16 Answers To What is Good Leadership?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The theme I noticed in the most viewed posts on this blog in 2018 was Looking For a Better Kind of Leadership. Google reported that the most popular Google searches in 2018 were about how we can be good people. It sounds like it’s a great time to explore the question “What is Good Leadership? 

While it’s tempting to over simplify leadership and think about it as any one thing, good leadership can only be fully understood by thinking about it in multiple ways. Here is a starter list of 16 defining characteristics of good leadership:

  1. Purposeful

  2. Ethical 

  3. Intentional

  4. Thoughtful

  5. Meaningful

  6. Respectful

  7. Caring

  8. Open

  9. Invites Dialogue

  10. Globally Responsible

  11. Up-to-Date

  12. Trustworthy

  13. Culturally Inclusive

  14. Ethically Inspiring

  15. Embraces and Adapts To Context and Complexity

  16. Continual Learner

This list of 16 is designed to get you thinking. There are many more characteristics we could add. Think about great leaders you’ve had in the past (or not). What defining characteristics of good leadership would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Beyond Civility

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Civility seems like a minimum standard or a fallback position, certainly not a desired end. We expect so much more from ethical leaders.

Without civility, communication is chaotic and difficult (if not impossible). Civility adds choosing words more carefully and avoiding blaming and attacking others. When I think about people “being civil” I get a picture of people who don’t like each other very much struggling to maintain their composure.

The origin of the word and its uses are interesting.

“The word civil has about twelve different meanings; it is applied to all manner of objects, which are perfectly disparate. As opposed to criminal, it means all law not criminal. As opposed to ecclesiastical, it means all law not ecclesiastical: as opposed to military, it means all law not military, and so on.” [John Austin, “Lectures on Jurisprudence,” 1873] https://www.etymonline.com/word/civil

Extrapolating on this definition, perhaps civil interpersonal behavior is “all behavior not criminal.” I advocate Civility, but not as an ideal. Just as law is the minimum standard of acceptable individual behavior in a society (below which you are punished) civility seems to be the minimum standard of interpersonal behavior (so as not to get in trouble with the law). Use these posts to learn about the nuances of civility as an ethical issue.

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Civility and Openness to Learning

The Questions We Have in Common

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Your Culture is Not A Secret (So Protect Your Ethics)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

One of my favorite concepts for understanding how social media is changing the visibility of organizational culture is Trendwatching.com’s report Glass Box Brands. As Trendwatching.com eloquently explains, “In an age of radical transparency, your internal culture is your brand.” The key point I take away from this important report is that we can no longer assume that our culture is private. In fact, it’s completely public and it defines our brand. Any barriers that used to protect our culture from the public eye have vanished.

With nothing standing between our culture and the public eye, if we want to protect our brand value, we need to carefully tend our culture. Since we know that our culture is no longer a secret, what does that mean in terms of ethical culture building? That means our ethical choices define our ethical brand value. If we don’t carefully tend our ethical culture, we could develop a bad ethical reputation.

Today I’m sharing some of my favorite posts about how to build and protect an ethical culture:

5 Reasons Ethical Culture Doesn’t Just Happen

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

Leaders Are Culture Caretakers: 10 Actions For Success

5 Signs Your Culture is Failing

40 Ethical Culture Gaps to Avoid

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

7 Questions For Ethical Culture Building

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership

How to Build an Ethical Culture

We’re going to need a plan. We need to respond with urgency to this new inside-out culture transparency that brings our ethical choices into clear view. 

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Thinking Beyond Polarities To Both/And Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In this video, Michael DePass of CCL gives a brief introduction to polarity thinking and how it affects our communication and relationships with others. 

Polarity Thinking Risks and Limitations

Thinking in an either/or way about a problem that has multiple sides/variables/perspectives limits our effectiveness. That kind of thinking:

  • Won’t help us solve complex problems
  • Can lead to “stuck” thinking and stalemate
  • Can lead to arguing and conflict
  • Compounds misunderstandings (potentially leading to irreconcilable differences)

Moving Beyond Polarities

To move beyond seeing just one pole/side of an issue, we need to learn to see the world a different way. We will need to:

  • See more than one perspective as important in understanding issues
  • See that more than one perspective can be “true” at the same time in the broader context
  • Understanding that polarities can be connected and interdependent

In a complex, connected global society it’s critically important to get past thinking in either/or terms. Use the resources below to learn how to see and move beyond polarities to get the bigger picture.

