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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What is Ethics?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We are globally connected and becoming more aware of the complexity of our connections. We need a robust understanding of ethics – what it means, what it requires of us, and what we need to know and do to be ethical.

As we learn about ethics, we need to understand it in a multidimensional way. One-dimensional definitions lead us down a single path and prevent us from seeing our broad responsibilities as citizens and leaders.

Here is a quick tour of ways to think about ethics – only by honoring all of them will we have a chance of keeping up with increasing ethical expectations.

Ethics is Required Of All of Us

“Ethics or simple honesty is the building blocks upon which our whole society is based, and business is a part of our society, and it’s integral to the practice of being able to conduct business, that you have a set of honest standards.”

Kerry Stokes

Ethics is Moral Awareness

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

Potter Stewart

Ethics is More Than Meeting Minimum Standards

“In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so.”
Immanuel Kant

Ethics is Thinking Beyond Ourselves

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

Andre and Velasquez, Santa Clara University

Ethics is Caring About Others

“The ethics of care starts from the premise that as humans we are inherently relational, responsive beings and the human condition is one of connectedness or interdependence.”

Carol Gilligan

Ethics is Doing Good and Preventing Harm

“Let me give you a definition of ethics: It is good to maintain and further life it is bad to damage and destroy life.”

Albert Schweitzer

Ethics is Caring For the Planet and Society

“Corporate Social Responsibility, or “CSR,” refers to the need for businesses to be good corporate citizens. CSR involves going beyond the law’s requirements in protecting the environment and contributing to social welfare. It is widely accepted as an obligation of modern business.”

Ethics Unwrapped, University of Texas

Ethics is a Journey of Human Growth 

“Ethics is the activity of man directed to secure the inner perfection of his own personality.”

Albert Schweitzer

See also 7 Definitions of Good: Why We Disagree About Ethics

 

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Trust: The Force That Drives Results

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When leaders trust and are trustworthy, this brings out their best and fuels a virtuous cycle that brings out the best in others and releases the potential of the organization for great performance. 

Ethical Leaders Are Trustworthy and They Choose to Trust Others

When we choose to trust, we access a higher level of capacity in ourselves and our organizations. When we are consistently trustworthy, people know they can count on us to support their success.

How Does Trust Drive Results?

Once thought by business leaders to be “soft,” trust is now proven to be a “results-changer.” Here is a sampling of the many ways trust transforms organizations:

  • It “accelerated growth, enhanced innovation, improved collaboration, stronger partnering, better execution, and heightened loyalty.” Franklin Covey, The Business Case For Trust, SpeedofTrust.com
  • “Trust has been elevated to a C-suite issue, not an afterthought, because consumer trust converts into bottom-line benefits; in our study, half of respondents say they are willing to pay a premium for products and services from companies they trust.” Cognizant, The Business Value of Trust

To move the trust conversation forward in your organization and boost important metrics, use the 12 Principles I shared – to TAP Into Trust!

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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)

 

 

Ethical Leaders Don’t Put the Brakes on Learning

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When leaders stop learning, they generate friction. Professionals who work with a leader who has “put the brakes on learning” are likely to experience conflict and dissatisfaction. A leader’s failure to learn starts a chain reaction that harms individuals and teams. 

How a Leader Who Puts the Brakes on Learning Affects a Team

  • Leader decisions based on outdated information frustrate competent team members and reduce their effectiveness.
  • Uninformed leader decisions often stray into unethical territory, with the leader pushing forward, pressuring team members to do what they know is not ethical right. 
  • Some highly talented team members working with an uninformed leader begin to look for other work.
  • Team members pressured to do things they know are not ethically right leave the team to find better working conditions. 
  • The departure of highly talented team members further reduces the effectiveness of the team.
  • The reputation of the team is damaged, making it hard to attract good people to fill positions.
  • Positions that remained unfilled put additional pressure on existing team members. More team members may decide to leave to find better leadership.  

When leaders put the brakes on learning, it cripples the whole team, starting a downward spiral to ineffectiveness. It damaged reputation and engagement metrics. It affects results. 

Ethical Leaders Learn

Responsible leaders know that learning must continue for a lifetime. Only then can they be ready to  make ethical choices as they handle the challenges of leadership. 

Good drivers don’t drive with the emergency brake on. Good leaders don’t put the brakes on learning. 

