The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 6)

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

This series has explored 5 important spheres of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making. 

This week I’m summing it up in a checklist that will help you apply all 5 to your daily choices. When you are making a key decision, run it through the checklist to be sure you have considered all 5 important dimensions. 

Ethical Thinking and Decision Making Series

Leader Self-Check

 

Part 1: Deep Thinking

“When we dig into issues and explore their depths, we gain insights that we would otherwise miss. Complex issues just can’t be deconstructed and understood using shallow thinking. The meaningful insights are only found below the surface.”

Have I Used Deep Thinking?

___  I have looked beyond the surface level of the issue to learn about the connected variables that impact it.

___  I have asked for input from all constituent groups and listened carefully to what they see and believe.

___ I have carefully weighed conflicting information and evaluated the goals and needs of all stakeholders.

___ I have applied ethical values to make a responsible choice.

Part 2: Context

“Ignoring the context and making a quick decision often leads to costly and time-consuming fixes later… Taking the time to understand the context, we more easily make decisions that fall within the ethical zone.” 

Have I Carefully Considered the Context?

___ This choice is being made after looking beyond my usual sources of information and my trusted contacts to be sure that I see the whole picture from multiple perspectives.

___ This choice reflects careful consideration of information from a diverse collection of credible sources.

___ This choice “works” ethically in the particular setting.

___ This choice shows a willingness to adapt to a changing world and increasing ethical expectations.

Part 3: Complexity

“Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions.”

Have I Sought to Understand the Complexity of the Issue?

___  I have looked for, noticed, and talked about the complexity of this issue.

___ I understand the multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions involved and I am avoiding rushing to a quick decision.

___ I have worked to find clear, appropriate and compelling ways to communicate about this issue so that others can understand its complexity. 

___ I am taking informed action after understanding the complexity of the issue and I am approaching this issue in responsible ways. 

Part 4: Inclusion

“Full inclusion requires that we extend our respect, our care and our concern to all people… Applying full inclusion, we see that everyone is within our purvue, everyone demands our consideration, and everyone deserves to be treated well.”

Have I Treated Everyone With a High Degree of Respect and Care?

___ This choice shows that I understand that diversity is an asset and inclusion is a leadership responsibility.

___  I have honored the needs and perspectives of all constituents. 

___ I have used language that builds trust and not language that divides or inflames.

___ I have gone beyond token gestures of respect and care to demonstrate sincere concern for others outside of my trusted group.

Part 5: Change

“Once you do the work to understand the context, you’re never done. Change is continuous. The ripple effect created by economic and social change in one time zone rapidly impacts life in another.”

Have I Watched Closely For Patterns of Change and Adapted to Them?

___ I am acknowledging change and treating it as dynamic and constant.

___ I have watched for and noticed subtle and overt patterns and trends that impact this issue.

___ This choice shows that I want to build a positive, inclusive society for the future.

___ By making this choice, I am demonstrating that I lead in ways that are in step with the ethical expectations of leaders in a global society.

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

While change is a constant reality, it doesn’t always factor into leadership thinking. In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and the importance of understanding Context. In Part 3 and Part 4, I looked at embracing Complexity and the importance of full Inclusion. In Part 5, I’ll describe how embracing Change helps us make ethical decisions. 

Factoring in Change

What is one element of the global context that sometimes trips up well-meaning leaders? Constant change. Once you do the work to understand the context, you’re never done. Change is continuous. The ripple effect created by economic and social change in one time zone rapidly impacts life in another.

“Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace, and the world of work. These shifts have changed the rules for nearly every organizational people practice, from learning to management to the definition of work itself.”

Deloitte University Press, Rewriting the Rules For the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends

Opening Our Eyes to Change

Change does not recognizes boundaries – it impacts us all and there is no way to escape its effects. 

Keeping up with change requires more than just observing and adjusting for changes in your industry and geographic location. It means scanning for early stage changes that may impact those we lead and serve. It means noticing change and making constant small adjustments in what we are doing BEFORE our leadership becomes obsolete. 

