600th Blog Post: 10 Leadership Lessons Learned

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I’ve been blogging for 12 years, after making a very rocky start on March 5, 2009. If I had let my early failures determine my future, I would never have made it to this point celebrating 600 posts on the Leading in Context Blog. Today I’m sharing 10 Leadership Lessons I’ve learned since starting this blog in the hopes that they will inspire you to press forward in your important work.

To sum up the experience so far, it’s been a wild, up-and-down ride. I’ve hesitated, made excuses, written anyway, made mistakes, felt discouraged, gotten back up, and tried again. But the most important thing that has happened over more than a decade is that I think I’ve begun to make a difference.

10 Leadership Lessons Learned

Lesson 1: Have the Courage to Question (150th Post)

Don’t be satisfied with “less than great” answers to important questions. Dig deeper. Learn more. Find out if other people are concerned too. Imagine how finding a clearer solution could be transformational.

Lesson 2: Get off of AutoPilot and Take the First Step (150th Post)

Overcoming inertia is one of the toughest challenges. Just take one small step toward filling the need you’ve identified. Get started. See where it takes you.

Lesson 3: Believe You Can Make a Difference (200th Post)

It’s easy to believe the nagging voices in your head saying “You’re not qualified, or “You’re not the right person to do this.” Change your narrative. Lean into the possibility that you just might be able to move the needle on something that would matter to other people.

Lesson 4: Lurch Toward Your Goal and Hold On For the Ride (200th Post)

The movements you’ll make will feel like 3 steps forward, 2 steps back at times. Don’t get discouraged. Take a longer term, higher level view of your overall impact.

Lesson 5: Realize That Growth is Uncomfortable But Worth It (250th Post)

Yes, the impact of your work can be powerful, but your own human growth can be even more transformative. Since human brains are wired to value comfort and ease, do the constant “inner work” telling yourself that growth is worth it.

Lesson 6: Fill the Gap That Calls to You (300th Post)

I didn’t use to believe that everyone had a calling. Now I do. It turns out that great thinkers throughout time believed this, but we seem to have forgotten. Something calls to each of us. Hear it, and answer, to fill that gap that only you can fill.

Lesson 7: Strive For Meaning Not Perfection (400th Post)

This was one of my greatest challenges (since I’m a reformed perfectionist). Learn to embrace mistakes and use them to get better. Look for the lesson to take away from each mistake or failure that can lead you to greater success.

Lesson 8: Never Expect It to Get Easier (450th Post)

I wish someone had told me when I was young that life doesn’t tend to get easier along the way. I thought it would, and eventually had to realize that it was my ability to grow through my challenges that would make it easier, not the circumstances I faced getting easier. Focus on getting better instead of expecting things to get easier.

Lesson 9: Be Ready to Make Mistakes and Keep On Going (Oops – I forgot to celebrate my 550th post during COVID-19)

It helps to have a level of detachment from your work so that you don’t tie up your happiness in things being exactly a certain way or not ever making mistakes. Admit mistakes. It’s part of being human and it helps others trust you more when you don’t pretend to be perfect.

Lesson 10: Realize That Many Small Contributions Add Up to a Life’s Work (500th Post)

After applying the other 9 Lessons, I learned that persistence is really the thing that leads to making the greatest difference in the long run. Do enough small things, and that builds momentum, and adds up to a bigger contribution.

Difference-making doesn’t just happen in big moments. It’s in the thousands of small impacts you have on individual people who learn from your perspective and then go on to influence their organizations, friends and families. Each encounter generates a positive ripple. All of the positive ripples you generate slowly build momentum over time.

I hope these 10 Life Lessons learned on my journey can help you as you pursue your life’s work. We all have capabilities we can tap into to make a positive difference in our communities and our world – even though we’re all too busy, feel uncomfortable stepping out of our comfort zones, and don’t know how to start.

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership

Copyright 2009-2021 Leading in Context LLC

When Position Power and Ethics Collide

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Our responsibilities as citizens, workers, leaders, and family members require us to choose ethics over loyalty. Yet, when we do, it can surprise people. Maybe that’s because it is not the easiest path to take. Here’s a story about a situation I faced very early in my career, when I was in my 20s.

The Character Test

I was a low level supervisor, and a department manager from another area stopped by my office and asked me to make an exception to a policy for the employee. After taking a look at the paperwork and asking a few questions, I determined that an exception wasn’t warranted. The employee had not been with the company long enough, and there were no extenuating circumstances. The manager was trying to use his position power to get me to do something for his employee that went against company policy. Making an exception for his employee wouldn’t have been fair to the other employees, and I couldn’t make an exception for everyone.

As I stood there, facing one of my earliest moments of truth, I looked him in the eye and said no. Actually I said something like “I’m sorry, I will not be able to approve it now, but please resubmit the paperwork when the employee is eligible.” The manager was shocked and angered when I didn’t give in to his request, and he stormed out of my office.

Ethical Boundaries Define Who We Are

There are a number of things that can go wrong if we bow down to position power. Blind loyalty to someone based on position power can result in agreeing to anything they say, and doing anything they say. When a person violates ethical boundaries, and we follow along, we’re violating them too.

I have shared with my students in Applied Ethics class that by saying no (politely but firmly) that day, there was an unexpected positive outcome. I ended up creating something like an “invisible force field” around myself that protected my ethics for the rest of my 13 year career with the company. How is that possible? After that incident, word got around. It probably sounded something like “Don’t ask her to do anything wrong. She won’t do it.” I had made the rest of my career easier by establishing a reputation for doing the right thing early on.

If we put position power before ethics, we need to be ready to bear the risks and consequences of that choice (and the flood of additional requests we’ll get when they realize we’re willing to honor their position power with blind loyalty).

