What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Meaningful Leadership? Making a Difference By Building a Better Society For the Future

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

Meaningful leadership sees the world in terms of building a better future together. The important focus on together requires not drawing lines around “better” or “worse” people or creating “in” and “out” groups.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

— Desmond Tutu

Meaningful leadership invests in building a better future together. That means making hard decisions today that will get us closer to a peaceful, safe society that works for everyone. In order to make this commitment, meaningful leadership requires being able to imagine such a future.

“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”

— Queen Elizabeth II

Beyond imagining a better future, meaningful leadership requires actualizing it. That means making choices every day that show commitment to collective well-being on a global scale.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Is My Leadership Meaningful? 

Meaningful leadership cannot be accomplished by talking about meaning. It must go much deeper than that. Evaluate how your leadership measures up by exploring these three questions:

If others carry on the work I have started into the future, what will be the net effect of my leadership in each of the areas of meaningful leadership below?

Meaningful Leadership Means:

  • Making a difference by creating positive work settings that invite meaningful work
  • Taking the difficult journey to becoming an authentic leader
  • Inviting difficult conversations about how to live out ethical values in difficult situations
  • Placing a high priority of positive interpersonal behavior that brings out people’s best
  • Excavating the layers of meaning and truth in complex issues using ethical values
  • Imagining a better future, in a peaceful, safe society that works for everyone
  • Helping to build that better future together, on a local, national and global scale

How closely is my leadership aligned with building a better future together?

What could I do to improve, starting today, in at least one area on that list?

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2018 Leading in Context LLC



Untangling (Social and Mainstream) Media Ethics

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Anyone can post content on social media. In the UNESCO report “The Media: Operation Decontamination,” Aidan White notes that “Today, it’s not just journalists who need to watch their language and show respect for the facts; everyone with something to say in the public information sphere needs to show some ethical restraint.” 

Today, I’m sharing resources for understanding the ethical responsibilities of media leadership. There are many variables complicating media ethics. Six of them are named below. 

Variables Complicating Media Ethics

  • Mainstream media is competing with social media for people’s attention
  • There are differing standards/ethics codes for media by country (and we’re globally connected on social media)
  • A glut of content makes it harder to reach and retain readers/viewers/followers
  • Mainstream media is seeking advertising income (while competing for people’s attention)
  • Activists and others share passionate expressions of their beliefs (and some of those beliefs conflict with ethical principles of journalism)
  • We have a desire for freedom of speech and expression AND a desire for respectful discourse and freedom from violence. Sometimes these freedoms conflict. 

Accountable Journalism has links to hundreds of international codes of media ethics, accessible by continent. Since countries disagree about the limits and protections of free speech, there is a need for global direction.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner shares this International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by 74 countries. Extremely relevant today, Article 20 provides high level international guidance on protecting human rights and freedoms: 

“Article 20
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

United Nations Human Rights OHCHR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 20 is a powerful guideline, but with the explosion of content on social media, there is the temptation to abandon these important principles (and ethics) just to get people’s attention. The competition for views and advertising dollars is fierce, but there’s more to the story. Leaders and media platforms focusing on metrics and struggling to compete may fail to notice rapidly increasing expectations for authenticity, transparency and human rights. 

The Ethical Journalism Network shares 5 Principles of Ethical Journalism.

Reuters Institute For the Study of Journalism shares Journalism, Media and Technology Trends and Predictions 2017 by Nic Newman.

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©2017 Leading in Context LLC

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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©2017 Leading in Context LLC



Is Our Leadership “Good?”


By Linda Fisher Thornton

How will we know if our leadership is “good?” Since there are conflicting opinions about what good leadership includes, we need an understanding of the context to answer this important question.

This week I’m featuring a collection of posts that clear up questions you may have about how to define and practice “good” leadership. This is the kind of leadership that builds high-trust companies and communities. It is the high level leadership that brings out the best in people and engages them in meaningful work.

As you explore these posts, think about the ways you have learned about good leadership and who your role models have been. 

What is the Greater Good?

7 Definitions of “Good” (Why We Disagree About Ethics)

Is Your Leadership “Net Positive?”

What is the Ultimate Goal of Leadership?

We need “good” leadership at every level if we are going to build good organizations. Will our leadership stand the test of time? Will it be considered “good” by others looking back on it 100 years from now?

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Ethical Leaders “See” Their Choices Through All 7 Lenses

Includes case examples and questions.

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2017 Leading in Context LLC

Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I don’t particularly like the quote “Good things come to those who wait.” This quote, attributed to British author Violet Fane (Mary M. Singleton) in 1892, may be true but it leaves out important parts of the story. Good things may come to those who wait, but only after certain important conditions have been met:

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait (If They Also….)

  1. Work hard
  2. Use what they are learning to help others
  3. Keep working hard
  4. Improve but still keep learning
  5. Keep using what they learn in service to others
  6. Don’t give up, even when progress is slow and success is uncertain
  7. ….and so on (perpetually repeating numbers 1-6 above)

Doing these things keeps people in a service mindset, making it easier to wait for good things to happen. And, of course, while they are working diligently, they are not just waiting. Without the rest of the context, the quote seems to imply that just “waiting” is enough. 

