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

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

5 Reasons Ethical Culture Doesn’t Just Happen

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

Leaders Are Culture Caretakers: 10 Actions For Success

5 Signs Your Culture is Failing

40 Ethical Culture Gaps to Avoid

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

7 Questions For Ethical Culture Building

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership

How to Build an Ethical Culture

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

 

 

 

 

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Thinking Beyond Polarities To Both/And Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

Polarity Thinking Risks and Limitations

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

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

Moving Beyond Polarities

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

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

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

Links and Resources

Are You Facing a Problem ? Or a Polarity? CCL

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

Polarity Resource Portal, Polarity Partnerships

The Power of Polarity Thinking in Leadership, Margaret Seidler

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

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

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

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the lifelong learning journey to ethical leadership… 

The Leading in Context Blog Index

 

 

 

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Respect, Interpreted Part 2

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

Requiring Respectful Behavior:

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

Resources:

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

Reflections on Respecting Differences

Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

Leaders: What is Missing in Convenient Actions? Values

3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership in the New Year

Stopping Disrespectful Behavior

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

Resources:

Yes, Leaders, Behavior Matters

Building Trust: What to Weed Out

40 Ethical Culture Gaps to Avoid

Just Say No to Ten Behaviors That Kill Competence

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

5 Ways CEOs Can Build an Ethical Culture

Leaders are Culture Caretakers: 10 Actions For Success

5 Signs Your Culture is Failing

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

 

 

 

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Respect, Interpreted Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Ground Rules for Talking About Controversial Topics

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

CHARACTER

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

TEMPERAMENT

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

JUDGMENT

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

INCLUSION

  • Consider all humans equally important with equal rights

CARE

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

CONSTITUENT – AWARENESS

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

LONG-TERM IMPACT

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

EXPLORING MULTIPLE VARIABLES

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

USING A SYSTEMS APPROACH

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

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

 

 

 

 

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3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

3 Steps For Dusting Off Your Leadership In The New Year

 

1. Assess Your Ethics

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

2. Pick an Area To Dust Off

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

3. Learn Deeply, Sweeping Away Outdated Thinking

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

Be Alert For These Possible Side Effects

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

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

Get started now!

 

 

 

 

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Top Post Series of 2018: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

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

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

“Leaders are ethical brand value ambassadors.”

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

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

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

 

 

 

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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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