When asked to do something you’re not comfortable with, ask yourself:

1. Is it worth it to damage my character and reputation to go along with this?
2. What if this thing I am being asked to do (and about to do out of loyalty) is illegal or unethical?
3. If it turns out to be illegal or unethical, how do I feel about the consequences that may happen to me (blind loyalty is not a good defense in court).
4. What are the options I have (besides doing this thing I’m not comfortable with), and which one is the best, most responsible choice?

Avoid What Appears To Be The “Easy” Solution

We will all be tested. If we decide to put ethics before loyalty to those in positions of power, that will define our personal character in a positive way that will enhance our lives and careers. Agreeing to an unethical request may seem easier for the 5 minutes we’re dealing with it, but always remember that it will be much more difficult when the next request comes (and the next, and the next and the next…).

Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership

Ethical Awareness is a Moving Target

By Linda Fisher Thornton

How well is your organization navigating the ethical pitfalls of the working world? If you’re finding it to be a major challenge right now, you’re not alone.

Why is it so hard to navigate ethical minefields now?

There is currently a “toxic soup” of factors at play, including:

  • Life and death pandemic safety issues, requiring full cooperation and adherence to safety protocols
  • Continuing pandemic restrictions, isolation, and restriction burnout
  • Racial tension and a renewed focus on real (not just “marketing level”) inclusion
  • Political tension, polarity, disagreement, and blame
  • Worker fears about COVID-19 combined with large-scale vaccine distribution challenges
  • Rampant misinformation-spreading makes it difficult to identify the truth, and even harder to talk about it
  • Financial challenges, with some workers and businesses living on the edge day to day
  • Inability to get on top of putting out fires to see the big picture, combined with a critical need to adapt
  • Concerns about what work will look like after the pandemic combined with a growing awareness that some things will never go back to the way they were

Five years ago, we didn’t imagine that this was where we would be. We should have seen it coming, because we were warned by plenty of experts, but that’s the topic of another post. Looking at the multiple challenges we’re facing now, I see that there is a great need to sharpen ethical awareness, and that organizations that don’t embrace this challenge will be assuming major unnecessary risks.

How do we sharpen our ethical awareness?

Since starting this blog and authoring 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, I have taken on the mission of providing practical guidance on ethical leadership. The book provides a coherent, easy to apply 7-Lens schema for tackling ethical problems with a high level of awareness. But I have also written short practical posts for leadership development and education, and below I share a selection of those that will be helpful to you now as you navigate these multiple challenges.

What is Ethical Awareness?

Ethics is Action Beyond Self-Interest

Leadership: Evaluating Ethical Awareness

How Current is My Message About Ethics? (Assessment)

How Do We Develop It?

Seeing the Nuances of Ethical Leadership: A Developmental Model

Mindset or Competency: Which is More Important?

Uncomfortable Learning

What is Ethical Thinking?

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Series)

Rethinking “Smart” Leadership in an Ethical Context

How Do We Navigate Our Current Complex Challenges?

Pandemic Leadership

10 Leadership Strategies For Thriving in 2021

A COVID-19 Leadership Reset: Moving Beyond Paradox

COVID-19: Our Inner Space

Perspectives on a Future With COVID-19

Pandemic Leadership: 3 Questions to Ask in the New Year

Leading During National Unrest and Division

How to Be Human Together

Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

Pluralism: 9 Elements Required for Ethical Leadership

On Patriotism, Nationalism, Globalism and Ethics

Great Leaders Unite

Labels Divide: Values Conquer

Moving From Putting Out Fires to Seeing the Bigger Context

Prevention or Cure: Your Choice

The Evolving Purpose of Leadership: Why More is Expected Now

9 Ethical Roles: Is Your Leadership Team “All In?”

Talking About What Matters (Series)

10 Tricky Questions About Ethics and Leadership: Answered

Finding the Truth and Avoiding Misinformation

Beliefs Are Complicated

Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Series)

Reflections on Truth: Why is it So Elusive?

Digital Deception: Unethical Sleight of Hand

Unethical Leadership: Beliefs of Convenience

Ethical awareness isn’t a destination. It’s a moving target. We’ll have to intentionally stretch to meet it. That stretch helps bring out our ethical best, which is what our employees, partners, colleagues and customers deserve.

People will remember how we handled things on their behalf during this time of multiple catastrophes. Let’s make sure what they remember is that we took the time to consider the impact of our choices, took responsible actions, and also provided guidance as they struggled to do the same.

Top 10 2020: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 individual posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2020, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these new topics that readers accessed most frequently.

#1 10 Leadership Strategies For Thriving in 2021

#2 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Isolation

#3 Pluralism: 9 Elements Required For Ethical Leadership

#4 Human Leadership is the Leadership We Need

#5 10 Tricky Questions About Ethical Leadership Answered

#6 10 Quotes to Inspire Leaders in Divisive Times

#7 Leading With Values During the Pandemic

#8 Ignoring Toxic Leadership is Not Worth the Tradeoffs

#9 Beliefs are Complicated

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

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2020, it would be Ethical Leadership in Divisive Times. This theme reflects our collective struggles as we dealt with acts of racism, conspiracy theories, and blatent disregard for safety measures that were supposed to protect us all during a raging pandemic.

Which post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about, comment to share your idea!

Pandemic Leadership: 3 Questions To Ask in the New Year

What will make us successful in the new year?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each year I raise questions that help leaders stay current as ethical expectations change. Here are three new questions to ponder as we head into a New Year. These are important questions about our ethical intentions, actions and impact that will help guide our choices in the coming year.

