Reflections on Truth: Why Is It So Elusive?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why Is The “Truth” So Elusive?

Last summer, I explored what great thinkers have said about truth in this post: Reflections on Truth: Are You a Seeker?  Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into the question “What is truth?”

I found the BBC radio show A Brief History of the Truth that explores the question across time to give us a broader understanding. It turns out that (according to American satirist Joe Queenan) people have had problems with the truth since the time of ancient civilizations. The broadcast is mostly humorous, but I loved this seriously insightful statement:

“Reality is very complicated. No one perspective on the world can capture everything. So when people talk about “the truth,” often the mistake they’re making is that they’re thinking you can capture everything that’s important about the truth only from one perspective.”

Heard on the BBC radio show “A Brief History of the Truth

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

How Do We Find It?

  • Look beyond the soundbite. Since one perspective won’t give us the answer, we will need to use various perspectives.
  • Look beyond our current beliefs and assumptions. We can’t see from multiple perspectives if all we can see is our current beliefs and assumptions, so we’ll need to assume we only have part of the picture.
  • Look beyond the most convenient answer. Since we may tend to see things in our own favor, we will need to assume that the most convenient answer for us is not necessarily the real answer.
  • Bring our curiosity and be open to new insights. If we are going to move past our own beliefs and assumptions and the most convenient answer, we’ll need to remain curious and open to new information that may profoundly change our understanding of the issue.

If you are trying to resolve a problem with a group, seeing the “truth” from the perspective of each person on the team will lead you to mutually beneficial solutions. Take a hard look at your “truth.” Is it one-dimensional, or open to learning about the other perspectives that will give you the whole picture? 

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Using the commonly taught types of thinking is very useful in life, and helps us be better professionals and business people. But there’s a catch.

Critical thinking can help you understand why a problem happened. It won’t help you find the most ethical solution to the problem once you identify it.

Creative thinking can help you figure your way out of a business challenge. It won’t keep you within the lines of appropriate and responsible behavior.

Design thinking can help you create amazing interactive technologies. It won’t help you resolve the new ethical issues those innovative technologies generate.

Even if we’re using all three types of thinking in our leadership, there is something important missing. 

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

C. S. Lewis

This quote from C. S. Lewis reminds us that values are necessary for higher level decisions and actions. They help us overcome selfish tendencies and guide us to consider how our choices will impact others. 

It Guides Responsible Behavior

Learning ethical thinking is an important part of human development, but many schools continue to teach subjects without it. 

It Helps Prevent Ethical Mistakes

Ethical thinking is central to many organization’s leader hiring process, but often left out as a grounding theme in leadership development. If your leadership development is not ethics-rich, here’s the big question. 

It’s Our Job 

Why are we teaching a high level understanding of subjects without teaching the ethical thinking to responsibly apply what people learn?

Why are people learning ethical thinking the hard way by making ethical mistakes we could be helping them prevent?

It’s our job as leaders to fill in the critically needed missing domain.

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Ethics-Rich Leadership: Why We Need It

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I was originally going to use the words “ethics-infused leadership” in this post, but I realized that would treat ethics a little bit like a lime twist in a cold drink. The drink would hint of lime, but it wouldn’t be FULL of lime. So I chose to use “ethics-rich” leadership instead.

I think you may already be looking for the ethics-rich leadership I’m talking about. 

Ethics-rich leaders create a “safe space” for people that brings out their best. They leaders grow people, paying great attention to individual learning, challenges, potential and  opportunities.

Ethics-rich leaders also create a “safe space” for teams that brings out their best. They help teams learn to respect, include and engage all constituents for the most positive possible outcomes.

Why Do We Need Ethics-Rich Leadership?

Many of our biggest leadership issues are global and long term. We need to get past the distraction of ethics scandals in the news to move forward with a new kind of leadership.

What does it look like? The ethics-rich leadership we seek:

  1. Considers respect, care and long-term thinking to be minimum standards.
  2. Protects our best interests as well as their own.
  3. Respects and honors the values behind our laws and doesn’t try to find loopholes for personal gain.
  4. Leads with positive ethical values, respectfully dealing with difficult issues when people don’t agree on the best solutions.
  5.  Never pretends to “know.” Instead this leader listens, scans, gathers, learns, questions, synthesizes and uses the ethics-rich mindset “I will always be a work-in-progress.