Moving Beyond Convenient Beliefs

It can seem convenient for some leaders to ignore context, complexity, inclusion and change. Doing that, they may falsely believe that it will work for them to continue to lead in ways that are out of step with current ethical expectations. The bad news for leaders who “close their eyes” to context, complexity, inclusion and change is that the ethical requirement that we honor them doesn’t go away, and others see it clearly. Leaders who fall into this tap are exposed as leading with their eyes closed in a world that requires alert, “eyes-open” leadership. 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Keep using the same outdated mindset and approach as the world is changing
  • Long for past times when things were different and act as if we are still in those times
  • Encourage others to ignore change and see the world as they do
  • Make important decisions with “eyes closed” to changes in the world – which leads to unethical decisions

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Acknowledge change and treat it as dynamic and constant
  • Watch for subtle and overt patterns
  • Talk about the patterns of change that they see so others can see and adapt to them
  • Make continual, incremental adjustments to adapt to observed changes

When we ignore change, we choose to become obsolete, and by making that choice, we leave the realm of ethical leadership. By embracing change, and “trimming our sails” to make incremental adjustments, we can stay in ethical waters as the tides and currents change.  

Stay tuned for Part 6! 

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Who we include in our ethical thinking, and how broadly we consider our responsibility to others are both important elements of ethical leadership. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and in Part 2, I broke down issues related to understanding Context. In Part 3, I looked at embracing Complexity. In Part 4, we’ll dig into the importance of Inclusion.

Why is Inclusion Important?

It is easy to exclude. Our brains are wired to keep us safe, and we typically prefer to be with people in our own trusted groups. If we don’t manage our thinking and perceptions, and our reactions to people and situations, we may (intentionally or unintentionally) make decisions that harm others who are not like us.

“A brain structure called the amygdala is the seat of classical fear conditioning and emotion in the brain. Psychological research has consistently supported the role of fear in prejudiced behavior.”

Naomi Schalit, Humans are wired for prejudice but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story in The Conversation

What Does It Require?

Full inclusion requires that we extend our respect, our care and our concern to all people. It means making responsible choices about what happens to people inside our trusted groups and well beyond them. Applying full inclusion, we see that everyone is within our purvue, everyone demands our consideration, and everyone deserves to be treated well. Treating everyone well means going beyond the superficial level, and beyond token gestures of concern, to offer the same high level of care and concern that we extend to our trusted groups.

Who Do We Engage and Listen To?

Inclusion requires treating people with respect and care, but it also includes engaging in dialogue with people outside of our usual circles, finding out what really matters to them and what they need. If we don’t, we’re just guessing at what they need and our solutions may do more harm than good.

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Treat people outside their trusted groups with a lower level of respect and care
  • Think of certain groups as “in” or “out” of their favor
  • Fall into the trap of deciding what groups of people need without involving them
  • Use divisive language that incites discriminatory or harmful behavior from others

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders know that diversity is part of the leadership sphere and they embrace full inclusion
  • They build inclusive teams
  • They include diverse voices in important  conversations  and honor the needs and perspectives of all constituents
  • They understand that diversity is an asset and inclusion is a leadership responsibility

When we ignore the importance of inclusion, we may play favorites or treat certain groups disrespectfully, calling attention to our lack of ethical competence. By embracing inclusion, we stay on the path to ethical solutions that work for all, fulfilling our responsibility as ethical leaders in a global society.

Stay tuned for Part 5! 

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical Thinking and Decision Making require staying grounded in ethical values, but there is much more to do than knowing our values and living them every day through our choices. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and in Part 2, I broke down issues related to understanding Context. In Part 3, let’s take a look at Complexity.

Embracing Complexity is Part of Leadership

Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions. It means being intentional about decision making and avoiding making snap judgments.

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 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.

         — Linda Fisher Thornton, Dealing With Complexity in Leadership 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Use oversimplified approaches to understanding complex issues
  • Ignore the complexity of an issue because “it’s too hard to figure out.”
  • Fall into the trap of only noticing data that conveniently backs up their current beliefs

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders know that complexity is part of the leadership sphere and they embrace it 
  • They look for, notice, and talk about complexity
  • They work to find clear and compelling ways to communicate complex issues so that others can understand them

When we ignore complexity, many around us can easily see that we are not operating in reality. They can see that we’re not taking informed action and not solving problems in responsible ways. By embracing complexity, we stay on the path that leads to ethical solutions that work in the real world.

Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series! 

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 1)

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Welcome to Part 1 in “The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making.” Ethical decision-making is not simply a task. It is the process of analyzing and understanding multiple connected variables in a changing context AND applying ethical values to make responsible choices. It requires doing the work to understand issues clearly before making decisions or taking action. In each post in this series, I’ll explore one aspect of this complex, connected process. Today I’ll focus on the importance of deep thinking. 

