Rethinking “Smart” Leadership in an Ethical Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

Lens 1 Profit

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

Lens 2 Law

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

Lens 3 Character

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

Lens 4 People

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

Lens 5 Communities

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

Lens 6 Planet

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

Lens 7 Greater Good

“Smart” means making life better for future generations.

Seeing the Whole Picture

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

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

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The Trouble With Certainty

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders may think that being decisive and “sure of things” helps them succeed, but if they do, they may be harboring an outdated view of leadership.

What has changed about how we see leadership and certainty? 

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

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a leader who’s “certain,” we may think about someone who operates as a lone wolf or someone who is holding fast to an outdated world view and refusing to adapt as the world changes. 

The Quest For Uncertainty

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

When is certainty a good thing in a global environment?

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

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The Questions We Have in Common

By Linda Fisher Thornton

On October 2nd, Krista Tippett gave a talk on “The Adventure of Civility” at the University of Richmond. One of the important things I gleaned from her talk was this recommendation:

Instead of trading in “competing answers or statements made to catch, corner, incite or entertain” we should “share the questions we have in common” and “live into the answers.”

Here are my observations on her important words: 

The big questions we are trying to resolve together cannot be understood using one-way broadcasts. 

Even in a fast-paced, social-media enabled world, it would be wrong for any leader to act as though important and complex issues could be managed responsibly without deep listening and dialogue

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

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What Does It Mean To “Do The Right Thing?”

Seen Through 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

 

 

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Unraveling The Future State of The World

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Millennium Project is a global participatory think tank with a noble purpose – To “improve humanity’s prospects for building a better future.” I have been a reviewer since 2013 for its Challenge 15: Global Ethics, addressing the question “How can ethical considerations be more routinely included in global decisions?”

“Improving humanity’s prospects” is an ever-evolving quest. The results of The Millennium Project’s most recent work has now been published as “State Of The Future 19.0”. 

Building a better future starts with knowing where we are and where we’re going. You can learn more about The Millennium Project’s most recent assessment of global progress by reading the free executive summary and a newly published book review.

Published on #globalethicsday2017. 

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Decoding 7 dimensions of “doing the right thing” in a global society

 

 

 

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. S. Lewis

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

It Guides Responsible Behavior

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

It Helps Prevent Ethical Mistakes

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

It’s Our Job 

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

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

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

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Learn Ethical Thinking – in all 7 Ethical Dimensions of Leadership

 

 

 

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Ethics-Rich Leadership: Why We Need It

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

Why Do We Need Ethics-Rich Leadership?

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

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

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

What Does It Look Like In Action?

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

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

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

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

We need leaders who care about constituents.

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

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

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

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Learn How to Think in all 7 Ethical Dimensions of Leadership

 

 

 

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How You Can Stop The “Fake News” Madness

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

Our “Human Software” is Buggy

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

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

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

Learn to Separate the Real From the Fake

Organizations Checking What’s Real and What’s Not

Snopes.com

Hoaxy (How unverified stories spread on social media)

FactCheck.org

Politifact.com

Fake News Website List

Wikipedia – Fake News Websites List

How to Spot Fake News Video

 

Check It Out Before You Share

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

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

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

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

 

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Learn How to Apply all 7 Ethical Dimensions of Leadership

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

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Yes, Leaders. Behavior Matters

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As leaders, we are expected to uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior, and that includes interpersonal behavior (HOW we get the results we get, and how our behavior impacts others).

This week I’m sharing a review of behaviors that are a “NO GO” for ethical leaders. Click on each link to learn about why the behavior is outside the bounds of ethical leadership.

Yes, Leaders. Behavior Matters

It is not okay to blame, name call, bully, threaten, or shame.

It is not acceptable to yell and use foul language.

It is not fine to get angry and attack people who disagree with us.

It is not okay to avoid information that conflicts with our beliefs.

It is not acceptable to exclude those who aren’t like us.

It is not okay to treat only certain people with respect.