  1. What do employees want that would increase their engagement and improve their experience? If we know, why aren’t we doing it? What could we change that would make it possible?
  2. What have we learned during the pandemic that should stay ‘top of mind’ as we head into 2021? How can we leverage that awareness to benefit us and our constituents?
  3. What would it take to emerge from the global pandemic with our values more closely integrated with our practices, products and culture? Ethical integration is a trend that is providing organizations with an edge in challenging times.

As ethical expectations continue to increase, the answers to these questions will help us close the gaps between our current intentions, actions and impact, and what our constituents expect of us.

Ethics is Acting Beyond Self-Interest

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is an edited version of a previously published reader favorite.

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

Ethics is fundamentally about acting beyond our own self-interests. Can we be ethical without considering others and acting in ways that benefit them? 

Here are some interesting questions and quotes on the subject. As you read, think about the business leader’s responsibility to act beyond the interests of the business and beyond personal gain.

Questions About Ethics, Ego and Acting Out of Concern for Others

1. Is ethics moving beyond the ego to show concern for others?

“While egoism may be a strong motivator of human behavior, ethics traditionally assumes that human beings are also capable of acting from a concern for others that is not derived from a concern for their own welfare.”

“The moral point of view goes beyond self-interest to a standpoint that takes everyone’s interests into account. Ethics, then, assumes that self interest is not the basis for all human behavior, although some philosophers, e.g., Hobbes, have tried to base ethics on self-interest. Their efforts, however, have not been widely accepted.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

2. Can we define ethics based on reason, when reason doesn’t involve others?

“Justice can’t be determined by examining a single case, since the advantage to society of a rule of justice depends on how it works in general under the circumstances in which it is introduced.”

“Thus the views of the moral rationalists on the role of reason in ethics, even if they can be made coherent, are false.”

David Hume, Stanford.edu, quoting from Hume’s autobiographical essay, “My Own Life”

3. If we serve others now, will we benefit long-term?

“Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.[1][2][3]   It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will “do well by doing good”.[4][5][6]”

“Enlightened self-interest also has implications for long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits to oneself.[7] When an individual pursues enlightened self-interest that person may sacrifice short-term interests to maximize long-term interests. This is a form of deferred gratification.”

Enlightened Self-Interest, Wikipedia.com

4. Are we at our best when we consider others?

“The motives which lie behind our behaviors are often mixed and complex. But studies such as these are among the challenges to the long held view that even at our best, we are only out for ourselves. Rather, at our best, we may only be out for others.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

5. What, then, is ethical behavior?

“In some ways, putting the greater good before your own can be thought of as the definition of ethical leadership, since it underlies so many of the other components.” “Ethical behavior reflects a value system that grows out of a coherent view of the world, based on equity, justice, the needs and rights of others as well as oneself, a sense of obligation to others and to the society, and the legitimate needs and standards of the society.”

The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas, ku.edu

What does all of this mean for leaders?

We are all responsible for acting beyond our own self-interests. In this age of ‘infotainment’ and information overload, we have to know ourselves, know our responsibility to others, and choose to act beyond self-interest and short-term gain.

If we ever forget, we’ll be reminded by ethically-aware constituents that it’s not ethical leadership if we don’t consistently act out of respect and concern for others.

Beliefs Are Complicated

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in the Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives series explored truth and narrative, and Part 2 examined how data and motives relate to the truth. Part 3 addressed the importance of media literacy. In this follow up, we take a deeper look at truth and belief.

It turns out that beliefs are complicated. How do we know if our beliefs are actually true?

“Many people don’t realize that every thought that pops into their heads isn’t true, and they are unable to decipher authentic beliefs from false ones.”

— Mike Oppland, How Psychology Combats False and Self-Limiting Beliefs

But if we learn to manage the automatic messages popping into our heads all day long, we’ll be able to tell the difference, right? Not necessarily.

As July Beck says in This Article Won’t Change Your Mind, in The Atlantic, “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you.”

At least we change our minds when presented with the facts, don’t we? If we’re presented with facts that contradict our beliefs don’t we automatically change them? Not necessarily.

“Unfortunately, we still form beliefs without vetting most of them, and maintain them even after receiving clear, corrective information.”

Annie Duke, Why Your Brain Clings To False Beliefs (Even When It Knows Better), Fast Company

Daniel DeNicola writes in his Psyche article You Don’t Have a Right To Believe Whatever You Want To that “Beliefs aspire to truth – but they do not entail it. Beliefs can be false, unwarranted by evidence or reasoned consideration. They can also be morally repugnant.

Trendwatching.com says in The Fight For Facts that “consumers’ ramped- up search for news prompted a misinformation avalanche, what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls an infodemic’.

People often share a new piece of information they believe to be true in haste without considering the repercussions. Is it unethical to share a false belief that could cause harm to others? Yes. It violates many ethical principles including truthfulness, trustworthiness, respect, care, and “do no harm.”

“Information on Twitter (and other social platforms that use short and fast messages) is particularly likely to be evaluated based on emotional responses with little input from higher cognitive functions.”

—Tali Sharot, Why People Can’t Agree on Basic Facts, Time

We’ve been focusing on whether or not we can trust other people, but it turns out the problem is much closer than we realized. It turns out that we can’t always trust ourselves. Annie Duke suggests in her Fast Company article Why Your Brain Clings To False Beliefs (Even When It Knows Better): that “the next time you argue with someone over something you believe to be true, step back and ask yourself how you came to this conclusion.”

Leadership: Evaluating Ethical Awareness

By Linda Fisher Thornton

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical awareness may have been considered private in the past, but it has become easier to observe in a society that is always socially connected. Since ethical reputation is a defining element in individual and organizational success, it is time that we consider ethical awareness as a key element of experience when selecting leaders for our businesses, community organizations, governments, and nations.

