Ethical Thinking: 5 Questions to Ask in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each year I raise questions that help leaders stay current as ethical expectations change. Here are 5 new questions to tackle as we head into a New Year. 

  1. Where are our areas of strength and our gaps in adapting to increasing ethical expectations?
  2. What will we do to close the gaps we’ve identified within the next 3 months?
  3. What evidence will we look for to prove that we have closed the gaps?
  4. How will we make this a regular conversation so that we can avoid gaps in the future?
  5. How will we help others answer these important questions?

Expecting ethical challenges is easy. Preparing to handle them well is more difficult. Schedule time to work through these difficult questions with your teams as we head into the New Year. 

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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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The Seductive Power of the Status Quo

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why do we have such a powerful negative reaction when we find out that we need to change? The status quo literally has a grip on us.

“Bearing in mind our natural propensity for the status quo will enable us to recognize the allure of inertia and more effectively overcome it.”

Rob Henderson, How Powerful is Status Quo Bias, Psychology Today

According to Sue Langley, at the Langley Group, “It takes more effort to think about and do something new than react out of instinct or habit.” Fortunately, she adds, “willpower, focused attention and mindful action can be used to push through resistance and rewire habitual patterns.” (The Neuroscience of Change, Langley Group)

Being aware of the brain’s tendency to want to keep things the same is important in terms of ethical decision making. What could we be missing? 

  • Does that change we’ve been putting off put us at risk of failing to keep up with changing ethical expectations? 
  • Is our discomfort with change causing us to make decisions that harm individuals or groups?
  • Are we thinking short term because it is more familiar, when a long-term perspective is really needed?

It will take an intentional effort to overcome the seductive power of the status quo. Take charge of the decision-making process and use ethical values to make ethical choices. 

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 1

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 2

Ready To Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 3

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 4

Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us (Part 2)

 

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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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5 Things I Learned From a 6th Grade Bully

By Linda Fisher Thornton

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Most of the people I know were bullied at some point in their lives. As I look back on dealing with a 6th grade bully, I realize that I learned some things from that difficult time. Today I share that story along with resources for bullying prevention. 

My bully repeatedly taunted me. My bully was bigger and taller than I was. My bully was mean. My bully was always there and always looking for a fight. 

I took the “ignore and walk away” approach for a very long time and that only seemed to escalate the bullying. Then an “incident” happened on the playground. On this memorable day she was particularly agitated and lunged at me. The worst case scenario I had feared was actually happening. I stood as tall as I could, closed my eyes and put both hands out in front of me signaling and forcefully yelling “STOP!” She was so startled she lost her balance and sat down hard on the blacktop, and her glasses flew off and broke. 

We were both called to the principal’s office. This was the first time I had ever potentially been “in trouble” and I was sure she had told the principal that I had hit her and broken her glasses, but that wasn’t the truth. I took a deep breath. I thought about the many times I had had positive interactions with the principal. I somehow found the courage to speak. I told him the truth about what happened that day and all the days before when she had bullied me and I was believed. Here are some of the things I now realize looking back on that experience: 

  1. Reputation is everything – when you are trustworthy and honest every day, people will believe you when you most need them to. 
  2. Trust is cumulative – it takes many months and years to build a high trust relationship, but that high trust relationship will help you get through even the most challenging circumstances with grace. 
  3. Aggression and violence don’t solve problems – lashing out at others may seem like a solution, but it isn’t a healthy one. Aggression and violence make problems worse.
  4. Bullies are often hurting inside – it’s easy to forget that bullies may be victims themselves.
  5. Leaders need to create a safe space – with active prevention where bullying is noticed and quickly stopped. 

I still remember that bully’s name, though I won’t share it here. Bullying and other forms of intimidation have lasting effects. We need to do much more to prevent them in our schools and workplaces. We need to be talking about appropriate boundaries of behavior in clear terms

Bullying is damaging by itself but we also need to realize that “bullies are more likely than others to engage in violent criminal behavior” (bullyingstatistics.org). We need a prevention strategy, not just a crisis response strategy. We need to stop negative interpersonal behaviors before they escalate. 

Resources

BBC Capital, Taking on a Workplace Bully by Chana R Schoenberger

UNESCO School Violence and Bullying: Global Report 

https://www.stopbullying.gov/

UNESCO: Let’s Decide How to Measure School Violence

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7 Lenses is now in its 2nd Printing. Find out why. 

