How Are You Using Your Influence?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

With leadership responsibility comes a certain amount of influence. We can impact how people think. We can advise them on the choices they make and invite them to follow our lead.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”                                                                              ― John C. Maxwell

 

How are you using your influence?

The best leaders use their influence for more than just achieving their own goals and the goals of their organizations. They use their influence to develop others and nudge them to grow into their own greatness. This not only helps the leaders who are supported and developed, but also all those people they will lead in the future. In this way. great leaders create a ripple of positive influence that extends beyond the tenure of their own leadership. 

Ethical influencers leave a positive legacy that outlasts their leadership.  

With leadership influence comes a certain amount of responsibility. We can impact how people take responsibility for their actions. We can advise them to make ethical choices and we can set the example as an ethical leader. 

How are you using your responsibility?

The best leaders take responsibility for their actions and encourage open dialogue about how to make ethical choices. They are not afraid to make mistakes and they admit them and learn from them. They help others understand that ethical business is not just “the right thing to do,” it helps define the organization’s ethical brand value and helps provide a competitive advantage.

Are you an ethical influencer in your daily leadership?

We can use our influence to develop future leaders (who will then go on to influence many others). Along we way we need to help them learn how to make ethical choices. That is the straightest path to leaving a positive leadership legacy in a world where identifying “the right thing to do” is challenging and complex. 

Are you an ethical influencer in your daily leadership? How will you use your influence to leave a positive legacy?

 

 

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What is Duality?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Duality?

What is duality? This is a tricky question, because the answer depends on your perspective and why you’re asking. Each discipline answers the question from a different angle. This post samples the varying disciplinary perspectives on duality.

Two Parts in Perpetual Opposition 

“Dualism (from the Latin word duo meaning “two”) denotes a state of two parts… Dualism can refer to moral dualism, (e.g. the conflict between good and evil), mind-body or mind-matter dualism (e.g. Cartesian Dualism) or physical dualism (e.g. the Chinese Yin and Yang).”

http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/duality?region=us dual nature

Duality in Human Nature   

“Stevenson describes how there is a good and an evil side to everyone’s personality, but what is important is how you behave and the decisions you make. The choices people make determine whether a person is good or not.”

Themes, Duality of Human Nature, BBC (On Stephenson, the Author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Duality in Language

“I take the term ‘duality’ to stand for an opposition or dichotomy between, or of, two entities.Some examples of dualities are: Day and Night, Left and Right (i.e., polarities of direction,and chirality, ‘handedness’), Positive and Negative (e.g., electromagnetic poles, values), Lifeand Death, Male and Female, Up and Down (i.e., polarities of spatial dimensions), True andFalse, Right and Wrong, etc.”

Begley, The Concept of Duality and its Representation in Language as Antonymy

Duality in Neuroscience and Cognition

“The idea that we have ‘two minds’, only one of which corresponds to personal, volitional cognition, has also wide implications beyond cognitive science.”

Frankish, The Duality of Mind

Duality in Leadership

In terms of ethical leadership, duality can refer to good and evil. But good and evil are not mutually exclusive. Someone is not “all good” or “all evil.”  We each have the capacity for both. So in ethical leadership, duality is an oversimplification. 

At the highest levels of leadership, thinking is more complex and duality is transcended.

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.” 

Jim Collins, Good to Great

We must stretch to see the complexity of ethical leadership, looking beyond the “all or nothing” “one or the other” thinking that duality represents. 

 

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WRIR “Inspire Indeed” Interview

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Christa Motley, host of Inspire Indeed at WRIR radio, invited me to the station to talk about the journey to writing my book 7 Lenses and how it is helping people who want to understand ethical issues. In the interview I give an overview of the 7 Lenses framework and how it is designed to be practical, clear and immediately used, not put on the shelf.

Using an example from the news, I show how the book’s 7-Lens model reveals the ethical impact of our decisions and actions. Christa asks if this journey has presented some challenges along the way… Listen in to the interview conversation by clicking the photo or the link below.

