Ethics is Acting Beyond Self-Interest

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is an edited version of a previously published reader favorite.

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

Ethics is fundamentally about acting beyond our own self-interests. Can we be ethical without considering others and acting in ways that benefit them? 

Here are some interesting questions and quotes on the subject. As you read, think about the business leader’s responsibility to act beyond the interests of the business and beyond personal gain.

Questions About Ethics, Ego and Acting Out of Concern for Others

1. Is ethics moving beyond the ego to show concern for others?

“While egoism may be a strong motivator of human behavior, ethics traditionally assumes that human beings are also capable of acting from a concern for others that is not derived from a concern for their own welfare.”

“The moral point of view goes beyond self-interest to a standpoint that takes everyone’s interests into account. Ethics, then, assumes that self interest is not the basis for all human behavior, although some philosophers, e.g., Hobbes, have tried to base ethics on self-interest. Their efforts, however, have not been widely accepted.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

2. Can we define ethics based on reason, when reason doesn’t involve others?

“Justice can’t be determined by examining a single case, since the advantage to society of a rule of justice depends on how it works in general under the circumstances in which it is introduced.”

“Thus the views of the moral rationalists on the role of reason in ethics, even if they can be made coherent, are false.”

David Hume, Stanford.edu, quoting from Hume’s autobiographical essay, “My Own Life”

3. If we serve others now, will we benefit long-term?

“Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.[1][2][3]   It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will “do well by doing good”.[4][5][6]”

“Enlightened self-interest also has implications for long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits to oneself.[7] When an individual pursues enlightened self-interest that person may sacrifice short-term interests to maximize long-term interests. This is a form of deferred gratification.”

Enlightened Self-Interest, Wikipedia.com

4. Are we at our best when we consider others?

“The motives which lie behind our behaviors are often mixed and complex. But studies such as these are among the challenges to the long held view that even at our best, we are only out for ourselves. Rather, at our best, we may only be out for others.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

5. What, then, is ethical behavior?

“In some ways, putting the greater good before your own can be thought of as the definition of ethical leadership, since it underlies so many of the other components.” “Ethical behavior reflects a value system that grows out of a coherent view of the world, based on equity, justice, the needs and rights of others as well as oneself, a sense of obligation to others and to the society, and the legitimate needs and standards of the society.”

The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas, ku.edu

What does all of this mean for leaders?

We are all responsible for acting beyond our own self-interests. In this age of ‘infotainment’ and information overload, we have to know ourselves, know our responsibility to others, and choose to act beyond self-interest and short-term gain.

If we ever forget, we’ll be reminded by ethically-aware constituents that it’s not ethical leadership if we don’t consistently act out of respect and concern for others.

10 COVID-19 Trends: Our Inner Space

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It seems that we’re all getting more in touch with our “inner space” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extensive time in isolation has given us the time and opportunity to face our truths – our beliefs, our impact and our choices.

Here are 10 trends we’re seeing during COVID-19 that show better self-awareness, other-awareness and moral awareness.

  1. We’re more aware of the importance of science in our lives
  2. We’re more aware (in our households, families and workplaces) that we are “all in this together” and each decision we make impacts everyone else in the group
  3. We’re more aware of how our actions (or inactions) can harm others
  4. We’re more aware of the importance of moral awareness in leadership
  5. We’re more aware of societal economic disparities
  6. We’re more aware of societal racial disparities
  7. We’re more aware of our global connectedness
  8. We’re more aware of what our travel lifestyle does to the planet
  9. We’re more aware of the risks others take for our benefit and well-being
  10. We’re more aware of the importance of taking responsibility for our actions, even under the most difficult and inconvenient circumstances

In my lifetime, I have not seen a time when we have had to come face-to-face with our own beliefs the same way we are having to now. Poor thinking is literally a health risk in these challenging times when failing to wear a mask at the wrong time can lead to illness or death.

Nancy Gibbs, Harvard Kennedy School, says about the impact of the pandemic on our thinking and leadership: “This is real. This has been a moral autopsy. Look for the common humanity. Look for the complexity, get past attributing bad motives to the ‘other side.'”

While it’s always easier to criticize others than to face our own limitations, it’s our own thinking and actions we should be examining now.

