200th Blog Post – Learning at the Speed of Life

Linda Fisher Thornton

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In my 150th Blog Post, I wrote about starting a blog and being new to the process of Learning Out Loud. To celebrate my 200th post, I want to reflect on what it’s been like to learn new things faster than I ever thought possible. It seems especially clear to me now that we all have capabilities we’re not using in our day to day lives. But imagine what could happen if we believed we could make a difference, lurched toward that goal unsteadily, and then just held on for the ride.

The dream for Leading in Context LLC started small, with a passion for responsible leadership, an intense curiosity and a question – “What does it mean to lead ethically in a complex world?”

Taking on that question brought this response on Twitter – “Good luck with that. Let us know when you get there!” Knowing that the question was too big to answer and that people didn’t think I could do it just made me work harder. In the process, I tapped into potential I never knew I had.

As you read about my journey, reflect on what you’re curious about, and how seeking the answer might be transformational.

What has stretched me in the past year? 

  • Winning a thought leader award connected me with a wonderful new global group of people, many of whom were already well-established in their areas of expertise. I had to step up.
  • Leading an Innovations in Teaching project for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies had me looking at Innovation in an educational setting. I had to step up.
  • Working with a thought leader strategy coach put a viable long-term business based on my question within reach. I had to step up.

What phrases are no longer in my vocabulary?

  • “What I have is working”
  • “I don’t think I can do that,” and
  • “There isn’t enough time.”

What challenges will the next year bring?

  • Implementing the new business strategy built earlier this year
  • Launching a new and improved website, and
  • Launching a practical book about how to lead ethically in a complex world

What mindset will I bring to my work?

  • Each time I reach the top of a mountain, I will be able to see the next one more clearly
  • The resources and support I need for success will be there when I need them, and
  • This is the most challenging work I’ve ever done, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.

What are you curious about?


For more, see Linda’s 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  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


10 Favorite Quotes From the Leading in Context Blog


By Linda Fisher Thornton

I noticed that Jesse Lyn Stoner’s Blog Post Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of My Blog included her favorite quotes from her blog. Her post appeared in the Mini-Carnival of HR at CostofWork.com along with my 150th Blog Post Learning Out Loud .

This week, I thought I’d share 10 of my favorite quotes from the Leading in Context Blog. Clicking on each quote takes you to the full post that includes the quote.

Visit the Leading in Context® Blog Index for more articles about how to lead ethically in a complex world.


For more, see Linda’s 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  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


Leading Ethically and The Control Trap


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why is controlling leadership so harmful in organizations? There are a number of powerful reasons that have ethical implications:

1. Controlling leadership generates stress and fear

2. Controlling leadership reduces productivity, innovation and engagement

3. Controlling leadership takes the meaning and fun out of doing a job

4. Controlling leadership does not consider or respect employees’ knowledge and abilities

5. Controlling leadership creates a toxic work environment and a low-trust culture

People who are fearful and stressed cannot do their best work. Controlling leadership violates many of the principles of ethical leadership. What is the control trap? When a leader tries to control the actions of employees to make sure that they “do it right,” that controlling behavior takes away their natural ability to do good work. 

Here are some ways that we can bring out the best in our people and honor what they know how to do:

  • Extend Trust – We need to let people know that we trust them to do good work 
  • Remove Barriers – We need to remove barriers to effective work (even if we are part of the problem!)
  • Support  Interests – Ask people what they most want to learn and consider that when assigning projects

“A leader is not an administrator who loves to run others, but someone who carries water for his people so that they can get on with their jobs.” — Robert Townsend

Good performance is not something that you can control – but you can release it by the way that you choose to lead.


For more, see Linda’s 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  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


13 Leadership Temptations (to Conquer in 2013)

10 Temptations

By Linda Fisher Thornton

13 Leadership Temptations To Conquer In 2013

We’re starting a new year, with fresh possibilities, and it is a good time to think about our leadership values. What do we believe? How do we treat others? What matters to us? Can people determine our values just by watching how we treat people?

As we think about how we want to lead this year, we need to recognize that it is tempting to make easy short-term decisions that end up having ethical consequences in the long run.  Sometimes those seemingly easy decisions are “easy” because

  • we have oversimplified them
  • we have only considered how our choice benefits us and have failed to consider its impact on others, or
  • we have ignored important ethical factors.

