Leading With Values During the Pandemic

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As we all grapple with the pandemic, I am grateful to see so many businesses sharing resources and ideas freely and finding a way to do some good for others. Our current challenges can only be managed with everyone pulling together to make good choices.

Today I’m sharing three key values that should drive our decision making at this time when everything we carefully planned has been turned upside down.

Well Being is Paramount

During a pandemic, leaders must put the well-being of employees, customers and other stakeholders ahead of profits and administrative routines. While offering paid sick leave to part time employees may be an unplanned cost, allowing part time workers to take paid sick leave would increase the chances that they will stay home when sick.

Keeping Values at the Center of Our Decision Making

Leaders have an obligation to make decisions that respond to the human need employees have for protecting themselves and caring for children, spouses, parents and other loved ones.

Three ethical values that are particularly important for leaders to demonstrate during a pandemic are Do No Harm, Demonstrate Care and Communicate Transparently.

Do No Harm
• Act before anyone in the organization becomes infected and work toward the goal of no one becoming infected
• Minimize employee travel, take in-person gatherings online and take other precautions
• Look for ways to make it likely that sick employees will be able to stay home and not infect others

Demonstrate Care
• Help people learn how to prepare themselves.
• Adapt policies to support people who are quarantined or sick or caring for loved ones
• Maintain a sense of community to support each other during the crisis

Communicate Transparently
• Keep people informed about changes and why they are being made and communicate new procedures
• Include how the changes will benefit them
• Help people understand what they need to do

Leaders and organizations who apply all of these values during a crisis demonstrate that they care about their employees and customers. Knowing that precautions are being taken and that they will be kept informed will help employees manage their fear and move forward with what they need to do. To get the tactics right, leaders will need to keep values central to their decision making and demonstrate a high level of flexibility and concern for others.

See Linda Fisher Thornton’s advice for HR Managers in the April Issue of Virginia Business.

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is Part 3 in a Leading in Context series sharing information on how to spot misinformation and false narratives. In case you missed them, Part 1 explored truth and narrative, and Part 2 examined how data and motives relate to the truth. Part 3 will address the importance of media literacy.

What Role Does Media Literacy Play in Discovering the Truth?

Misinformation relies on people having an emotional reaction and immediately sharing information with others without taking the time to evaluate its credibility.

“Ask yourself: Is this a complicated subject, something that’s hitting an emotional trigger? Or is it a breaking news story where the facts aren’t yet able to be assembled? If the answer is yes, then you need to be ultra-skeptical.”

Miles Parks, Fake News: How to Spot Misinformation, NPR

To avoid being misled, when you have a strong emotional reaction to a story, look for the source of the information and look for corroborating information from other sources. (Miles Parks, Fake News: How to Spot Misinformation, NPR)

How can you spot a source of misinformation and false narrative?

One way to avoid misinformation is to check out whether or not the story is real before buying into it, sharing it and telling other people about it.

Sources of misinformation and false narrative may not share sources backing up the story OR the sources they share are not reliable. Media literacy is how we avoid being tricked.

Misinformation and false narratives may come from a dishonest leader or organization, or from a source who is motivated by CLICKS and ad revenue. These sources have a self-interested motive (and do not care about us or our well being). Whatever the source, our job is to stay literate as misinformation becomes more sophisticated and harder to spot.

Healthy Media Consumption

How You Can Stop the Fake News Madness

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Truth and Misinformation: How to Spot False Narratives (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is Part 2 in a Leading in Context blog series sharing information on how to spot misinformation and false narratives. In case you missed it, Part 1 explored the concepts of truth and narrative. In Part 2, we’ll explore how data relates to the truth.

How Does Data Inform the Truth?

“If there is no longer an objective truth to be uncovered in our data or if we are no longer interested in listening to the voice of data that may tell us uncomfortable truths, what is the point of even turning to data?”

