5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is the first in a Series exploring 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. It is being published in recognition of IoT Day on April 9th.

Introducing 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership

The Internet of Things (IoT) can enhance people’s lives in many new ways, and because of its enormous scale, it will alter our global economy and the way we do business. Unlike the software design projects of the past, working in the IoT takes us into completely uncharted ethical territory. While we are in the process of trying to understand the global challenges and opportunities that the IoT represents, we are using varying definitions of “ethics” and see our responsibilities in ways that vary from simply following laws to harnessing the power of the IoT to serve humanity and the public good.  

The IoT is Connected, Intelligent and Entering Unknown Territory

“A world where everything is connected, and everything is intelligent—that’s where IoT is heading.” Life, the Universe, and The Internet of Things, UMass Amherst, Electrical and Computer Engineering

“The IoT is advancing exponentially. Some even say we’re in the “knee of the curve,” which is the point where advancement happens so rapidly that its potential uses are beyond the reach of speculation.” Atlantic BT, 3 Threats and 3 Benefits of the Internet of Things

While it would be convenient to consider only the financial and legal implications of the IoT, that would not be a sufficient response, since the Iot will potentially directly impact every man, woman and child on the planet. It is an ecosystem-level challenge, and ecosystem-level problems require ecosystem-level thinking and solutions.

Whether serving the public good will become an achievable outcome of the IoT or not depends on the future we imagine and create. Will the IoT just extend the domain where greed and profit dominate, or will it become a space for outstanding ethical innovation and ethical brand value creation? I believe that the latter is possible if responsible actors in the IoT space recognize and seize the opportunity to use their collective design power to imagine and create a better, more connected world.

This paper makes the case for thinking holistically about the ethics of the IoT in ways that will help us find workable solutions for a complex, evolving globally-connected ecosystem of people and things. It proposes a spectrum of 5 important dimensions of the Ethics of IoT that are advocated by leaders in the field and cannot be ignored. Rather than looking at one area of ethical concern at a time, this paper proposes that we think about ethics in a multidimensional way to get a broader view. It is hoped that this holistic definition of the Ethics of IoT will help us collaborate on the various dimensions of responsibility using common terminology, reducing the chances that differences in our global interpretation of ethical action will derail our progress.

The five ethical dimensions explored in this paper are adapted from the 7-dimensional model in my book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.  “Ethics” as applied to The IoT will be broadly defined as: ethical design; legal compliance; protecting human life, rights, quality of life and privacy; being an ethical contributor to the broader IoT Ecosystem; and supporting the public good (designing for safety, well-being and a better life for future generations). We” as applied here will be defined as responsible actors in the IoT space who want to create a better future through ethical design and implementation. A multidimensional approach to the Ethics of IoT is urgently needed if we are to generate a best-case scenario – the infinite possibilities of the IoT combined with high level ethical awareness, concern and action, resulting in a highly functioning system with a positive impact.

Balancing the Promise and the Peril of the IoT
 
“Understanding how to balance the promise of IoT connected devices with potential security challenges will continue to be a mega-trend in the years to come.” Christy Pettey, The IoT Effect: Opportunities and Challenges, Gartner

Improving Ethical Foresight

The power of the IoT lies in the ability to create new technologies that improve people’s lives. Because the IoT is globally connected and based on human-enabled interface, creating those new technologies must be approached thoughtfully. While considering the market potential and creating innovative products, we must also carefully consider the ethical implications.

The IoT Is Vulnerable to Misuse

“I like to think of it as putting the internet where it doesn’t normally belong.”  Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU

 “(A bill was) proposed last February to address security issues with IoT-connected cars. One of the senators who drafted the bill, Sen. Ed Markey stated, “We need the electronic equivalent of seat belts and airbags to keep drivers and their information safe in the 21st century.” Kate Smith, All About Circuits, IoT Security: Risks and Realities

“Embedded devices are often designed to be plugged in and forgotten after a very basic setup process…As a result, any compromise or infection of such devices may go unnoticed by the owner and this presents a unique lure for the remote attackers.”  Symantec, IoT devices being increasingly used for DDoS attacks

Francine Berman (a computer-science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and longtime expert on computer infrastructure) asks the burning ethical questions about the Internet of Things, “Who’s responsible and who’s accountable, what does it mean to be ethical, and what does it mean to promote the public good? (Kaveh Waddell, The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics, The Atlantic)” Part of the difficulty in answering these questions lies in the complexity of the IoT. It is ever-evolving and expanding, its growth driven by innovators and designers who are not all “working together” in any formal way.

Rob van Kranenburg, founder of the IoT Council, points out that the “IoT is also questioning the nature of security, privacy and safety, and the definition of these terms becomes plural: privacies, securities, safeties as the situation is no longer ported to only individual human identities but to communities of capabilities and resources” and requires defining “what is ‘ethical’ related to those communities.”