The 13 leadership temptations below are very real and we have all faced them. As leaders, it is our job to carefully resist them. To do that, we first have to admit that they exist and that they challenge us, and then we must decide to take positive actions.

We all have the capacity to do good and to do harm. Let’s resolve to do good and to resist these 13 Leadership Temptations in the New Year.

Resolve to Conquer These 13 Leadership Temptations in the New Year

  1. The temptation to think that “ethics” is just about words and not about our choices
  2. The temptation to attack people instead of attacking problems
  3. The temptation to choose “quick fix” solutions that do more harm than good in the long run
  4. The temptation to judge others, and to think that differences are a threat
  5. The temptation to treat others with disrespect
  6. The temptation to avoid change when we really need to adapt
  7. The temptation to think that rules and laws are for other people, not us
  8. The temptation to profit at the expense of others
  9. The temptation to blame other people instead of examining our role and taking responsibility
  10. The temptation to treat employees as commodities rather than as human beings 
  11. The temptation to ignore feedback that we don’t like
  12. The temptation to only read that which confirms what we already believe
  13. The temptation to do anything that sets a bad moral example for others

Author’s Note: This post was inspired by British ethicist Mary Warnock in her speech about scandals in the British Parliament, shared on Vimeo by The School of Life. 


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

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


Wishing You Peace

The Peace Paradox

Extend Peace In Order to Receive It

In this Joyous Season, it seems like a good time to reflect on our leadership role in building peace and trust. Peace is one of those things that requires reaching out. Just as we must extend trust to receive it from others, we must also extend peace in order to receive it. When each side watches and waits for the other party to extend peace, they create a stalemate that is unresolvable…until someone takes the first step and reaches out.

Peace is More Than the Absence of Violence

What is peace? Below is the Wikipedia definition. Notice that this definition describes  multiple dimensions that go well beyond the absence of violence.

“Peace is a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violent conflict and the freedom from fear of violence. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility, peace also suggests the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all. In international relations, peacetime is not only the absence of war or violent conflict, but also the presence of positive and respectful cultural and economic relationships.”


Peace is about much more than a lack of violence. It is about positive and respectful relationships. In order to resolve the “waiting for the other party to extend peace” stalemate, we must work toward peace even when that seems impossible. We cannot force it, but must tend it like a garden, nurturing good behaviors and weeding out those that generate dischord or show disrespect.

Reflecting On Leadership, Power and Collaboration

In The Power Paradox, Dacher Keltner explains that force is not equivalent to power anymore:

“As we debunk long-standing myths and misconceptions about power, we can better identify the qualities powerful people should have, and better understand how they should wield their power. As a result, we’ll have much less tolerance for people who lead by deception, coercion, or undue force. No longer will we expect these kinds of antisocial behaviors from our leaders and silently accept them when they come to pass…We’ll also start to demand something more from our colleagues, our neighbors, and ourselves.”

Dacher Keltner, The Power Paradox, GreaterGood.Berkeley.edu

One of my favorite books about how leaders can move from conflict to collaboration is Leading Through Conflict by Mark Gerzon. He provides a set of leadership capabilities that we can develop that help us move from wherever we are now to positive, collaborative relationships.

Peace is Something We Create

Peace is not something we simply hope for or wait for. It’s something that we create through our everyday actions and relationships. As we enter the New Year, may we all:

  • Be open to learning from others
  • Understand that power in leadership means humility, compassion and social intelligence, not force
  • Respect others and differences, and
  • Actively extend trust and peace

Extending Peace to You This Holiday Season

I hope that you enjoy the timeless quotes about peace that follow. Notice how they focus on individual action, mutual understanding  and individual responsibility.

Reflections On Peace

Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it.

Thomas Jefferson

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Mother Teresa

Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves.
William Hazlitt

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.                                                                          Ralph Waldo Emerson

Peace is liberty in tranquillity.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        John Lennon

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_peace2.html#Sem4THUdpjTlG5bc.99

Many thanks to all of you who have connected this year to share ideas about leading ethically in a complex world. Have a Joyful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!

Linda Fisher Thornton is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is also CEO/Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a leadership development consulting firm helping business leaders lead responsibly in a complex world.  


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 


100 Trends to Watch For 2013

100 Trends to Watch for 2013By Linda Fisher Thornton

100 Trends to Watch For 2013

As we head into 2013, the trend reports at the links below will give you a “business leader’s preview” of what to expect in sectors that range from consumer trends,  human resources, leadership and marketing to color, food, and technology. Enjoy!