What Does It Look Like In Action?

Anyone can divide people and cause trouble. We need leaders who unite people around positive ethical values.

But it isn’t enough for leaders to just bring people together around values. 

We need leaders who do the work required to understand complex issues so they can make good decisions.

But it isn’t enough for leaders to just unite people around values and do the hard work to understand complex issues so they can make good decisions. 

We need leaders who care about constituents.

But it isn’t enough for leaders to just unite people around values, do the hard work to understand complex issues so they can make good decisions, and show they care about constituents.

We also need leaders who seek mutual benefit, not just “self-serving benefits.”

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. 

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How You Can Stop The “Fake News” Madness

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We all need to know how to tell what’s real news and what’s not. While a headline may be compelling, we can easily damage our personal reputation and brand if we share it and it turns out to be “fake news.” 

It’s our job to “check stories out” to be sure that what we share is real.

Our “Human Software” is Buggy

While it’s important for us to tell the difference between the real and the fake, our “human software” comes with bugs. One type of bug we all have is cognitive biases, and one of our biases causes us to readily believe headlines we already agree with (confirmation bias). Here is a great article by Better Humans about the many flaws in our thinking. The article includes a codex graphic of our cognitive biases that will definitely get your attention. 

We all have “human processing flaws” so we need to actively learn how to consume information responsibly.

Content curators including Google and Facebook are working on finding ways to flag fake news, but an algorithm won’t ever completely solve this problem. I’ve gathered sources that will help you learn how to separate the real from the fake. They include links to organizations that check out stories, an informative video, and games for testing your ability to detect fake news and altered photos. 

Learn to Separate the Real From the Fake

Organizations Checking What’s Real and What’s Not

Snopes.com

Hoaxy (How unverified stories spread on social media)

FactCheck.org

Politifact.com

Fake News Website List

Wikipedia – Fake News Websites List

How to Spot Fake News Video

 

Check It Out Before You Share

Stories are frequently made up to attract readers to sites with advertising. Photos and videos can be altered. It’s our job to “check stories out” to be sure that what we share is real. Otherwise, we’re stepping into a carefully laid trap. This trap helps unethical “fake news” sites earn more money from advertisers. It damages people’s reputations by sharing untruths about them. It hurts our credibility. It spreads falsehoods and misleads people who don’t know how to spot fake news. It becomes part of a ripple effect that can lead to serious unintended consequences. 

How Do You Stop The Madness? Check it before you share. 

Try Maggie Farley’s game Fictitious for testing and improving your ability to spot fake news, and practice detecting altered photos with Adobe’s game Real or Photoshop.   

What Else Can You Do?  Teach young people how to identify credible information online.

 

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5 Sites for Globally Responsible Business Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It has become clear that a global economy requires more than local or regional thinking. Our information and commerce are globally connected. Our greatest human challenges are global and must be solved globally.

We are connected by a shared future, with one region’s success deeply connected to another’s success. Global changes tend to either move us forward together or backward together. What steps can we take now to adapt to major global change and become part of the solution? How do we create the future world we imagine?

These 5 sources are good resources for learning, reflection and conversation:

5 Sites For Globally Responsible Business Leadership

UN Sustainable Development Goals

The SDG Compass (A guide to aligning company strategies and measures with the SDGs)

Caux Roundtable Principles For Business

World Economic Forum, “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”

Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative

Together, these sources paint a picture of the future. It’s a future that requires global thinking and action. It’s a future where business leaders take global responsibility for their decisions and actions. It’s a future where we move the metrics on important measures of collective well-being. 

How do we get there? We decide to be part of the solution, and use these resources to plan our next steps. 

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Learn How to Recognize and Apply all 7 Ethical Dimensions 

Includes how ethical expectations are increasing, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

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How Balanced is Your Ethical Diet?

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s easy to understand that ethics has various “requirements.” What might not be as obvious is that it takes effort on many levels simultaneously to maintain the ethical well-being of people and organizations. 

