topics that readers accessed most frequently:

1. Imagining the Future of Leadership

2. Just Say No to 10 Behaviors That Kill Competence

3. 40 Ways to Build an Ethical Culture (An Ethical To Do List)

4. Why Do People Lead?

5. What is Authentic Leadership?

6. 7 Questions For Ethical Culture Building

7. What is Positive Leadership?

8. Trust is a Relationship (Not a Commodity)

9. Helping Young People Become Ethical Leaders

10. 11 Paths to Ethical Leadership Competence

If I had to pick a theme that incorporates all of these favorites, I’d choose the theme “Becoming Our Ethical Best.” If there are ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about in 2016, let me know! Post a comment here or include @leadingincontxt in your Tweet.


Top 100 Leadership Blog




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

Includes case examples and questions.



LeadinginContext.com   Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2016 Leading in Context LLC

Ethical Leadership: Complexity, Context and Adaptation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership requires growth, a willingness to acknowledge complexity and an understanding of the broader context in which we lead. Use these resources to improve your ethical awareness, learn about how the leadership context is evolving and check for learning blind spots.

To Learn About Ethics and Complexity:

To Learn About Ethics and Context:

To Learn About Ethics and Adaptation:



Special Series Celebrating the 2nd Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)


Top 100 Leadership Blog


©2018 Leading in Context LLC

Ethics is Contagious

© 2014 Leading in Context LLCBy Linda Fisher Thornton

I must admit that I can’t take the credit for coming up with the catchy title of this post. A group of attendees at a recent keynote I delivered came up with it as a way to describe what they had learned. And it makes perfect sense.

Ethics is catching, and leaders set the tone for the ethics of the organization. What would happen if everyone in the organization followed our lead? Would the organization be more or less ethical?  What kind of ethics are people catching as they work in our organization?

10 Reasons Why Ethics is Contagious:

  1.  We are social creatures.
  2.  People tend to “follow the leader.”
  3.  If their leader is unethical, people may be less likely to report ethical problems.
  4.  In unethical cultures, people who speak up may be punished, which further entrenches the unethical culture.
  5.  When people fail to report ethical problems, the problems may increase and become standard practice.
  6.  In unethical cultures, people who do unethical things may be promoted or rewarded in other ways.
  7.  If their leader is ethical, people may be more likely to report ethical problems.
  8.  In a positive ethical culture, people who speak up may be rewarded, which further entrenches the ethical culture.
  9.  The choices we repeat and reward become the patterns of acceptable behavior in our culture. 
  10.  Whichever case of ethics is spreading in our organizations gains momentum over time. In unethical cultures, the momentum is toward compromising ethics. In ethical cultures, the momentum is toward acting based on ethical values.

Which direction are we leading the organization? Organizational ethics can easily can go either way. Since ethics is so contagious, we need to be sure that we help people catch a positive case of it.


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

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

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