Our level of ethical awareness is the rock on which we build our relationships, decisions and actions. It drives our choices and how we treat others. It informs our priorities and budget allocation. It tells us what to pay attention to and how we will handle it.

But when choosing a leader, how do we know how solid that leader’s rock is in terms of ethical awareness? To find out, we need to understand the job candidate’s worldview. How does the leader perceive the world? What does the leader consider most important? What is the leader’s definition of “good leadership?”

Assessing a Leader’s Ethical Awareness

Questions to explore by interview and observation:

We need ethically-aware leaders in every leadership role at every level. The pandemic has taught us that our well-being is in the hands of the leaders we have chosen. Choosing the most ethically-aware leader will lead to the most ethical long-term outcomes. We need to take the time to look under the rock.

Who’s Accountable For Ethical Artificial Intelligence?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Who is accountable for ethical artificial intelligence? How do you build accountability into your organization’s use of AI? I was recently invited to answer those questions in a guest blog post published on the EDUCAUSE Professional Development Commons and EDUCAUSE Review.

There is more to think about when implementing AI than just efficiency and time savings. There are ethical implications at every step in the process. This article includes an overview of those ethical implications and steps organizations can take to build ethics into current and future AI projects.

“Determining who is responsible for ethical AI turns out to be more complicated than identifying the person who created the program. There are potentially multiple responsible parties, including programmers, sellers, and implementers of AI-enabled products and services. For AI to be ethical, multiple parties must fulfill their ethical obligations. IT departments should be ready to assess and manage ethics before, during, and after AI deployment.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Artificial Intelligence and Ethical Accountability, EDUCAUSE Professional Development Commons and EDUCAUSE Review.

While the article was written for higher education IT professionals, the principles apply to any IT department in any industry that is directly or indirectly (through vendors) using AI.

The article is governed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Share this article with your team to establish a baseline understanding of ethical accountability for AI, and to incorporate key steps into your planning and implementation processes.

This article was originally published in the EDUCAUSE Professional Development Commons (blog) and EDUCAUSE REVIEW, Artificial Intelligence and Ethical Accountability, EDUCAUSE Review, July 31, 2020.

How to Be Human (Together)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m sharing an edited compilation of three previously published posts that are relevant for leaders and organizations wanting to honor human rights in chaotic times. The first addresses the risk of excluding any humans from our organizational statement of inclusion. The second explains why values transcend borders and boundaries, and the third explains that how we perceive people who are ‘different’ impacts our behavior and our ethics.

Inclusion: The Power of Regardless

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 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.

Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

When you make a commitment to ethical values and ethical choices, boundaries and walls only indicate the boundaries of new places to apply those ethical values and choices. Beyond them, ethical values matter just as much as they matter within your own walls. You could argue that they matter more, because you are stepping into other cultures and ways of life and need to take special care to show respect.

Any argument that we can be disrespectful or harmful to others who live outside of our borders is based on flawed thinking, self-interest, myopia and a lack of moral awareness.

Ethical leaders see beyond walls. They don’t dehumanize people to improve their own position.

Ethical leaders think beyond themselves on a global scale. They don’t excuse their own or anyone else’s bad behavior or unethical choices

Ethical Leadership: Perceptions of “Different” Impact Our Behavior

How we think as leaders directly impacts our behavior by compelling us to act based on the value judgments we make. Today’s post focuses on how we perceive “different,”  how our perceptions change our leadership, and how our leadership changes the work environment in ways that may lead to unethical behavior.

Unfortunately, we don’t always use the word “different” to describe things and people and ideas that are new to us. We often use less friendly words that indicate that the person or idea is wrong, misguided or harmful. Let’s check our thinking about “different” for a moment, and consider how our perception impacts our behavior and our ethics.

If we are one of the leaders who thinks that “different” ideas and people are interesting/good/essential, then we will be open to new ideas and new information and will want to surround ourselves with people who represent different ways of thinking. We will see the value in differences of opinion. We will tolerate some level of chaos and see it as part of the natural process of getting great work done. Opportunities will be quickly recognized and acted on, leading to competitive advantage.

If we are a leader who thinks that “different” ideas and people are dangerous/bad/wrong, then we will be closed to new ideas and new information and will want to surround ourselves with people who think and act very much like we do. We will see differences of opinion as threatening the fabric of the organization. Our organization will begin to become obsolete as groupthink sets in. We will discourage new and different perspectives and will see them as blatant insubordination.  Employees will leave as they find they are not able to do their best work in the “copy me” culture. Missed opportunities and complications from employee resistance to “not being allowed to think for themselves” will take a toll on the profitability and viability of the business. Employees will be more likely to make unethical decisions in the restrained environment that does not allow for discussion of grey areas during ethical challenges.

Which type of leader engages employees? Inspires the best work? Is rewarded in your organization? Which of these two approaches is ethical?

“Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic”

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“For ethical leadership to stick, the culture needs an infrastructure that consistently supports acting on stated values…Ethical cultures treat ethical thinking as something that must be cultivated, demonstrated, and practiced over time.”

My article, “Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic,” featured in the August issue of the Talent Development Journal, describes five culture gaps that inhibit ethical leadership. These culture gaps are common problems that organizations should watch for and avoid.

You won’t want to miss this article. It includes advice to organizations wanting to build ethical cultures, and is grounded in decades of experience and observations about where cultures often fall short.

“Companies fall into five common traps on the way to building an ethics-rich culture: no active focus on values, oversimplification of complex issues, lack of behavior boundaries, lack of integration, and ignoring the learning curve.”