Just as we need to eat from a variety of food groups to get balanced nutrition each day, we need to honor more than one ethical dimension to get balanced ethics. 

If we worked on just one or two of these dimensions, for example, our ethics would be incomplete:

Our Own Ethics and Integrity

How Well we Follow Laws, Policies and Regulations

How We Treat Others

How We Impact Our Communities

How We Conserve Resources

How We Contribute to Improving Our Global Society

How do we choose an “ethical diet” that sustains good leadership and responsible companies? We pile on healthy portions of character, respect and care for people, attention to sustainability and community service and a focus on creating a good life for future generations. We make it a balanced meal by honoring laws and profiting responsibly. 

Since ethics is multidimensional, our learning and application must be multidimensional. People can’t push vegetables to the corner of the plate and fill up on donuts if they want to be healthy. Similarly, they can’t push respect and care aside and take too large a helping of profits. We can only reach a “balanced ethical diet” by successfully applying all of the required ethical groups.

 

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Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Everyone is a stakeholder at some level, and all stakeholders are important. We should consider all stakeholders as we lead – those we serve, those we lead, the powerless, the silenced, the planet, and all of humanity.” 

I shared this insight in a previous post – it was an aha moment from a Tweetchat I guest-hosted on Leading With Ethics. To reflect on where you are in the journey to leading with the mindset that “everyone is a stakeholder at some level,” explore the answers to these important questions:

  • How am I adding value for customers, employees and partners?
  • What ripples am I creating on the global landscape?
  • If everyone followed my lead, would they be showing that all stakeholders are important, regardless of who they are or where they live?
  • How well do I consider the interests of stakeholders who aren’t at the table, including the planet?
  • Have I explored and conquered my own “inner terrain” well enough to manage my biases so that they don’t impact my leadership?

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.

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Ethical Leaders Stay Current as the World Changes

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Great Leaders Unite

By Linda Fisher Thornton

­
The most capable and ethically competent leaders reach for unity, which represents the highest levels of interpersonal and global responsibility. While it would be much easier, the best leaders don’t just aim for “getting along” or “getting by.”
Queen Elizabeth II said “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.”
Great leaders use meaningful connections, shared values and mutual understanding to bring people together. Their decisions and chosen paths are mutually beneficial for multiple constituents. They understand leadership as a process of bringing out the individual and collective best in others for the long-term good.

The words and actions of the best leaders unite and uplift rather than divide and tear down. They use a calm demeanor and peaceful means to reach desired ends. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”

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Ethical Leaders See Their Choices Through All 7 Lenses

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Ethical Leaders Take The Hidden Path

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leaders seek shared value. They look for ways to meet the needs of others while they champion their own projects and ideas. Why? Because they understand that they are responsible for honoring their well-being AND the well-being of others. 

Ethical leaders take responsibility for supporting the noble goals of others and have the persistence and character to reach for the situation where “We Both Win.” 

Shared value and mutual benefit are principles at the core of Corporate Social Responsibility and ethical leadership. To achieve them, we must think beyond outdated notions of what it means to win (including the one-dimensional false dichotomy “I Win, You Lose).” We have to look for the alternative path. 

This path to shared value may seem to be a “hidden path” because we have to look deeper and work harder to find it. It takes more work and effort. It requires thinking beyond the immediate moment and the one-sided “win.” It builds lasting relationships that benefit all parties. 

While seeking mutual benefit may take more effort up front, that doesn’t mean that it’s optional. Taking advantage of others to make a quick buck doesn’t create meaning or build real relationships. It doesn’t demonstrate a commitment to ethical values. 

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 path to mutually beneficial solutions is not always easy to find. Great leaders realize that it’s their job to seek out and take this hidden path. 

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Ethical Leaders See Their Choices Through All 7 Lenses

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Labels Divide, Values Conquer

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have noticed that when people speak from LABELS (their group identity, their belief system, their affiliation), they are talking from the interests of that label. This can quickly become divisive if that label doesn’t include everyone. If a label is broad enough – like the label “human” –  it can automatically be an ethical and inclusive conversation. But since most labels aren’t that broad, we need to use ethical values to guide us. 

