The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The first post in this series, “The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking” explored WHY leaders need to fill the gap and help people develop ethical thinking. This post will begin to unravel HOW to do that.

I included this guidance on ethical thinking in a previous post:

Ethical thinking means we never lose sight of our positive purpose. We choose to be the sum of our values, not our challenges.

How do we make sure we are acting as the sum of our values and not our challenges? We need to find ways to keep ethical values alive so that the “values voice” is heard just as loudly as these voices:

  1. Shrinking profit margins
  2. Tight product development timelines
  3. Lean staffing and heavy workload

Exercising Our Values Voice

When our “values voice” is at least as loud as those other voices, we can avoid these unethical scenarios that can happen when we address our challenges without values:

  • Shrinking profit margins  (Unethical Scenario: making more money by ignoring ethics)
  • New product development timelines (Unethical Scenario: cutting safety corners to meet deadlines)
  • Lean staffing and heavy workload (Unethical Scenario: overworking employees instead of finding innovative ways to do work)

Don’t let it happen in your organization. Challenges are “loud” and urgent.

People need to learn how to think through their difficult challenges while staying grounded in ethical values. The first step is making it clear that our values always drive our choices. To avoid having your team get  pulled away from ethics, exercise your “values voice.” 

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Credit Where Credit is Due

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Author’s Note: This post is in honor of the many people who have had to fight to get credit for their own work.

Giving Credit and Taking Responsibility

As our understanding of good leadership continues to advance, we are rapidly moving away from leaders “giving responsibility and taking credit” in leadership and moving toward “giving credit and taking responsibility.” This change is overdue, and is part of a bigger change in our understanding of the purpose of leadership.

What’s Wrong With Taking Credit?

We’ve seen many cases of leaders in the news who claimed to have credentials that they did not earn (and many were fired as a result). That is the visible side of the “taking credit” problem. 

There is also a more hidden side to the problem. I have heard from people who have had superiors tell them that they were “too inexperienced” or “too low level” to publish groundbreaking work they had done (and that it would have to be published under the superior’s name instead).

It Violates Many Ethical Principles

Taking credit for work that someone else has done violates many ethical principles:

  • It’s dishonest. It tries to grab credit for something without having to do the hard work. That’s typically referred to in society as “stealing.” 
  • It derails or delays the success of the person who DID do the hard work. That’s usually referred to as “harm.”
  • Intentionally saying that something is true when it isn’t true is often called “lying.
  • When a person claims false credentials, that’s also called “fraud.” 

Remember that good leadership is all about what we do for others to enable their success. That means we hold the responsibility for supporting the success of others all the time, even when their work is measurably better than ours. 

Look for opportunities this week to take responsibility and give credit.

Share your insights in the comments!

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Talking About What Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have heard from readers that this topic is timely and they hope this series will not end with just 2 posts – so here is Part 3

Talking About What Matters

In the 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. In Talking About What Matters (Part 2), I explored how leaders need to “not have the answers” and be ready to engage in conversations about applying values. 

In Part 3, I want to offer some questions that lead to meaningful conversation. These are not questions that have known answers, but questions that dig into what is weighing on people’s hearts and minds, and identify gaps and opportunities in applying ethical values. 

Questions to Ask

Open ended questions help define appropriate behaviors in the context of your organizational values. They help leaders tolerate “not knowing” and get the conversation started. 

These questions are ones I proposed in an article published by the Association For Talent Development (formerly ASTD) in Training and Development Journal and in a Best of Leadership Development issue. They are helpful conversation starters:

  • What are the specific ethical behaviors that are required of all organizational leaders?
  • What are the consequences if they don’t behave ethically?
  • What are the situations that people encounter that could lead them into a grey area?
  • How should those grey areas be handled?
  • What does it look like when leaders perform according to the organization’s stated values?
  • What does it look like when they don’t?
  • How should people make decisions when they encounter difficult situations?
  • Where might our leaders fall into grey areas while implementing our goals and values?
  • What are areas where we will not tolerate compromise?
  • What are areas of flexibility?
  • Where do we need to clarify our mission and values, to make it clear that we are an ethical organization, and ethics is not negotiable?
  • How can we more effectively recruit, recognize, and retain ethical leaders?

