Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the fourth post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed them, here are the previous posts in the series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1),Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2),and Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3). Use the fresh perspectives shared in this series to guide your talent development plans for 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

Ethics is an important part of brand value, so leaders need to be ready to model, implement, interpret and teach it. Teaching something to others and guiding them as they apply it requires a much higher level of skill than applying it only in one’s own work. To carry the company’s ethical brand value (EBV) forward, leaders will need to have mastered ethical thinking so they can guide others in how to use it. They will need to understand how ethics drives the economic engine of the company and the risks of a single ethical mistake that can reduce the company’s brand value in minutes. 

Leaders are ethical brand ambassadors. They need to be able to handle ethical challenges themselves, AND teach others throughout the organization

To be ready for the higher level requirements of  being an Ethical Brand Ambassador, leaders need clear ethical thinking. Here are some of the business reasons why that is so important:

Brand Value and Reputation Directly Impact Financial Results

“A business’s most valuable asset is its good name, its brand and reputation. In a recent survey released jointly by the World Economic Forum and the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm, three-fifths of chief executives said they believed corporate brand and reputation represented more than 40% of their company’s market capitalization… Strong brand reputational value equals greater profits.”

Alexander F. Brigham Stefan Linssen, Your Brand Reputational Value Is Irreplaceable. Protect It! at Forbes.com

Ethical Business is A Powerful Consumer Trends

“…more sustainable, ethical, healthier modes of consumption that we’ve been tracking for years.”  

Trendwatching.com

Leaders Guide Employees to Ethical Action

“Leaders ought to be a crucial source of ethical guidance for employees and should at the same time be responsible for moral development in an organization.”

Mihelič, Lipičnik, and Tekavčič, in the International Journal of Management and Information Systems

Ethics is the Heart of Brand Value

“In order to retain credibility, branding needs ethics at its heart”

Joshua Jost, Is Ethics the Saviour of Branding? Ethical Corporation

Keeping ethics at the heart of brand value relies on leaders who do more than just understand ethical thinking and action – they also need to live it and teach it to others throughout the organization. 

 

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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the third post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed them, take a look at Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1) and Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2).  I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your plans for developing leaders in 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

Ethics codes and manuals are detailed but don’t provide high level direction on how to apply ethical values to decisions and actions. To make matters worse, the way we teach ethics is often low level, only based on laws and regulations, or oversimplified, describing whether something is “ethical or not” without exploring its ethical dimensions. 

Col Fernando Giancotti says in Strategic Leadership and the Narrow Mind: What We Don’t Do Well and Why – “Stepping up to a more comprehensive, less fragile ethic than the “good or bad” one is necessary to induce ethical, and not cynical, answers to the ambiguity and contradictions of our era.”

Leaders need a coherent ethical framework to help them navigate global and ethical complexity 

Giving leaders a robust framework for understanding ethical issues and choices is a must. The framework leaders use should be easy to remember so that they can recall it when they don’t have their materials at hand. They can’t lead well in a highly complex evolving global society without it. Here are some of the powerful benefits we gain when we meet the leadership need at a high enough level: 

Helps Leaders Remember and Apply Learning

“Coherence: Every part fits together. Every recall re-embeds the whole map.”

— David Rock, Why Leadership Development is Broken & How To Fix It Webinar, 2017

Avoids Guesswork

“What’s important is that having an ethical framework provides you with a basis for making difficult ethical decisions, rather than leaving you to struggle with each separate decision in a vacuum. It’s like the difference between building a house from a set of plans, and building it from guesswork, one piece of wood at a time.”

The Community Tool Box Chapter 8: Ethical Leadership,  Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas.

Provides a Clear Basis For Decision Making

“Ethical reasoning is hard because there are so many ways to fail…. Individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of the steps are completed, they are not likely to behave in an ethical way, regardless of the amount of training they have received in ethics, and regardless of their levels of other types of skills.”

Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, Developing ethical reasoning and/or ethical decision making

Fills The Gap Between “Wanting to Do the Right Thing” and “Knowing How”

“That persons with management responsibility must find the principles to resolve conflicting ethical claims in their own minds and hearts is an unwelcome discovery. Most of us keep quiet about it.”