Good Leadership Serves, Respects and Uplifts

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is an updated version of a post that has been a long-time reader favorite.

What is the ultimate goal of leadership? This question seems simple enough at first, and then begins to get tricky because it can’t be answered in one simple statement.

  • Is the goal of leadership to provide direction and model the performance we expect from others?
  • Is it to respect and serve?
  • Is it to support others and remove obstacles?
  • Is it to teach and mentor?
  • Is it to help bring out the best in those we lead as we work toward a common purpose?

Of course, leadership is about all of those things and more. So what is its ultimate goal? Here are four very different ways of thinking about the ultimate goal of leadership. Each one is shared with a suggested theme song. As you read, think about how many of these theme songs describe your leadership.

Profit

Using the Profit perspective, the goal of leadership is to ensure that the organization makes a profit so that it can continue its work. A theme song for this perspective might be “For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays (theme song for the U.S. version of The Apprentice).

People

Using the People perspective, the goal of leadership is to bring out the best in people through respect and care, and continual support for their success.  A theme song for this perspective might be R.E.S.P.E.C.T” by Otis Redding, sung by Aretha Franklin.

Service

Using the Service perspective, the goal of leadership is to serve others in ways that uplift lives and communities. A theme song for this perspective might be Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.

Greater Good

Using the Greater Good perspective, the goal of leadership is making choices that ensure a good life for future generations. The theme song for this perspective might be We Are the World” by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie.

The question is not “Which one of these perspectives is right?” because they are all important ways of thinking about the goal of leadership. They are part of a bigger view that incorporates many dimensions of leadership responsibility. The question is “How can we honor all of them?” 

In my book, 7 Lenses, I explore all of these concepts in a framework of 7 important perspectives on what responsible leadership includes.  A 7 Lenses Book Club Discussion Guide is available to help groups discuss what they have learned and how they can apply it for individual and organizational improvement.

Here is an introduction to all 7 Lenses.

Leadership is multidimensional. We need to learn how to see it in multiple dimensions. If anyone tries to tell you that the ultimate goal of leadership is “one thing,” they’re missing the big picture.

Beliefs Are Complicated

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in the Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives series explored truth and narrative, and Part 2 examined how data and motives relate to the truth. Part 3 addressed the importance of media literacy. In this follow up, we take a deeper look at truth and belief.

It turns out that beliefs are complicated. How do we know if our beliefs are actually true?

“Many people don’t realize that every thought that pops into their heads isn’t true, and they are unable to decipher authentic beliefs from false ones.”

— Mike Oppland, How Psychology Combats False and Self-Limiting Beliefs

But if we learn to manage the automatic messages popping into our heads all day long, we’ll be able to tell the difference, right? Not necessarily.

As July Beck says in This Article Won’t Change Your Mind, in The Atlantic, “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you.”

At least we change our minds when presented with the facts, don’t we? If we’re presented with facts that contradict our beliefs don’t we automatically change them? Not necessarily.

“Unfortunately, we still form beliefs without vetting most of them, and maintain them even after receiving clear, corrective information.”

Annie Duke, Why Your Brain Clings To False Beliefs (Even When It Knows Better), Fast Company

Daniel DeNicola writes in his Psyche article You Don’t Have a Right To Believe Whatever You Want To that “Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant.

Trendwatching.com says in The Fight For Facts that “consumers’ ramped- up search for news prompted a misinformation avalanche, what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls an infodemic’.

People often share a new piece of information they believe to be true in haste without considering the repercussions. Is it unethical to share a false belief that could cause harm to others? Yes. It violates many ethical principles including truthfulness, trustworthiness, respect, care, and “do no harm.”

“Information on Twitter (and other social platforms that use short and fast messages) is particularly likely to be evaluated based on emotional responses with little input from higher cognitive functions.”

—Tali Sharot, Why People Can’t Agree on Basic Facts, Time

We’ve been focusing on whether or not we can trust other people, but it turns out the problem is much closer than we realized. It turns out that we can’t always trust ourselves. Annie Duke suggests in her Fast Company article Why Your Brain Clings To False Beliefs (Even When It Knows Better): that “the next time you argue with someone over something you believe to be true, step back and ask yourself how you came to this conclusion.”

