MindTools Expert Interview Podcast With Linda Fisher Thornton

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Happy #GlobalEthicsDay2018! I recently did an interview with Rachel Salaman for the MindTools Expert Interview Podcast.  We had a lively conversation about ethical leadership and how to leverage the concepts from my book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership

Click on the graphic below to read the MindTools blog post by Rachel Salaman and listen to an excerpt from the podcast. In the excerpt, I walk you through a typical business problem using the 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility to show the power of this 7-dimensional model for revealing ethical issues and nuances. 

 

 

 

 

Now it’s your turn. Apply the 7 Lenses to one of your daily challenges to see if it’s a game changer for you. Use this overview of the model to guide you. Feel free to share what you learned. Follow @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses  to make ethical insights part of your daily learning journey. 

It’s Global Ethics Day and we can create better workplaces and a better future. Let’s get started. 

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What is Meaningful Leadership? – 4 Common Threads

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is meaningful leadership? I recently wrote a 5 part blog series exploring different facets of that question.

Part 1 of this series looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. Part 2 explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. Part 3 looked at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on relational ROI. Part 4 examined how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. Part 5 focused on how meaningful leadership makes a difference by building a better society for the future.

Common Threads

There are four common threads that emerged from exploring the topic that I want to share today.

These are ways that leaders think about and approach their role that helps them create meaningful work experiences:

  1. Thinking global – considering the full impact of decisions on a global scale
  2. Valuing authenticity – seeing the leadership role as a process of growing into higher levels of leadership, not a position of power over others
  3. Seeking collective success – working with others for the good of the group, not the good of the leader
  4. Seeing beyond portfolio growth to human growth – valuing each individual and nurturing them to reach their potential (which requires seeing well beyond the bottom line)

The Leadership Mindset

It is interesting, but not surprising, that all of these approaches rely on the leader being able to take a long-term, “self-aware but humble” view of the leadership role.

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Where Ethics Should Be

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We need to be talking about where ethics should be… how and where it fits into real life. Too many leaders and organizations have crossed ethical boundaries and that seems to be all we’re seeing in the news headlines.

Starting the Conversation

When ethics is central to our decisions and actions, we are more likely to make good choices. To make that happen, we need to be talking about where ethics should be in a leader’s day to day schedule and an organization’s infrastructure.

  • How should ethics factor into an organization’s strategic plans?
  • How can we emphasize it in performance feedback and rewards?
  • Where should it be in monitoring and reporting?

If we aren’t having these conversations, we may have gaps in how we’re handling ethical prevention that can result in unexpected high visibility mistakes.

Places Where Ethics Should Be 

Organizations that tap into the power of ethical brand value and actively seek to prevent problems do more than talk about where ethics should be. They live it by making it central to their operations.

Here are some important conversation starters about where ethics should be in your thinking, your schedule and your goals and plans for the future:

Beyond the Shelf (not just in codes and manuals)

Plans and Strategy

People Management

Company Values 

Executive and Leader Development

Top of Mind (not afterthought or damage control)

Rewards and Promotions

Employee Hiring

Leader Expectations

C-Suite Behavior and Actions

Bringing ethics to life in an organization requires a systemic approach and powerful ongoing conversations. Where else do you think ethics should be in day-to-day leadership?

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Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is an updated version of a reader favorite. 

There Will Always Be Grey Areas

There will always be ethical grey areas.  We see plenty of information about lying, cheating, stealing and other obvious ethical violations. It is more difficult to know what to do when we encounter behaviors that fall into ethical grey areas, particularly in term of relationships with other people. Grey areas are difficult for anyone to handle but leaders bear the additional weight of needing to set the tone for the organization. Each decision impacts the ethics of the organization.

How We Handle Grey Areas “Teaches” Others (Whether Our Decisions Are Good or Bad)

If we are in leadership, we set the tone for what we want employees to do by what we do. That includes what we do about easy ethical problems (with clear right and wrong choices) and tough ethical problems (with no obvious right choices).

When we make good decisions, people watch what we do and also learn how to do that. If we make bad decisions, we teach others how to make bad decisions and those bad decisions can spread quickly throughout the organization.