Kalev leetaru, Is There Such a Thing as Objective Truth in Data or is it all in the Eye of the Beholder?, Forbes

Data, taken in pieces or without context, can be presented as “truth” but the fragmented picture you will see is only informative in the context of the greater whole. In that sense, data is just as easily used for misinformation and false narrative as it is to give you a clear picture of the truth.

“This kind of viral half-truth is part of the fabric of today’s internet, and the kind of anger it inspired has been turned into a dangerous commodity… (used) by scammers raising money online, and by authoritarian governments to spread hate and fear.”

Adi Robertson, How to Fight Lies, Tricks and Chaos Online, The Verge

“Also, Tromble says, the “sticky thing” about someone’s perceptions—be they true or false—usually involves some ’emotional contact.’ If false claims come wrapped in exciting or agitating contexts, and the subsequent fact checks arrive in sober, academic language, the false claims are ‘stickier.’”

Charles Babington, The Disinformation Age, GW Magazine

Emotional awareness is an important part of evaluating whether or not something is true. We can consider whether the content we’re seeing is specifically designed to activate a deep emotional response and think about why that may be the case. A person wanting to discover objective truth will need to dig in to evaluate the motives and hidden agendas of information sources. That leads me to the second way to spot misinformation and false narrative.

How can you spot a source of misinformation and false narrative?

Sources of misinformation and false narrative will often give you an emotionally-charged and opportunistic spin on a situation and call it the truth. People who question it may be attacked to deflect attention from a hidden motive.

A misinformation provider wants you NOT to question its motives as it shares a piece of information that is not giving you the whole truth. It relies on you wanting to believe that it is true so much that you will not question it.

Misinformation and false narrative rely on raw intimidation power (and not truth power). Look for truth power that stands on its own merits and doesn’t need to attack to deflect attention.

Watch for Part 3, Coming Soon!

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Top 10 Posts 2019: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 individual posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2019, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these new topics that readers accessed most frequently:

#1 Unethical Leadership: Selective Respect

#2 16 Answers to What is Good Leadership?

#3 Systems Thinking: Using the 5 Whys

#4 Respect, Interpreted Part 3

#5 Shallow Thinking

#6 Mindset or Competency: Which is More Important?

#7 Thinking Beyond Polarities To Both/And Thinking

#8 How Is Critical Thinking Different From Ethical Thinking?

#9 The Messages Micromanagement Sends

#10 Unethical Thinking Leads To Unethical Leadership

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2019, it would be The Mindset You Need To Avoid Unethical Leadership

Which post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about, comment on this post, or tweet your idea to @leadingincontxt!

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The Voice of the (Un)Ethical Leader

By Linda Fisher Thornton

There is great variation in how leaders “use their voice” in pursuit of their work. Some use it to engage and empower others, others use it to deflect unwanted observations or to create distance that isolates them from people they don’t want to listen to.

Some leaders may not be aware that how they speak tells us volumes about their ethical awareness and competence. 

When an ethical leader speaks, the tone conveys service and concern for others. 

  • Humble: There were many people who made this happen.
  • Open-Minded: I always listen to learn, even when we disagree
  • Inclusive: I demonstrate respect for everyone.
  • Caring: I am concerned about you and your challenges. I want to help.
  • Service-Oriented: I know I’m here to help you succeed, not the other way around.

When an unethical leader speaks, the tone is noticeably different.

  • Hogging the Credit: It was all because of me.
  • Closed-Minded: If you don’t agree with me, you’re an idiot.
  • Exclusive: I respect people I like.
  • Self-Interested: My needs are what matter most.
  • Lacking Empathy: Your problems are not my concern.

 

Words matter. Be aware of the tone you use when you communicate. People who speak like ethical leaders are more likely to be respected and more likely to be followed. They are more likely to be selected and more likely to be trusted. They are more likely to have a positive impact on others and on the global community. What message is your language sending to others?

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Beyond Civility

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Civility seems like a minimum standard or a fallback position, certainly not a desired end. We expect so much more from ethical leaders.