Linda Fisher Thornton, Ethical Thinking Isn’t Automatic, Talent Development Journal

Ethical thinking doesn’t happen without the infrastructure to support it. Does your organization have it in place or is it burdened with one of the five culture gaps? Read the full article to learn how to identify and resolve five common culture gaps that erode ethical leadership.

Subscribe at LeadinginContext.com/Blog.

Foster Your Ethical Brand Reputation

Connect Magazine Feature

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Connect Magazine invited me to weigh in on why ethical brand reputation is so important and how brands can build and foster stronger images.­

LindaThornton_110419-0057 b

In this article I share practical advice on protecting ethical brands and five top leadership trends I see unfolding in 2020. 

It’s worth a read for those who want to use the time during the pandemic to figure out how they can build a stronger company and a stronger brand that is ready for an uncertain future. 

“While we would like to think that we are in control of our brand image, it is really shaped by our ethical choices… To build and foster strong images, brands can activate and amplify their values.” 

— Linda Fisher Thornton in Connect Magazine

Important questions answered in this Q&A Feature: 

  • Why is it important for every brand to have a strong, consistent image today?
  • What are some of the ways brands can build and foster stronger images?
  • What leadership trends do you see unfolding?
  • What’s the theory behind your “7 Lenses” philosophy?

Read the Q & A Feature in Connect Magazine (page 13, the last printed page before the back cover)

After reviewing the insights in the feature article, share your own ideas in the comments. You’ll find additional curated resources on ethical brands below.  

More Curated Resources on Ethical Brands:

Ethical Branding: A Guide For Creating More Ethical Brands, thebrandingjournal.com

The Impact of Ethics on Brand Reputational Value, lighthouse-services.com

Product and Brand, Markkula Center For Applied Ethics, scu.edu

How Should Ethics Factor Into Your Brand Identity? Serenity Gibbons, forbes.com

Click the cover to read a free preview!

LeadinginContext.com  

©2020 Leading in Context LLC

“While we would like to think that we are in control of our brand image, it is really shaped by our ethical choices… To build and foster strong images, brands can activate and amplify their values.” 

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 6)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership focused on the importance of Ethical Foresight. Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 explored the dimensions of Ethical Design, Legal Compliance. Human Impact. and Evolving Ecosystem. Part 6 will conclude the series with the final dimension – Public Good.

5: PUBLIC GOOD

Assistive technology will make people lives easier, and it is profitable, but The IoT was meant to do much more than just make money. The problem is that our contributions to the IoT have no inherent morality and no contribution to the public good until we build them in. In addition to having no inherent morality, Gérald Santucci argues that the IoT creates the risk for “objects” to become “subjects” (they get the agency to take decisions) and for (human) subjects to become “objects” (we just behave by adopting and implementing the performance criteria of our objects: efficiency, productivity etc.). A simple example of this is wearing a fitness band that directs our behavior to increase movement and to direct when we should move. In this example, the fitness device is directing human behavior, not the other way around.

The scope of the shift in our role to that of subject is invisible unless we step back and look at it with an ecosystem view. “Things will be able to autonomously manage their transportation, implement fully automated processes and thus optimize logistics; they have to be able to harvest the energy they need, they will configure themselves when exposed to a new environment and show “intelligent/cognitive behavior” when faced with other things and deal seamlessly with unforeseen circumstances; and finally, they might manage their own disassembly and recycling, helping to preserve the environment, at the end of their lifecycle” (Dr. Ovideu Vermesan and Dr. Peter Friess, et. al., Internet of Things, Global Technologies and Societal Trends,  Chapter 2) Will we simply become caretakers of the processes they create? Who’s really in charge in this scenario?

If we are able to manage the evolution of the IoT at a high enough level, it has the potential to accelerate our progress toward improving the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In “using IoT to create a future we want” in the report” IoT Policies Toward 2025: Benefitting From the Opportunities” Maarten Botterman points out that “The Sustainable Development Goals that have been agreed by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 represent global norms, and include a clear call for connected technologies to contribute to achieving them. Please note that the SDGs also insist on “inclusive” use of connected resources.”

The IoT Is A Platform For Advancing The Public Good   In the end, pride of engineering must include a deep regard for ethical practices that should guide our actions and our obligations to the society we serve. Vint Cerf, The Ethics of the Internet of Things Ecosystem, The Marconi Society

“IoT devices placed strategically throughout even the most complex global supply chain can give managers deep, real-time insight into any problems, even before they arise.” The Internet of Things: Benefits and Risks, AIG

 In “Harnessing the IoT For Global Development,” the International Telecommunications Union and Cisco partner to make a powerful case for how advances in the IoT can move us forward on a global scale. Three of the areas where they predict IoT will have the highest potential impact include disease containment, agricultural yield and economic prediction.

Connecting the dots using disparate pieces of data collected by IoT devices can help us resolve some of society’s biggest problems. Arafat Kazi, UMass Amherst, describes the higher purpose of the IoT in “Life, The Universe and The Internet of Things: “Ultimately, IoT’s biggest transformative power lies in what it can do for the greater good… Creating new pathways for us to help each other and contribute to the good of humanity—that is IoT’s ultimate goal.”

It is our job to carefully manage our participation in the IoT as it grows so that our contributions can serve the greater good of society, individually and collectively. This means designing for SAFETY, WELL-BEING, and creating a BETTER LIFE for future generations.