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WRIR’s Inspire Indeed is streamed through iHeart Radio. Special thanks to Christa Motley and all the volunteers at WRIR for having me on the show.

Listen to the Interview: https://inspireindeed.me/2019/10/15/ethical-leadership-with-linda-fisher-thornton/

 

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Rights, Responsibilities and Freedom

question-1422600_1920By Linda Fisher Thornton

While some people think of rights, responsibilities and freedom separately, in a compartmentalized way, I believe they cannot be separated. According to John Courtney Murray, freedom was always intended to be grounded in ethical values.

“Freedom was not conceived in terms of the sheer subjective autonomy of the will. Man’s freedom, like man himself, stood within the moral universe. It meant the objective right to act; it meant what Acton defined as “the right to do what one ought.”

John Courtney Murray, S.J., Freedom, Responsibility, and the Law, Woodstock Theological Library, Georgetown University

All Three Concepts Are Morally Defined

Here is an excerpt from a previous post I wrote that addresses the relationship between rights and responsibilities: 

“Can rights and responsibilities be separated? Clearly they are both part of good citizenship and ethical leadership. But what happens if we try to separate them? If we demand our rights but fail to live up to our responsibilities, we will have a negative impact on others. 

If we assert individual rights without also taking responsibility, we are asking for more than we are willing to give. We are conveying that what we want is more important than what others want. We are demanding that our needs be met without caring about what happens to others.

Under those circumstances the answer to “Can rights and responsibilities be separated?” is ‘Yes, but not ethically.'”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Leaders: Can Rights and Responsibilities Be Separated?,  Leading in Context Blog

All three concepts – rights, responsibilities and freedom, fall within what John Courtney Murray called “the moral universe.” To be whole, then, arguments advocating rights and freedoms must include a willingness to take responsibility. As ethical leaders, we need to talk about them as a “package deal” to ensure that we are always taking responsibility for our actions. 

 

 

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The Gut-Brain Axis (Ethical Questions)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I am a long-time advocate of systems thinking. It has risen in importance as an increasing number of our greatest human challenges can’t be understood or resolved without it.

Today, I’m taking a look at new findings on the human microbiome, which is known to impact the brain in important ways. You may have already seen the recent news about advances in our understanding of the Gut-Brain Axis.

Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.

The Brain-Gut Connection, John Hopkins Medicine

 The cells that make up our bodies are now better understood, and the current estimate is that only 43% of them are human (Adam Jezard, World Economic Forum). The rest of the cells are referred to as our microbiome. 

Not All Bacteria and Viruses are Bad

We have traditionally thought of bacteria and viruses as always bad and tried to kill them off. “There is now a multitude of evidence to suggest that this kill-all approach isn’t working (Adam Jezard, World Economic Forum).”The reason that killing all the bacteria and viruses in our bodies is not good is that some of them are necessary for our health, and can actually help our bodies fight the bad ones. Antibiotics are a kill-all approach that also eliminates the good bacteria. When the good bacteria are gone, it’s easier for the bad bacteria to take over.

A Second Genome

“Prof Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist from Caltech, argues: ‘We don’t have just one genome, the genes of our microbiome present essentially a second genome which augment the activity of our own” (James Gallagher, BBC). In the article, he goes on to say that what makes us human is “the combination of our own DNA, plus the DNA of our gut microbes (James Gallagher, BBC).” Clearly, we need to use systems thinking (and not cause-and-effect thinking) for this to make any sense.  

How the Brain is Impacted

Here are some things we have learned about the multiple ways the microbiome impacts the functions of the brain:

“Insights into the gut-brain crosstalk have revealed a complex communication system that not only ensures the proper maintenance of gastrointestinal homeostasis, but is likely to have multiple effects on affect, motivation, and higher cognitive functions.”   

“microbiota influences stress reactivity and anxiety-like behavior.”

Carabotti, Scirocco, Maselli and Severia, The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Annuls of Gastroenterology

There are clearly many reasons to protect the health of our microbiome. How do we do that? We can start by eating a healthy, high fiber diet. If we eat a healthy, high fiber diet, are the good bacteria in our microbiome safe if we don’t take antibiotics? Not so fast. According to a recent study, many of “the world’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics” (Kara Fox, CNN).