Deep Thinking

Ethical thinking requires much more than just knowing and following our values. I’ve written about the trap of shallow thinking and how important it is to intentionally “wade into” the depth of issues to fully understand them.

Why is deep thinking so important? 

  • Complex issues involve connected systems which are undergoing constant change
  • Complex issues cross borders and boundaries
  • Complex issues can’t be understood from one or two perspectives

When we dig into issues and explore their depths, we gain insights that we would otherwise miss. Complex issues just can’t be deconstructed and understood using shallow thinking. The meaningful insights are only found below the surface.

Shallow Thinking and Shallow Breathing

What happens when our approach is too shallow? Think about how easy it is to start using shallow breathing without being aware that we’re doing it. This can happen when we’re stressed or anxious, and it can impact our well-being. We may be unaware that we are using shallow breathing until someone notices we’re turning pale and tells us to BREATHE.

We can medically treat people who are having trouble breathing. But what do we do about thinking that is starved for depth, context and complexity?

When we use shallow thinking, that impacts the “well-being” of our decision making, leading to false conclusions and ethically problematic decisions. It’s almost as if when we use shallow thinking, our decision making is getting less oxygen. 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Survey issues at the shallow level and make bold statements without all the information
  • Attack the statements or decisions other people make without doing the deep thinking required to understand the complexity of the issues
  • Blame others for being “wrong” without trying to understand their perspective or the data that backs it up

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders do the deep thinking
  • They ask for input and listen to what other people see and believe
  • They wade into the depths of issues to understand them clearly before they make decisions
  • They struggle through a tangled web of complex information to find the truth

In the airline safety briefing before a flight, we are told to “put on our own oxygen mask first, then assist other passengers.” Similarly, we need to do our own deep thinking before we direct others. When we do the deep thinking, we set the tone for those we lead to do the same. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the “Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making” Series!

 

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Healthy Media Consumption

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I’ve blogged about how to spot fake news and variables complicating media ethics. Today I’ll explore the characteristics healthy media consumption. Let’s begin with a dose of healthy skepticism. 

Healthy Skepticism

You can’t believe everything you see. Photographs and videos that appear to be “proof” of a story may have been altered. Your best bet is to choose your sources of information carefully so that you can reasonably be assured that what you are seeing and hearing is real.

Careful Sourcing

Not all media platforms are created equal. Some don’t even try to be objective, and others are trying to sell you things while making you think you’re being entertained. Choose platforms that are considered objective, or sample a wide range of differing sources that each have different perspectives/biases/assumptions.

Time to Think

We need time to think. It is easier to stay grounded in our values when we have the time and space to reflect on them. When we aren’t constantly consuming content, we are more aware of our thought processes and more likely to pay attention to our responsibilities.

Multiple Layers of Truth

Even if you choose reputable news sources, you still have to look critically at the information that is presented. In the rush to share news first, even reputable sources mistakenly share content that may have some problems on closer inspection. We have to watch for layers of truth and investigate things to see if the assertion holds up at more than one level.

Case in point: The Washington Post published a story headlined‘Horns’ are growing on young people’s skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests.While the study mentioned in the article was actually published, questions were raised about the way the study was conducted, including existing neck problems in study participants, according to Ari Shapiro and John Hawks in the recent NPR interview: Is Technology Turning Us Into Horned Monsters? Not Exactly. In addition, the Washington Post article has since been updated to include that there appears to be researcher conflict of interest.

Careful Content Consumption 

“Smart” phones change our lives in positive ways, but they don’t remove the need for good thinking. Even though it may seem this way, they don’t simplify things for us so we can do less thinking. The high volume, high speed flood of content we are exposed to actually MULTIPLIES the need for good thinking and careful content consumption.

 

Also See How You Can Stop the Fake News Madness.

 

 

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Nature Moments Offer Cognitive Renewal

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The last time I had to stop to let a flock of geese to cross the road, they were in no apparent hurry. Most likely, part of their territory had been turned into a housing development, and they were just travelling from point A to point B. The driver of the car in front of me enjoyed the nature moment – watching them quietly as they crossed.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” William Shakespeare

The driver in the left lane, though, was clearly not happy with the interruption. The car inched forward, closer and closer to the geese, and the driver honked repeatedly to hurry them along.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”  Einstein

If you notice nature’s beauty and bounty, you can interpret a moment like this one as a welcomed respite from a busy day. It can leave you refreshed. If you have become “immune to nature’s beauty” you are missing out. “More than two-thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed” (How Does Nature Impact Our Well-Being?, umn.edu). Time in nature can also help us be more focused and patient. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient” (Immerse Yourself in a Forest For Better Health, Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State).