When people speak from VALUES (respect, care, inclusion, sustainability), the conversation more naturally moves to “How can we live out that value?”(all of us, together) instead of “What can we (members of this label) do that is best for us?”

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

Labels can be positive. helping us unite people around a common issue, but they need to be used carefully. Why? 

Using LABELS without also using ethical values means that we are probably declaring ourselves special at someone else’s expense.

VALUES help us conquer the human tendency to act in our own best interests. They remind us that we are responsible for more than our own success and that we need to make sure that our impact on others is positive. 

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How Do You Make Better Decisions?

By Linda Fisher Thornton
 
How do you make decisions? Do you consider a series of important questions? Do you find out the needs of the people involved? Do you consult a diverse group of advisors? Or do you just wing it? Some of the ways we may be tempted to think through our challenges (how to stay within budget or how to be most profitable, for example) leave ethical values out of the equation. 
 
Ethical thinking helps us make good leadership decisions. When we use intentional ethical thinking, we make decisions based on ethical valuesUsing ethical thinking doesn’t just help us do the right thing. It also helps us resolve our most difficult leadership problems by broadening our awareness. 

Ethical thinking keeps us grounded in values, and on track to reach for shared solutions. That helps us make better decisions.

  Here are some of the many challenges that ethical thinking helps us resolve:
  • How to deal with new situations/issues/people
  • How to make tough decisions when multiple stakeholders are involved
  • How to be consistent
  • How to lead based on positive ethical values
  • The need for the time and space to figure things out

While there are many different ways to make decisions, not all them lead to ethical outcomes. The beauty of ethical thinking is that once we learn and practice it, we take it with us, and it becomes the basis of our decision-making (no extra time and space required).

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The “Less Than” Fallacy

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Anytime we think about another person or group as “less than,” or treat another person or group as “less than,” we are unethical. It’s very simple, really. We are all human, and as humans, we all have rights and dignity. We all have a right to be here and to be treated with respect and fairness. 

Attempts to portray others as “less than” may come from a desire for power, control or personal gain. They may stem from trying to overcome low self-esteem by imagined superiority. They may come from misinformation. They may come from having lost one’s own sense of humanity. 

In the past year, people have protested by the millions around the world to say “Enough.” The diverse groups that have gathered around the world want us to hear that, wherever it comes from, the “less than” fallacy has run its course. It is not part of who we are when we are at our best. It is not part of our successful future.

Treating people as “less than” makes it more difficult for them to fully contribute to society in ways that benefit us all. It’s time to get past a “less than” mentality, recognizing it as flawed thinking, so that we can focus our attention on mutual understanding. That would brings us “more than” the capacity we need to resolve our current global challenges. 

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Ethical Leaders See the Whole Picture

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400th Post: The Journey to Meaning (Growth Required)

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

I set out to answer a question. In the process of answering the question, I started a journey that changed my life. It happened the way that life happens to all of us. It wasn’t always by conscious choice or in a logical progression. I lost someone I loved (my grandmother). I suffered a sudden reduction in consulting projects during the 2009 economic downturn. While recovering from these blows, I took a hard look at what I wanted to accomplish with the rest of my life. 

I began to realize that if I wanted to make a positive difference in the world, I needed to make some drastic changes. I started a blog and found out what it was like to learn out loud. I jumped into the social conversation. I began to intentionally live outside of my comfort zone.

I starting thinking about a nagging question that I couldn’t get out of my head. I heard from people who wanted to lead ethically but needed help. I started to write down thoughts on my blog and later started a book. I struggled to build a clearer, whole model of ethical leadership (that wasn’t oversimplified) to help people learn how to easily apply it.  

Looking back on this journey so far, I  believe that life’s hardest challenges are waiting to be turned into opportunities. Taking the journey isn’t always easy – it requires persistence, commitment, imagination, patience and endurance. When we put in the effort and take on the challenge,  though, we can become capable of so much more. We can find purpose and meaning (which require personal growth).

What would have been different if I hadn’t started this journey? I may have had a deep sense that something was missing. After reflecting on my definition of “The Meaning of Life” for an Excellence Reporter series, I realized that this process of growth is more than just something that happens while we’re doing other things – it’s what helps us find meaning and have a positive impact. 