10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2013, Trendwatching.com

Our 10 Trends for 2013 in 2 Minutes, JWT Intelliegence, JWTIntelligence.com

7 Hot Trends in Social Media Marketing, Mashable.com

Four Trends for the Future of Leadership Development, CCL, LeadingEffectively.com

Social Media Marketing Trends Collection, Priit Kallas, Dreamgrow.com

Challenges Facing HR Over the Next Ten Years, Society for Human Resource Management, shrm.org

The New Consumer Agenda, 2013-2015, Peter Fisk, Slideshare.net

The Future of HR, Tom Haak, Scoop.it

Global Trends for 2013: A top 10 for business leaders, Thomas Malnight and Tracey Keys, TheEconomist.com

Top 10 Food Trends for 2013, Phil Lempert, SupermarketGuru.com

Hot Restaurant Menu Trends For 2013, Lisa Jennings, nrn.com

Gartners Top IT Predictions for 2011-2015, CIOInsight.com

Can You Spot These 13 Sustainability Trends For 2013?, Julie Urlaub, Taigacompany.com/Blog

November 2012 TrendBriefing: PRESUMERS, trendwatching.com

5 Digital Trends Shaping the Consumer Experience, Macala Wright, Mashable.com

Color Trends 2013, BenjaminMoore.com

Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Non-Government Experts, Federation of American Scientists, fas.org

Glimpse The Future of Work: Future Work Skills 2020, Apollo Research Institute, ApolloResearchInstitute.com

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, US Director of National Intelligence, dni.gov

If you want even more information, visit the Leading in Context Strategic Leadership and Leadership Trends pages on Pinterest for trends related to leadership and leadership development.

10 Thinking Traps (That Ethical Leaders Avoid)

Avoid These 10 Thinking Traps

What are some of the thinking traps that we fall into as leaders? I’m not referring to “correlation versus causation” and other logical reasoning problems. There are some common ways of thinking about business leadership that cripple our effectiveness and undermine our ethics. These misconceptions should have important names that reflect the wide swath of negative impact that they cause in organizations.

Here are 10 types of flawed leadership thinking that I have seen, with my own tongue-in-cheek descriptive names for them…

The message? Ethical leaders avoid these 10 types of flawed thinking.

Which one of these is your favorite? My favorite is #10.


For more, see Linda’s 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 

Honoring Human Rights is Essential


by Linda Fisher Thornton

Human Rights and Morality 

Business leaders have a clear responsibility to honor universal human rights. In their article The Moral Foundations of Ethical Leadership in the Values Based Leadership Journal, Hester and Killian remind us that “morality is inclusive, emphasizing human rights and dignity, respectful of diversity.”

Addressing Human Rights Risks

John Sherman, III, Harvard Kennedy School of Government believes that businesses must manage human rights risks along with other corporate risks.

“Is knowledge of human rights risks a company’s friend or its enemy? No one likes bad news, and messengers who deliver it may choose to do so gingerly. But it’s critically important for a company to investigate, understand, and act on facts – however unpleasant – that might pose real risks to it and its stakeholders in order to ensure that it addresses those risks.

If we have learned nothing else from the financial crisis, it is this – the failure by companies to understand and respond to the true nature and depth of their risks can devastate them and society. This principle is as true for human rights risks as it is for other company risks.”

John Sherman, III, Knowledge of Human Rights: Company Friend or Enemy? Institute for Human Rights and Business, ihrb.org

Ethical Leaders Protect Human Rights

There are universal guidelines for responsible business that describe the leadership responsibility for protecting human rights.  Using global guidelines (which include the UN Global Compact and the Caux Roundtable Principles for Responsible Business), we can evaluate our approach and learn how well we’re doing.  Use the following sources to assess how well you are honoring human rights in your organization.

Principles for Responsible Business

“The principles recognize that while laws and market forces are necessary, they are insufficient guides for responsible business conduct.”

“The principles are rooted in three ethical foundations for responsible business and for a fair and functioning society more generally, namely: responsible stewardship; living and working for mutual advantage; and the respect and protection of human dignity.”

The Caux Roundtable Principles for Responsible Business, cauxroundtable.org

The UN Global Compact

“The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rightslabour,environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary driver of globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.”