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu

Nature moments can help us handle constant change and complexity. According the most recent Global Wellness Summit, “The medical evidence for doses of nature is wide-ranging… It’s powerful medicine for our minds too, with studies indicating walks in nature engage the “default mode” brain network associated with stress-reduction and a boost in cognition, creativity and short-term memory” Prweb, Global Wellness Summit.

“Look for nature to be a much-more-prescribed antidote for what ails us.” Prweb, Global Wellness Summit

“University of British Columbia (UBC) researcher Holli-Anne Passmore says if people simply take time to ponder the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being” (Melissa Breyer, You can boost happiness by simply observing nature around you, Treehugger.com). According to research, Jill Suttie explains, “experiencing the beauty of nature increases positive emotion—perhaps by inspiring awe, a feeling akin to wonder, with the sense of being part of something bigger than oneself—which then leads to prosocial behaviors” (How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative, Greater Good Magazine, Berkeley.edu)

If you are feeling rushed (and “honking mad”), remind yourself to take a breath and enjoy the nature moment. It just might improve your thinking, creativity, focus, memory, health, well-being and happiness. The bonus for the people around you? It will improve your patience too. 

 

 

 

 

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5 Insights For the Class of 2019

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have a special message for our 2019 graduates. It includes five important life insights that I wish someone had shared with me when I was a new graduate beginning the next chapter of my life.

5 Insights For the Class of 2019 

  1. Take The JourneyRemember that while many will try to sell you the “quick fix” and “easy out,” it is doing the work and taking on the struggle and the growth that provide lasting success in life.
  2. Know Your ValuesFigure out the qualities in yourself that you most want to cultivate. Know the ethical values that you believe in deeply and want to live up to.
  3. Commit to Investigative Learning Learn how to find relevant information in a sea of content. Decide to do more than take information at face value. Learn how to identify fake news and sort out the misleading from the true.
  4. Learn Ethical Thinking and Communication   There is much more to learn beyond “do unto others.” Learn how to untangle ethical issues and talk about them calmly and respectfully, even when you disagree. Learn how to honor multiple stakeholders and look for solutions that benefit all.
  5. Decide to Make a Difference Just “showing up” to work does not make a good life. Find a cause you are passionate about that serves others in your community. It will offer you stability and satisfaction as you weather the normal ups and downs of life.

While the world will pull you in many different compelling directions, it is your values that will keep you anchored. Become aware of them. Nurture them…Know what you believe in. Live it. Set an example for others by building a good, ethical life in a chaotic world.

We are counting on you.

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Unethical Thinking Leads To Unethical Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As humans, we are flawed thinkers who easily fall victim to biases and traps. The biases and traps we so easily fall into reshape our thinking in ways that can lead us to make bad decisions.

As you review the list of leadership traps below,, think about how each can lead to unethical thinking and actions.

Cause-and-Effect Thinking in a Systems World

Polarities and Dichotomies

Isolated (Top Down)

Fearful

Passive

Fragmented

Incompetent

Blinded By Profitability

Quick Fix

Controlling

Divisive

Oversimplified

Shallow

“Right”

Closed to Learning

Exclusive

Not Trusting

Not Trustworthy

A popular post I wrote on the subject of unethical thinking years ago that is still relevant today is 10 Thinking Traps (That Ethical Leaders Avoid)

Ethical leaders know they are subject to flawed thinking and use an intentional process to overcome biases and traps. To learn how to take charge of your thinking, see 22 Resources For Ethical Thinking.

 

 

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How Is Critical Thinking Different From Ethical Thinking?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical thinking and critical thinking are both important and it helps to understand how we need to use them together to make decisions. 

  • Critical thinking helps us narrow our choices. Ethical thinking includes values as a filter to guide us to a choice that is ethical.
  • Using critical thinking, we may discover an opportunity to exploit a situation for personal gain. It’s ethical thinking that helps us realize it would be unethical to take advantage of that exploit.

Develop An Ethical Mindset Not Just Critical Thinking

Critical thinking can be applied without considering how others will be impacted. This kind of critical thinking is self-interested and myopic.