Seeing The Whole Ethical Picture

“As cars begin to drive themselves, who should be responsible for accidents? As systems take on more decisions previously made by humans, it will be increasingly challenging to create a framework for responsibility and accountability” (Francine Berman and Vinton G. Cerf, Social and Ethical Behavior in the Internet of Things, Communications of the ACM). We can carefully design our contributions to the IoT so that they actively benefit society and improve the public good. The catch is that to do this well, we will need to understand and carefully manage the ethics of all of the dimensions discussed here – Ethical Design, Legal Compliance, Human Impact, the Evolving Ecosystem and the Greater Good.  The table below includes key ethical questions and global protocols for each dimension.

1 ETHICAL DESIGN

Global Protocols

Think Through Ethical Issues Up Front
Aim For Everyone in the Ecosystem to Win
Design in Safety and Privacy Protection
Protect Devices and Data From Interference/Tampering


Guiding Documents

“All actors should engage in a strong, active and constructive debate on the implications of the internet of things and its derived big data to raise awareness of the choices to be made.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

“A complex web of stakeholders is forming around IoT products: from users, to businesses, and everyone in between. We design so that there is a win for everybody in this elaborate exchange.” IoT Design Manifesto 1.0, creative industries fund NL

“Privacy by design and default should no longer be regarded as something peculiar. They should become a key selling point of innovative technologies.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

A simple firewall is no longer sufficient. One way to minimize the risk to individuals is to ensure that data can be processed on the device itself (local processing). Where this is not an option, companies should ensure end-to-end encryption is in place to protect the data from unwarranted interference and/or tampering. Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things  
  2: LEGAL COMPLIANCE

Global Protocols

Ensure Compliance With Laws
Honor the Values Behind the Laws
 

Guiding Documents

“Ensure compliance with the data protection and privacy laws in their respective countries, as well as with the internationally agreed privacy principles. Where breaches of the law are discovered, they will seek appropriate enforcement action, either unilaterally or through means of international cooperation.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things  

“Companies need a mind shift to ensure privacy policies are no longer primarily about protecting them from litigation.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

3: HUMAN IMPACT

Global Protocols

Protect Human Life, Safety and Well-Being

Protect Human Identity, Privacy and Data
Disclose Data Gathering Practices
Be Transparent/Clear About How Data is Used


Guiding Documents  

“It is not possible to focus solely on the technologies, at the risk of ignoring the human context in which these technologies must work. There are many difficult trade-offs involved — only some of which are technological… The purpose for which technology and applications are developed does not always end up as the sole — or even major — purpose for which they are actually used.” “Strategies to protect privacy must take a range of risks into account from a variety of different sources as well as adapt to local regulations;” Mr. Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General, in Foreword of Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development by ITU and Cisco as A CONTRIBUTION TO THE UN BROADBAND COMMISSION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

“Considering that the identifiability and protection of big data already is a major challenge, it is clear that big data derived from internet of things devices makes this challenge many times larger. Therefore, such data should be regarded and treated as personal data.” Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things  

“Transparency is key: those who offer internet of things devices should be clear about what data they collect, for what purposes and how long this data is retained. When purchasing an internet of things device or application, proper, sufficient and understandable information should be provided.”  Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things
4: EVOLVING ECOSYSTEM

Global Protocols

Be Trustworthy and Reliable Actors in the Bigger Ecosystem  

Guiding Documents

“More than ten speakers commented on the need for applications of IoT+Big Data+AI to be trusted and “trustworthy” (and how many different steps are needed to foster trust). These include protecting privacy and personal data, enhancing cybersecurity, being transparent about problems, respecting human rights, giving users alternatives if they find one service or application unsatisfactory, “design for safety,” and “design for diversity.”    Internet Governance Forum, IGF Best Practice Forum on Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

“It is a joint responsibility of all actors in society so that the trust in connected systems can be maintained. They should eliminate the out-of-context surprises for customers. “ Mauritius Declaration on the Internet of Things

“IoT devices will have the biggest societal impact where they are used together in larger, inter‐connected, systems. At the macro‐level, two of the areas of greatest IoT development and investment are smart cities – where infrastructure and building systems will improve the efficiency and sustainability of a whole range of urban activities – and smart power and water grids.” Regulation And The Internet of Things, GSR Discussion Paper, ITU

5: PUBLIC GOOD

Global Protocols

Use The IoT to Improve Society For All  

Guiding Documents

“The emerging IoT paradigm has the potential to create an efficient, effective and secure ecosystem taking advantage of connected devices for managing the major global challenges faced by this, and future generations.”   Internet of Things Declaration to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

“Connecting up devices or robots (whether they are bridges, fridges or widgets) is only a means to an end — the really interesting part arises in terms of what can be done with the data obtained, and the learning outcomes for improving our future.”  Harnessing the Internet of Things for Global Development by ITU and Cisco as a A CONTRIBUTION TO THE UN BROADBAND COMMISSION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

IoT technologies could make an important contribution to global challenges such as improving public health and quality of life, moderating carbon emissions, and increasing the efficiency of a range of industries across developed and developing economies.” Regulation And The Internet of Things, GSR Discussion Paper, ITU

The IoT is increasingly thinking and evolving in organic ways. To harness its potential for enhancing human life and furthering the public good, and to diminish its potential for systematizing harm, we need to accept the challenge to do the ethical thinking now.

Looking at the Ethics of IoT through different perspectives one at a time, we will never be able to respond quickly enough to the ethical issues generated by its rapid evolution. We can choose, instead, to see the dimensions of the ethical picture as a whole. That broad picture will help us more easily predict where problems will happen in the future and create ethical solutions. It will assist us in global discussions about protocols, processes and laws.

Many organizations are working together to define AI ethics to ensure that it contributes to overall human well-being.  The IoT can transform HUMANITY, evolving into a powerful ECOSYSTEM that advances the global ECONOMY and enables and supports the PUBLIC GOOD. These desired results will need to be achieved with a keen awareness of the ethical issues and a relentless commitment to ethical thinking and choices. For advances in technology to improve our lives they must be matched with corresponding rapid advances in ethical design. Only then will the results be positive and lasting.