We know that the financial potential of the IoT is immense. The challenge is learning how to harness that potential by understanding the needs and expectations of consumers; ensuring that we are designing and developing responsible products that improve people’s lives; and using ethical foresight to anticipate and reduce the risk of negative outcomes. As part of every action and decision, we must anticipate the future doors we may be opening to an ethical pandora’s box.

This is Part 1 of a paper that is being shared as a weekly blog series. Part 2 will explore the 2nd of 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership.

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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Ignoring Toxic Leadership is Not Worth the Tradeoffs

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Toxic behavior is a problem in organizations across industries and it’s often ignored. Organizations that delay dealing with toxic behavior, though, will find that it spreads and erodes the integrity of an ethical culture.

Toxic behavior may be “allowed” to flourish because an employee or manager is a “top performer” in other aspects of the job. This is a dangerous bargain for organizations to make. By allowing the toxic behavior to continue unchecked, they keep the perpetrator’s top sales results, but the fallout is not worth it. Factoring in the negative impact on trust, the reduction in the quality of work-life for employees and colleagues, and the erosion of the importance of values in the organization, it’s a losing proposition.

If we SAY in our values that we demonstrate RESPECT and then we allow disrespectful behaviors, we are sending the message that respect is not really required. Since toxic behaviors destroy trust, customers and employees who expect to be treated better often leave to find a safer place to invest their money, time and talents.

The problem worsens if entry-level employees are handled differently from top leaders. If you coach a toxic front-line employee before taking performance action that may include termination, but you allow a leader to continue unchecked, you are applying a power dynamic that can make employees feel powerless and victimized.

What are employees thinking when the leader who is verbally assaulting them is keeping the job, not being coached, and getting bonuses and promotions? They are thinking that the company has a different standard for leaders than the standards it applies to employees.

A double standard not only lacks integrity, but also tells employees, customers and colleagues of the toxic leader “we don’t care about your well-being.” Our constituents have choices, and they will exercise them if they are not treated well. When was the last time you went back to a store where someone was repeatedly rude to you? The bottom line is that organizations can’t afford the fallout from sending a “we don’t care about your well-being” message to the employees, customers or colleagues of a toxic leader.

Resources For Learning:

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership

Can a Toxic Leader Be Ethical? Yes and No.

Unethical Leadership: Selective Respect

Every Decision Changes the Ethical Culture Equation

Take Positive Action When You See Unethical Leadership

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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

 

Are We Focusing on Employee Engagement Metrics (And Missing the Point)?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Employee engagement is a metric that companies are closely watching. Using surveys, levels of participation in programs, and satisfaction reports, companies measure how well they engage those they lead. Butcould this heightened level of watching be part of the problem?

Gallup’s article “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis” explains that “when companies focus exclusively on measuring engagement rather than on improving engagement, they often fail to make necessary changes that will engage employees or meet employees’ workplace needs.”

As companies move to real-time employee engagement dashboards, there is a lot of data to look at, and it changes daily. Have we become fascinated by the data, and not the level of engagement of employees? When we make a change and engagement goes up, it is easy to assume that the change caused the improvement, but organizational cultures don’t operate by cause-and-effect because they are complex systems. Many other things could have changed engagement besides that “one new program or policy” that we (the measurers) are thinking about at the moment. 

“Studies have shown that committed and engaged employees who trust their leaders perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, and that high-trust organizations experience 50 percent less turnover than low-trust organizations.”

Drea Zigarmi and Randy Conley, Focus on Employee Work Passion, Not Employee Work Engagement, Workforce.com

Taking a high level view, what “moves the needle” on engagement is really systemic changes in the culture, trust building and improving performance management. Since those connected systems are harder to get right every day than program and policy changes, they are sometimes overlooked for small changes that seem like “easy wins.”

According to Paul J. Zak in HBR’s The Neuroscience of Trust, some of the changes that really matter in employee engagement include job crafting, working together to make progress on goals, having discretion at work, information sharing, leader vulnerability and facilitating whole-person growth.

“Today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion than career ambition (12 percent vs. 5 percent), indicating a need for leadership to focus on making the work environment compelling and enjoyable for everyone.”

Brown, Melian, Solow, Chheng & Parker, The Naked Organization, Deloitte Insights

While measuring employee engagement is important, in the end the metrics are not the point. The ultimate goal is to create compelling workplaces where people flourish and grow, supported by highly competent ethical leaders.  These ethics-rich cultures generate high levels of trust (through authentic leadership, respect and care) and attract and retain talented people who want to make a difference.

The most engaging leaders can simultaneously meet organizational goals, enrich employee’s lives and meet the needs of multiple constituents using a careful balancing act based on mutual benefit. 

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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

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