Without civility, communication is chaotic and difficult (if not impossible). Civility adds choosing words more carefully and avoiding blaming and attacking others. When I think about people “being civil” I get a picture of people who don’t like each other very much struggling to maintain their composure.

The origin of the word and its uses are interesting.

“The word civil has about twelve different meanings; it is applied to all manner of objects, which are perfectly disparate. As opposed to criminal, it means all law not criminal. As opposed to ecclesiastical, it means all law not ecclesiastical: as opposed to military, it means all law not military, and so on.” [John Austin, “Lectures on Jurisprudence,” 1873] https://www.etymonline.com/word/civil

Extrapolating on this definition, perhaps civil interpersonal behavior is “all behavior not criminal.” I advocate Civility, but not as an ideal. Just as law is the minimum standard of acceptable individual behavior in a society (below which you are punished) civility seems to be the minimum standard of interpersonal behavior (so as not to get in trouble with the law). Use these posts to learn about the nuances of civility as an ethical issue.

Civility is an Ethical Issue

Civility and Openness to Learning

The Questions We Have in Common

 

 

 

 

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Respect, Interpreted Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I believe that respect is a key structural beam supporting the organizational “house.” Without it, trust falls, productivity falls, engagement drops and turnover increases. It becomes harder to attract top talent for open positions in organizations where respect is not a minimum standard. Without respect, an organization’s culture becomes structurally unsound and devolves into “a house of cards” at risk of many negative impacts beyond those mentioned here. 

With respect as a minimum standard for which people are held accountable, an organization creates a “positive shield’ that deflects a wide range of negative interpersonal behaviors. If we require respect, for example, then discourages a wide range of negative behaviors including judging, blaming, name-calling or excluding.

By requiring respect as the MINIMUM standard, we are creating a preventive and protective shield that protects the organization’s culture. 

Think of what happens to a house when a structural beam is removed. It collapses in on itself. That is what begins to happen to organizational culture the moment a single word or action that is disrespectful is “approved” through silence. Why is silence considered approval? Thomas Paine famously said “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” When leaders look the other way, they are on the path to making a disrespectful act appear “right” whether that was intended or not. Granted, talking about respect is difficult and we don’t have clear instructions for how to build a culture of respect. Or do we? Stayed tuned for Respect, Interpreted Part 2.

 

 

 

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Ethical Thinking: 5 Questions to Ask in the New Year

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Each year I raise questions that help leaders stay current as ethical expectations change. Here are 5 new questions to tackle as we head into a New Year. 

  1. Where are our areas of strength and our gaps in adapting to increasing ethical expectations?
  2. What will we do to close the gaps we’ve identified within the next 3 months?
  3. What evidence will we look for to prove that we have closed the gaps?
  4. How will we make this a regular conversation so that we can avoid gaps in the future?
  5. How will we help others answer these important questions?

Expecting ethical challenges is easy. Preparing to handle them well is more difficult. Schedule time to work through these difficult questions with your teams as we head into the New Year. 

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Human Rights: 70 Years

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I had the privilege of hearing best-selling author Blanche Wiesen Cook speak at The University of Richmond last night. Her topic was “Toward an Inclusive Democracy: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Legacy.”  Cook has spent many years researching and writing about Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and journey. During the inspiring talk, Cook noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt championed, is turning 70 this month.

Now is the perfect time to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt’s human rights journey and the Universal Declaration she championed. It is timely for us to reflect now on how far we have left to go on the journey toward honoring the rights and dignity of every human who resides in our global village. 

Cook shared Eleanor Roosevelt’s sage advice to “BE BOLD” and “Talk to one another when we disagree.” That advice will  serve us well as we work to overcome differences and uphold ethical values. Why is this 70 year human rights journey so important now? The baton has been passed to us, and we must run the next lap. 

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Seeing Beyond Borders and Walls

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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.

 

 

 

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Also see:

Yes, Leaders. Behavior Matters

Just Say No to 10 Behaviors That Kill Competence

Inclusion: The Power of Regardless

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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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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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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’ll look at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on collective success.