Protecting the Microbiome

Now we know that the health of our microbiome is intricately connected to overall human health. It is not something to be treated as an invader. It should instead be treated with care. Individuals will need to reconsider how their diet and habits will impact the microbiome, and businesses will need to assess the positive or negative impact of their products. 

Since our understanding of the microbiome and its importance to our health has advanced, the burden is now on all of us to adapt. Use the list of Ethical Questions below to determine the next steps. 

Ethical Questions

  1. What kinds of meals, snacks and drinks are we serving in our food services, meetings, conferences and retreats?
  2. How could our products be impacting the gut microbiome?
  3. Do our products feed the bad bacteria or the goodHow high is the sugar content? The fiber content?
  4. As we market our products, are we encouraging habits that support a healthy microbiome or an unhealthy one?
  5. What should we change about our products and marketing to align with new information about the microbiome and its impact on human health?

Resources:

How Your Gut Might Modify Your Mind, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society

Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

 

 

 

 

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Unethical Leadership: Selective Respect

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

We’ve seen selective respect too often. Beyond harming the people who are disrespected, it also destroys trust, and leads to chaotic environments and fear-based cultures. Even though we’ve all seen selective respect in action, we may not have had the vocabulary to describe why it’s wrong (beyond calling it mean or inappropriate). This week I’m digging in to those details. 

I define “selective respect” as doling out respect only under certain circumstances. It is not an ethical leadership behavior since it applies the ethical value of respect conditionally and not universally. 

Examples of Selective Respect in Action:

  • Teachers picking on certain students while encouraging others.
  • “Cool” kids teasing less popular kids while being chummy with their friends.
  • Employees repeating ethnic jokes or otherwise demeaning certain groups of people.
  • Public leaders treating people in their groups (political, racial, religious, gender, etc.) kindly while alienating and attacking others. 

The times when respect is applied may be predictable (certain people or groups are predictably respected or not respected) or unpredictable (who is treated respectfully varies from moment to moment).

Important Ethical Principles Selective Respect Violates:

  • Respect for Others (the ethical principle is not respect for certain others, it is respect for all others)
  • Respect for Differences (this requires moving beyond the “like me” bias)
  • Trustworthiness (only some people can trust you to treat them well)
  • Moral Awareness (shows a lack of awareness that respect is a minimum standard for ethical leadership and must be universally applied)
  • Ethical Competence (selective respect is a sign of failure to stay ethically  competent)
  • Ethical Thinking (believing that some people are “not worthy” of respect is unethical thinking)
  • Modeling Expected Behavior (selective respect shows others the route to an unethical path, multiplying the error and the harm it generates)

Are you tired of people talking about toxic leadership behaviors as different “styles” or different approaches to leadership, without saying what really needed to be said? When you see leaders using selective respect, call it what it is – unethical leadership.

 

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In the post comments, one reader mentioned the risks of “calling out” an ethical leader in a toxic culture. If you work in a toxic culture, read Taking on a Workplace Bully to assess the risks before you call out unethical leadership. 

For More on Unethical Leadership: Unethical Thinking Leads to Unethical Leadership

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 6)

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

This series has explored 5 important spheres of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making. 

This week I’m summing it up in a checklist that will help you apply all 5 to your daily choices. When you are making a key decision, run it through the checklist to be sure you have considered all 5 important dimensions. 

Ethical Thinking and Decision Making Series

Leader Self-Check

 

Part 1: Deep Thinking

“When we dig into issues and explore their depths, we gain insights that we would otherwise miss. Complex issues just can’t be deconstructed and understood using shallow thinking. The meaningful insights are only found below the surface.”

Have I Used Deep Thinking?

___  I have looked beyond the surface level of the issue to learn about the connected variables that impact it.

___  I have asked for input from all constituent groups and listened carefully to what they see and believe.

___ I have carefully weighed conflicting information and evaluated the goals and needs of all stakeholders.

___ I have applied ethical values to make a responsible choice.

Part 2: Context

“Ignoring the context and making a quick decision often leads to costly and time-consuming fixes later… Taking the time to understand the context, we more easily make decisions that fall within the ethical zone.” 