Linda Fisher Thornton, “Leadership Ethics Training: Why is it So Hard to Get it Right?”  reprinted in Training and Development: The Best of Leadership Development, American Society for Training and Development. (March, 2010)

Leading In The “Figure It Out Space”

When we ask questions like these, and open the conversation, we have to set aside our need to be “right.” Values (when brought to life) live in the collective organizational space, not in the domain of any one leader. They also live in the “figure it out” space. It is the struggle to “figure out” how to apply the organization’s values in day to day work and leadership that brings them to life. 

 

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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.

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Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post begins a series on talking about what matters. Great attention is often paid to values in defining and marketing an organization. But what happens after that? It’s the ongoing dialogue about how to apply those values that brings them to life. 

Some leaders assume that if the values are written down, they will be followed. The problem with that assumption is that while people may WANT to follow the organization’s stated values, they may not know how. Until we engage people in conversations about HOW to apply ethical values, they only exist as an “ideal wish list,” not a set of guiding values for day-to-day work. 

Humans Are Meaning-Seeking Creatures

People seek meaning. We’ve known this since ancient times, but we’re still learning how to help them find it. 

Man is “a being in search of meaning.”            –Plato

“Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life… We search for meaning.”           –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”            –Carl Jung

Great leaders make it a priority to help people find the meaning they seek. They take the time to imagine what each person could accomplish, and who they could become. They help them grow into the best of themselves. 

Why Should We Talk About What Matters?

In addition to helping individuals find meaning in their work, conversations about what matters also help guide organizations to the success they seek. 

Ethical values are a framework for generating a positive impact on constituents and the broader global community.

Talking about ethical values, done right, engages the workforce and improves the organization’s metrics in these important ways. 

  • Engaging people’s hearts and minds in figuring out the right things to do in challenging situations

Helping people figure out the right thing to do increases ethical awareness and ethical competence.

  • Building confidence and helping people find meaning in their work

A sense of meaning and purpose improves engagement, retention and job satisfaction.

  • Centering groups and focusing work on positive outcomes for constituents

Focusing on positive outcomes for constituents makes work more satisfying and reduces ethical risk.

  • Driving good decisions and choices based on values

Having ongoing and meaningful conversations about values improves ethical thinking and decision making.

Talking about what matters gives people the grounding they need to find meaning in their work. Helping them understand and apply ethical values improves organizational outcomes.

Ethical values are the secret ingredient in some of the world’s greatest companies. But they don’t reveal their magic when they live on the website and marketing materials. The magic happens when values become active guiding principles. To get there, we’ll need to have some conversations about what matters…

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Reflections on Truth: Why Is It So Elusive?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why Is The “Truth” So Elusive?

Last summer, I explored what great thinkers have said about truth in this post: Reflections on Truth: Are You a Seeker?  Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into the question “What is truth?”

I found the BBC radio show A Brief History of the Truth that explores the question across time to give us a broader understanding. It turns out that (according to American satirist Joe Queenan) people have had problems with the truth since the time of ancient civilizations. The broadcast is mostly humorous, but I loved this seriously insightful statement:

“Reality is very complicated. No one perspective on the world can capture everything. So when people talk about “the truth,” often the mistake they’re making is that they’re thinking you can capture everything that’s important about the truth only from one perspective.”

Heard on the BBC radio show “A Brief History of the Truth

It turns out that truth, like ethics, is multidimensional. One sound bite is not going to capture it.

How Do We Find It?