Contributors:

Gerald Santucci and Rob van Kranenburg served as reviewers and contributed substantial feedback that helped shape this paper’s coherence and usefulness.

About the Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is an author and leader in the field of ethical thinking and leadership. She helps executives, leaders and groups learn how to lead using the 7-dimensional model described in her book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. Linda is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Applied Ethics and Global Leadership for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is www.LeadinginContext.com.

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series introduced 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership and the importance of ethical foresight. Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 explored the dimensions of Ethical Design, Legal Compliance. and Human Impact. Today’s post explores a new dimension – Evolving Ecosystem.

4: EVOLVING ECOSYSTEM

The IoT is evolving organically, like our planet. Like our planet, we must think about it as a complex ecosystem, not a random collection of parts. The ecosystem we call “the Iot” is a rapidly growing collective that includes computers, devices, networks, the internet, data and communications as well as software and product designers, companies, regulators and consumers. All of these players in the IoT ecosystem have the power to change it through their decisions and actions.

The evolving IoT ecosystem is not just a complex tactical and technological system of systems. As Gérald Santucci explains, it is “a new social contract between humans, machines, and the immediate surroundings and everyday objects.” What can happen if we literally “put our daily lives into the hands” of this evolving ecosystem? In a complex ecosystem, the concept of “direct control” is absent. In other words, one action does not directly cause the intended reaction because there are so many actors and variables changing the dynamics at any one time.

The IoT is an evolving GLOBAL NETWORK, not a collection of INTERFACES, NETWORKS AND ENGINEERS. It is a globally connected community, with human and non-human actors and interfaces directing each other’s behavior. That makes it a new type of challenge that needs a high level, values-based response.

“Recent advances in disciplines such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neuropharmacology entail a ‘dual-use dilemma’ because they promise benefits for human health and welfare yet pose the risk of misuse for hostile purposes”  (MIT, Innovation, Dual Use and Security, Book Overview). Unless ethics is a key factor driving device design and programming, we may not even have the option to keep IoT devices under control. Machine learning adds an “actively thinking and learning” element to the ecosystem, generating additional risks that require ethical design. Even if ethics is a key factor in design, some impacts from the connectedness and interdependence of IoT devices will be outside of our control.

“The danger of the increased vulnerabilities is not being addressed by security workers at the same rate that vendors are devoting time to innovation. Consider how one might perform security monitoring of thousands of medical nanobots in a human body.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

The IoT is A Complex, Organic, Evolving Ecosystem With No “Owner” and No Limits
“From self-driving cars on public roads to self-piloting reusable rockets landing on self-sailing ships, machine intelligence is supporting or entirely taking over ever more complex human activities at an ever increasing pace.” Moral Machine, MIT  

“Any thing – even a human body, if equipped with the right electronic parts – can become part of IoT, so long as it can collect and transmit data through the Internet.”   Marc Jadoul, The IoT, The Next Step in Internet Evolution, Nokia

“In the IoT, everything becomes an access point on the network, which creates new security and privacy challenges. To protect your network, you must understand how that data will move – from device to device, across data centers, and even across borders – and develop security and privacy protocols that will reliably collect the data in compliance with regulatory obligations.” The Internet of Things in the Cognitive Era, IBM

“We can’t treat IoT devices like cattle any more, we have to treat them like pets that live in people’s homes and get very, very angry when they don’t get fed. One day, if we’re not careful, we are going to put JavaScript into, I don’t know, an IoT kettle and light somebody’s house on fire because “undefined” is not a function.” Emily Gorcenski, The Ethics of the Internet of Things, JSConf EU 

How will we keep our smart devices “under control” in this seemingly uncontrollable evolving ecosystem? Here are some key success factors.

  1. We will need to imagine an ethical IoT and govern and guide its evolution accordingly.

“What kind of digital planet do we want? Because we are at a point where there is no turning back, and getting to ethical decisions, values decisions, decisions about democracy, is not something we have talked about enough nor in a way that has had impact… And sticking with the environmental metaphor, we really are at a choice point where we could build a forest, a rich ecosystem, something that supports life. Or we could end up very quickly with a clearcut, where there’s not much of anywhere to live and not much around at all.” Mark Surman, Are We Living Inside an Ethical (and Kind) Machine?, re:publica

  • IoT organizations will have to work together. (Note that even if they do, the challenges will be great).

“The ‘mission’ of the entire IoT ‘system’ was not pre-defined; it is dynamically defined by the demand of the consumer and the response of vendors. Little or no governance exists and current standards are weak. Cooperation and collaboration between vendors is essential for a secure future IoT, and there is no guarantee of success.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • Monitoring and safety innovations will have to keep up with product innovation and the evolution of the IoT ecosystem. (Note that we are using the systems we want to control to manage the security of the IoT, reducing the human ability to impact the ecosystem even further).

“As automation increases in IoT control systems, software and hardware vulnerabilities will also increase.”  “Automated security monitoring will be essential as control systems grow to exceed the capacity of humans to identify and process security logs and other security information.”

Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • Physical security will have to increase its scope and vigilance in response to new risks. (Note that in addition to the risks in the virtual realm, the IoT also creates tangible objects that can be used to harm).

“As self-healing materials and 3D printers gain use in industry, supplychain attacks could introduce malicious effects, especially if new materials and parts are not inspected or tested before use.” Misty Blowers, USAF Research Laboratory, Jose Iribarne, Westrock, Edward Colbert, ICF International, Inc. , and Alexander Kott, US Army Research Laboratory in The Future Internet of Things and Security of Its Control Systems

  • We will need to upgrade our understanding of human rights to govern in this realm. (Note that whatever is decided about robot rights will add to the complexities of the ethics of the IoT).