Leadership: Evaluating Ethical Awareness

By Linda Fisher Thornton

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical awareness may have been considered private in the past, but it has become easier to observe in a society that is always socially connected. Since ethical reputation is a defining element in individual and organizational success, it is time that we consider ethical awareness as a key element of experience when selecting leaders for our businesses, community organizations, governments, and nations.

Our level of ethical awareness is the rock on which we build our relationships, decisions and actions. It drives our choices and how we treat others. It informs our priorities and budget allocation. It tells us what to pay attention to and how we will handle it.

But when choosing a leader, how do we know how solid that leader’s rock is in terms of ethical awareness? To find out, we need to understand the job candidate’s worldview. How does the leader perceive the world? What does the leader consider most important? What is the leader’s definition of “good leadership?”

Assessing a Leader’s Ethical Awareness

Questions to explore by interview and observation:

We need ethically-aware leaders in every leadership role at every level. The pandemic has taught us that our well-being is in the hands of the leaders we have chosen. Choosing the most ethically-aware leader will lead to the most ethical long-term outcomes. We need to take the time to look under the rock.

17 Leadership Paradoxes

By Linda Fisher Thornton

COVID-19 has brought us many challenges including balancing economic and human factors, moving quickly but taking time to show compassion and so on. This Center for Creative Leadership video succinctly introduces 6 paradoxes in the essential leadership skills required in a post-COVID world. You can visit their website to download the related white paper.

The PWC publication “Six paradoxes of leadership: Addressing the crisis of leadership” shares 6 more paradoxes of leadership and notes that “learning how to comfortably inhabit both elements of each paradox will be critical to your success.” The paradoxes are expanded on in this COVID-19 related article “The urgent need for sophisticated leadership.”

And I’ll add these 5 paradoxes from my post Building Trust: Paradoxical Qualities to Cultivate

Cultivating these qualities in ourselves and our organizations helps us build a high trust workplace where people can do their best work:

Be Dependable and Open to Change

Be Fully Present Right Now and Think Ahead

Be Crystal Clear About What’s Expected and Open to Hearing Input From Others

Be Confident and Humble

Be Decisive and Flexible

Great leaders possess seemingly paradoxical qualities. They know when to use each end of the spectrum, depending on what is most needed to move individuals and groups forward.

Building Trust: Paradoxical Qualities to Cultivate, Leading in Context Blog

Leaders need to be be adaptable good thinkers to work their way through all of these paradoxes at the same time. The pandemic simply raises the stakes on us to get it right.

5 Ways to Avoid Opinions That Lack Insight and Understanding

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Lately we’ve been seeing too much content that is not grounded in understanding. Some of it is intentionally misleading and some of it is well-intentioned but misinformed.

What this means is that we have to learn how to recognize misinformation, but also, and even more importantly, carefully tend how we convey our own opinions.

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

― Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man

Before sharing your opinion, use the questions in this Self-Check; make sure you are on track to sharing your opinion in a way that leads to insight and understanding.

Opinion Self-Check

  1. Do I get angry when I think about this?
    • Anger clouds our judgment and bypasses our moral checks
    • If it makes you angry, slow down
  2. Have I researched the issue using multiple reputable sources?
    • Spreading misinformation is ethically problematic
    • Do your research first
  3. Have I thought it through before expressing an opinion?
    • Speaking without thinking is a recipe for disaster
    • Think about the issue and how your opinion could be perceived by others
  4. Have I listened to what a diverse group of voices is saying on the subject?
    • Our social media feed will share content that agrees with what we already believe, entrenching us in a narrow perspective
    • Seek out differing opinions from people and groups before you make up your mind on the issue
  5. Have I stayed open to changing my mind?
    • A closed mind isn’t going to change as the world changes
    • Stay open to changing your opinion as you learn more and reflect on the issue

As Clara Barton famously said, we “cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind.”

How to Be Human (Together)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m sharing an edited compilation of three previously published posts that are relevant for leaders and organizations wanting to honor human rights in chaotic times. The first addresses the risk of excluding any humans from our organizational statement of inclusion. The second explains why values transcend borders and boundaries, and the third explains that how we perceive people who are ‘different’ impacts our behavior and our ethics.

Inclusion: The Power of Regardless

Some inclusion statements begin with “we respect all people and treat them fairly, regardless of…”  and then include a long list of differences that we should overcome. These lists are hard to communicate, difficult to remember and ever-changing as we expand our understanding of human rights. 

