Respect, Interpreted Part 2

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

Requiring Respectful Behavior:

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

Resources:

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

Reflections on Respecting Differences

Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

Leaders: What is Missing in Convenient Actions? Values

3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership in the New Year

Stopping Disrespectful Behavior

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

Resources:

Yes, Leaders, Behavior Matters

Building Trust: What to Weed Out

40 Ethical Culture Gaps to Avoid

Just Say No to Ten Behaviors That Kill Competence

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

5 Ways CEOs Can Build an Ethical Culture

Leaders are Culture Caretakers: 10 Actions For Success

5 Signs Your Culture is Failing

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

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Respect, Interpreted Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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Ground Rules for Talking About Controversial Topics

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

CHARACTER

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

TEMPERAMENT

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

JUDGMENT

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

INCLUSION

  • Consider all humans equally important with equal rights

CARE

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

CONSTITUENT – AWARENESS

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

LONG-TERM IMPACT

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

EXPLORING MULTIPLE VARIABLES

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

USING A SYSTEMS APPROACH

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

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

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3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership In The New Year

 

1. Assess Your Ethics

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

2. Pick an Area To Dust Off

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

3. Learn Deeply, Sweeping Away Outdated Thinking

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

Be Alert For These Possible Side Effects

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

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

Get started now!

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Top Post Series of 2018: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

“Leaders are ethical brand value ambassadors.”

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

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

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

 

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Systems Thinking: Using the 5 Whys

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

Using the 5 Whys

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

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

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

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

How To Use This Technique

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

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

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Top 10 Posts 2018: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

29 Flawed Assumptions About Leadership

70 Trends to Watch in 2019

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

Lead With Questions, Not Answers

22 Resources For Developing Ethical Thinking

Seeing the Nuances of Ethical Leadership (A Developmental Model)

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking (Guest Post)

TAP Into Trust With These 12 Principles

50 Trends to Follow in 2018

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

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

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

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Human Rights: 70 Years

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I had the privilege of hearing best-selling author Blanche Wiesen Cook speak at The University of Richmond last night. Her topic was “Toward an Inclusive Democracy: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Legacy.”  Cook has spent many years researching and writing about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and journey. During the inspiring talk, Cook noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt championed, is turning 70 this month.

Now is the perfect time to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt’s human rights journey and the Universal Declaration she championed. It is timely for us to reflect now on how far we have left to go on the journey toward honoring the rights and dignity of every human who resides in our global village. 

Cook shared Eleanor Roosevelt’s sage advice to “BE BOLD” and “Talk to one another when we disagree.” That advice will  serve us well as we work to overcome differences and uphold ethical values. Why is this 70 year human rights journey so important now? The baton has been passed to us, and we must run the next lap. 

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Ethical Thinking is Intentional, Thoughtful and Applied

By Linda Fisher Thornton

One of the things we know about ethical decision-making is that we need to take the time to do it. But if we fill up every minute of the day with meetings, deadlines, emails and projects, when will we have time to think about the impact of our choices? 

How will we consider our decisions in terms of ethical values if we don’t take time to consider our decisions at all?

Rushing to a decision in response to perceived external pressures is a good way to make an ethical mistake. The thinking that leads to ethical choices is intentional, thoughtful and applied.

Intentional and Thoughtful

Some people tend to trust their “gut” and make very quick decisions that turn into highly visible ethical failures. Listening to our “gut” has a place in ethical decision-making but it has to be balanced with a more intentional way of thinking about our choices. If we instantly assess the situation based on our very human implicit biases (we all have them), we are not likely to make a fair and ethical choice.

We have to intentionally overcome those flaws in our thinking to make moral choices. Once we decide to use ethical thinking, we need to take the time to dig into grey areas and explore the potential long-term ethical impact of the different paths we could take. 

Applied

How do we tap into our “ethical brain?” According to Professor Joshua Greene, there is no specific place in our brains that is “moral.” He points out in The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective that “It’s now clear that the ‘moral brain’ is, more or less, the whole brain, applying its computational powers to problems that we, on nonneuroscientific grounds, identify as ‘moral.'”

As we practice resolving dilemmas we find ethics to be less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process.   — Rushworth Kidder

There is no automatic setting or magic technique for ethical thinking. It is a thoughtful process. We have to apply ourselves – to  understand issues, explore their ethical implications, and choose a moral path. Watch for leaders and organizations who are embracing this process and reaping the benefits through improved ethical brand value. 

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Ethical Thinking Requires Dialogue

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership requires us to understand the context and embrace the natural complexity of issues. One of the pieces that we can’t be successful without is learning from the widely varying perspectives of others.

“Kohlberg believed, as did Piaget, that most moral development occurs through social interaction.”