Ethics in Practice, Kenneth R. Andrews, Harvard Business Review

Piecemeal leadership development, with no connection to a coherent framework, doesn’t “stick.” Worse, if we teach leadership and ethics separately, we can’t expect leaders to figure out how to integrate the principles on their own. Leadership development is only coherent if the ethical values are built in. 

Read the Next Post in the Series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

 

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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the second post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed it, last week’s post was Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1). I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your talent development plans for 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

The way we have developed leaders has traditionally been to teach one topic at a time. Each topic reflects a different skill they will need to apply in their leadership. The problem with that is that it’s like teaching them how to put together a puzzle by showing them only a few pieces at a time. What leaders need is much higher level than what we have been giving them, and the gap seems to be widening. You simply can’t solve a complex, multidimensional puzzle a few pieces at a time. The broader context matters.

Leaders need a context for thinking about good leadership that is broad enough to provide insight into multiple perspectives and stakeholders.

Mark Lukens points out in his Fast Company article 3 Ways For Senior Managers To Keep A Broad Perspective, that “your assumptions and prejudices could stand in the way of better strategy. And in a world where it takes constant improvement to stay ahead, a broad perspective is just as crucial as special expertise.”  Leaders will not easily learn how to solve complex high level problems when we are only showing them a few pieces of the context at a time.  Helping leaders understand the evolving global context in which they lead is important for practical reasons including:

The Context and Rules Are Shifting

Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace, and the world of work. These shifts have changed the rules for nearly every organizational people practice, from learning to management to the definition of work itself.”

Deloitte, Rewriting the Rules For the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends

Complexity is Increasing

“Global competition, networks, and stakeholder empowerment are transforming former manageable, bounded challenges into endless Gordian knots… Small wonder “complex problem solving” is listed by the World Economic Forum as the top workforce skill for 2020—as it was for 2015.

Brook Manville, Six Leadership Practices For Wicked Problem Solving, Forbes.com

Leadership Responsibility is Global

“Many of our informants expressed their belief that true global leaders feel accountable for shaping our shared global future. This emerging emphasis on global responsibility as a key quality of global leadership will be explored further in our continued research.”

Boix-Mansilla, Chua, Kehayes and Patankar, Leading With the World in Mind, Asia Society and Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Stakeholders Are Part of Complex Global Networks

“Today’s leaders are faced with highly unpredictable and volatile environments that defy long-range planning. Their organizations are enmeshed in a new interconnected world of complex global networks that engage in novel ways of co-evolution and co-creation, with stakeholders dispersed across the globe.”

Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton, Social Technology and the Changing Context of Leadership, Wharton Center For Leadership and Change Management

We need to help leaders learn and apply ethical thinking in the broad context of a global society and the evolving global definition of “good leadership.” Only then will they be ready to meet the increasing expectations and varying needs of multiple stakeholders.

Read the next post in the series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

 

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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing (big news!), this is the first post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your talent development plans for 2018.

Ethical thinking drives ethical choices and behavior. Marcus Aurelius said “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” According to Buddha, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” I believe that leadership development efforts must address the values-based thinking behind good leadership, or it will not lead to good leadership. If we just teach people skills, without upgrading their thinking, we are not preparing them for success in the real world.

Evidence Of The Gap: While most companies have stated values, one recent survey found that less than half of them actively lead with those values. According to Salesforce.com, The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business, “Although 10 out of 18 senior executives surveyed at the 2017 New York Times New Work Summit said that their companies clearly define their values, only 40% of business professionals say their company leads with its values.”

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

Leaders need to learn how to think WITH values so they can APPLY them to their daily challenges. 

We need to help leaders ramp up their thinking skills to be able to successfully APPLY positive ethical values to increasingly complex situations. If we don’t, they’ll still have to make leadership decisions every day, but those decisions may not align with our organization’s ethical values. They may not meet the ethical expectations of customers, employees and other key stakeholders. And even though they’re in leadership positions, they won’t be ready to teach the organization’s values to their teams. 