Why not aim for where the statement is going, rather than where it’s been? We can keep adding to that “regardless” list until it becomes too unwieldy to use, or we can simply say now:

“We respect all people and treat them fairly, regardless.”

That’s the message behind the UN Global Declaration of Human Rights, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. 

I know what you might be thinking. Not everyone is ready to make this leap all at once. What we can do is make sure that we are moving our organizations in this direction with all due haste, knowing that this is the leadership mindset that is required of us in a global society, regardless.

Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

When you make a commitment to ethical values and ethical choices, boundaries and walls only indicate the boundaries of new places to apply those ethical values and choices. Beyond them, ethical values matter just as much as they matter within your own walls. You could argue that they matter more, because you are stepping into other cultures and ways of life and need to take special care to show respect.

Any argument that we can be disrespectful or harmful to others who live outside of our borders is based on flawed thinking, self-interest, myopia and a lack of moral awareness.

Ethical leaders see beyond walls. They don’t dehumanize people to improve their own position.

Ethical leaders think beyond themselves on a global scale. They don’t excuse their own or anyone else’s bad behavior or unethical choices

Ethical Leadership: Perceptions of “Different” Impact Our Behavior

How we think as leaders directly impacts our behavior by compelling us to act based on the value judgments we make. Today’s post focuses on how we perceive “different,”  how our perceptions change our leadership, and how our leadership changes the work environment in ways that may lead to unethical behavior.

Unfortunately, we don’t always use the word “different” to describe things and people and ideas that are new to us. We often use less friendly words that indicate that the person or idea is wrong, misguided or harmful. Let’s check our thinking about “different” for a moment, and consider how our perception impacts our behavior and our ethics.

If we are one of the leaders who thinks that “different” ideas and people are interesting/good/essential, then we will be open to new ideas and new information and will want to surround ourselves with people who represent different ways of thinking. We will see the value in differences of opinion. We will tolerate some level of chaos and see it as part of the natural process of getting great work done. Opportunities will be quickly recognized and acted on, leading to competitive advantage.

If we are a leader who thinks that “different” ideas and people are dangerous/bad/wrong, then we will be closed to new ideas and new information and will want to surround ourselves with people who think and act very much like we do. We will see differences of opinion as threatening the fabric of the organization. Our organization will begin to become obsolete as groupthink sets in. We will discourage new and different perspectives and will see them as blatant insubordination.  Employees will leave as they find they are not able to do their best work in the “copy me” culture. Missed opportunities and complications from employee resistance to “not being allowed to think for themselves” will take a toll on the profitability and viability of the business. Employees will be more likely to make unethical decisions in the restrained environment that does not allow for discussion of grey areas during ethical challenges.

Which type of leader engages employees? Inspires the best work? Is rewarded in your organization? Which of these two approaches is ethical?

“Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic”

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“For ethical leadership to stick, the culture needs an infrastructure that consistently supports acting on stated values…Ethical cultures treat ethical thinking as something that must be cultivated, demonstrated, and practiced over time.”

My article, “Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic,” featured in the August issue of the Talent Development Journal, describes five culture gaps that inhibit ethical leadership. These culture gaps are common problems that organizations should watch for and avoid.

You won’t want to miss this article. It includes advice to organizations wanting to build ethical cultures, and is grounded in decades of experience and observations about where cultures often fall short.

“Companies fall into five common traps on the way to building an ethics-rich culture: no active focus on values, oversimplification of complex issues, lack of behavior boundaries, lack of integration, and ignoring the learning curve.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic, Talent Development Journal

Ethical thinking doesn’t happen without the infrastructure to support it. Does your organization have it in place or is it burdened with one of the five culture gaps? Read the full article to learn how to identify and resolve five common culture gaps that erode ethical leadership.

Subscribe at LeadinginContext.com/Blog.

Ethical Leaders Are Fixed and Flexible at the Same Time

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leaders are fixed and flexible at the same time. They stay anchored to ethical values AND adapt as the world changes. Both are critically important aspects of ethical leadership success.

Ethical leaders stay fixed on values.

They keep values at the center of their daily choices and they don’t put money where morality should be. They realize that ethical values are an important part of their responsibility to others and society.