The UN Global Compact, unglobalcompact.org

United Nations Human Rights

“The responsibility to respect human rights is not, however, limited to compliance with such domestic law provisions. It exists over and above legal compliance, constituting a global standard of expected conduct applicable to all businesses in all situations. It therefore also exists independently of an enterprise’s own commitment to human rights.”

United Nation Human Rights, The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: An Interpretive Guide, business-humanrights.org

The Netter Principles (Inclusion)

“In an inclusive organization, visible and invisible heterogeneity is present throughout all departments and at all levels of responsibility. Human differences and similarities are welcomed, valued and utilized at all levels across all formal and informal organizational systems.”

The Netter Principles, A Framework for Building Organizational Inclusion, The Workplace Diversity Network, cornell.edu

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, un.org

Ethical Leaders Honor Human Rights

As leaders, we are expected to protect human rights in all that we do. In our quest to lead responsibly, we must continually consider the question “How do we need to change in order to better honor human rights?”

If you are in the process of developing a corporate human rights policy, A Guide for Business: How to Develop a Human Rights Policy (UN Human Rights, Global Compact) is helpful in beginning the discussion.

Related Leading in Context® Blog Posts:

Leadership and Human Rights

Ethical Leaders Care and Ethical Leaders Care Part Two: In Action

Assessing Corporate Ethics


For more, see Linda’s 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 

What is Conscious Capitalism?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Conscious Capitalism?

In last week’s post, I explored how Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self Interest. This week, I’ll explore the same question at the organizational level.

What are an organization’s ethical responsibilities? How is conscious capitalism a way to understand them?

Ethical Leadership is to the Moral Leader as Conscious Capitalism is to the Moral Company 

While ethical leadership is the term we use to describe what a moral leader does, conscious capitalism is a term that describes what a moral company does. According to BBC News E-Cyclopedia, “conscious capitalism stands for a more moral approach to what is often seen as ‘the dirty business of business.’” (Cited in Conscious Capitalism: Dirty Business No More by Ramla at NextbyRamla.Blogspot.com)

Conscious capitalism involves thinking beyond self-interests, demonstrating care for stakeholders at the global level, using a long-term time orientation and seeing the company’s role in the world through a systems view.

Taking A Systems View on the Moral Responsibilities of Business

According to Anne Federwisch,  Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University in Corporate Moral Responsibility and The Ethics of Product Usage … the idea of moral responsibility has been expanding over the years.”  While businesses that followed laws used to be considered “good,” there is now so much more that they need to do in order to be considered an ethical business.

According to John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, quoted in A Case for Conscious Capitalism: Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Brain Science, by Pillay and Sisodia in the Ivey Business Journal, “Conscious Capitalism is a philosophy of doing business that incorporates the principles of higher purpose (beyond profit maximization), stakeholder interdependence (rather than shareholder centricity), conscious leadership (instead of command-and-control or “carrots and sticks”) and conscious culture (in place of bottom-line obsession).”

When we lead with conscious capitalism, we assume responsibility for our impact on global markets and quality of life in addition to our impact on local communities.

“Conscious Capitalism stresses the importance of viewing stakeholders as interconnected and interdependent. All stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and community members – are regarded as important in their own right (not just as a means to better business results).”

“Conscious Capitalism® is a philosophy based on the belief that a more complex form of capitalism is emerging that holds the potential for enhancing corporate performance while simultaneously continuing to advance the quality of life for billions of people. The conscious capitalism movement challenges business leaders to rethink why their organizations exist and to acknowledge their companies’ roles in the interdependent global marketplace. ”

What is Conscious Capitalism? Conscious Capitalism, Inc., consciouscapitalism.org

In conscious capitalism, we don’t have to choose between caring about our business and caring about society. In an interview with Tom Palmer of Atlas Network, John Mackey explained that:

“A false dichotomy is often set up between self-interest, or selfishness, and altruism. To me it is a false dichotomy, because we’re obviously both. We are self-interested, but we’re not just self-interested. We also care about other people. We usually care a great deal about the well being of our families. We usually care about our communities and the larger society that we live in. We can also care about the well being of animals and our larger environment. We have ideals that motivate us to try to make the world a better place… I think that capitalism and business should fully reflect the complexity of human nature.”

What are the Benefits of Conscious Capitalism?

What are the benefits of thinking about and implementing business in a conscious way? How does conscious capitalism help businesses succeed in the global marketplace?