What are your thoughts about the context of this quote? What other well-known quotes might be missing an important part of the story?

Top 100 Leadership Blog




Ethical Leaders See Their Choices Through All 7 Lenses

Includes case examples and questions.

Click the book cover for a preview.




Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2017 Leading in Context LLC




Leader Competence: Will it Be A Multiplier or a Divider?


slide2By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership competence is an issue that is gaining attention. Expectations of “good leadership” are increasing and leaders and organizations are scrambling to keep up. While sometimes people disagree about implementation, there is a strong consensus among scholars and research organizations that today’s leadership requires broad, high level thinking. 

With expectations for good leadership continuing to expand, some organizations still do not have leader competence on their strategy agendas. 

5 Compelling Reasons Leader Competence Should be a Top Strategic Priority:

  1. Competence informs thinking. Failing to stay competent, leaders may not be capable of thinking through the complex issues and situations they face in a global society and economy.
  2. Competence informs action. Failing to stay competent, leaders may solve the wrong problems or solve the right problems the wrong way.
  3. Competence fuels learning and growth. Failing to stay competent, leaders may get “stuck in place” and become entrenched in the face of challenges (instead of growing through them).
  4. Competence is required by law. There are laws and regulations in place to protect those who stay competent from being harmed by those who don’t.
  5. Competence fuels great performance. Competent leaders know how to develop competent associates who deliver great performance. 

Leader competence is either going to be a multiplier or a divider. When you have it, you multiply performance and trust, with exponential results. Without it, you divide your possible results by the incompetence factor. The more leaders who are behind the times, the higher the incompetence factor that is eroding your organization’s desired results. Can you afford to take the chance? Put ethical leadership competence on your strategic agenda this year.


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Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

Includes case examples and questions.

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2017 Leading in Context LLC

10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 2)


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Previously, I blogged about the first 5 of 10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing, and today I want to explore 5 more. These changes reflect a growing awareness that leadership never was about the leader – it is about how the leader takes responsibility and enables the success of others.

I guess we could say that some people got caught up in the perks of leadership and forgot about the service part and the need to take ethical responsibility. Well, some of those leadership perks are disappearing (like the corner office). 

Here are 5 more ways the leadership relationship is changing to favor those who leaders serve:

6.  From keeping production high to attracting and keeping top talent (who will keep production high)

7.  From telling to asking, involving, thinking together

8.  From an “open door policy” to “no door workspaces”

9.  From position power to competence and contribution power

10. From “do as I say, not as I do” to “Let me show you how” (demonstrating company values and ethics codes)

Trust and responsibility are the scaffolding underneath positive workplace relationships. The test of our leadership is not how well we handle tasks and direct people, but how well we build high-trust workplaces where everyone can work at their best.

All 10 of these changes in the leadership relationship reflect a new leadership mindset that is more ethically developed. The changing leadership relationship requires us to put ego aside and work for the good of those we lead and serve. After all, leadership is relational. It’s not about us. It’s about how well we bring the best in others.



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

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

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2016 Leading in Context LLC

What Does Ethical Consumerism Mean for Business?

by Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Ethical Consumerism?

Ethical consumerism means that more customers are choosing to purchase goods that are ethically sourced, ethically made and ethically distributed. In her article “Ethical Consumerism and Conservatism: Hand in Glove” in the Heinz Journal, Jacqueline Payne describes the ethical consumer this way:

“An ethical consumer is someone who buys things that are produced ethically. Depending on the context, ethical production may mean producing something that is recycled, using labor that is produced in facilities without the use of slavery and child labor, or processing food that is raised organic or free range. If you buy one of these products, you could be an ethical consumer and not even know it… or you may not be one. However, the whole point of the ethical consumerism movement is that you ‘know’ what you are buying and that you buy things that are produced ethically because not ‘knowing’ leads to abuse and exploitation.”

Jacqueline Payne, “Ethical Consumerism and Conservatism: Hand in Glove,” The Heinz Journal, Carnegie Mellon University

What Do Ethical Consumers Want?

Consumers are increasingly purchasing ethically sourced and prepared foods. In Top 10 Global Food Trends, Fiona Haynes, lowfatcooking.about.com, says that “More people want to eat eggs, meat or chicken that was raised or killed humanely or to know that the people who grew the coffee they buy were fairly paid.”

In “Ethical Consumerism and the Purchase of Human Rights Clothes” Human Rights Support describes the increasing consumer demand for ethically produced clothing:

An industry that is seeing a push for high-quality products that are produced in a way that supports human rights is the clothing industry. Consumers are demanding human rights clothes and looking for ways to purchase them.

“Ethical Consumerism and the Purchase of Human Rights Clothes”, Human Rights Support, cdhrsupport.com

Trendwatching.com’s 12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012 decribes an “eco-cycology” trend in which “Brands will increasingly take back all of their products for recycling (sometimes forced by new legislation), and recycle them responsibly and innovatively.” According to Trendwatching.com, “trading in is the new buying.”

In “Top Trends for 2012: Purity, Authenticity and Sustainability Lead the Way” Innova Marketing describes the customer demand for pure products, and points out that in a customer’s mind, “sustainability is a given.”