Ethical leaders never stray from ethics.

When things get tough, they hold fast to their ethical principles even when others “go along” with unethical choices. They realize that values are precious, life changing and worth protecting.

Ethical leaders are flexible in applying ethical values in a changing global society.

They adapt to increasing expectations and current issues and do the work to raise their game. They see other ways of life as interesting and non-threatening.

Ethical leaders embrace change.

They see changing to keep up with the times as a challenge and a responsibility, not an inconvenience. They are willing to do the work to change their mindset and assumptions when they have become outdated.

Ethical leaders use a growth mindset.

Ethical thinkers realize that authentic learning is more important than looking smart. They see negative feedback as an opportunity to get better, not a personal affront.

Is a leader who stays anchored to ethical values an ethical leader? Not necessarily. Just holding on to ethical values will not get you all the way there if you’re not staying competent as times change. To qualify as “ethical leadership,” values need to be APPLIED in ways that honor society’s rapidly changing expectations for honoring a myriad of ethical dimensions including human rights and sustainability.

Pluralism: 9 Elements Required For Ethical Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Pluralism is required in our leadership thinking as a positive force that informs how we treat people and make decisions. It’s the expansive mindset that is the key to important ethical leadership responsibilities such as respect, inclusion, and cultural awareness.

“If you know whether a man is a decided monist or a decided pluralist, you perhaps know more about the rest of his opinions than if you give him any other name ending in IST. To believe in the one or in the many, that is the classification with the maximum number of consequences.” ― Will James

Merriam-Webster defines pluralism as “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain and develop their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization.”

Pluralism, by its nature, is many things:

  1. Inclusive
    • Including everyone without losing the uniqueness of traditions or people
  2. Listening
    • Listening with care and attention and honoring a diverse group of voices
  3. Accepting
    • Being comfortable with different backgrounds, styles, traditions, approaches and ways of thinking
  4. Collaborative
    • Seeing the importance of diversity of thought in creating powerful solutions together
  5. Unafraid
    • Talking about our shared challenges, and seeing those conversations as a step toward solutions
  6. United
    • Working with individuals to build trust and educate each other on cultural traditions
  7. Evolving
    • Changing our minds and behavior willingly because we will never know everything about everything and expectations change over time
  8. Whole
    • Including everyone of every background, regardless of their life story
  9. Learning
    • Staying open to learning because we will make mistakes as we work together and learn about each other at the same time

A leader who embraces pluralism will not be afraid to go into the spaces where diverse groups of people meet, get to know each other, and work together.

“I thought about the meaning of pluralism in a world where the forces that seek to divide us are strong. I came to one conclusion: We have to save each other. It’s the only way to save ourselves.” — Eboo Patel

Ethical leaders know that we are stronger and better together, and they do everything possible to leverage that strength to solve our shared problems.

Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To wrap up a recent series of posts about truth, misinformation and how to spot false narratives, here is a summary of key points and questions for discussion.

Key Points About Finding The Truth:

Part 1 What is Truth?

To find a more objective truth requires uncertainty and doubt. Without uncertainty, we only see an issue with “sureness” and “resolve” based on our own experience.

Part 2 How Does Data Inform The Truth?

Data, taken in pieces or without context, can be presented as “truth” but the fragmented picture you will see is only informative in the context of the greater whole.

Part 3 What Role Does Media Literacy Play in Discovering The Truth?

Sources of misinformation and false narratives have a self-interested motive (and do not care about us or our well being). Our job is to stay literate as misinformation becomes more sophisticated and harder to spot.

How to Spot Misinformation and False Narratives:

Part 1 Watch For Relying on Blind Trust

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will tell you that you have all the information needed and will discourage you from looking further into the issue.

Part 2 Watch For an Opportunistic Spin Used to Evoke Emotion

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will often give you an emotionally-charged and opportunistic spin on a situation and call it the truth. People who question it may be attacked to deflect attention from a hidden motive.

Part 3 Look For Credible Sources Before Buying In or Sharing

Sources of misinformation and false narrative may not share sources backing up the story OR the sources they share are not reliable. Media literacy is how we avoid being tricked.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What false narrative might we be accepting as “truth?”
  2. How does that false narrative push our buttons, stoke our anger or tap into something we want to be true?
  3. What is the motive for sharing this false narrative? Is it monetary? Political? Initiating conflict? Diversion from a reputation issue?
  4. What steps will we take to be sure we’re not being misled before sharing information in the future?