Helping leaders learn ethical thinking means they will be able to APPLY ethical values in their daily decisions and actions. That ability brings many positive benefits to the organization, including: 

Improved Positive Outcomes, Reduced Risk

“Ethical leadership has been shown to cause a host of positive outcomes, and to reduce the risk of many negative outcomes. Leadership may therefore be the most important lever in an ethical system designed to support ethical conduct.”

EthicalSystems.org, Leadership

 Competitive Advantage

“Virtuous organizations, like virtuous people, outperform their peers over time. The ethical values guiding the world’s most successful organizations are cheap but powerful sources of competitive advantage.”

SHRM, Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture

Improved Connection With Customers and Employees

“Business leaders who take the next step to not only define but actually lead with values are better positioned to connect with their customers and employees.”

Salesforce.com, The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business

Improved Trust, Which Drives High Performance

“Simply put: High ethics creates high trust. High trust creates high performance.”

SHRM, Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture

Only when leaders learn to think using ethical values will they be able to successfully apply those ethical values to their decisions and action, every day.

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Lead With Questions, Not Answers

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders Ask The Hard Questions

While it’s tempting to try to “have the answers,” good leaders instead ask the hard questions. They may be questions for which the world does not have workable answers. They may be questions that help reinvent a company or industry. They may be questions that must be answered now to prevent problems in the future. They may be questions that generate a much needed dialogue.

Leading With Questions Is Engaging

When We Give Questions, We Give People

  • Curiosity – a reason to explore and be interested
  • Insight – from thinking, reflection and engagement over time
  • Possibility – answers are yet to be discovered
  • Enhanced thinking skills

When We Give Answers, We Give People

  • Boredom – no effort or engagement required
  • Diminished thinking skills – lack of use, less practice
  • Resistance without growth – if they disagree and there is no room for discussion, they may resist
  • Compliance without engagement – they go along but they don’t know why they should care

Great Leaders Don’t Have “The Answer”

“Having the answer” isn’t leadership. Leadership involves engaging others in efforts that matter and bringing out their individual and collective best. “Having the answer” isn’t teaching. Teaching involves lighting the spark that will guide someone’s learning journey for a lifetime. Here are some wonderful observations on the importance of questions:

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”   ―Richard Feynman

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”   ― Shannon L. Alder

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.”   ― Madeleine L’Engle

Great leaders spend time thinking about the right questions to ask.

They engage others in discovering the questions and answering them together.

They pull from a diverse collection of resources and data.

They engage others in learning.

They find out how much they don’t know before looking for “the answers.”

 

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Leaders need to know how to answer the tough ethical questions. Seeing through all 7 Lenses gives them the perspective they need.

 

 

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Top 10 Posts 2017: Leading in Context Blog

 

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2017, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these topics that readers accessed most frequently:

Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

Ethical Leadership is About Service, Not Privilege

Ethical Leadership: The “On” Switch For Adaptability

Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

4 Connected Trends Shaping the Future of Leadership

The Evolving Purpose of Leadership: Why More is Expected Now

Yes, Leaders: Behavior Matters

5 Sites For Globally Responsible Business Leadership

Is Our Leadership “Good?”

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2017, it would be “Leaders Adapt to Rising Stakeholder Expectations.” Which 2017 post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about in 2018, comment on this post, or tweet your idea to @leadingincontxt!

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18 Quotes To Inspire Leaders in the New Year (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This series includes 18 quotes (linked to posts with leadership guidance) to inspire you and help you develop an ethical leader’s mindset. Part 1 included the first 9. Here are 9 more:

Labels DIVIDE people into groups, and highlight their special nature and interests. Values UNITE people, and highlight shared interests and common concerns. 

Since ethics is multidimensional, our learning and application must be multidimensional.

To accomplish the ideal of considering all stakeholders in even our smallest decisions, we’ll have to do more than just imagine the possibilities. We’ll need to do the work.