Have I Carefully Considered the Context?

___ This choice is being made after looking beyond my usual sources of information and my trusted contacts to be sure that I see the whole picture from multiple perspectives.

___ This choice reflects careful consideration of information from a diverse collection of credible sources.

___ This choice “works” ethically in the particular setting.

___ This choice shows a willingness to adapt to a changing world and increasing ethical expectations.

Part 3: Complexity

“Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions.”

Have I Sought to Understand the Complexity of the Issue?

___  I have looked for, noticed, and talked about the complexity of this issue.

___ I understand the multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions involved and I am avoiding rushing to a quick decision.

___ I have worked to find clear, appropriate and compelling ways to communicate about this issue so that others can understand its complexity. 

___ I am taking informed action after understanding the complexity of the issue and I am approaching this issue in responsible ways. 

Part 4: Inclusion

“Full inclusion requires that we extend our respect, our care and our concern to all people… Applying full inclusion, we see that everyone is within our purvue, everyone demands our consideration, and everyone deserves to be treated well.”

Have I Treated Everyone With a High Degree of Respect and Care?

___ This choice shows that I understand that diversity is an asset and inclusion is a leadership responsibility.

___  I have honored the needs and perspectives of all constituents. 

___ I have used language that builds trust and not language that divides or inflames.

___ I have gone beyond token gestures of respect and care to demonstrate sincere concern for others outside of my trusted group.

Part 5: Change

“Once you do the work to understand the context, you’re never done. Change is continuous. The ripple effect created by economic and social change in one time zone rapidly impacts life in another.”

Have I Watched Closely For Patterns of Change and Adapted to Them?

___ I am acknowledging change and treating it as dynamic and constant.

___ I have watched for and noticed subtle and overt patterns and trends that impact this issue.

___ This choice shows that I want to build a positive, inclusive society for the future.

___ By making this choice, I am demonstrating that I lead in ways that are in step with the ethical expectations of leaders in a global society.

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

While change is a constant reality, it doesn’t always factor into leadership thinking. In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and the importance of understanding Context. In Part 3 and Part 4, I looked at embracing Complexity and the importance of full Inclusion. In Part 5, I’ll describe how embracing Change helps us make ethical decisions. 

Factoring in Change

What is one element of the global context that sometimes trips up well-meaning leaders? Constant change. Once you do the work to understand the context, you’re never done. Change is continuous. The ripple effect created by economic and social change in one time zone rapidly impacts life in another.

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

Opening Our Eyes to Change

Change does not recognize boundaries – it impacts us all and there is no way to escape its effects. 

Keeping up with change requires more than just observing and adjusting for changes in your industry and geographic location. It means scanning for early stage changes that may impact those we lead and serve. It means noticing change and making constant small adjustments in what we are doing BEFORE our leadership becomes obsolete. 

Moving Beyond Convenient Beliefs

It can seem convenient for some leaders to ignore context, complexity, inclusion and change. Doing that, they may falsely believe that it will work for them to continue to lead in ways that are out of step with current ethical expectations. The bad news for leaders who “close their eyes” to context, complexity, inclusion and change is that the ethical requirement that we honor them doesn’t go away, and others see it clearly. Leaders who fall into this tap are exposed as leading with their eyes closed in a world that requires alert, “eyes-open” leadership. 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Keep using the same outdated mindset and approach as the world is changing
  • Long for past times when things were different and act as if we are still in those times
  • Encourage others to ignore change and see the world as they do
  • Make important decisions with “eyes closed” to changes in the world – which leads to unethical decisions

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Acknowledge change and treat it as dynamic and constant
  • Watch for subtle and overt patterns
  • Talk about the patterns of change that they see so others can see and adapt to them
  • Make continual, incremental adjustments to adapt to observed changes

When we ignore change, we choose to become obsolete, and by making that choice, we leave the realm of ethical leadership. By embracing change, and “trimming our sails” to make incremental adjustments, we can stay in ethical waters as the tides and currents change.  