Foster Your Ethical Brand Reputation

Connect Magazine Feature

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Connect Magazine invited me to weigh in on why ethical brand reputation is so important and how brands can build and foster stronger images.­

LindaThornton_110419-0057 b

In this article I share practical advice on protecting ethical brands and five top leadership trends I see unfolding in 2020. 

It’s worth a read for those who want to use the time during the pandemic to figure out how they can build a stronger company and a stronger brand that is ready for an uncertain future. 

“While we would like to think that we are in control of our brand image, it is really shaped by our ethical choices… To build and foster strong images, brands can activate and amplify their values.” 

— Linda Fisher Thornton in Connect Magazine

Important questions answered in this Q&A Feature: 

  • Why is it important for every brand to have a strong, consistent image today?
  • What are some of the ways brands can build and foster stronger images?
  • What leadership trends do you see unfolding?
  • What’s the theory behind your “7 Lenses” philosophy?

Read the Q & A Feature in Connect Magazine (page 13, the last printed page before the back cover)

After reviewing the insights in the feature article, share your own ideas in the comments. You’ll find additional curated resources on ethical brands below.  

More Curated Resources on Ethical Brands:

Ethical Branding: A Guide For Creating More Ethical Brands, thebrandingjournal.com

The Impact of Ethics on Brand Reputational Value, lighthouse-services.com

Product and Brand, Markkula Center For Applied Ethics, scu.edu

How Should Ethics Factor Into Your Brand Identity? Serenity Gibbons, forbes.com

Click the cover to read a free preview!

LeadinginContext.com  

©2020 Leading in Context LLC

“While we would like to think that we are in control of our brand image, it is really shaped by our ethical choices… To build and foster strong images, brands can activate and amplify their values.” 

10 Things Ethical Leaders Believe

By Linda Fisher Thornton

While dealing with the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic, we need to remember that good decisions are always made based on values. To confirm what those values are that should guide our choices, this week I’m sharing my Manifesto What Ethical Leaders Believe.

This Manifesto frames ethical leadership in clear language, and is shareable under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. It includes 10 Things Ethical Leaders Believe that transform their leadership and their organizations.

Click the cover image above to download What Ethical Leaders Believe and share it with your colleagues and friends (the download link is at the top right of the page). It includes an introduction to the philosophy behind my work and it previews the ethical leadership book 7 Lenses.

There is no check-box for ethical leadership. It is an ongoing individual and organizational journey.

Linda Fisher Thornton, What Ethical Leaders Believe: The Leading in Context Manifesto, ChangeThis.com

Take a moment to focus and ground your leadership in the 10 Things Ethical Leaders Believe in this timely Manifesto. I hope it will help you make the difficult choices you face in the coming days and weeks.

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 6)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership focused on the importance of Ethical Foresight. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 explored the dimensions of Ethical Design, Legal Compliance. Human Impact. and Evolving Ecosystem. Part 6 will conclude the series with the final dimension – Public Good.

5: PUBLIC GOOD

Assistive technology will make people lives easier, and it is profitable, but The IoT was meant to do much more than just make money. The problem is that our contributions to the IoT have no inherent morality and no contribution to the public good until we build them in. In addition to having no inherent morality, Gérald Santucci argues that the IoT creates the risk for “objects” to become “subjects” (they get the agency to take decisions) and for (human) subjects to become “objects” (we just behave by adopting and implementing the performance criteria of our objects: efficiency, productivity etc.). A simple example of this is wearing a fitness band that directs our behavior to increase movement and to direct when we should move. In this example, the fitness device is directing human behavior, not the other way around.

The scope of the shift in our role to that of subject is invisible unless we step back and look at it with an ecosystem view. “Things will be able to autonomously manage their transportation, implement fully automated processes and thus optimize logistics; they have to be able to harvest the energy they need, they will configure themselves when exposed to a new environment and show “intelligent/cognitive behavior” when faced with other things and deal seamlessly with unforeseen circumstances; and finally, they might manage their own disassembly and recycling, helping to preserve the environment, at the end of their lifecycle” (Dr. Ovideu Vermesan and Dr. Peter Friess, et. al., Internet of Things, Global Technologies and Societal Trends,  Chapter 2) Will we simply become caretakers of the processes they create? Who’s really in charge in this scenario?