It is not acceptable to damage relationships with our negative behavior.

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

Isn’t It Obvious?

These reminders may seem obvious (yes, we learned them in Kindergarten), but don’t leave it to chance. Be sure your leaders are all on the same page about appropriate interpersonal behavior. Your employees, customers and communities will thank you.

Use this post as the basis for conversations about ethical interpersonal behavior in the workplace and beyond.

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Ethical Leaders Stay Current as the World Changes

 

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Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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Ethical Leaders Stay Current as the World Changes

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4 Connected Trends Shaping the Future of Leadership

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Our understanding of good leadership is advancing. In this video, I describe 4 powerful trends that are increasing leadership expectations and shaping what leaders will need to be ready to handle in the future. 

These 4 trends shaping the future of leadership are connected and accelerating. They give us a clear picture of where we need to take our leadership. 

The greatest challenge leaders face is to keep up as the bar continues to be raised. At the rate expectations are increasing, it is clear that we will never “arrive.” We must be adaptable, open to developing new skill sets and mindsets, while at the same time staying true to the values of ethical leadership. 

Being open to learning makes or breaks our success as leaders.

Adaptability is no longer just a competitive advantage. It’s an ethical imperative. 

 

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Ethical Leaders Stay Current as the World Changes

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The Evolving Purpose of Leadership: Why More is Expected Now

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What ever happened to transactional leadership and what has taken its place? How is our understanding of the purpose of leadership changing? Where is it headed?

In this video, I explain our evolving understanding of the purpose of leadership, and provide a context that explains why more is expected of leaders now. This trend update is based on Part 3 of my book 7 Lenses

Leaders across industries are stretching to meet expectations as the bar continues to be raised. Understanding the trends can help us get there.

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Your Guide to the Ethical Leadership Journey

Includes case examples and questions.

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The “Less Than” Fallacy

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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Ethical Leaders See the Whole Picture

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Inclusion: The Power of “Regardless”

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

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The Rise of Pay to Play

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It is sometimes difficult to sort out “pay to play” awards (you pay someone to say good things about you and give you an icon to put on your website) from legitimate awards (the judging process is objective — if you win you have actually earned it).

“Pay to Play” is On the Rise

Many businesses now provide “perks” if you like them on social media – but did they earn that like? In essence that like becomes a “payment” for the freebie that the customer wants, so the customer trades the endorsement for something they want. Are those likes real?

The gaming community uses “pay to win” strategies that let players pay extra to unlock advantageous perks that help them win. But in some cases this skews the advantage toward those who pay and the game isn’t as fun for those who don’t. Is that win fair?

In journalism, there is a temptation to grant “pay to play” favoritism to companies that pay to advertise in the publication, and reject stories about those companies that don’t pay. Is that fair and objective reporting? (Pay to play is rejected by the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code)

Without Ethics, Pay to Play Makes Good Sense (It Makes Money!)

Pay to play is a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” arrangement that may seem so attractive that it’s tempting to bypass our ethical responsibilities. 

Ethical leaders avoid the temptation and earn trust through fair dealings with people while following the ethics codes of their professions. They do the work to do it right. Now that’s real leadership.

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Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses®. 

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

 

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Top 10 Posts 2016: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2016, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these topics that readers accessed most frequently:

10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Great Leaders are Other-Focused

The Future of Learning Isn’t About “Knowing”

15 Quotes for Leadership Insight

Leaders, Don’t You Care? (9 Red Flags That Tell Employees You Don’t)

5 Insights Into the Future of Leadership Development Part 1

Every Leader is a Work in Progress (Yes, Even You)

What Does “Good Leadership” Mean?

What Does it Mean to “Be a Leader?”

Ethical Failures: What Causes Them?

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2016, it would be “Understanding Leader Roles, Responsibilities and Relationships.” Which 2016 post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about in 2017, comment here, or tweet your idea to @leadingincontxt!

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Prepare For Ethical Leadership Future – Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses

Includes case examples and questions.

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

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