It’s ethical values that are the true measure of leaders and organizations.

It is never okay to skip learning because “we are already a leader.”

Great leaders use meaningful connections, shared values and mutual understanding to bring people together. 

Leaders might think that values are self-explanatory but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s in the nitty-gritty  application of values that people have deep questions. 

In every situation where we think we have to do what it takes to get our immediate needs met, there is another path we can choose – pursuing a mutually beneficial solution that lasts.

The greatest challenge leaders face is to keep up as the bar continues to be raised.

I wish great things for all of you in 2018! For more articles clarifying leadership, ethics and complexity, visit the Blog Index and consider following the Leading in Context Blog for a new post every week in the New Year.

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18 Quotes To Inspire Leaders In The New Year (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Are your leaders prepared for the year ahead? Each day will bring new challenges, and to succeed within ethical boundaries, we’ll all need a clear picture of “good leadership.”

This series is an annual tradition and this year’s post includes 18 quotes (each linked to a post with leadership guidance) to inspire you to grow your leadership skills to be ready for whatever 2018 may bring. Part 1 includes the first 9.

Leaders who solve complex problems need a special blend of qualities – the curiosity to untangle the variables, the persistence to keep trying, and the openness to change beliefs and strategies as answers emerge from the chaos. 

Firing answers at each other doesn’t involve listening or self-reflection, but answering questions we have in common (and living into the answers) will require both. 

As leaders, it’s our job to create an engaging, ethical, high-trust environment where people can do the very best work of their lives. And while we’re doing that, the world is watching. 

When ethical leadership is required, the QUICK answer is risky business. 

Without the context, we are not aware – we only see the parts of an issue that we want to see. 

Challenges are “loud” and urgent. People need to learn how to think through their difficult challenges while staying grounded in ethical values. The first step is making it clear that our values always drive our choices. To avoid having your team get  pulled away from ethics, exercise your “values voice.”

Ethics-rich leadership, after all, isn’t about position power – it’s about values power. It treats values as the essential business tools they are.  Ethics-rich leaders will reap the ultimate rewards – in transformational performance. 

It turns out that truth, like ethics, is multidimensional. One sound bite is not going to capture it.

While uncertainty is hallmark of great leadership, there is one thing leaders should always be sure about in a rapidly changing global context. It helps them navigate the uphill terrain of perpetual uncertainty. What is it that they should always be sure about? Their values. 

As we approach 2018, make sure each leader in your organization is clear about values and ready to adapt to increasing ethical expectations. 

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Rethinking “Smart” Leadership in an Ethical Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m looking at what it means to be a “smart” leader through the 7 Lenses (introduced in the book 7 Lenses) to get the full ethical context. Take note: You can do this with any idea, concept or project to better understand the ethical nuances.

Lens 1 Profit

“Smart” means making as much money as you can (which has no ethical grounding).

Lens 2 Law

“Smart” means avoiding punishments and penalties and taking advantage of loopholes for maximum gain (which isn’t leading with values).

Lens 3 Character

“Smart” means always thinking from a grounding in personal ethical values and ethical awareness.

Lens 4 People

“Smart” means being aware of our impact on a diverse group of others, working hard to benefit them and avoid harm.

Lens 5 Communities

“Smart” means pulling the community together and improving the lives of the people who live there.

Lens 6 Planet

“Smart” means protecting the planet, nature and ecosystems for our future well-being.

Lens 7 Greater Good

“Smart” means making life better for future generations.

Seeing the Whole Picture

Looking through these 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility, we see a picture that matches the highest levels of corporate social responsibility. We begin to realize that “smart leadership” includes acting on all of these lenses at the same time. This practical multi-lens perspective shows us the nuances of how we need to respond to our stakeholders and handle our ethical challenges. 

Click on the book cover below to see a preview and consider how this way of thinking could move your organization’s metrics (see Chapter 2 for details).

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The Trouble With Certainty

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders may think that being decisive and “sure of things” helps them succeed, but if they do, they may be harboring an outdated view of leadership.

What has changed about how we see leadership and certainty? 