If we are able to manage the evolution of the IoT at a high enough level, it has the potential to accelerate our progress toward improving the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In “using IoT to create a future we want” in the report” IoT Policies Toward 2025: Benefitting From the Opportunities” Maarten Botterman points out that “The Sustainable Development Goals that have been agreed by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 represent global norms, and include a clear call for connected technologies to contribute to achieving them. Please note that the SDGs also insist on “inclusive” use of connected resources.”

The IoT Is A Platform For Advancing The Public Good   In the end, pride of engineering must include a deep regard for ethical practices that should guide our actions and our obligations to the society we serve. Vint Cerf, The Ethics of the Internet of Things Ecosystem, The Marconi Society

“IoT devices placed strategically throughout even the most complex global supply chain can give managers deep, real-time insight into any problems, even before they arise.” The Internet of Things: Benefits and Risks, AIG

 In “Harnessing the IoT For Global Development,” the International Telecommunications Union and Cisco partner to make a powerful case for how advances in the IoT can move us forward on a global scale. Three of the areas where they predict IoT will have the highest potential impact include disease containment, agricultural yield and economic prediction.

Connecting the dots using disparate pieces of data collected by IoT devices can help us resolve some of society’s biggest problems. Arafat Kazi, UMass Amherst, describes the higher purpose of the IoT in “Life, The Universe and The Internet of Things: “Ultimately, IoT’s biggest transformative power lies in what it can do for the greater good… Creating new pathways for us to help each other and contribute to the good of humanity—that is IoT’s ultimate goal.”

It is our job to carefully manage our participation in the IoT as it grows so that our contributions can serve the greater good of society, individually and collectively. This means designing for SAFETY, WELL-BEING, and creating a BETTER LIFE for future generations.

Seeing The Whole Ethical Picture

“As cars begin to drive themselves, who should be responsible for accidents? As systems take on more decisions previously made by humans, it will be increasingly challenging to create a framework for responsibility and accountability” (Francine Berman and Vinton G. Cerf, Social and Ethical Behavior in the Internet of Things, Communications of the ACM). We can carefully design our contributions to the IoT so that they actively benefit society and improve the public good. The catch is that to do this well, we will need to understand and carefully manage the ethics of all of the dimensions discussed here – Ethical Design, Legal Compliance, Human Impact, the Evolving Ecosystem and the Greater Good.  The table below includes key ethical questions and global protocols for each dimension.

1 ETHICAL DESIGN

Global Protocols

Think Through Ethical Issues Up Front
Aim For Everyone in the Ecosystem to Win
Design in Safety and Privacy Protection
Protect Devices and Data From Interference/Tampering


Guiding Documents

“All actors should engage in a strong, active and constructive debate on the implications of the internet of things and its derived big data to raise awareness of the choices to be made.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

“A complex web of stakeholders is forming around IoT products: from users, to businesses, and everyone in between. We design so that there is a win for everybody in this elaborate exchange.” IoT Design Manifesto 1.0, creative industries fund NL

“Privacy by design and default should no longer be regarded as something peculiar. They should become a key selling point of innovative technologies.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

A simple firewall is no longer sufficient. One way to minimize the risk to individuals is to ensure that data can be processed on the device itself (local processing). Where this is not an option, companies should ensure end-to-end encryption is in place to protect the data from unwarranted interference and/or tampering. Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things  
  2: LEGAL COMPLIANCE

Global Protocols

Ensure Compliance With Laws
Honor the Values Behind the Laws
 

Guiding Documents

“Ensure compliance with the data protection and privacy laws in their respective countries, as well as with the internationally agreed privacy principles. Where breaches of the law are discovered, they will seek appropriate enforcement action, either unilaterally or through means of international cooperation.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things  

“Companies need a mind shift to ensure privacy policies are no longer primarily about protecting them from litigation.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

3: HUMAN IMPACT

Global Protocols

Protect Human Life, Safety and Well-Being

Protect Human Identity, Privacy and Data
Disclose Data Gathering Practices
Be Transparent/Clear About How Data is Used