Links and Resources

Are You Facing a Problem ? Or a Polarity? CCL

Using Polarity Thinking to Achieve Sustainable Positive Outcomes, Laurie Levknecht, RN

Polarity Resource Portal, Polarity Partnerships

The Power of Polarity Thinking in Leadership, Margaret Seidler

Polarity thinking is about managing two poles that are both true and interdependent. When you’re ready to move to kaleidoscopic thinking, read the book 7 Lenses to learn how to see through 7 important perspectives that are all critically important for our collective future.

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500th Post: Index to 500 Articles on Authentic Ethical Leadership

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

There are many ways to define “ethical leadership” but there is increasing global interest in learning “ethical leadership” in a holistic and authentic way. This authentic ethical leadership takes us beyond laws and regulations, beyond respect for others and beyond traditional definitions of a business “win.” It generates a positive leadership legacy and a better shared future. If this sounds like the kind of leadership you want to learn, you’ve come to the right place.

The Leading in Context Blog now includes 500 articles on high-level, holistic and global ethical leadership. This blog started off as a way to organize and share emerging research in my leadership classes.  Ten years later it has become a “go-to” site for organizational leaders across industries, university professors and seekers looking for a better way to lead. 

To celebrate having published 500 Posts over 10 years, I’ve shared a short video on one of my favorite reader questions – “What were you thinking including Profit (which has no moral grounding) in a model of ethical leadership? 

To help you on your ethical leadership learning journey, this Milestone post also includes a Leading in Context Blog Index.  What will you find? Every post published on the Leading in Context Blog since 2009, in date order with the newest posts first. If there is something you want to learn about ethical leadership, it is probably here. If it isn’t, post a comment to let me know what YOU want to learn more about. 

Do you want to understand how all of the ethical leadership concepts in these posts fit together? I distilled several years of intensive research into 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, a clear guide to “seeing” ethical issues in seven important dimensions that apply across industries and geographic boundaries. Looking through all 7 Lenses you have a clear line of sight to making ethical choices and leading authentically for the long term. 

Enjoy the lifelong learning journey to ethical leadership… 

The Leading in Context Blog Index

 

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Respect, Interpreted Part 2

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is the second post in a series called “Respect, Interpreted.” Respect, Interpreted Part 1 described respect as a “structural beam” in organizations that holds the culture together. This week we’ll look at how to take two very different kinds of leadership actions that are both required for building and maintaining a culture of respect.

  1. Requiring respectful behavior (putting in expectations and support) AND
  2. Eliminating negative behavior (stopping disrespectful behavior quickly)

One or the other of these approaches will not likely be successful on its own.

Requiring Respectful Behavior:

If you eliminate disrespectful behaviors without communicating the respectful behaviors that are expected, people don’t know when they’re going outside of behavioral expectations until they make a mistake. This approach leaves too much to chance and can impact employee engagement and stress.

Resources:

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

Reflections on Respecting Differences

Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

Leaders: What is Missing in Convenient Actions? Values

3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership in the New Year

Stopping Disrespectful Behavior

Communicating that respect is a value is a great start but it’s not enough. Many negative behaviors can spin off from unchecked disrespect and they tend to grow. If we say nothing and allow any disrespectful actions, then don’t we appear to be authorizing a suite of other disrespectful interpersonal ills including judging, blaming, name-calling and excluding? If you say you require respectful behavior, but allow any disrespectful behaviors to go unchecked, you aren’t really requiring respectful behavior, are you?

Resources:

Yes, Leaders, Behavior Matters

Building Trust: What to Weed Out

40 Ethical Culture Gaps to Avoid

Just Say No to Ten Behaviors That Kill Competence

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

5 Ways CEOs Can Build an Ethical Culture

Leaders are Culture Caretakers: 10 Actions For Success

5 Signs Your Culture is Failing

Take a moment to evaluate the “respect structure” in your organization. How well are you requiring respectful behavior AND eliminating disrespectful behavior? Both are required for building a culture of respect. 

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Respect, Interpreted Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I believe that respect is a key structural beam supporting the organizational “house.” Without it, trust falls, productivity falls, engagement drops and turnover increases. It becomes harder to attract top talent for open positions in organizations where respect is not a minimum standard. Without respect, an organization’s culture becomes structurally unsound and devolves into “a house of cards” at risk of many negative impacts beyond those mentioned here. 

With respect as a minimum standard for which people are held accountable, an organization creates a “positive shield’ that deflects a wide range of negative interpersonal behaviors. If we require respect, for example, then discourages a wide range of negative behaviors including judging, blaming, name-calling or excluding.

By requiring respect as the MINIMUM standard, we are creating a preventive and protective shield that protects the organization’s culture. 