  • Look beyond the soundbite. Since one perspective won’t give us the answer, we will need to use various perspectives.
  • Look beyond our current beliefs and assumptions. We can’t see from multiple perspectives if all we can see is our current beliefs and assumptions, so we’ll need to assume we only have part of the picture.
  • Look beyond the most convenient answer. Since we may tend to see things in our own favor, we will need to assume that the most convenient answer for us is not necessarily the real answer.
  • Bring our curiosity and be open to new insights. If we are going to move past our own beliefs and assumptions and the most convenient answer, we’ll need to remain curious and open to new information that may profoundly change our understanding of the issue.

If you are trying to resolve a problem with a group, seeing the “truth” from the perspective of each person on the team will lead you to mutually beneficial solutions. Take a hard look at your “truth.” Is it one-dimensional, or open to learning about the other perspectives that will give you the whole picture? 

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Using the commonly taught types of thinking is very useful in life, and helps us be better professionals and business people. But there’s a catch.

Critical thinking can help you understand why a problem happened. It won’t help you find the most ethical solution to the problem once you identify it.

Creative thinking can help you figure your way out of a business challenge. It won’t keep you within the lines of appropriate and responsible behavior.

Design thinking can help you create amazing interactive technologies. It won’t help you resolve the new ethical issues those innovative technologies generate.

Even if we’re using all three types of thinking in our leadership, there is something important missing. 

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

C. S. Lewis

This quote from C. S. Lewis reminds us that values are necessary for higher level decisions and actions. They help us overcome selfish tendencies and guide us to consider how our choices will impact others. 

It Guides Responsible Behavior

Learning ethical thinking is an important part of human development, but many schools continue to teach subjects without it. 

It Helps Prevent Ethical Mistakes

Ethical thinking is central to many organization’s leader hiring process, but often left out as a grounding theme in leadership development. If your leadership development is not ethics-rich, here’s the big question. 

It’s Our Job 

Why are we teaching a high level understanding of subjects without teaching the ethical thinking to responsibly apply what people learn?

Why are people learning ethical thinking the hard way by making ethical mistakes we could be helping them prevent?

It’s our job as leaders to fill in the critically needed missing domain.

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Ethics-Rich Leadership: Why We Need It

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I was originally going to use the words “ethics-infused leadership” in this post, but I realized that would treat ethics a little bit like a lime twist in a cold drink. The drink would hint of lime, but it wouldn’t be FULL of lime. So I chose to use “ethics-rich” leadership instead.

I think you may already be looking for the ethics-rich leadership I’m talking about. 

Ethics-rich leaders create a “safe space” for people that brings out their best. They leaders grow people, paying great attention to individual learning, challenges, potential and  opportunities.

Ethics-rich leaders also create a “safe space” for teams that brings out their best. They help teams learn to respect, include and engage all constituents for the most positive possible outcomes.

Why Do We Need Ethics-Rich Leadership?

Many of our biggest leadership issues are global and long term. We need to get past the distraction of ethics scandals in the news to move forward with a new kind of leadership.

What does it look like? The ethics-rich leadership we seek:

  1. Considers respect, care and long-term thinking to be minimum standards.
  2. Protects our best interests as well as their own.
  3. Respects and honors the values behind our laws and doesn’t try to find loopholes for personal gain.
  4. Leads with positive ethical values, respectfully dealing with difficult issues when people don’t agree on the best solutions.
  5.  Never pretends to “know.” Instead this leader listens, scans, gathers, learns, questions, synthesizes and uses the ethics-rich mindset “I will always be a work-in-progress.

What Does It Look Like In Action?

Anyone can divide people and cause trouble. We need leaders who unite people around positive ethical values.

But it isn’t enough for leaders to just bring people together around values. 

We need leaders who do the work required to understand complex issues so they can make good decisions.

But it isn’t enough for leaders to just unite people around values and do the hard work to understand complex issues so they can make good decisions. 

We need leaders who care about constituents.

But it isn’t enough for leaders to just unite people around values, do the hard work to understand complex issues so they can make good decisions, and show they care about constituents.

We also need leaders who seek mutual benefit, not just “self-serving benefits.”