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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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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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Where Ethics Should Be

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We need to be talking about where ethics should be… how and where it fits into real life. Too many leaders and organizations have crossed ethical boundaries and that seems to be all we’re seeing in the news headlines.

Starting the Conversation

When ethics is central to our decisions and actions, we are more likely to make good choices. To make that happen, we need to be talking about where ethics should be in a leader’s day to day schedule and an organization’s infrastructure.

  • How should ethics factor into an organization’s strategic plans?
  • How can we emphasize it in performance feedback and rewards?
  • Where should it be in monitoring and reporting?

If we aren’t having these conversations, we may have gaps in how we’re handling ethical prevention that can result in unexpected high visibility mistakes.

Places Where Ethics Should Be 

Organizations that tap into the power of ethical brand value and actively seek to prevent problems do more than talk about where ethics should be. They live it by making it central to their operations.

Here are some important conversation starters about where ethics should be in your thinking, your schedule and your goals and plans for the future:

Beyond the Shelf (not just in codes and manuals)

Plans and Strategy

People Management

Company Values 

Executive and Leader Development

Top of Mind (not afterthought or damage control)

Rewards and Promotions

Employee Hiring

Leader Expectations

C-Suite Behavior and Actions

Bringing ethics to life in an organization requires a systemic approach and powerful ongoing conversations. Where else do you think ethics should be in day-to-day leadership?

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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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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Meaningful Leadership? Making a Difference By Building a Better Society For the Future

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. In Part 2 we explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. In Part 3 we looked at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on relational ROI. In Part 4, we examined how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. In Part 5 we’ll take a look at how meaningful leadership makes a difference by building a better society for the future. 

Meaningful leadership sees the world in terms of building a better future together. The important focus on together requires not drawing lines around “better” or “worse” people or creating “in” and “out” groups.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

— Desmond Tutu

Meaningful leadership invests in building a better future together. That means making hard decisions today that will get us closer to a peaceful, safe society that works for everyone. In order to make this commitment, meaningful leadership requires being able to imagine such a future.

“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”

— Queen Elizabeth II

Beyond imagining a better future, meaningful leadership requires actualizing it. That means making choices every day that show commitment to collective well-being on a global scale.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Is My Leadership Meaningful? 

Meaningful leadership cannot be accomplished by talking about meaning. It must go much deeper than that. Evaluate how your leadership measures up by exploring these three questions:

If others carry on the work I have started into the future, what will be the net effect of my leadership in each of the areas of meaningful leadership below?

Meaningful Leadership Means:

  • Making a difference by creating positive work settings that invite meaningful work
  • Taking the difficult journey to becoming an authentic leader
  • Inviting difficult conversations about how to live out ethical values in difficult situations
  • Placing a high priority of positive interpersonal behavior that brings out people’s best
  • Excavating the layers of meaning and truth in complex issues using ethical values
  • Imagining a better future, in a peaceful, safe society that works for everyone
  • Helping to build that better future together, on a local, national and global scale

How closely is my leadership aligned with building a better future together?

What could I do to improve, starting today, in at least one area on that list?

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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Meaningful Leadership? Seeking the Truth & Excavating Grey Areas Using Ethical Values

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. In Part 2 we explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. In Part 3 we looked at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on collective success. In Part 4, we’ll examine how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. 

Meaningful leadership searches for the truth in a complex world. This requires seeing the nuances and moving beyond oversimplified either/or choices. It means investing time and effort in peeling away the irrelevant and the inaccurate to get to the heart of issues.

“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Meaningful leadership requires being willing to live in disequilibrium, without having all the answers.

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

— Socrates

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Meaningful leadership makes a lifetime commitment to learning and competence.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

— Albert Einstein

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

— Viktor E. Frankl

Meaningful leadership sees complex issues from multiple perspectives, including the important perspective of what is best in terms of ethical values. Failing to see issues in terms of ethical values means abandoning the guidance system of human civilization.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

— Marcel Proust

Meaningful leadership uses ethical values to understand difficult issues, digging into intent and impact and revealing the best choices for multiple stakeholders.

Meaningful leadership requires working through discomfort but it is worth the effort. Ask yourself:

  1. How carefully do I excavate complex issues before I make a decision or take a side?  
  2. How consistently do I use ethical values as the basis for excavating the grey areas?
  3. What could I do with my teams to help us all get better at basing our thinking process on ethical values?