Think of what happens to a house when a structural beam is removed. It collapses in on itself. That is what begins to happen to organizational culture the moment a single word or action that is disrespectful is “approved” through silence. Why is silence considered approval? Thomas Paine famously said “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” When leaders look the other way, they are on the path to making a disrespectful act appear “right” whether that was intended or not. Granted, talking about respect is difficult and we don’t have clear instructions for how to build a culture of respect. Or do we? Stayed tuned for Respect, Interpreted Part 2.

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Ground Rules for Talking About Controversial Topics

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Talking about controversial topics has become a daunting task. There are some things we can do, individually and collectively, to improve those difficult conversations. The important points below may be useful to review as ground rules for discussing potentially emotionally charged issues:

CHARACTER

  • Agree on the values that are important to honor. Stay centered in that list of ethical values, not the opinions and wants of each “side” 

TEMPERAMENT

  • Follow ground rules that include mutual respect, listening and avoidance of blaming, labeling or attacking

JUDGMENT

  • Use good thinking, actively questioning your own assumptions, biases, and motives

INCLUSION

  • Consider all humans equally important with equal rights

CARE

  • Demonstrate care for all others involved in the conversation, and really listen to what they think is important

CONSTITUENT – AWARENESS

  • Consider the full impact on all constituents, paying special attention to those constituents not represented in the conversation

LONG-TERM IMPACT

  • Think about the long-term impact of decisions, in addition to the short-term benefits

EXPLORING MULTIPLE VARIABLES

  • Avoid oversimplifying issues by exploring many different variables related to the issue 

USING A SYSTEMS APPROACH

  • Move beyond simple cause-and-effect thinking when discussion solutions. Think about the issue in terms of how it fits into bigger systems, and how other variables beyond those in the conversation can impact outcomes

Are you able to keep conversations civil and productive? Share your tips in a comment below!

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3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we head into a New Year, it’s is a wonderful time to take stock of our leadership. The intense, conflicted global environment we face is formidable. Sitting still won’t keep our leadership up to the task. 

It’s definitely not a good time to let our leadership get dusty from a lack of attention. It’s time to take action.

Here are three things you can do to dust off your leadership and discover your best capabilities this year: 

3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership In The New Year

 

1. Assess Your Ethics

Use this assessment to find out if you’re right on point or a bit behind the times in terms of ethical awareness and expectations.

2. Pick an Area To Dust Off

Pick one area from the assessment that you were not able to check off. This is an area where you can improve your thinking, communication and/or behavior.

3. Learn Deeply, Sweeping Away Outdated Thinking

Dig in to learn more and improve your ethical thinking in that area. To find materials, search this blog for posts on the topic area you chose. Leading in Context posts include links to resources, including many beyond this blog.

Be Alert For These Possible Side Effects

After a thorough dusting that sweeps away outdated leadership thinking, you may notice these common (helpful, not harmful) side effects:

  • Deeper respect from your team
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Improved team productivity
  • Renewed energy
  • Greater satisfaction from your leadership role

Get started now!

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Top Post Series of 2018: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Top Post Series this year reflects a concern I have that many other people must share. It is a concern about what can happen when we don’t use ethical thinking.

This series answers the important question “Why should we take the time to think intentionally about the ethics of our decisions and actions?” Today I’ll share a quote from each post in the series that will give you a quick overview of the topic.

Here’s the most popular Leading in Context Blog series of 2018 – Why Ethical Thinking Matters. 

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

“If we just teach people skills, without upgrading their thinking, we are not preparing them for success in the real world.”

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

“You can’t solve a complex multidimensional puzzle a few pieces at a time.”

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

“In a world of ethical complexity, leaders need to learn CLEAR and COHERENT ethical thinking.”

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

“Leaders are ethical brand value ambassadors.”

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

“Ethical thinking doesn’t just HAPPEN in a rapidly changing global environment.”

This timely series includes compelling reasons for making ethical thinking a priority in your board rooms and training rooms this year. Top 100 Leadership Blog

 

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Systems Thinking: Using the 5 Whys

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In my Applied Ethics Class last fall, I introduced my students to the Five Whys. This is a simple and valuable tool for getting to the root cause of problems. We may think we understand why something happened but when we “fix” whatever we think is the sole cause we don’t always get the intended result. The reason for that is that problems tend to have multiple causes. They happen in the context of multiple processes. Singling out one “cause” is rarely sufficient for understanding what really happened.

I’m sharing these resources to help you improve your thinking. Even if you are already familiar with the 5 Whys, you will find the video on the multiple causes of the sinking of the Titanic compelling.

Using the 5 Whys

First, review the Key Concepts of Systems Thinking and the Levels of Systems Thinking Maturity at Thwink.org. 