While conscious capitalism benefits people and communities, there are also clear benefits for the businesses that embrace this philosophy, including:

1. Better Financial Performance

“The pragmatic value of conscious capitalism is underscored by the fact that companies that adhere to these principles outperformed the market by a 9 to 1 ratio over a 10 year period.”

A Case for Conscious Capitalism: Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Brain Science, by Pillay and Sisodia in the Ivey Business Journal

2. Relationships and Synergies for the Long Term

He (co-CEO John Mackey, Whole Foods) also spoke about the virtues of being generous with vendors, noting that cultivating strong relationships with suppliers pays off when times become difficult. “Business is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “It is in fact all about deriving value from synergies.”

Mark Hamstra, Whole Foods Cites Benefits of Conscious Capitalism, supermarketnews.com

“Another result is long-term trusted relationships with suppliers, consistent with The Integrity Chain, which is more profitable for both parties.”

4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism, ctsmithiii.wordpress.com

3. Stakeholder and Employee Engagement

“A compelling sense of purpose can create a high level of engagement by the stakeholders and generate tremendous organizational energy.”

Mark Hamstra, Whole Foods Cites Benefits of Conscious Capitalism, supermarketnews.com

“The result of this is empowered employees who we know work harder, are more creative, care more and are responsible for driving greater customer experiences.”

CTSmithIII, 4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism, ctsmithiii.wordpress.com

4. Shared Meaning and Purpose

“I’m absolutely confident that practicing the principles of Conscious Capitalism brings both a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to your employees (and customers), as well as higher financial returns in the long run. It provides an authentic context to the “story of us,” the fact that business is about relationships, about creating value and not extracting value from those relationships.”

Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joes and CEO of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.  quoted in Conscious Capitalists Share Their Smarts, monkeydish.com

5. Increased Innovation and Trust

“The benefits far outweigh this challenge. Employee morale and engagement increase, innovation flourishes and the principles of your brand relationship with consumers, namely trust, is reinforced by living core values that align with your consumers’ own values. We feel a remarkable sense of duty and accomplishment in building a better business model and caring today for seven generations of tomorrow.”

 John Replogle, President and CEO of Seventh Generation, quoted in Conscious Capitalists Share Their Smarts, monkeydish.com

 Doing “Good” Is Its Own Reward

Conscious capitalism is the view that we, as business leaders, can make money and make the world a better place at the same time. This is not an unrealistic dream – this is a new way of leading that an increasing number of companies are choosing. And those leaders choosing conscious capitalism are finding out that the old saying is true – that doing “good” is its own reward.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Are we leading in ways that make us part of the global conscious capitalism movement?

2. In what ways do we enhance lives and communities in the course of our business?

3. How could we better demonstrate systems thinking and a long-term view?

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Differences or Inclusion – Which Are We Focusing On?

by Linda Fisher Thornton

A Diversity Focus Can Be Divisive

When we talk about diversity, we are noticing differences. That may not seem like a profound statement at first, but think about it for a moment. In a work environment, diversity is about having different types of employees, right? And that’s a good thing for productivity and innovation, isn’t it? It is a good thing. But it’s not enough.  

Managing diversity without inclusion as the ultimate goal can make a big difference in the way employees experience our organization. We choose a way of thinking that represents what we’re trying to do and then build a process/program/structure or measurement based on that foundation. If diversity is our way of thinking, we may get an approach based on “differences,” rather than one based on creating an inclusive culture where a diverse group of people can do their best work.

How we Perceive “Different” Has Ethical and Organizational Implications

“There are a number of ways to perceive people who are different from us and ideas that are different from ours. Some are more positive and productive than others” (Linda Fisher Thornton, “Ethical Implications of How Leaders Perceive ‘Different'”).”

As leaders, how we choose to handle people who are “different” from us in some way shapes our organizational culture in important ways. Tamara Erickson, McKinsey award-winning author, calls for a higher level of diversity understanding in organizations:

“There is a third stage of diversity, perhaps aspirational for most today, represented by a fundamental shift in attitudes toward people who are in any way different… My wish for 2011 is that more organizations will include programs aimed to reach this stage as an important component of their diversity goals.”

Tamara J. Erickson in Level Three Diversity: Moving Beyond Political Correctness,” Diversity Executive, January/February 2011

As leaders, we need to understand our choices and the potential ethical impact of those choices on our employees and our organizations. Honoring human rights fundamentally means honoring everyone, regardless of background or perspective. Are we living that every day in our organizational leadership?