Being certain carries with it the connotation of not engaging others in the conversation and using one-way communication. It evokes images of an iron fist pounding on a desk, not a leader who enjoys “working beside” a talented and diverse team.

Imagining a leader who’s “certain,” we may think about someone who operates as a lone wolf or someone who is holding fast to an outdated world view and refusing to adapt as the world changes. 

The Quest For Uncertainty

Whereas certainty is “out,” uncertainty is the new hallmark of great leadership. Uncertain leaders ask more questions and engage more stakeholders. They see value in dialogue and in the somewhat messy but always interesting process of learning. Uncertain leaders know that the minute they become “certain” and unwilling to adapt to change, they are at risk of making an ethical mistake. 

When is certainty a good thing in a global environment?

While uncertainty is hallmark of great leadership, there is one thing leaders should always be sure about in a rapidly changing global context. It helps them navigate the uphill terrain of perpetual uncertainty. What is it that they should always be sure about? Their values. 

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Ethical Leaders Understand the Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In a previous post, I addressed some of the risks of not taking time to THINK before making decisions. Today, I want to explore why it is so important for leaders to understand the CONTEXT before they make decisions. 

As shown in the graphic, the context (in all of its complexity) becomes the central feature in building awareness of any ethical issue. Without the context, we are not aware – we only see the parts of an issue that we want to see. 

 

Context and Responsibility 3

Learning about the complexities of an issue helps us see the potential impact of our decision on others. 

We live in a world of human, economic, organizational, environmental and societal systems. Those systems interact globally in complex ways. Solving a complex problem without understanding it well can have unintended consequences

A clear understanding of the context is an important part of staying ethically aware and competent, and both are necessary qualities for responsible leadership. 

Ethical leaders know that there can be no ethical awareness without understanding the context, and without awareness, competence and responsibility are also out of reach. 

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Learn to Think in all 7 Ethical Dimensions 

 

 

 

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Ethical Leadership Interview on Culture Hacker Podcast

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I am delighted that Shane Green, author of Culture Hacker, invited me to be a guest on his podcast to talk about ethical leadership and culture. 

Creating Culture

Culture is what we make of it. As leaders, it’s our job to make it an engaging, ethical, high-trust environment where people can do the very best work of their lives. And while we’re doing that, the world is watching. 

Values Made Visible

Trendwatching.com explains what has happened to culture in a socially connected world: 

“Once, your internal corporate culture was just that: internal. But now that a business is a glass box, there’s no such thing as an ‘internal’ culture.”                  — “Glass Box Brands,” Trendwatching.com

Our organizational culture has become our message to the world about what we value.

Culture Hacker Podcast

Click here to listen to the podcast as Shane Green and I discuss how ethical leadership can transform your culture (and your bottom line).  

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The first post in this series, “The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking” explored WHY leaders need to fill the gap and help people develop ethical thinking. This post will begin to unravel HOW to do that.

I included this guidance on ethical thinking in a previous post:

Ethical thinking means we never lose sight of our positive purpose. We choose to be the sum of our values, not our challenges.

How do we make sure we are acting as the sum of our values and not our challenges? We need to find ways to keep ethical values alive so that the “values voice” is heard just as loudly as these voices:

  1. Shrinking profit margins
  2. Tight product development timelines
  3. Lean staffing and heavy workload

Exercising Our Values Voice

When our “values voice” is at least as loud as those other voices, we can avoid these unethical scenarios that can happen when we address our challenges without values:

  • Shrinking profit margins  (Unethical Scenario: making more money by ignoring ethics)
  • New product development timelines (Unethical Scenario: cutting safety corners to meet deadlines)
  • Lean staffing and heavy workload (Unethical Scenario: overworking employees instead of finding innovative ways to do work)

Don’t let it happen in your organization. Challenges are “loud” and urgent.

People need to learn how to think through their difficult challenges while staying grounded in ethical values. The first step is making it clear that our values always drive our choices. To avoid having your team get  pulled away from ethics, exercise your “values voice.” 