Second, watch this MindTools video on the 5 Whys and read the article which explains the origin of the method.

Third, learn about root cause analysis at Tableau.com, paying particular attention to the example of the 5 Whys.

Fourth, watch this Think Reliability video on How to Conduct a 5-Why. (Exploring Why the Titanic Sank)

How To Use This Technique

The 5 Whys is relevant in any setting where you need to fully understand why something happened. Use it when people come to you for help with problems. Share it with your project team. Use it to begin to unravel society’s biggest problems and identify solutions. Using the 5 Whys reveals a much more complex landscape than we can see with a “cause and effect” mentality.

Thwink.org shares Einstein’s insight on the kind of thinking we need: “A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels” — Albert Einstein. Using techniques like the 5 Whys will help us adapt in a world of increasing complexity and change. As our problems increase in complexity, so must our thinking.

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Top 10 Posts 2018: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 individual posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2018, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these new topics that readers accessed most frequently:

29 Flawed Assumptions About Leadership

70 Trends to Watch in 2019

Are You Leaving a Positive Legacy? (10 Questions Across 5 Dimensions)

Lead With Questions, Not Answers

22 Resources For Developing Ethical Thinking

Seeing the Nuances of Ethical Leadership (A Developmental Model)

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking (Guest Post)

TAP Into Trust With These 12 Principles

50 Trends to Follow in 2018

Fear is a Poor Advisor (Moving us Away From Ethical Thinking to Protect Us)

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2018, it would be Looking For a Better Kind of Leadership. 

 Which post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about, comment on this post, or tweet your idea to @leadingincontxt!

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Tis The Season

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s the season of giving and gratitude and celebration, and today I’m sharing a sampling of this blog’s best seasonal messages. Each is meant to inspire us to become our best. As leaders we can promote unity or divisiveness, but of those two, promoting unity is the only ethical path.

12 Gifts of Leadership (Will You Give Them This Year?)

These 12 Gifts of Leadership are on the wish lists of employees around the world. They aren’t expensive. They don’t require dealing with the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, and one size fits all. Sure, these gifts are harder to give than a fruitcake, but they will be life-changing for those you lead.

A Message Of Gratitude

Take a moment, in this season of giving thanks, to share a message of gratitude with a leader who has changed your life and inspired your leadership.

A Message of Hope 

Great leaders inspire hopefulness. They imagine a better world, and they build the future accordingly.

Leaders, Keep Your Sense of Wonder

What happens when we lead with a sense of wonder? We are open to new experiences, and we tend to look for the best in others and in the world. A sense of wonder keeps us curious and helps us understand things in new ways.

Wishing You Joy

Joy is not something we simply hope for or wait for. It’s something that we create through our everyday actions and relationships. As we celebrate the Holidays and enter the New Year, I hope that you enjoy the timeless quotes about joy that follow. Notice how these reflections on joy tend to focus on gratitude, imagination, open-mindedness and service.

Wishing You Peace

Peace is one of those things that requires reaching out. Just as we must extend trust to receive it from others, we must also extend peace in order to receive it. When each side watches and waits for the other party to extend peace, they create a stalemate that is unresolvable…until someone takes the first step and reaches out.

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A Message About Togetherness

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In What is Meaningful Leadership Part 5 I wrote about building a better society together for future generations. When I really stop to think about what it means to live and work together, here are some of the things that come to mind:

  1. Together can imply simply being side by side or near others, but there is much more to its meaning when we live in a globally connected society.
  2. Together in a global society includes living in ways that enhance other people’s lives.
  3. Together in a global society includes standing up for fairness and inclusion even when taking that stand is difficult or unpopular.
  4. Together in a global society means caring about what happens to others – all others, regardless of who they are and where they come from.
  5. Without a global world view, “together” can be reduced to meaning “us and whoever else is along for our ride.”
  6. Life is better when we lead as if global togetherness matters.

During this holiday season, take time to reflect on how you are called to enable and amplify global togetherness.

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Ethical Thinking: 5 Questions to Ask in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each year I raise questions that help leaders stay current as ethical expectations change. Here are 5 new questions to tackle as we head into a New Year. 

  1. Where are our areas of strength and our gaps in adapting to increasing ethical expectations?
  2. What will we do to close the gaps we’ve identified within the next 3 months?
  3. What evidence will we look for to prove that we have closed the gaps?
  4. How will we make this a regular conversation so that we can avoid gaps in the future?
  5. How will we help others answer these important questions?

Expecting ethical challenges is easy. Preparing to handle them well is more difficult. Schedule time to work through these difficult questions with your teams as we head into the New Year. 

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