In Inclusive Organizations, Differences are Seen as Enhancing Organizational Innovation

The excerpt below is from Leading in Context® Training Module “Ethical Implications of How Leaders Perceive Different” which provides a framework for thinking and talking about how we handle “different” in our organizations.

Perceptions of “Different” Impact Our Behavior

“How we think as leaders directly impacts our leadership behavior.  It compels us to act and to make decisions in the context of the value judgments we make.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t always use the word “different” to describe things and people and ideas that are new to us. We often use less friendly words that indicate that the person or idea is wrong, misguided or harmful. When we are perceiving “different” as wrong, misguided or harmful, we are more likely to treat people in ways that are not respectful. When we are open to hearing “different” perspectives we are more likely to lead in responsible, inclusive ways.”

“Because our thinking process shapes our decisions, as leaders we must be careful to use thinking processes that are inclusive and that respect the rights of other people to have their own perspectives and opinions.”

Excerpts from “Ethical Implications of How Leaders Perceive Different” by Linda Fisher Thornton

As Howard Winters said, “Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that category has no one left in it.”

“The ‘different’ perspectives and opinions of those we lead do not undermine our leadership position. In fact, it is those new ideas and perspectives that will help us keep our company adaptable, engaging and competitive in a global marketplace.”  (Linda Fisher Thornton, “Ethical Implications of How Leaders Perceive ‘Different'”).

At its highest level, inclusion is about honoring human rights. Consider whether you are managing diversity or working toward full inclusion in a way that respects human rights. These resources will help you explore the differences between leading with a diversity-based approach and leading for full inclusion.

Resources for Moving From Differences to Inclusion

ILR Impact Brief: Diversity and Inclusion: Is There Really a Difference? Cornell University, ilr.cornell.edu

The Netter Principles, glaxdiversitycouncil.com

A Framework for Building Organizational Inclusion, Working Paper Number 2, Bormann and Woods, The Workplace Diversity Network, Cornell University, ilr.cornell.edu

What is Inclusion? Inclusion Network, Inclusion.com


For more, see Linda’s 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 

What is Unethical Leadership?

The Boundaries of “Unethical Leadership”

How do we define unethical leadership?

While there are hundreds of stories that illustrate examples of unethical leadership in the news, those stories taken together still do not clearly define the boundaries of what unethical leadership includes.

To be relevant, our definition of “unethical leadership” has to be broad enough to include the many ways that leaders behave unethically. To guide ethical leadership behavior, it must also be specific enough to provide boundaries for leadership behavior and decision making.

Defining Unethical Leadership 

Our definition must be broad enough and specific enough to define what society considers to be moral behavior. Brown and Mitchell, in their 2010 Business Ethics Quarterly article Ethical and Unethical Leadership: Exploring New Avenues for Future Research , define unethical leadership as “behaviors conducted and decisions made by organizational leaders that are illegal and/or violate moral standards, and those that impose processes and structures that promote unethical conduct by followers.”

Using that definition, we quickly find ourselves trying to determine exactly what the “moral standards” are that ethical leaders are expected to follow. According to Wikianswers.com, “A moral leader is an individual who governs or makes decisions based on fairness and ethical guidelines, rather than personal, political, or financial considerations.” (wiki.answers.com, What is a moral leader?)  

Being unwilling or unable to think beyond our own personal interests and our own personal gain can lead to unethical leadership, but not all unethical leadership decisions are made intentionally.

Types of Unethical Leadership

Unethical leadership appears in a wide variety of forms and happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes unethical leadership is motivated by greed and involves harming others to make more profit.

“Dark side research has uncovered a variety of unethical leader acts. Various terms have evolved in the literature, such as abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000), supervisor undermining (Duffy et al., 2002), toxic leadership (Frost, 2004), and tyrannical leadership (Ashforth, 1994). Research shows these leaders are oppressive, abusive, manipulative, and calculatingly undermining (Tepper, 2007). Their actions are perceived as intentional and harmful, and may be the source of legal action against employers (Tepper, 2007). Therefore, destructive leader behavior is unethical.

Unethical leadership, however, transcends beyond the leaders’ own behavior. In seeking to accomplish organizational goals, leaders can encourage corrupt and unethical acts within their organizations.”

Michael E. Brown and Marie S. Mitchell, Ethical and Unethical Leadership: Exploring Avenues for Future Research, Business Ethics Quarterly

Unethical leadership may also happen when leaders fail to take the time to consider the impact of their choices on the many stakeholders involved. Decisions with unintended consequences can be just as harmful as intentionally unethical decisions.