“Critical thinking varies according to the motivation underlying it. When grounded in selfish motives, it is often manifested in the skillful manipulation of ideas in service of one’s own, or one’s groups’, vested interest.”

Defining Critical Thinking, The Foundation For Critical Thinking

Critical thinking informed by ethical values is a powerful leadership tool. Critical thinking that sidesteps ethical values is sometimes used as a weapon. 

When we develop leaders, the burden is on us to be sure the mindsets we teach align with ethical thinking. Otherwise we may be helping people use critical thinking to stray beyond the boundaries of ethical business. 

 

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Ethical Thinking Through the 7 LensesMay 22, 2019

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Shallow Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The question of the day is “How does “shallow thinking” lead to ethical mistakes?” By shallow thinking, I mean thinking that is limited in breadth and depth. 

Think about taking a stroll on the beach as you read the characteristics of shallow thinking below. How do these characteristics describe the kind of thinking that can lead to ethical mistakes and decision gridlock?

Characteristics of Shallow Thinking

  • Shallow thinking wades at the edge of the waterline instead of diving in.
  • When shallow thinking gets its feet wet up to the ankles, it thinks it “knows the ocean.”
  • Since it thinks it “knows the ocean,” shallow thinking considers deep thinking to be misinformed or misleading.

Using shallow thinking leads to making decisions out of context. Blissfully unaware of the deeper issues, we may make decisions that set off a chain reaction of unintended consequences. 

Be on the lookout for times when you may be tempted to stay in the shallows instead of diving in to understand the real scope of a complex problem. Ocean-size problems can’t be solved from the shallows. 

 

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Ethical Thinking Through the 7 LensesMay 22, 2019

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Interview on the Leveraging Thought Leadership Podcast

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Today I’m sharing my recent interview with Peter Winick on the Leveraging Thought Leadership Podcast.  We had an interesting conversation about my journey including how I got my start, challenges I faced and “growing into” this important work.

Click on the graphic above to hear the Leveraging Thought Leadership Podcast Interview with Peter Winick. The challenges I faced helped me grow and become a more authentic advocate for ethical leadership. Listen in!

 

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Ethical Thinking Through the 7 LensesMay 22, 2019

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Ethical Thinking For Challenging Times

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Albert Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Yet many leaders try to unravel increasingly complex issues using the same thinking process they have always used. 

New Ethical Thinking Course

I am delighted to announce that I am partnering with the University of Richmond Robins School of Business to offer a new Executive Education course “Ethical Thinking Through the 7 Lenses.”

 

University of Richmond Robins School of Business, Executive Education 

Ethical Thinking Through the 7 Lenses: This course will develop your ethical thinking skills in 7 important dimensions, help you understand local and global issues in a broader context, and equip you to make ethical decisions with increased confidence.

May 22, 2019 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 pm

Register For the Course

 

Why We Need Ethical Thinking

To celebrate the new course, I wrote an article for the University of Richmond Robins School of Business Executive Education publication EXCEED! that includes recent research about Why We Need Ethical Thinking. 

Read the article

 

It’s time to update our thinking the same way we routinely update our computer’s software. We know that updating our software is necessary for efficiency, effectiveness and risk reduction. It’s time to admit that updating our thinking is even more important for the same reasons.

 

 

 

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Research: Moving Beyond Cause-and-Effect Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The traditional view of research in the U.S. has been that something has to be proven to a statistically significant degree using established research procedures. It should be able to be replicated to confirm that the results are accurate and true. The problem is that established research procedures generally call for isolating one thing at a time to prove cause and effect, but we live in a world of complex, connected systems.

“People don’t become systems thinkers because systems thinking is so cool; they do so because they discover that linear thinking won’t answer their questions. Linear thinking is cause-and-effect thinking.”

JIM OLLHOFF and MICHAEL WALCHESKI,MAKING THE JUMP TO SYSTEMS THINKING, TheSystemsThinker.com

Is an “Accurate” Study Possible? 

Researchers may pride themselves on accuracy using the current approach, but cause-and-effect thinking may still lead to mistakes. The traditional research thinking believes that if a study is accurate, we should be able to repeat it and get the same result. If we do, then the effect has been “proven.” The problem with this thinking is that if we try to prove something is or is not causing something else, we ignore important variables that limit both the accuracy and the usefulness of the results:

  • The context may change the outcome (and context isn’t factored in if we’re using cause-and-effect thinking)
  • Some effects happen only some of the time (a repeated study may result in different conclusions without either study being wrong)
  • There may be other impacting causes that were not studied that led to the outcome

Which Research Studies Are Reliable?