What is Meaningful Leadership? Real Conversations and Relational ROI

Powerful conversations get to the deeper recesses of issues that concern people and interfere with individual and collective success.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

— Maya Angelou

Meaningful leadership is relational, and leaders who are good at it think in terms of a sort of relational ROI.

“I believe that the most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed.”

— Adam Grant

Leaders who are clearly committed to relational ROI balance out tasks and people and show that they understand that leadership is not all about them.

“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.”

—  Thomas Merton

When leaders are willing to, in the words of Maya Angelou, infuse conversations with deeper meaning, people feel more connected to their work and their teams.

When leaders place a priority on interpersonal awareness and positive interactions with others, people find a safe space to make a meaningful contribution.

Meaningful leadership doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations that meet an important human need to find meaning. Ask yourself:

  1. How open am I to talking about whatever difficult work-related topic people want to discuss?  
  2. How willingly do I dig into the details of what it means to live out our values, even when those values seem to conflict?
  3. What steps can I take to be more accessible, more open and more responsive to the human need for meaningful communication?

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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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The Future of Education: Ethical Literacy For Handling Global Complexity

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We are not preparing students for success in the world where they will have to live and work. Some of the ways we currently think about “teaching” need to be scrapped and replaced.

It will be increasingly important that teachers and other learning guides dig into complexity in order to help prepare students who need to handle increasing complexity in their lives and work. A focus on ‘knowing’ must be replaced with a focus on ‘how to think, problem solve and successfully navigate global complexity using ethical values’.

The risk in not quickly making the change to a much more current and engaging way of preparing learners is that every outdated textbook used by schools to save money will contain at best inaccurate information and at worst morally offensive content. Every smart phone will have access to more current and relevant information than is being taught in the classroom. 

Understanding The Challenge, Visualizing the Future

Students need to be able to think successfully at high levels of complexity in order to be effective workers, leaders and problem-solvers. Memorization of facts will definitely not help them be ready. In the old way of thinking, the more people are “taught,” the more they “know.” This thinking does not work because it ignores the important variables of motivation, relevance, learner engagement and the need to improve thinking capability. It ignores the importance of basing choices on ethical values, and focuses only on historical context. 

Learning has become highly self-directed and traditional approaches to teaching (“telling,” “sharing knowledge” and “testing knowledge”) do not support learner success in a complex global context. 

For example, does knowing the complete history of politics prepare learners to handle the current divisive political arena? No, but learning how to think about and act on ethical values will. Does knowing how to write catchy headlines that sell prepare learners for rapidly increasing expectations about appropriate social media posts? No, but learning how to think about and act on ethical values will. 

“Learning Future” Includes

  • A higher level of complexity in thinking (exploring shades of grey, not “right” and “wrong” answers with an answer key)
  • Technology-enabled, just-in-time, user-friendly learning
  • More individualized feedback based on skills needed for future job success 
  • More practicing and evaluating individual and group problem-solving
  • Less memorizing and testing facts (which are easily accessed)
  • More practice time spent learning how to think and act responsibly in the world
  • More awareness of how we fit into the global community
  • More engaging, self-directed work and less homework

A New Role for Leaders in Education

Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals and leaders. Employers are not easily impressed by book knowledge – they want to know what you can do, for them, in their context, accurately, at high speed, while avoiding ethical mistakes. Adapting to this high employer expectation will turn our current public education practices upside down. 

Ethical literacy is more important than memorization and good test scores. It will define the success of tomorrow’s leaders. We need to make it our top education priority. To respond rapidly to changes in the skills and abilities they will need for tomorrow’s jobs, school administrators will need to adapt quickly to new leadership and learning research and engage everyone in making the change. Only then will we prepare students for success in an exciting, forward-thinking and competitive global arena.  

Masters of Complexity: Leading Effectively in Public Education will help leaders visualize challenges and opportunities for change and decide where to start. 

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