“Many people assume the rights and protections we enjoy in democratic society are applicable to the IoT realm. Is this not the case? Whether we’re dealing with rights and protections in existing scenarios or new ones, the IoT will be a brave new world. We will need to conceptualize, extend, or re-establish a working notion of individual rights and the public good.” Francine Berman, Toward an Ethics of the Internet of Things

  • We will need to build trust, transparency and accountability into the system

“An important element of loT Good Practice is its supporting mutual trust amongst all the components of loT ecosystems: human, devices, applications, existing institutions and business entities. Trust is boosted by a recognition of personal needs; by transparency in how things are organized-namely in a way that clearly shows that relevant measures have been taken to meet those needs-; and by accountability in ensuring that responsibilities are clear, and if someone responsible (person or organization) fails to live up to what is promise or required, they will be made accountable, thus assuming a principles based front end (“ethical”) and harms based backend (accountable).”

Working Paper: IoT Good Practice Paper, Dynamic Coalition on the Internet of Things (DC-IoT)

We need to program smart devices to think ethically about the ethical implications of their choices, but when we do, will that be enough? It is clear that our currently used protocols are insufficient and that we will have to imagine solutions at a much higher level of complexity. If we don’t, the very ecosystem we want to “control,” will continue to evolve, and by evolving, will determine its own direction. That direction can quickly lead us toward outcomes that are not conducive to healthy lives and communities. Dealing with ecosystem-level questions now, we may have some ability to guide the outcome, but that window is closing fast.

This is Part 5 in the Series “5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership.” Watch for Part 6, scheduled for next week.

Contributors:

Gerald Santucci and Rob van Kranenburg served as reviewers and contributed substantial feedback that helped shape this paper’s coherence and usefulness.

About the Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is an author and leader in the field of ethical thinking and leadership. She helps executives, leaders and groups learn how to lead using the 7-dimensional model described in her book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. Linda is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Applied Ethics and Global Leadership for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is www.LeadinginContext.com.

5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Part 1 in this series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership focused on the importance of ethical foresight. Part 2 and Part 3 introduced two dimensions – Ethical Design and Legal Compliance. Today’s post explores a new dimension – Human Impact.

3: HUMAN IMPACT

According to futurist Gerd Leonhard, “The distinction between what is alive and what is not, between mind and ‘brute’ matter, between human and non-human has already started to blur. The IoT will not remain a separate thing but will go beyond the limits we still know” (Gerd Leonhard on the Societal Impact of IoT, http://brunomarion.com/gerd-leonhard/). This blurring that Leonhard describes will make it increasingly difficult to understand and manage the impact of the IoT on humans.

Creating Products That Help and Don’t Harm

“Programmers and systems engineers will need to feel empowered by ethical considerations to resist release of products that do not meet standards of safety, reliability, privacy and resilience.”  “Voice recognition technology, for example, not only has to be able to tell what was said, but also who said it — no one wants to live in a house that obeys commands from strangers. Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, Google, Responsible Engineering and The Internet of Things, CIO Review

“A proliferation of devices without screens or user interfaces means that consumers may not be provided with adequate privacy notices, and that relatively intimate data may be gathered from them without their knowledge.” Terrell McSweeny, Consumer Protection in the Age of Connected Everything, New York Law School IoT Symposium

“This business evolution will require a new partnership between those who understand and advocate for the user and those who understand and integrate the technology.” Scott A. Nelson and Paul Metaxatos, The Internet of Things Needs Design Not Just Technology, Harvard Business Review

Adding to the challenges involved in mitigating any negative human impact of the IoT, there is considerable temptation to add IoT capability where it might not be appropriate because the technology is so affordable. “The price of turning a dumb device into a smart device will be 10 cents,” says Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure.” “The IoT devices of the future won’t go online to benefit you — you won’t even know that it’s an IoT device,” says Hyppönen. “And you won’t be able to avoid this, you won’t be able to buy devices which aren’t IoT devices, you won’t be able to restrict access to the internet because they won’t be going online through your Wi-Fi. We can’t avoid it, it’s going to happen” (Danny Palmer, Internet of Things security: What happens when every device is smart and you don’t even know it?).

It is not enough for software engineers to make devices that “work” without considering the broader impact of those devices on overall human well-being. IoT connected devices are also expected to “work” for humanity, protecting people from harm and preserving and enhancing quality of life. Increasingly, people expect brands to make ethical choices, SERVING THEM with positive intent and impact. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez says that “the only way for the Internet of Things to reach its full potential for innovation is with the trust of American consumers” (FTC Report on Internet of Things Urges Companies to Adopt Best Practices to Address Consumer Privacy and Security Risks).

Technology that orchestrates people’s lives in ways that benefit them can also harm them. It is our job to reduce/avoid the potential for harm through our design. It is our job to make sure that we and any non-human IoT actors are using “technology power” in an ethical delivery system that protects humans in all respects.  To accomplish that, we will need to monitor for ethical design with human protections built in.

This is Part 4 in a series on 5 Ethical Dimensions of IoT Leadership. Stay tuned for Part 5.

Contributors:

Gerald Santucci and Rob van Kranenburg served as reviewers and contributed substantial feedback that helped shape this paper’s coherence and usefulness.

About the Author:

Linda Fisher Thornton is an author and leader in the field of ethical thinking and leadership. She helps executives, leaders and groups learn how to lead using the 7-dimensional model described in her book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership. Linda is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Applied Ethics and Global Leadership for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is www.LeadinginContext.com.

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