Unraveling The Future State of The World

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Millennium Project is a global participatory think tank with a noble purpose – To “improve humanity’s prospects for building a better future.” I have been a reviewer since 2013 for its Challenge 15: Global Ethics, addressing the question “How can ethical considerations be more routinely included in global decisions?”

“Improving humanity’s prospects” is an ever-evolving quest. The results of The Millennium Project’s most recent work has now been published as “State Of The Future 19.0”. 

Building a better future starts with knowing where we are and where we’re going. You can learn more about The Millennium Project’s most recent assessment of global progress by reading the free executive summary and a newly published book review.

Published on #globalethicsday2017. 

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Decoding 7 dimensions of “doing the right thing” in a global society

 

 

 

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Ethical Leaders Understand the Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In a previous post, I addressed some of the risks of not taking time to THINK before making decisions. Today, I want to explore why it is so important for leaders to understand the CONTEXT before they make decisions. 

As shown in the graphic, the context (in all of its complexity) becomes the central feature in building awareness of any ethical issue. Without the context, we are not aware – we only see the parts of an issue that we want to see. 

 

Context and Responsibility 3

Learning about the complexities of an issue helps us see the potential impact of our decision on others. 

We live in a world of human, economic, organizational, environmental and societal systems. Those systems interact globally in complex ways. Solving a complex problem without understanding it well can have unintended consequences

A clear understanding of the context is an important part of staying ethically aware and competent, and both are necessary qualities for responsible leadership. 

Ethical leaders know that there can be no ethical awareness without understanding the context, and without awareness, competence and responsibility are also out of reach. 

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Ethical Leaders Take Time To Think

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What sets ethical leaders apart from other leaders? They take the time to THINK before making decisions. And that’s not all they do that sets them apart. While they’re thinking:

  • They’re listening to those they lead and seeking input
  • They’re intentionally learning about the nuances of the context
  • They’re wrestling with how to do the right thing

The Quick Answer Is Risky

While it may be satisfying for leaders to give QUICK answers to a complex problem, there are risks associated with those quick responses:

  • The quick answers may create more problems than they solve (because the context is not yet fully understood)
  • The quick answers may not be as polite or inclusive or respectful as they should be (because there’s no thinking process, which is necessary for managing emotions)
  • The quick answers reveal a leader’s lack of careful thinking (to those who did take the time to understand the context).

When ethical leadership is required, the QUICK answer is risky business. 

When is ethical leadership required? – Every moment of every day, on every project, in every role, while taking on every challenge and making every decision. 

Ethical leaders take time to think before acting in all of these moments. When they encounter a similar problem in the future, they still take time to think. They don’t assume they have all the information they need, because they know that the context is perpetually changing. 

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Ethical Leadership Interview on Culture Hacker Podcast

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I am delighted that Shane Green, author of Culture Hacker, invited me to be a guest on his podcast to talk about ethical leadership and culture. 

Creating Culture

Culture is what we make of it. As leaders, it’s our job to make it an engaging, ethical, high-trust environment where people can do the very best work of their lives. And while we’re doing that, the world is watching. 

Values Made Visible

Trendwatching.com explains what has happened to culture in a socially connected world: 

“Once, your internal corporate culture was just that: internal. But now that a business is a glass box, there’s no such thing as an ‘internal’ culture.”                  — “Glass Box Brands,” Trendwatching.com

Our organizational culture has become our message to the world about what we value.

Culture Hacker Podcast

Click here to listen to the podcast as Shane Green and I discuss how ethical leadership can transform your culture (and your bottom line).  

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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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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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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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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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Great Leaders Unite

By Linda Fisher Thornton

­
The most capable and ethically competent leaders reach for unity, which represents the highest levels of interpersonal and global responsibility. While it would be much easier, the best leaders don’t just aim for “getting along” or “getting by.”
Queen Elizabeth II said “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
Great leaders use meaningful connections, shared values and mutual understanding to bring people together. Their decisions and chosen paths are mutually beneficial for multiple constituents. They understand leadership as a process of bringing out the individual and collective best in others for the long-term good.

The words and actions of the best leaders unite and uplift rather than divide and tear down. They use a calm demeanor and peaceful means to reach desired ends. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”

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Ethical Leaders See Their Choices Through All 7 Lenses

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Ethical Leaders Take The Hidden Path

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leaders seek shared value. They look for ways to meet the needs of others while they champion their own projects and ideas. Why? Because they understand that they are responsible for honoring their well-being AND the well-being of others. 

Ethical leaders take responsibility for supporting the noble goals of others and have the persistence and character to reach for the situation where “We Both Win.” 

Shared value and mutual benefit are principles at the core of Corporate Social Responsibility and ethical leadership. To achieve them, we must think beyond outdated notions of what it means to win (including the one-dimensional false dichotomy “I Win, You Lose).” We have to look for the alternative path. 

This path to shared value may seem to be a “hidden path” because we have to look deeper and work harder to find it. It takes more work and effort. It requires thinking beyond the immediate moment and the one-sided “win.” It builds lasting relationships that benefit all parties. 

While seeking mutual benefit may take more effort up front, that doesn’t mean that it’s optional. Taking advantage of others to make a quick buck doesn’t create meaning or build real relationships. It doesn’t demonstrate a commitment to ethical values. 

In every situation where we think we have to do what it takes to get our immediate needs met, there is another path we can choose – pursuing a mutually beneficial solution that lasts.

The path to mutually beneficial solutions is not always easy to find. Great leaders realize that it’s their job to seek out and take this hidden path. 

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Ethical Leaders See Their Choices Through All 7 Lenses

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Is Our Leadership “Good?”

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

How will we know if our leadership is “good?” Since there are conflicting opinions about what good leadership includes, we need an understanding of the context to answer this important question.

This week I’m featuring a collection of posts that clear up questions you may have about how to define and practice “good” leadership. This is the kind of leadership that builds high-trust companies and communities. It is the high level leadership that brings out the best in people and engages them in meaningful work.

As you explore these posts, think about the ways you have learned about good leadership and who your role models have been. 

What is the Greater Good?

7 Definitions of “Good” (Why We Disagree About Ethics)

Is Your Leadership “Net Positive?”

What is the Ultimate Goal of Leadership?

We need “good” leadership at every level if we are going to build good organizations. Will our leadership stand the test of time? Will it be considered “good” by others looking back on it 100 years from now?

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