It’s not reaching the desired destination according to an expected timetable that gives us a sense that we have a meaningful life. It’s the journey itself. It’s using our abilities in service to others.  It’s chasing the elusive “best we can be” as the world expects more and we race to keep up. 

I want to extend a “Thank You!” to Leading in Context Blog followers, 7 Lenses readers, clients, partners,  and all of you engaging in important conversations about “the right thing to do” in a global society. 

 

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Ethical Leaders Understand 7 Different Lenses of Ethical Responsibility (That Are All Important)

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Ethical Leadership: The “On Switch” For Adaptability

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The post “Leader Competence: Will It Be A Multiplier or Divider?generated some great discussion on social media. Here’s a quote from the post:

“Leader competence is either going to be a multiplier or a divider. When you have it, you multiply performance and trust, with exponential results. Without it, you divide your possible results by the incompetence factor.”

After reading the post, one reader requested that I write more on the topic. This week I’m digging deeper into the multiplying and dividing effects of leader (in)competence, looking at how a leader’s ethical competence impacts trust, people, bottom line results and organizational adaptability:

Impact on Trust

Competent ethical leaders intentionally build trust.

Incompetent leaders damage trust (and they may or may not be aware of it/and they may or may not care).

Impact on Bottom Line Results

Competent ethical leaders set the stage for people to do great work and then get out of their way. They support and enable great performance. This releases powerful pent-up energy within the organization that improves employee satisfaction, retention and productivity and fuels positive bottom line results.

Incompetent leaders can confuse, misdirect, distract and un-empower people, and the resulting loss of productivity reduces bottom line results. How? It increases turnover and reduces employee satisfaction and productivity, which erodes customer service quality and customer retention (and so on).

Impact on People

Competent ethical leaders know that their success depends on enabling the success of others. It is at its core about service and support and not prestige or privilege.

Incompetent leaders may mistakenly believe that leadership is all about them, and people don’t usually trust an incompetent leader enough to tell them that THEY are the problem. Employees may have to risk their wrath to get work done the right way when a leader is determined to use old thinking, old behavior and old leadership approaches that don’t work in a global society.

Incompetent leaders divide people by not communicating clear standards, giving all the good projects to “favorites,” or playing games with people to try to maintain the fragile illusion that they are “in charge.” Ethically competent leaders know that any illusion that they are “in charge” is not only false, it is a “brand-killer,” a “trust killer” and a “results killer.”

Impact on Adaptability

Adaptability is the key to an organization’s survival, and in the midst of accelerated global change and uncertainty, it provides a critical competitive advantage. Leaders who make it a priority to stay competent see the need to help others stay competent, and that helps everyone respond to change quickly.

Incompetent leaders don’t stay current, and since they don’t stay current, they probably don’t realize (or don’t care) that others in their organizations need to stay current. They do things that competent ethical leaders  know are counterproductive and harmful. The lack of leader awareness and failure to stay current creates a DRAG on the group and the organization that can make adaptability next to impossible.

The Equation

Ethical leadership competence is an adaptability enabler, people uniter and results multiplier. Ethical leadership incompetence is an adaptability reducer, a people divider and a results diminisher. 

Adaptability is a key challenge for leaders and organizations, and ethical leadership is a critical tool for “switching it on.”

The Adaptability Paradox

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Inclusion: The Power of “Regardless”

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Some inclusion statements begin with “we respect all people and treat them fairly, regardless of…”  and then include a long list of differences that we should overcome. These lists are hard to communicate, difficult to remember and ever-changing as we expand our understanding of human rights. 

Why not aim for where the statement is going, rather than where it’s been? We can keep adding to that “regardless” list until it becomes too unwieldy to use, or we can simply say now:

“We respect all people and treat them fairly, regardless.”

That’s the message behind the UN Global Declaration of Human Rights, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. 

I know what you might be thinking. Not everyone is ready to make this big leap all at once. What we can do is make sure that we are moving our organizations in this direction with all due haste, knowing that this is the leadership mindset that is required of us in a global society, regardless.

 

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Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

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