Stay tuned for Part 6! 

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Who we include in our ethical thinking, and how broadly we consider our responsibility to others are both important elements of ethical leadership. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and in Part 2, I broke down issues related to understanding Context. In Part 3, I looked at embracing Complexity. In Part 4, we’ll dig into the importance of Inclusion.

Why is Inclusion Important?

It is easy to exclude. Our brains are wired to keep us safe, and we typically prefer to be with people in our own trusted groups. If we don’t manage our thinking and perceptions, and our reactions to people and situations, we may (intentionally or unintentionally) make decisions that harm others who are not like us.

“A brain structure called the amygdala is the seat of classical fear conditioning and emotion in the brain. Psychological research has consistently supported the role of fear in prejudiced behavior.”

Naomi Schalit, Humans are wired for prejudice but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story in The Conversation

What Does It Require?

Full inclusion requires that we extend our respect, our care and our concern to all people. It means making responsible choices about what happens to people inside our trusted groups and well beyond them. Applying full inclusion, we see that everyone is within our purvue, everyone demands our consideration, and everyone deserves to be treated well. Treating everyone well means going beyond the superficial level, and beyond token gestures of concern, to offer the same high level of care and concern that we extend to our trusted groups.

Who Do We Engage and Listen To?

Inclusion requires treating people with respect and care, but it also includes engaging in dialogue with people outside of our usual circles, finding out what really matters to them and what they need. If we don’t, we’re just guessing at what they need and our solutions may do more harm than good.

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Treat people outside their trusted groups with a lower level of respect and care
  • Think of certain groups as “in” or “out” of their favor
  • Fall into the trap of deciding what groups of people need without involving them
  • Use divisive language that incites discriminatory or harmful behavior from others

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders know that diversity is part of the leadership sphere and they embrace full inclusion
  • They build inclusive teams
  • They include diverse voices in important  conversations  and honor the needs and perspectives of all constituents
  • They understand that diversity is an asset and inclusion is a leadership responsibility

When we ignore the importance of inclusion, we may play favorites or treat certain groups disrespectfully, calling attention to our lack of ethical competence. By embracing inclusion, we stay on the path to ethical solutions that work for all, fulfilling our responsibility as ethical leaders in a global society.

Stay tuned for Part 5! 

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical Thinking and Decision Making require staying grounded in ethical values, but there is much more to do than knowing our values and living them every day through our choices. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and in Part 2, I broke down issues related to understanding Context. In Part 3, let’s take a look at Complexity.

Embracing Complexity is Part of Leadership

Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions. It means being intentional about decision making and avoiding making snap judgments.

Leaders who develop a high level of thinking complexity will be better able to help our organizations understand and work through a wide variety of challenges, problems, and opportunities. They will make sense of issues and problems that are multidimensional and connected. And they will be prepared to do what all great leaders do – help those they lead deal with increasing complexity.

         — Linda Fisher Thornton, Dealing With Complexity in Leadership 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Use oversimplified approaches to understanding complex issues
  • Ignore the complexity of an issue because “it’s too hard to figure out.”
  • Fall into the trap of only noticing data that conveniently backs up their current beliefs

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders know that complexity is part of the leadership sphere and they embrace it 
  • They look for, notice, and talk about complexity
  • They work to find clear and compelling ways to communicate complex issues so that others can understand them

When we ignore complexity, many around us can easily see that we are not operating in reality. They can see that we’re not taking informed action and not solving problems in responsible ways. By embracing complexity, we stay on the path that leads to ethical solutions that work in the real world.

Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series! 

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In Part 1 of this series I looked at the importance of Deep Thinking. In Part 2, we’ll consider the Context. No matter how much effort it takes to understand the context, we can’t expect to make an ethical decision without taking that step.