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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. In Part 2 we explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. In Part 3 we’ll look at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on collective success.

What is Meaningful Leadership? Real Conversations and Relational ROI

Powerful conversations get to the deeper recesses of issues that concern people and interfere with individual and collective success.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

— Maya Angelou

Meaningful leadership is relational, and leaders who are good at it think in terms of a sort of relational ROI.

“I believe that the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.”

— Adam Grant

Leaders who are clearly committed to relational ROI balance out tasks and people and show that they understand that leadership is not all about them.

“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.”

—  Thomas Merton

When leaders are willing to, in the words of Maya Angelou, infuse conversations with deeper meaning, people feel more connected to their work and their teams.

When leaders place a priority on interpersonal awareness and positive interactions with others, people find a safe space to make a meaningful contribution.

Meaningful leadership doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations that meet an important human need to find meaning. Ask yourself:

  1. How open am I to talking about whatever difficult work-related topic people want to discuss?  
  2. How willingly do I dig into the details of what it means to live out our values, even when those values seem to conflict?
  3. What steps can I take to be more accessible, more open and more responsive to the human need for meaningful communication?

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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is meaningful leadership? In Part 1 we explored how leaders create meaningful work settings so others can excel. In Part 2, we look at a leader’s own quest for authenticity as a factor in meaningful leadership.

What is Meaningful Leadership? A Quest For Authenticity

Meaningful leadership is focused on authenticity, not just acquisition. That requires seeing beyond just portfolio growth to human growth. It means learning to see how the two are connected.

Authenticity means being aware of our own strengths and limitations and striving to be our best selves every day.

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

— Thomas Merton

Stepping away from the ego moves a leader into the territory of authenticity, a more objective place from which to lead. Authenticity includes being secure enough in ourselves to be open, honest and vulnerable with others. It helps us pay more attention to the well-being of others and not just ourselves.

 “It’s hard to practice compassion when we’re struggling with our authenticity or when our own worthiness is off-balance.”

— Brene Brown

In business, authentic leadership translates into authentic value creation, not just income generation.

“At its core, all authentic growth depends on more customers wanting more of what your company offers. Any other drivers – pricing gimmicks, heroic marketing efforts, forced acquisitions – are ultimately destructive.

— Patrick Lencioni

Meaningful leadership requires a commitment to self-awareness, growth and authenticity. Ask yourself:

  1. How clear is it to those I lead that I am committed to reaching for the highest levels of leadership capability?  
  2. How authentic am I with others on a day-to-day basis, realizing that authenticity includes being humble, respectful and compassionate with others?
  3. Who do I know who is a good role model for authentic leadership that I can learn from?

 

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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In this 5-part “What is Meaningful Leadership?” series, we’ll look at 5 different aspects of meaningful leadership, each one revealing opportunities for leader awareness and growth. In Part 1, we’ll look at the importance of creating meaningful work settings.

What is Meaningful Leadership? Creating Meaningful Work Settings

Meaningful leadership is supporting others in their quest for meaning. Humans Need It. Great leaders help people find it.

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

— Carl Jung

Meaningful leadership sees beyond self-concern to the long-term success and well-being of others.

When the leader’s concern shows, people respond. Trust is built, and the group benefits in many ways.

Meaningful leadership fuels innovation, curiosity and collaboration.

People thrive. They can move beyond survival and self-preservation concerns to create great companies, great products and services, and great teams.

Meaningful leadership drives important business metrics.

“One of the things that drives humans is their need for meaning, and if you can make every job meaningful, then you will guarantee that every job will be done to its highest level of excellence.”

— Erwin McManus

When people thrive, they can do their best work. That drives engagement, retention and productivity, which contribute to profitability and other positive outcomes.

Meaningful leadership requires a commitment to self-growth and other-growth. Ask yourself:

  1. How well am I finding meaning in my own work as a leader?  
  2. How ready am I to provide a meaningful work setting for others?
  3. If I am ready, how am I making it a priority? If not, what do I need to do to get there?

 

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Ethical Leadership: Complexity, Context and Adaptation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership requires growth, a willingness to acknowledge complexity and an understanding of the broader context in which we lead. Use these resources to improve your ethical awareness, learn about how the leadership context is evolving and check for learning blind spots.

To Learn About Ethics and Complexity:

To Learn About Ethics and Context:

To Learn About Ethics and Adaptation:

 

 

Special Series Celebrating the 2nd Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

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