How We Handle Grey Areas Paints a Border That Outlines Our Ethics

Sometimes “doing nothing” is an unethical choice. If we allow people to sabotage each other to win rewards, and withhold information from one another to appear more powerful, we are creating a culture that endorses negative interpersonal behaviors. We are “teaching” people that the organization values competition above collaboration and that “anything goes” to get the win.

If we “permit” sabotage and withholding information by not noticing and/or not addressing them, are we also endorsing more negative behaviors that people may see as similar, like bullying and employee harassment? We may be unintentionally sending the message that we allow even more negative behaviors in a broader context – Are we also endorsing withholding information from customers and other important stakeholders? What about regulators? If we allow people to withhold information at one level, are we unintentionally saying that withholding information is okay anytime, at any level?

How we handle the grey areas in how people treat each other paints a border that becomes the outline of our company’s ethics.

Ignoring Negative Behaviors Allows Them to Flourish

When it comes to organizational culture, not knowing is not a defense. When we ignore negative interpersonal behaviors, we send a powerful message across the company to ‘do more of that’!  If we use negative interpersonal behaviors or simply look the other way when we see negative behaviors, employees will too.

Negative behaviors that we choose to ignore don’t typically go away – they multiply when we fail to act because the behaviors are then assumed to be “accepted by leadership.” As leaders we need to walk around, to notice what’s going on, to create high-trust workplaces, to provide opportunities for meaningful communication, to ask people what’s getting in the way of their success, to talk about ethical behavior and to remove barriers to effective ethical performance.

People will follow our lead. When we ignore negative behaviors, we are saying that we accept those negative behaviors.

Work Through Grey Areas Openly – Retain the Ability to Paint the Ethical Border

As leaders, we need to regularly discuss the grey areas in what it means to behave ethically. This lets us help employees define ethical behavior clearly and provide input into the choices they make to be sure that they meet the expectations of the company.  As we learn more as a society about the impact of our choices and our behavior on others, there will continue to be more grey areas where employees will need guidance.

People can usually see ethical grey areas but they may be hesitant to ask for help. By keeping the conversation open and actively addressing grey areas, we retain the ability to define the ethical border. If we don’t talk about it, people will define that border on their own and may draw it outside of the company’s stated ethics codes and values.

Don’t take that chance. Ask employees which ethical issues they want to talk about.

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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is meaningful leadership? In Part 1 we explored how leaders create meaningful work settings so others can excel. In Part 2, we look at a leader’s own quest for authenticity as a factor in meaningful leadership.

What is Meaningful Leadership? A Quest For Authenticity

Meaningful leadership is focused on authenticity, not just acquisition. That requires seeing beyond just portfolio growth to human growth. It means learning to see how the two are connected.

Authenticity means being aware of our own strengths and limitations and striving to be our best selves every day.

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.”

— Thomas Merton

Stepping away from the ego moves a leader into the territory of authenticity, a more objective place from which to lead. Authenticity includes being secure enough in ourselves to be open, honest and vulnerable with others. It helps us pay more attention to the well-being of others and not just ourselves.

 “It’s hard to practice compassion when we’re struggling with our authenticity or when our own worthiness is off-balance.”

— Brene Brown

In business, authentic leadership translates into authentic value creation, not just income generation.

“At its core, all authentic growth depends on more customers wanting more of what your company offers. Any other drivers – pricing gimmicks, heroic marketing efforts, forced acquisitions – are ultimately destructive.

— Patrick Lencioni

Meaningful leadership requires a commitment to self-awareness, growth and authenticity. Ask yourself:

  1. How clear is it to those I lead that I am committed to reaching for the highest levels of leadership capability?  
  2. How authentic am I with others on a day-to-day basis, realizing that authenticity includes being humble, respectful and compassionate with others?
  3. Who do I know who is a good role model for authentic leadership that I can learn from?

 

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22 Resources For Developing Ethical Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m sharing a collection of hand-picked resources that will help you upgrade your thinking. With all of the ethical messes in the news recently, this seems to be the right time to help you focus on PREVENTION as applied to thinking. It’s our thinking, after all, that determines what we decide to do under pressure. 