Understanding the Context

Without seeing the context – a broad and sweeping view of the issue we are discussing or trying to resolve and factors in the environment that affect it – we are just describing or trying to solve a SUBSET of the real issue. We are not seeing the whole issue. To use ethical thinking and decision-making, we must remind ourselves that the SUBSET is not the whole. 

If you drive a sports car on a crowded city street with your eyes closed, people are going to get hurt (including you). Making decisions without understanding the context is similarly risky. 

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.

    — Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Leaders Understand the Context, Leading in Context Blog 

It’s easy to find one or two pieces of information about an issue and think we understand it. In Context Matters: What We’re Learning About Food I explored what happens when we think about nutrition by looking at individual nutrients without considering the context. That example drives home the point because most of us have probably gone through life thinking about nutrition as a collection of individual nutrients.

“Applying the ‘food matrix’ concept we learn that we can’t accurately assess nutritional impact based on breaking down individual nutrients in isolation from the whole. We have to consider what we added and what we left out. In other words, context matters.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Context Matters: What We’re Learning About Food, Leading in Context Blog

Understanding the context helps us make choices that “work” ethically in the particular setting and it prepares us to adapt to a changing world.  What is ethical in one context may not be in another.

Context Helps us See the Bigger Meaning 

Some people may feel that it’s wrong to hold someone accountable now for an ethical violation when the same action was not punished in the past. Considering the context helps us see that this change is not a result of “inconsistent” treatment, but of increasing expectations and accountability for ethical behavior.

“Full accountability – holding people accountable for ethical problems that were previously overlooked – may appear on the surface to be inconsistent and unfair. But when you take a closer look at the trends, you will discover an important reason why people are more frequently being held fully accountable. It is because ethical expectations are increasing and expanding.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Full Accountability for Ethics: The New Normal, Leading in Context Blog

Context is an important element in ethical decision making. 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Assume they already know the context
  • Ignore new research or the informed opinions of others outside of their groups
  • “Save time” by ignoring the context so they can make a quick and decisive decision

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders take time to understand the context
  • They look outside of their own groups to see what others are learning about the issue
  • They carefully consider the context before making decisions or taking action
  • They adjust their thinking as new credible information emerges

Leaders who ignore the context frustrate those they lead and serve. Why? Ignoring the context and making a quick decision often leads to costly and time-consuming fixes later. The fallout from decisions made in a vacuum can be severe and leaders can miss critical ethical issues. Taking the time to understand the context, we more easily make decisions that fall within the ethical zone. 

Watch for Part 3, when I’ll explore the importance of embracing complexity

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 1)

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Welcome to Part 1 in “The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making.” Ethical decision-making is not simply a task. It is the process of analyzing and understanding multiple connected variables in a changing context AND applying ethical values to make responsible choices. It requires doing the work to understand issues clearly before making decisions or taking action. In each post in this series, I’ll explore one aspect of this complex, connected process. Today I’ll focus on the importance of deep thinking. 

Deep Thinking

Ethical thinking requires much more than just knowing and following our values. I’ve written about the trap of shallow thinking and how important it is to intentionally “wade into” the depth of issues to fully understand them.

Why is deep thinking so important? 

  • Complex issues involve connected systems which are undergoing constant change
  • Complex issues cross borders and boundaries
  • Complex issues can’t be understood from one or two perspectives

When we dig into issues and explore their depths, we gain insights that we would otherwise miss. Complex issues just can’t be deconstructed and understood using shallow thinking. The meaningful insights are only found below the surface.

Shallow Thinking and Shallow Breathing

What happens when our approach is too shallow? Think about how easy it is to start using shallow breathing without being aware that we’re doing it. This can happen when we’re stressed or anxious, and it can impact our well-being. We may be unaware that we are using shallow breathing until someone notices we’re turning pale and tells us to BREATHE.

We can medically treat people who are having trouble breathing. But what do we do about thinking that is starved for depth, context and complexity?