Ethics-rich leadership, after all, isn’t about position power – it’s about values power. It treats values as the essential business tools they are.  Ethics-rich leaders will reap the ultimate rewards – in transformational performance. 

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How You Can Stop The “Fake News” Madness

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We all need to know how to tell what’s real news and what’s not. While a headline may be compelling, we can easily damage our personal reputation and brand if we share it and it turns out to be “fake news.” 

It’s our job to “check stories out” to be sure that what we share is real.

Our “Human Software” is Buggy

While it’s important for us to tell the difference between the real and the fake, our “human software” comes with bugs. One type of bug we all have is cognitive biases, and one of our biases causes us to readily believe headlines we already agree with (confirmation bias). Here is a great article by Better Humans about the many flaws in our thinking. The article includes a codex graphic of our cognitive biases that will definitely get your attention. 

We all have “human processing flaws” so we need to actively learn how to consume information responsibly.

Content curators including Google and Facebook are working on finding ways to flag fake news, but an algorithm won’t ever completely solve this problem. I’ve gathered sources that will help you learn how to separate the real from the fake. They include links to organizations that check out stories, an informative video, and games for testing your ability to detect fake news and altered photos. 

Learn to Separate the Real From the Fake

Organizations Checking What’s Real and What’s Not

Snopes.com

Hoaxy (How unverified stories spread on social media)

FactCheck.org

Politifact.com

Fake News Website List

Wikipedia – Fake News Websites List

How to Spot Fake News Video

 

Check It Out Before You Share

Stories are frequently made up to attract readers to sites with advertising. Photos and videos can be altered. It’s our job to “check stories out” to be sure that what we share is real. Otherwise, we’re stepping into a carefully laid trap. This trap helps unethical “fake news” sites earn more money from advertisers. It damages people’s reputations by sharing untruths about them. It hurts our credibility. It spreads falsehoods and misleads people who don’t know how to spot fake news. It becomes part of a ripple effect that can lead to serious unintended consequences. 

How Do You Stop The Madness? Check it before you share. 

Try Maggie Farley’s game Fictitious for testing and improving your ability to spot fake news, and practice detecting altered photos with Adobe’s game Real or Photoshop.   

What Else Can You Do?  Teach young people how to identify credible information online.

 

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5 Sites for Globally Responsible Business Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It has become clear that a global economy requires more than local or regional thinking. Our information and commerce are globally connected. Our greatest human challenges are global and must be solved globally.

We are connected by a shared future, with one region’s success deeply connected to another’s success. Global changes tend to either move us forward together or backward together. What steps can we take now to adapt to major global change and become part of the solution? How do we create the future world we imagine?

These 5 sources are good resources for learning, reflection and conversation:

5 Sites For Globally Responsible Business Leadership

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG Compass (A guide to aligning company strategies and measures with the SDGs)

Caux Roundtable Principles For Business

World Economic Forum, “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”

Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative

Together, these sources paint a picture of the future. It’s a future that requires global thinking and action. It’s a future where business leaders take global responsibility for their decisions and actions. It’s a future where we move the metrics on important measures of collective well-being. 

How do we get there? We decide to be part of the solution, and use these resources to plan our next steps. 

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Do Laws Set the Standard For Ethics?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Do Laws Set the Standard For Ethics?” may be a simple question, but the answer is complicated. They do and they don’t set the standard. 

Laws set the MINIMUM standard for ethical behavior. This is the level that I call the punishment threshold. If your behavior drops below this level, you will be fined, sanctioned, sent to jail, or otherwise punished. The reason there are punishments when laws are violated is because they are considered the rock bottom of what we should be able to expect from people. Obviously, we don’t want everyone behaving at this level. 

Ethical values set the OPTIMAL standard for ethical behavior. They define the desired behaviors – what we want people to do. Applying ethical values requires a broad understanding of our responsibilities and a willingness to take responsibility for our role in the workplace and society. 

No one should use “following laws” as a measure of their good citizenship. It’s ethical values that are the true measure of leaders and organizations.