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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)

 

 

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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©2018 Leading in Context LLC

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking (Guest Post)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We all need better ways to deal with difficult situations. Thinking on autopilot or going with our “gut instinct” won’t guide us through the ethical grey areas. Michael McKinney published an article I wrote that digs into how to lead through complexity. It is a timely topic, and as I shared in the article, “many leaders I talk with have a feeling that there is a more meaningful way of thinking and leading than what they’ve been seeing. “

EthicsThis article explains that “there is no ‘good leadership’ without ethical thinking” and shares the framework from the book                  7 Lenses as a tool for making ethical choices in complex situations.

When we ground our choices in ethical values, we consider our impact on constituents in the short run and over the long run. That’s what good leadership is all about.

Read the article on the Leading Now Blog. Comment here to let me know what you think!

 

 

Special Series Celebrating the 2nd 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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©2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the fifth post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed them, take a look at Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1),  Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2), Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3) and Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your plans for developing leaders in 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.

If you ask a room full of leaders to define ethical thinking, you’ll get dozens of different answers. Leaders struggle with increasing complexity and accelerating change and they may think that they know how to use ethical thinking. The problem is that the ethical thinking they have been using for years isn’t helping them now. Our thinking skills don’t just upgrade themselves as if set on “automatic upgrade.” Leaders have to practice struggling through ethical issues at increasingly higher levels of complexity.

Ethical thinking doesn’t just “happen” by itself in a rapidly changing global environment – the landscape is constantly changing and ethical expectations are increasing

As ethical challenges increase, leadership thinking needs to increase accordingly for leaders to keep up. If we use outdated software to run our most critical systems, they won’t be reliable and our business credibility will break down. The same is true for outdated leadership thinking. 

Ethical Awareness is Increasing

Corruption has long been approached with the implicit attitude that it is a victimless crime. This is now changing fast, as it has become impossible to ignore the links between corruption, poverty, conflict, and human rights violations.

Alison Taylor and James Cohen, The future of business ethics: Hyper-transparency and other global trends, FCPA Blog

Ethical Problems Must Be Handled Fast, In Real Time

“The caliber of the decision maker is decisive—especially when an immediate decision must arise from instinct rather than from discussion.”

Kenneth R. Andrews, Managing Uncertainty: Ethics in Practice, HBR

Developing Leaders Supports Employee Engagement

“The third factor in “irresistible” management is leadership development: Organizations with high levels of employee engagement focus on developing great leaders. They invest heavily in management development and ensure that new leaders are given ample support.”

Josh Bersin, Becoming Irresistable: A New Model For Employee Engagement, Deloitte Insights

A New Leadership Algorithm is Required

“The definition of strong leadership is evolving. Several interviews discuss topics relating to updating the leadership algorithm or leadership mindset to enhance the overall capacity.”

Maureen Metcalf, What Top Leaders And Academics Are Thinking About Leadership In 2017, Forbes.com

Pressure on leaders is increasing to make good choices and ethical brand value is a key part of organizational success. A bad choice captured on video can go viral on social media, causing the value of a company to plummet in hours. Don’t let your most critical brand ambassadors and coaches (your leaders) use outdated ethical thinking. 

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18 Quotes To Inspire Leaders In The New Year (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Are your leaders prepared for the year ahead? Each day will bring new challenges, and to succeed within ethical boundaries, we’ll all need a clear picture of “good leadership.”

This series is an annual tradition and this year’s post includes 18 quotes (each linked to a post with leadership guidance) to inspire you to grow your leadership skills to be ready for whatever 2018 may bring. Part 1 includes the first 9.

Leaders who solve complex problems need a special blend of qualities – the curiosity to untangle the variables, the persistence to keep trying, and the openness to change beliefs and strategies as answers emerge from the chaos. 

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. 

As leaders, it’s our job to create an engaging, ethical, high-trust environment where people can do the very best work of their lives. And while we’re doing that, the world is watching. 

When ethical leadership is required, the QUICK answer is risky business. 

Without the context, we are not aware – we only see the parts of an issue that we want to see. 

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.”

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. 

It turns out that truth, like ethics, is multidimensional. One sound bite is not going to capture it.

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. 

As we approach 2018, make sure each leader in your organization is clear about values and ready to adapt to increasing ethical expectations. 

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