When we use shallow thinking, that impacts the “well-being” of our decision making, leading to false conclusions and ethically problematic decisions. It’s almost as if when we use shallow thinking, our decision making is getting less oxygen. 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Survey issues at the shallow level and make bold statements without all the information
  • Attack the statements or decisions other people make without doing the deep thinking required to understand the complexity of the issues
  • Blame others for being “wrong” without trying to understand their perspective or the data that backs it up

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders do the deep thinking
  • They ask for input and listen to what other people see and believe
  • They wade into the depths of issues to understand them clearly before they make decisions
  • They struggle through a tangled web of complex information to find the truth

In the airline safety briefing before a flight, we are told to “put on our own oxygen mask first, then assist other passengers.” Similarly, we need to do our own deep thinking before we direct others. When we do the deep thinking, we set the tone for those we lead to do the same. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the “Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making” Series!

 

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Healthy Media Consumption

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I’ve blogged about how to spot fake news and variables complicating media ethics. Today I’ll explore the characteristics healthy media consumption. Let’s begin with a dose of healthy skepticism. 

Healthy Skepticism

You can’t believe everything you see. Photographs and videos that appear to be “proof” of a story may have been altered. Your best bet is to choose your sources of information carefully so that you can reasonably be assured that what you are seeing and hearing is real.

Careful Sourcing

Not all media platforms are created equal. Some don’t even try to be objective, and others are trying to sell you things while making you think you’re being entertained. Choose platforms that are considered objective, or sample a wide range of differing sources that each have different perspectives/biases/assumptions.

Time to Think

We need time to think. It is easier to stay grounded in our values when we have the time and space to reflect on them. When we aren’t constantly consuming content, we are more aware of our thought processes and more likely to pay attention to our responsibilities.

Multiple Layers of Truth

Even if you choose reputable news sources, you still have to look critically at the information that is presented. In the rush to share news first, even reputable sources mistakenly share content that may have some problems on closer inspection. We have to watch for layers of truth and investigate things to see if the assertion holds up at more than one level.

Case in point: The Washington Post published a story headlined‘Horns’ are growing on young people’s skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests.While the study mentioned in the article was actually published, questions were raised about the way the study was conducted, including existing neck problems in study participants, according to Ari Shapiro and John Hawks in the recent NPR interview: Is Technology Turning Us Into Horned Monsters? Not Exactly. In addition, the Washington Post article has since been updated to include that there appears to be researcher conflict of interest.

Careful Content Consumption 

“Smart” phones change our lives in positive ways, but they don’t remove the need for good thinking. Even though it may seem this way, they don’t simplify things for us so we can do less thinking. The high volume, high speed flood of content we are exposed to actually MULTIPLIES the need for good thinking and careful content consumption.

 

Also See How You Can Stop the Fake News Madness.

 

 

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On Patriotism, Nationalism, Globalism and Ethics

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I teach global leadership and applied ethics. Students often have questions about the differences between patriotism, nationalism and globalism. This post explores the differences and their ethical implications. 

There has been a lot of recent discussion around nationalism. The term has been used in ways that seem to put it on par with patriotism. To understand how it’s different, I’ll take a look at nationalism, patriotism and globalism using an ethical lens. Without seeing them through an ethical lens, the differences are less clear. Using an ethical lens, we begin to see that what appear to be subtle variations are vast differences in intent and impact. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as “love for or devotion to one’s country” and nationalism in part as “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” While they seem positive and similar at the surface level, Merriam-Webster goes on to clarify how they are different: 

“the definition of nationalism also includes ‘exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations…’ This exclusionary aspect is not shared by patriotism.”  Merriam-Webster, The Difference Between ‘Patriotism’ and ‘Nationalism’

Patriotism is pride in country, which is positive, but when it loses its grounding and takes a detour around ethical values it becomes something completely different. George Orwell, Bart Bonikowski and Noam Chomsky reflect on how nationalism impacts our actions and behaviors:

By ‘nationalism’ … I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”   

George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

“The study of nationalism in settled times is not a unified field, but the multiple research streams described here offer…how such beliefs shape support for authoritarian politics and exclusionary policies.”