Robert N. Barger, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, A SUMMARY OF LAWRENCE KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

Thinking in a vacuum without considering the needs of others we may forget important elements of the decision-making process. Have you heard the expression “There’s no ‘I’ in team?” Maybe there’s also (metaphorically) no ‘I’ in ethical thinking when we need to understand complex issues.

In highly complex situations we need to listen to and learn from each other to get ethics right.

One person will be the most knowledgeable about laws governing our work, another will understand the trends and consumer expectations, yet another will ask hard questions to make sure we consider our constituents’ needs. Dealing with particularly complex issues demands an inclusive thinking process. Without any one of these important voices we may lose our way.

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MindTools Expert Interview Podcast With Linda Fisher Thornton

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Happy #GlobalEthicsDay2018! I recently did an interview with Rachel Salaman for the MindTools Expert Interview Podcast.  We had a lively conversation about ethical leadership and how to leverage the concepts from my book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership

Click on the graphic below to read the MindTools blog post by Rachel Salaman and listen to an excerpt from the podcast. In the excerpt, I walk you through a typical business problem using the 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility to show the power of this 7-dimensional model for revealing ethical issues and nuances. 

 

 

 

 

Now it’s your turn. Apply the 7 Lenses to one of your daily challenges to see if it’s a game changer for you. Use this overview of the model to guide you. Feel free to share what you learned. Follow @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses  to make ethical insights part of your daily learning journey. 

It’s Global Ethics Day and we can create better workplaces and a better future. Let’s get started. 

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The Mind Must Move

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We know that to stay healthy, we have to move. Many of us wear wrist bands that track the number of steps we take daily to make sure we “stay in the healthy zone.” I have been increasing my steps each year, and have enjoyed more energy and a sense of improved well-being. While we can easily track our physical steps, our mental steps are more elusive. Our thinking process is deeply connected to our physical systems and grounded in our personal experiences. Just as we may tend toward physical inertia (binge watching Netflix on the coach), we may also tend toward mental inertia. Change is hard, and the comfort zone is as compelling as the couch as a place to stay and rest.

When we don’t move, our bodies deteriorate

 Evelyn O’Neill, manager of outpatient exercise programs at the Harvard-affiliated Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, says “Lack of movement is perhaps more to blame than anything for a host of health problems.” (quoted by Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men’s Health Watch in “Move more every day to combat a sedentary lifestyle”)

When we don’t move our minds, our minds deteriorate too. 

We’ve probably all met people who haven’t updated their thinking in 40 years. It seems as if they live in a different world from the one we live in today. If we stop learning and updating our thinking, we quickly fall out of step with social norms and expectations. Being out step means we make ethical mistakes without even knowing it. This post by Ethical Systems describes the difficulty we have in changing our minds, especially when we are around our peer group.

It seems to me that a sedentary mind is even more worrisome than a sedentary body. A sendentary body will deteriorate within itself, but a sedentary mind (blind to changing societal expectations and values) may make decisions that harm others, on an individual or global scale.

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Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

There will always be grey areas that aren’t covered by the ethics code. In grey areas, leaders “paint the boundary” of ethical choices others will make by how they navigate the ethical complexity when the boundaries are not clear.

Part 3 of this series Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us includes cases to get you talking about interpersonal grey areas, and related articles for learning.

Starting the Conversation 

Talking About What Matters (Part 3)

Case Study: Is Withholding Information From Other Leaders Unethical?

Case Study: Think Before You Blame (The Culture May Be The Cause)

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior Graphic

Navigating Grey Areas

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

What is Meaningful Leadership Part 4

Articles About Ethical Values As a Guidance System

Ethical Leadership: Complexity, Context and Adaptation

22 Resources For Developing Ethical Thinking

Use these resources to talk NOW about how ethical grey areas will be handled, before there’s a crisis. Once you decide how to decide, it is easier to handle grey areas when they appear.

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Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is an updated version of a reader favorite. 

There Will Always Be Grey Areas

There will always be ethical grey areas.  We see plenty of information about lying, cheating, stealing and other obvious ethical violations. It is more difficult to know what to do when we encounter behaviors that fall into ethical grey areas, particularly in term of relationships with other people. Grey areas are difficult for anyone to handle but leaders bear the additional weight of needing to set the tone for the organization. Each decision impacts the ethics of the organization.

How We Handle Grey Areas “Teaches” Others (Whether Our Decisions Are Good or Bad)

If we are in leadership, we set the tone for what we want employees to do by what we do. That includes what we do about easy ethical problems (with clear right and wrong choices) and tough ethical problems (with no obvious right choices).

When we make good decisions, people watch what we do and also learn how to do that. If we make bad decisions, we teach others how to make bad decisions and those bad decisions can spread quickly throughout the organization.

How We Handle Grey Areas Paints a Border That Outlines Our Ethics

Sometimes “doing nothing” is an unethical choice. If we allow people to sabotage each other to win rewards, and withhold information from one another to appear more powerful, we are creating a culture that endorses negative interpersonal behaviors. We are “teaching” people that the organization values competition above collaboration and that “anything goes” to get the win.