Guiding Documents  

“It is not possible to focus solely on the technologies, at the risk of ignoring the human context in which these technologies must work. There are many difficult trade-offs involved — only some of which are technological… The purpose for which technology and applications are developed does not always end up as the sole — or even major — purpose for which they are actually used.” “Strategies to protect privacy must take a range of risks into account from a variety of different sources as well as adapt to local regulations;” Mr. Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, in Foreword of Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development by ITU and Cisco as A CONTRIBUTION TO THE UN BROADBAND COMMISSION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

“Considering that the identifiability and protection of big data already is a major challenge, it is clear that big data derived from internet of things devices makes this challenge many times larger. Therefore, such data should be regarded and treated as personal data.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things  

“Transparency is key: those who offer internet of things devices should be clear about what data they collect, for what purposes and how long this data is retained. When purchasing an internet of things device or application, proper, sufficient and understandable information should be provided.”  Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
4: EVOLVING ECOSYSTEM

Global Protocols

Be Trustworthy and Reliable Actors in the Bigger Ecosystem  

Guiding Documents

“More than ten speakers commented on the need for applications of IoT+Big Data+AI to be trusted and “trustworthy” (and how many different steps are needed to foster trust). These include protecting privacy and personal data, enhancing cybersecurity, being transparent about problems, respecting human rights, giving users alternatives if they find one service or application unsatisfactory, “design for safety,” and “design for diversity.”    Internet Governance Forum, IGF Best Practice Forum on Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

“It is a joint responsibility of all actors in society so that the trust in connected systems can be maintained. They should eliminate the out-of-context surprises for customers. “ Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

“IoT devices will have the biggest societal impact where they are used together in larger, inter‐connected, systems. At the macro‐level, two of the areas of greatest IoT development and investment are smart cities – where infrastructure and building systems will improve the efficiency and sustainability of a whole range of urban activities – and smart power and water grids.” Regulation And The Internet of Things, GSR Discussion Paper, ITU

5: PUBLIC GOOD

Global Protocols

Use The IoT to Improve Society For All  

Guiding Documents

“The emerging IoT paradigm has the potential to create an efficient, effective and secure ecosystem taking advantage of connected devices for managing the major global challenges faced by this, and future generations.”   Internet of Things Declaration to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

“Connecting up devices or robots (whether they are bridges, fridges or widgets) is only a means to an end — the really interesting part arises in terms of what can be done with the data obtained, and the learning outcomes for improving our future.”  Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development by ITU and Cisco as a A CONTRIBUTION TO THE UN BROADBAND COMMISSION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

IoT technologies could make an important contribution to global challenges such as improving public health and quality of life, moderating carbon emissions, and increasing the efficiency of a range of industries across developed and developing economies.” Regulation And The Internet of Things, GSR Discussion Paper, ITU

The IoT is increasingly thinking and evolving in organic ways. To harness its potential for enhancing human life and furthering the public good, and to diminish its potential for systematizing harm, we need to accept the challenge to do the ethical thinking now.

Looking at the Ethics of IoT through different perspectives one at a time, we will never be able to respond quickly enough to the ethical issues generated by its rapid evolution. We can choose, instead, to see the dimensions of the ethical picture as a whole. That broad picture will help us more easily predict where problems will happen in the future and create ethical solutions. It will assist us in global discussions about protocols, processes and laws.

Many organizations are working together to define AI ethics to ensure that it contributes to overall human well-being.  The IoT can transform HUMANITY, evolving into a powerful ECOSYSTEM that advances the global ECONOMY and enables and supports the PUBLIC GOOD. These desired results will need to be achieved with a keen awareness of the ethical issues and a relentless commitment to ethical thinking and choices. For advances in technology to improve our lives they must be matched with corresponding rapid advances in ethical design. Only then will the results be positive and lasting.

Contributors:

Gerald Santucci and Rob van Kranenburg served as reviewers and contributed substantial feedback that helped shape this paper’s coherence and usefulness.

About the Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is an author and leader in the field of ethical thinking and leadership. She helps executives, leaders and groups learn how to lead using the 7-dimensional model described in her book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. Linda is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Applied Ethics and Global Leadership for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is www.LeadinginContext.com.

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