Bart Bonikowski, Nationalism in Settled Times, Harvard.edu

Patriotism and Nationalism in the Global Context

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines globalism as “a national policy of treating the whole world as a proper sphere for political influence.” Seeing the world as a global village helps us consider the impact of our choices on a wider scale.  If we don’t consider our impact on the rest of the world, we are operating with blinders on, ignoring the realities of the global context. We’re ignoring important ethical variables including human rights and respect for differences. Noam Chomsky said in a speech in Glasgow that nationalism has a way of oppressing others.” If we follow that line of thinking, we begin to need to ask a powerful question – “Is nationalism simply patriotism without ethics?” Consider this important question as you think about these two very different views of the world and our place in it.

Globalists:

  • recognize the connectedness of our global economy and consider the impact of decisions on a global scale
  • recognize that all people are equal and deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of where they come from
  • acknowledge diverse cultures and traditions of the world as all important
  • see the world as one big community of people

Using a globalist world view, patriotism is pride in one’s country in the context of the global village.

Nationalists:

  • consider their country to be “the best”
  • think about people outside their country as less important, of a lower status or inferior to those in their own country
  • ignore cultural diversity and only feel comfortable with the traditions of their own country
  • make decisions that benefit their own country and fail to consider the negative impact on the rest of the world
  • think of people who came from outside their country as not deserving the respect or fair treatment that would be offered to people in their own country

Using a nationalist world view, patriotism is a desire for exclusive benefits for one’s country, without regard for the impact on those beyond its borders.

How Different World Views Impact Our Ethical Choices

Let’s look a little deeper at the differences between globalism and nationalism. A person with a globalist worldview is more likely to value peaceful global relations among countries (seeing the world as a community) and a person with a nationalist worldview is more likely to value “winning” in the global arena (seeing one country as the best and entitled to more than the other countries). This nationalist sense of superiority and entitlement can lead to decisions that unfairly target, exclude and harm those from other countries. Someone with a nationalist worldview could be seen as lacking ethical competence due to failing to consistently honor human rights, and lacking cultural awareness and respect for differences. If we acknowledge the complexity of this issue, there are likely “shades of nationalism” that reflect combining patriotism with widely varying degrees of ethical awareness and action.

Using an ethical lens, patriotism and nationalism are more than different ways of seeing the world. They are ethically aware (patriotism + globalism) and ethically unaware (nationalism), respectful of differences (patriotism + globalism) and not respectful of differences (nationalism) on a sliding scale of degrees. Through an ethical lens, nationalism looks like patriotism that ignores the global context and ethical responsibility. 

Resources

Questions For Discussion

  1. Where have we seen recent examples of nationalism?
  2. In those examples, was there a detour around ethical values, ethics codes and/or global agreements? 
  3. Do you think that nationalism is “patriotism without ethics”? Why or why not?

 

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5 Insights For the Class of 2019

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have a special message for our 2019 graduates. It includes five important life insights that I wish someone had shared with me when I was a new graduate beginning the next chapter of my life.

5 Insights For the Class of 2019 

  1. Take The JourneyRemember that while many will try to sell you the “quick fix” and “easy out,” it is doing the work and taking on the struggle and the growth that provide lasting success in life.
  2. Know Your ValuesFigure out the qualities in yourself that you most want to cultivate. Know the ethical values that you believe in deeply and want to live up to.
  3. Commit to Investigative Learning Learn how to find relevant information in a sea of content. Decide to do more than take information at face value. Learn how to identify fake news and sort out the misleading from the true.
  4. Learn Ethical Thinking and Communication   There is much more to learn beyond “do unto others.” Learn how to untangle ethical issues and talk about them calmly and respectfully, even when you disagree. Learn how to honor multiple stakeholders and look for solutions that benefit all.
  5. Decide to Make a Difference Just “showing up” to work does not make a good life. Find a cause you are passionate about that serves others in your community. It will offer you stability and satisfaction as you weather the normal ups and downs of life.

While the world will pull you in many different compelling directions, it is your values that will keep you anchored. Become aware of them. Nurture them…Know what you believe in. Live it. Set an example for others by building a good, ethical life in a chaotic world.

We are counting on you.

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