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How Balanced is Your Ethical Diet?

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s easy to understand that ethics has various “requirements.” What might not be as obvious is that it takes effort on many levels simultaneously to maintain the ethical well-being of people and organizations. 

Just as we need to eat from a variety of food groups to get balanced nutrition each day, we need to honor more than one ethical dimension to get balanced ethics. 

If we worked on just one or two of these dimensions, for example, our ethics would be incomplete:

Our Own Ethics and Integrity

How Well we Follow Laws, Policies and Regulations

How We Treat Others

How We Impact Our Communities

How We Conserve Resources

How We Contribute to Improving Our Global Society

How do we choose an “ethical diet” that sustains good leadership and responsible companies? We pile on healthy portions of character, respect and care for people, attention to sustainability and community service and a focus on creating a good life for future generations. We make it a balanced meal by honoring laws and profiting responsibly. 

Since ethics is multidimensional, our learning and application must be multidimensional. People can’t push vegetables to the corner of the plate and fill up on donuts if they want to be healthy. Similarly, they can’t push respect and care aside and take too large a helping of profits. We can only reach a “balanced ethical diet” by successfully applying all of the required ethical groups.

 

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Yes, Leaders. Behavior Matters

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As leaders, we are expected to uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior, and that includes interpersonal behavior (HOW we get the results we get, and how our behavior impacts others).

This week I’m sharing a review of behaviors that are a “NO GO” for ethical leaders. Click on each link to learn about why the behavior is outside the bounds of ethical leadership.

Yes, Leaders. Behavior Matters

It is not okay to blame, name call, bully, threaten, or shame.

It is not acceptable to yell and use foul language.

It is not fine to get angry and attack people who disagree with us.

It is not okay to avoid information that conflicts with our beliefs.

It is not acceptable to exclude those who aren’t like us.

It is not okay to treat only certain people with respect.

It is not acceptable to damage relationships with our negative behavior.

It is never okay to skip learning because “we are already a leader.”

Isn’t It Obvious?

These reminders may seem obvious (yes, we learned them in Kindergarten), but don’t leave it to chance. Be sure your leaders are all on the same page about appropriate interpersonal behavior. Your employees, customers and communities will thank you.

Use this post as the basis for conversations about ethical interpersonal behavior in the workplace and beyond.

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Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Everyone is a stakeholder at some level, and all stakeholders are important. We should consider all stakeholders as we lead – those we serve, those we lead, the powerless, the silenced, the planet, and all of humanity.” 

I shared this insight in a previous post – it was an aha moment from a Tweetchat I guest-hosted on Leading With Ethics. To reflect on where you are in the journey to leading with the mindset that “everyone is a stakeholder at some level,” explore the answers to these important questions:

  • How am I adding value for customers, employees and partners?
  • What ripples am I creating on the global landscape?
  • If everyone followed my lead, would they be showing that all stakeholders are important, regardless of who they are or where they live?
  • How well do I consider the interests of stakeholders who aren’t at the table, including the planet?
  • Have I explored and conquered my own “inner terrain” well enough to manage my biases so that they don’t impact my leadership?

To accomplish the ideal of considering all stakeholders in even our smallest decisions, we’ll have to do more than just imagine the possibilities. We’ll need to do the work.

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4 Connected Trends Shaping the Future of Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Our understanding of good leadership is advancing. In this video, I describe 4 powerful trends that are increasing leadership expectations and shaping what leaders will need to be ready to handle in the future. 

These 4 trends shaping the future of leadership are connected and accelerating. They give us a clear picture of where we need to take our leadership. 

The greatest challenge leaders face is to keep up as the bar continues to be raised. At the rate expectations are increasing, it is clear that we will never “arrive.” We must be adaptable, open to developing new skill sets and mindsets, while at the same time staying true to the values of ethical leadership. 

Being open to learning makes or breaks our success as leaders.

Adaptability is no longer just a competitive advantage. It’s an ethical imperative. 

 

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