There are so many predatory publishers sharing fake research results (see this Yale link) that it is becoming harder to tell which studies are responsibly conducted. The results of research studies are used to make decisions that have a broad effect on society and any fraud in the process can cause harm. 

Complexity Can’t Be Ignored

Our understanding of DNA and genes has progressed to the point where we know that certain combinations of things can result in genes being switched “on” or “off.” According to the US National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference Article Can Genes Be Turned On and Off in Cells? “Genes are turned on and off in different patterns during development to make a brain cell look and act different from a liver cell or a muscle cell, for example. Gene regulation also allows cells to react quickly to changes in their environments. This means that in addition to our external environment being impacted by many different changing systems at the same time, our internal environment is also made up of complex connecting systems that adapt to changing conditions.

Closed Loop Peer-Review System Can Block Innovation

Academics and professionals who are pressured to publish sometimes game the already flawed peer review systemThe research publishing system has built-in biases that are attracting increasing attention and some scholars believe that the peer review process by design can block innovative work. According to Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, “It takes significant reviewer agreement to have a paper accepted. One potential downside is that important research bucking a trend or overturning accepted wisdom may face challenges surviving peer review.” (Aaron E. Carroll, Peer Review: The Worst Way to Judge Research Except For All the Others, New York Times)

Can you ever isolate a cause and effect relationship when studying multiple connected and adapting systems? How can you test research more reliably before it is published? The current system of research and publication (a system with built-in hurdles that may block innovative thinking) is in need of innovative thinking. 

 

 

 

 

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Mindset or Competency: Which is More Important?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post will explore the interesting relationship between leadership mindset and competency. Which is most important? What happens to our leadership capability when our mindset is out of date? 

How we think about something impacts what we do about it. Nick Petrie, Center For Creative Leadership, writes in Vertical Leadership Development Part I that “In terms of leadership, the stage from which you are thinking and acting matters a lot. To be effective, the leader’s thinking must be equal or superior to the complexity of the environment.” 

An “Un-Fixed” Mindset

Keeping an open mind and adapting when new information is available is important for our leadership success. Capability, or what we can do, is still important, but it won’t get us far if we’re using an outdated mindset. Our mindset needs to be upgraded regularly as the context changes or we risk missing important parts of the picture.

“Cognitive scientists are finding that people’s mental maps, their theories, expectations, and attitudes, play a more central role in human perception than was previously understood.”

David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, The Neuroscience of Leadership, strategy + business

Seeing From Multiple Perspectives

In Coaching Vertically, Jan Rybeck MCC writes that one of the significant elements important for vertical development is taking on the challenge of multiple perspectives. Besides helping us deal with complexity in general, being able to understand multiple perspectives helps us meet the needs of multiple stakeholders. It guides us to better decisions when we face difficult choices. It helps us navigate tricky issues that have many angles and helps us talk about them without rushing to take a side.

“The future of leadership is mindsets, not competencies.”

Charles Palus, Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, Vertical Leadership Development For a Complex World

We need to carefully look at mindset, world view and assumptions before we move great individual performers into leadership positions. Sherryl Demitry, PhD writes in Training Industry that “it is common for people to be promoted into higher levels before achieving the vertical proficiency to be effective and successful at that level” (Disrupting Best Practices in L&D: Differentiating Horizontal & Vertical Development). Think about a time you observed a new leader using the mindset of a professional and making rookie leadership mistakes.

Mindset Problems Can Lead to Leadership Failure

When we broaden our mindset to adapt to change, we open up new terrain for learning and leadership. Gaining new competencies without the necessary mindset changes will be ineffective at best, and may even be harmful.  Think about a leader using an outdated mindset about human rights and treating certain groups of people negatively. That leader may “delegate effectively” in terms of how assignments are communicated and tracked, but may deny certain types of people access to opportunities to grow. This failure in leadership is due to a mindset problem that can quickly turn a “competency” like delegation into unfair practice.

I would have to say that leadership mindset is more important than competency. If you lack certain competencies or have the wrong competencies for the job, you can learn. If you have a “fixed” and outdated mindset, however, you will resist learning and potentially do more harm than good. 

 

 

 

 

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