Ethical thinking has many important qualities, and one of them is that it is INTENTIONAL. It doesn’t happen on its own. Passive thinking is not likely to lead to ethical decisions or actions. Ethical thinking has to be intentional, developed and practiced. 

Use these resources to develop your ethical thinking skills. After upgrading your skills, you’ll be able to handle ethical issues at a higher level of complexity:

  The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking

 The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking Part 2

FINAL CHANGE THIS MANIFESTO_Page_01 What is Ethical Thinking? (and “What Ethical Leaders Believe”)

Ethics To Understand Complexity, Use 7 Dimensions of Ethical Thinking

Rethinking “Smart” Leadership in an Ethical Context

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

Ten Thinking Traps That Ethical Leaders Avoidthinkglobal8 Posts and a Trend Report on Global Thinking

Ethical Leaders Take Time to Think

Context and Responsibility 3Ethical Leaders Understand the Context

MORE READER FAVORITES:

Ethical Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us

Our Thinking is an Ethical Driver

Which Values are Ethical Values?

Fear is a Poor Advisor

Thinking Beyond Disciplines: Why We Need It

Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem-Solving

Take Your Thinking up a Notch: Strategies For Solving Complex Problems

Traps in How We Think About Leading: The Case of Focusing Too Much on Budget

Passive thinking does not work. As humans, we are flawed thinkers, and if we don’t manage the flaws in our thinking, those flaws will drive our choices. 

Get ready to lead in the volatile and unpredictable future. Read one of these resources each day to upgrade your thinking.

 

Follow The Leading in Context Blog for a new article each week!

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To Learn More, Read the Guide To Ethical Thinking and Leadership: 7 Lenses, Now in Its 2nd Printing!

Seeing The Nuances Of Ethical Leadership (A Developmental Model)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership is not a position or a task. It is a complex array of roles, relationships and processes, and yet we use one term, “ethical leadership,” to talk about it. And in using that term, we often mean different things. 

What Then is Ethical Leadership?

Why has it been so difficult for researchers to agree on a single definition of ‘ethical leadership?’ Here are some important reasons: 

  • Our understanding of responsible leadership depends on where we are in our own moral development
  • People are writing about it from many different perspectives and using many different words to describe it
  • In leadership competence there are many possible combinations 

By “many possible combinations,” I am referring to the reality that leaders are not all competent in all aspects of ethical leadership and they vary in which areas they have mastered. A leader might excel at following laws, for example, but not know how to work well with diverse groups of people. Or a leader could be great at making a short-term profit, but not good at thinking long term and protecting the planet.

A Developmental Definition

Leadership is a changing process. It is difficult to define it because as the world changes, our understanding of what it means to lead responsibly in that world changes. Because it is a changing process, it is best viewed from a developmental perspective.

Leaders need to tackle complexity directly. Oversimplified approaches to complex problems lead to high profile ethical failures. 

Leaders need a way to understand their own learning and development that helps them keep up with  increasing ethical expectations.  The developmental model outlined in by book 7 Lenses (now in its 2nd printing) frames “ethical leadership” as a developmental continuum based on these assumptions:

  1. People grow
  2. People’s understanding of leadership responsibility grows as they learn and develop as human beings
  3. The way that people view life and reality will impact their leadership philosophy
  4. Times change
  5. The standards for acceptable behavior and leadership evolve as times change
  6. The world is complex and connected
  7. The complexity and connections raise the stakes on us as leaders and require us to think using a higher level of complexity
  8. Thinking at a higher level of complexity means we can consider more constituents and more variables when making decisions

Some ways of interpreting “ethical leadership” are more responsible than others. If we are going to use the term “ethical leadership” to refer to an entire spectrum of developmental levels, we will need a way to talk about the nuances of ethical competence. Applying the 7 Lenses model gives us a way to talk about those nuances. Here are two examples:

Regardless of level or title, the most competent ethical leaders make it a priority to learn and they struggle to stay competent in all 7 dimensions of ethical responsibility as the world changes. 