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Talking About What Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have heard from readers that this topic is timely and they hope this series will not end with just 2 posts – so here is Part 3

Talking About What Matters

In the post Talking About What Matters (Part 1) I explored how talking about ethical values engages people, helps them find meaning and improves the organization’s metrics. In Talking About What Matters (Part 2), I explored how leaders need to “not have the answers” and be ready to engage in conversations about applying values. 

In Part 3, I want to offer some questions that lead to meaningful conversation. These are not questions that have known answers, but questions that dig into what is weighing on people’s hearts and minds, and identify gaps and opportunities in applying ethical values. 

Questions to Ask

Open ended questions help define appropriate behaviors in the context of your organizational values. They help leaders tolerate “not knowing” and get the conversation started. 

These questions are ones I proposed in an article published by the Association For Talent Development (formerly ASTD) in Training and Development Journal and in a Best of Leadership Development issue. They are helpful conversation starters:

  • What are the specific ethical behaviors that are required of all organizational leaders?
  • What are the consequences if they don’t behave ethically?
  • What are the situations that people encounter that could lead them into a grey area?
  • How should those grey areas be handled?
  • What does it look like when leaders perform according to the organization’s stated values?
  • What does it look like when they don’t?
  • How should people make decisions when they encounter difficult situations?
  • Where might our leaders fall into grey areas while implementing our goals and values?
  • What are areas where we will not tolerate compromise?
  • What are areas of flexibility?
  • Where do we need to clarify our mission and values, to make it clear that we are an ethical organization, and ethics is not negotiable?
  • How can we more effectively recruit, recognize, and retain ethical leaders?

Linda Fisher Thornton, “Leadership Ethics Training: Why is it So Hard to Get it Right?”  reprinted in Training and Development: The Best of Leadership Development, American Society for Training and Development. (March, 2010)

Leading In The “Figure It Out Space”

When we ask questions like these, and open the conversation, we have to set aside our need to be “right.” Values (when brought to life) live in the collective organizational space, not in the domain of any one leader. They also live in the “figure it out” space. It is the struggle to “figure out” how to apply the organization’s values in day to day work and leadership that brings them to life. 

 

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Talking About What Matters (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In a previous post Talking About What Matters (Part 1), I explored how talking about ethical values engages people, helps them find meaning and improves the organization’s metrics. This week I want to begin to explore what the conversation should include. 

You may be surprised to learn that it’s not all about what WE COMMUNICATE about values – it’s their questions that will help us bring values to life.

Our carefully crafted messages about values don’t help people resolve the tricky issues. Those are just scratching the SURFACEWhen people are trying to apply them to resolve tricky issues, that’s when values count the most. 

We need to address their deepest questions. We need to explore the grey areas where they want to understand how to apply values.  Addressing their deepest questions helps them resolve REAL issues, and that brings values to life. 

Many leaders miss the questions or don’t help people resolve them. It’s our job as leaders to fill in the spaces around the words – to help people dig into the places where they see conflicting messages about values and sort them out. Here are two examples that drive home the need for conversations about conflicting messages about values:

Is Respect Really Valued Here?

What if we have always said that respect is critical, but our new manager was disrespectful to members of the team in the last meeting? What might people need to talk about?

How Am I Supposed To Choose Sustainable Options?

What if a project team member knows sustainability is a company value but the purchasing department isn’t offering sustainable paper options in the right size for the task? She knows she’s not supposed to go around purchasing to order items, but she is supposed to uphold the value of sustainability in her choices. Now what?

These kinds of situations are incredibly common. By helping people resolve them, we are moving organizational values from living “on paper” to their rightful place – central to our work. We are releasing the power and potential of those values to transform the organization. 

Some leaders shy away from tough questions like these because they don’t know the answers. Here’s the piece of information they lack: Leaders don’t have to know the answers themselves to help resolve questions like these. In fact, they need to be ready to “not have the answers.” 

The leader’s job is to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing, and to generate authentic conversations about values. By “not knowing” the answers themselves, leaders help others take the journey to meaning.

Top 100 Leadership Blog

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