If we “permit” sabotage and withholding information by not noticing and/or not addressing them, are we also endorsing more negative behaviors that people may see as similar, like bullying and employee harassment? We may be unintentionally sending the message that we allow even more negative behaviors in a broader context – Are we also endorsing withholding information from customers and other important stakeholders? What about regulators? If we allow people to withhold information at one level, are we unintentionally saying that withholding information is okay anytime, at any level?

How we handle the grey areas in how people treat each other paints a border that becomes the outline of our company’s ethics.

Ignoring Negative Behaviors Allows Them to Flourish

When it comes to organizational culture, not knowing is not a defense. When we ignore negative interpersonal behaviors, we send a powerful message across the company to ‘do more of that’!  If we use negative interpersonal behaviors or simply look the other way when we see negative behaviors, employees will too.

Negative behaviors that we choose to ignore don’t typically go away – they multiply when we fail to act because the behaviors are then assumed to be “accepted by leadership.” As leaders we need to walk around, to notice what’s going on, to create high-trust workplaces, to provide opportunities for meaningful communication, to ask people what’s getting in the way of their success, to talk about ethical behavior and to remove barriers to effective ethical performance.

People will follow our lead. When we ignore negative behaviors, we are saying that we accept those negative behaviors.

Work Through Grey Areas Openly – Retain the Ability to Paint the Ethical Border

As leaders, we need to regularly discuss the grey areas in what it means to behave ethically. This lets us help employees define ethical behavior clearly and provide input into the choices they make to be sure that they meet the expectations of the company.  As we learn more as a society about the impact of our choices and our behavior on others, there will continue to be more grey areas where employees will need guidance.

People can usually see ethical grey areas but they may be hesitant to ask for help. By keeping the conversation open and actively addressing grey areas, we retain the ability to define the ethical border. If we don’t talk about it, people will define that border on their own and may draw it outside of the company’s stated ethics codes and values.

Don’t take that chance. Ask employees which ethical issues they want to talk about.

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The Future of Education: Ethical Literacy For Handling Global Complexity

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We are not preparing students for success in the world where they will have to live and work. Some of the ways we currently think about “teaching” need to be scrapped and replaced.

It will be increasingly important that teachers and other learning guides dig into complexity in order to help prepare students who need to handle increasing complexity in their lives and work. A focus on ‘knowing’ must be replaced with a focus on ‘how to think, problem solve and successfully navigate global complexity using ethical values’.

The risk in not quickly making the change to a much more current and engaging way of preparing learners is that every outdated textbook used by schools to save money will contain at best inaccurate information and at worst morally offensive content. Every smart phone will have access to more current and relevant information than is being taught in the classroom. 

Understanding The Challenge, Visualizing the Future

Students need to be able to think successfully at high levels of complexity in order to be effective workers, leaders and problem-solvers. Memorization of facts will definitely not help them be ready. In the old way of thinking, the more people are “taught,” the more they “know.” This thinking does not work because it ignores the important variables of motivation, relevance, learner engagement and the need to improve thinking capability. It ignores the importance of basing choices on ethical values, and focuses only on historical context. 

Learning has become highly self-directed and traditional approaches to teaching (“telling,” “sharing knowledge” and “testing knowledge”) do not support learner success in a complex global context. 

For example, does knowing the complete history of politics prepare learners to handle the current divisive political arena? No, but learning how to think about and act on ethical values will. Does knowing how to write catchy headlines that sell prepare learners for rapidly increasing expectations about appropriate social media posts? No, but learning how to think about and act on ethical values will. 

“Learning Future” Includes

  • A higher level of complexity in thinking (exploring shades of grey, not “right” and “wrong” answers with an answer key)
  • Technology-enabled, just-in-time, user-friendly learning
  • More individualized feedback based on skills needed for future job success 
  • More practicing and evaluating individual and group problem-solving
  • Less memorizing and testing facts (which are easily accessed)
  • More practice time spent learning how to think and act responsibly in the world
  • More awareness of how we fit into the global community
  • More engaging, self-directed work and less homework

A New Role for Leaders in Education

Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals and leaders. Employers are not easily impressed by book knowledge – they want to know what you can do, for them, in their context, accurately, at high speed, while avoiding ethical mistakes. Adapting to this high employer expectation will turn our current public education practices upside down. 

Ethical literacy is more important than memorization and good test scores. It will define the success of tomorrow’s leaders. We need to make it our top education priority. To respond rapidly to changes in the skills and abilities they will need for tomorrow’s jobs, school administrators will need to adapt quickly to new leadership and learning research and engage everyone in making the change. Only then will we prepare students for success in an exciting, forward-thinking and competitive global arena.  

Masters of Complexity: Leading Effectively in Public Education will help leaders visualize challenges and opportunities for change and decide where to start. 

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