How will this developmental model help you talk about the nuances of ethical leadership? 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

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Guest Interview: Stay On Top Of Your Work Podcast

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week you can listen to a brand new interview I did with Kate Kurzawska, host of the Stay on Top of Your Work Timecamp Podcast! In the interview, I answer Kate’s top questions about ethical leadership, including these:

  • How do you lead teams ethically?
  • What should you consider when making a decision?
  • Why do people fail as leaders? 
  • What practices could help us avoid failing as leaders?
  • How do you manage the risk connected with people, with profits, with money, with every aspect of the company?
  • What’s the number one rule you couldn’t manage your work without? 

These questions are timely for leaders. Check out the answers in the podcast interview and transcript by clicking on the image above. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

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Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is Part 2 in a series. In case you missed the first one, here is 450th Post: Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 1). In the first post, I explored why leaders need to embrace disequilibrium. In Part 2, I explore how disequilibrium helps leaders deal with catastrophic change.

Disequilibrium Drives Adaptation

Accepting disequilibrium instead of trying to fight it, we can turn our attention to figuring things out as the landscape changes around us.

“Pulling us out of our insulated silos.  Requiring leaders to seek out the signals reverberating out of these shifts, continually deciphering and determining what these signals are saying and asking ‘What you are going to do about it?'”

dculberh.wordpress.com, Transforming Tension and Disequilibrium Into Breakthrough Experiences

Deciphering the signals of a changing system, environment, organization and world keeps us on our toes. It helps us keep up with catastrophic change and still make good leadership choices. It helps us adapt instead of retrench when we face rapid change.

It Helps Us Navigate Perpetual Uncertainty

Change is not something we can prevent, or even”manage” in the traditional sense. Embracing disequilibrium helps us move forward, adapting our approaches and strategies to better “navigate the uphill terrain of perpetual uncertainty.”

5 Questions 

Use these 5 questions to check how well you are responding to disequilibrium:

  1. How deeply am I embracing disequilibrium?
  2. Where could I be fighting it, causing more difficulty than is necessary for myself and others?
  3. If I admitted that my earlier definition of “normal” was no longer possible, how would I think and lead differently?
  4. How will I carry out the improvements described in my answer to #3?
  5. How will those changes improve my leadership and the performance of my teams?

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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

Brand Value and Reputation Directly Impact Financial Results

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

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

Ethical Business is A Powerful Consumer Trends

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

Trendwatching.com

Leaders Guide Employees to Ethical Action

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

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

Ethics is the Heart of Brand Value

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

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

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

Read the Next Post in the Series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improved Positive Outcomes, Reduced Risk

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

EthicalSystems.org, Leadership

 Competitive Advantage

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

SHRM, Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture

Improved Connection With Customers and Employees

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

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

Improved Trust, Which Drives High Performance

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

SHRM, Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture

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

Read the next post in the series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)Top 100 Leadership Blog

 

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Use It Or Lose It

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I recently started studying the German language again, relearning it a little bit every day. I studied it for years as a teen, and lived in Austria for a summer as a young adult. Once fluent, I haven’t practiced the language regularly and have become rusty over the years. 

It doesn’t take long to begin to lose vocabulary, grammar and confidence if we’re not using a language regularly. 

Losing fluency gradually over time brings to mind what happens to our leadership if we’re not learning new things every day. It’s sometimes a slow erosion of capacity, like losing a handful of grains of sand from a beach each day. We may not notice it’s happening until we find ourselves underwater. 

How can you move your competence as a leader into your daily priorities

What areas of your leadership are slowly going underwater due to a lack of attention and practice? What will you do today to stop the erosion? 

 

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

Seen Through 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

 

 

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Ethical Leaders Understand the Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

 

Context and Responsibility 3

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

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

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

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

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Learn to Think in all 7 Ethical Dimensions 

 

 

 

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

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

Exercising Our Values Voice

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

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

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

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

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Talking About What Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

Talking About What Matters

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

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

Questions to Ask

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

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

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

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

Leading In The “Figure It Out Space”

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

 

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