According to GlobeScan.com, even consumers in developing companies see the value of the new “green economy” where doing business sustainably is the norm:

GlobeScan’s and SustainAbility‘s most recent survey of global consumers, conducted in collaboration with National Geographic, shows that those in emerging economies are even more likely than their developed-world peers to reject the notion that environmental responsibility and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive.

The survey among consumers across 17 countries asked them to say whether they thought a Green Economy would be more or less effective than today’s economy in addressing a range of environmental and social challenges—and found that, globally, consumers thought a Green Economy would be more effective in all areas except for the creation of low-paying jobs.

Developing World Consumers More Upbeat About Economic Impact of a Green Economy, GlobeScan.com

How Should Businesses Respond?

Ethical consumers want much more than a good product for a good price. They also look for these things in a company, brand or product:

  • Natural, Pure Ingredients
  • Ethical Sourcing, Production and Distribution
  • Clear Information About Nutrition
  • Transparency
  • Fair Labor
  • Honoring Human Rights
  • Protecting Human Health
  • Respecting the Environment
  • Sustainability
  • Ethical Marketing and Advertising
  • Renewable/Recyclable Packaging
  • Giving Back to the Community and Society

Businesses need to carefully examine how well they are meeting the evolving ethical expectations of consumers. They will be simultaneously responding to ethical consumerism trends and figuring out “how to remain profitable yet sustainable in a flat economy.” (Experts Split on Whether Growth and Sustainable Consumption Compatible, GlobalScan.com)

How far ahead or behind is your company in responding to today’s ethical consumer? Use the questions below to explore how ethical consumerism will impact the way you do business in the next 5 years.

Questions for Discussion:

1. How might the ethical consumerism trend affect our business in the next 1-5 years?

2. What will we need to change to keep up with what ethical consumers expect?

3. How will responding to these trends help our business and our customers?


8 Reasons Why You Should Take Ethical Consumption More Seriously, TomorrowToday.uk.com

Ethical Consumer: From Margin to Mainstream, EthicalConsumer.org

12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012, Trendwatching.com


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?

by Linda Fisher Thornton

Abandoning Civility to Prove We’re “Right”

Why do people sometimes abandon civility at work?

One reason is that when the discussion gets heated, sometimes we just like to be “right.”  And we may abandon civility to try to prove that we are right.

We may not always be able to resist the temptation to argue that our perspective is better, more accurate, more current or more relevant than someone else’s. While there may be a sense of satisfaction (short term) that comes from loudly proving that we are “right” and they are wrong, verbally attacking someone else for what they believe is not an ethical approach.

Why is Attacking Others Unethical?

When we don’t agree with someone, attacking them and trying to discredit them is an attempt to reaffirm the status quo as we see it – to prove that things are exactly the way we understand them and that we don’t need to change our thinking. 

But attacking others with different views is not a responsible or respectful behavior. So regardless of how intelligent we think our view is, our attacking behavior will not be “right” from an ethical standpoint.

There is a danger we face when we make our point too strongly. A powerful desire to be “right” can completely blind us to how we are treating others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “There can be no high civility without a deep morality.”

“Passively, tolerance and respect simply mean accepting that a person with different beliefs and perspectives has a right to exist and doesn’t deserve to be attacked merely because of those differences – no matter how great they are.”

August Cline, Why Be Civil? (The Ethics and Moral Obligations of Civility), About.com

Being Careful About Our Behavior

Joshua Lederberg said that “A lack of civility is sometimes attributed to unchecked anger.” We do have to work to contain our anger and to be careful about our behavior when we don’t agree.

Michael Brannigan explains that civility “requires us to discipline our impulses” and “free ourselves from self-absorption:”

“Civility cultivates a civic code of decency. It requires us to discipline our impulses for the sake of others. It demands we free ourselves from self-absorption. By putting ethics into practice in our day-to-day encounters, civility is that moral glue without which our society would come apart.”

Michael Brannigan, The Pfaff Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY [This quote is from his column in the Sunday Times Union in Albany]

Listen to Learn

When we disagree, it is responsible to listen to the other person, and to see what we can learn from their perspective. When we attack first, before listening in order to understand another view, we ignore this very important aspect of our responsibility as leaders – being open to learning. 

Responsible leadership requires that we be open-minded and civil. Fiercely defending our viewpoint as “right” without being open to learning from others does not qualify as open-minded, and demonstrates a lack of civility.

Ethical Leaders Disagree Respectfully

Ethical leaders know that respectful behavior is part of our responsibility as citizens of a global society.  Withholding respect when we disagree signals a departure from civility, but it also represents something more harmful:

The immorality of incivility goes deeper than that, however. When we withhold tolerance and respect from a person, we stop treating them as a fellow human being.

August Cline, Why Be Civil? (The Ethics and Moral Obligations of Civility), About.com

More Leading in Context® Posts About Civility and Ethical Behavior

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Ethical Interpersonal Behavior Graphic: Red, Green and Yellow Zones

Why We Need a Strong Moral Center

Civility and Openness to Learning


For more, see new book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

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