“We need to understand the ethical challenges faced by imperfect humans who take on the responsibilities of leadership, so that we can develop morally better leaders, followers, institutions, and organizations. At issue is not simply what ethical and effective leaders do, but what leaders have to confront, and, in some cases overcome, to be ethical and effective. “

Joann B. Ciulla, “Ethics and Leadership Effectiveness,” Book Chapter in The Nature of Leadership. Eds. J. Antonakis, A. T. Cianciolo, and R. J. Sternberg.

Leaders are dealing with a high degree of complexity, yet lack a detailed road map to guide their process. As we develop leaders for success in the future, we must focus on the ethical elements of their work, and help them work through the many difficult choices they will have to make.

The Complexities of Unethical Leadership:

Unethical People Thrive on Ignorance of Others by Gordon Clogston, leadershipcourseware.com

Examples of Unethical Behavior in the Workplace by Victoria Duff, Demand Media at smallbusiness.chron.com

Spotting the Unethical Leader in 2010 by Dr. Daryl Green, e-zinearticles.com

Systems Thinking: Twisted Leadership Safety Ethics by Dr. James Leemann, ishn.com

Ethical Leadership Culture: The Case of the Dissenting Senior Leader by Linda Fisher Thornton, LeadinginContext.com

Moral Leadership Standards:

The Moral Foundations of Ethical Leadership by Hester and Killian, in the Journal of Value Based Leadership, valuesbasedleadershipjournal.com

Moral Leadership as Shaped by Human Evolution by Paul Lawrence, blogs.hbr.org

The Difficulties of Being a Moral Leader in an Unjust World Speech by Jim Sterba, University of Notre Dame, online at scu.edu

Leading for Ethical Performance by Linda Fisher Thornton, LeadinginContext.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 

5 More Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap

By Linda Fisher Thornton

5 More Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap

The comments kept coming! Here are 5 More Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap based on social media responses to Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?  They are each illustrated here with quotes.

1.  A Sense of Humor

 “Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”

 Agnes Repplier

2.  Empathy

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

Siddhārtha Gautama

3.  Authenticity (your inner voice)

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

Carl G. Jung

4.  Awareness of Our Biases

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an awareness about ourselves.”

Carl G. Jung

5.  Care

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The original September 5, 2012 post about rightness Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical? set an all-time one-day record for the Leading in Context Blog. Perhaps readers believe, as I do, that we need to work together in ways that respect both our individuality and our connectedness. To achieve that, we will need to be always vigilant and always learning.

Related Posts:

Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical?

10 Ways to Avoid the Rightness Trap

Civility is an Ethical Issue

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 

Failure is Part of Innovation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To Innovate, Rethink the Blueprint

If we just try to make something better using the design blueprint that we’ve always used, it is very difficult to innovate. Using the blueprint we have used in the past ties us to the assumptions and limitations of that blueprint.

Rebuild the Basic Design

Using our existing infrastructure, plan, model, specs or blueprint will keep us locked into the assumptions that we used to create them. In order to freshen our approach, we need to look broadly at consumer and business trends, and build a new set of assumptions.

Once we have reframed our assumptions, we can craft something completely different. Reframing our assumptions helps us do more than just make a newer version of the old product.

See Failure as a Necessary Step

Benjamin Franklin said “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”  Henry Ford spoke from experience when he said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

A culture that deals well with failure helps fuel innovation. When we create a new blueprint based on a new set of assumptions, it is likely that there will be some failures before a final product is ready for market.

“Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process. Almost all innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.”

Edward D. Hess, Darden Graduate School of Business, in Creating an Innovative Culture: Accepting Failure as Necessary, Forbes, June 20, 2012

Seeing failure as a necessary learning step creates the kind of culture where talented, creative people can do their best work.

“Leaders who see failure as a necessary part of trying new things will encourage innovation and engage creative employees. Instead of firing or blaming when people make mistakes, we can put them up on an ‘innovation learning’ board as a necessary learning step in the process of innovating.”

Valeria Moltoni in Innovation and Failure, Fast Company Expert Blog Post.

Embrace Uncertainty and Possibility

To lead for innovation, we need to become comfortable not having the “right” answers, and instead think about possibilities. In innovation, uncertainty is not uncomfortable – it gives us the space to recreate what we do.

When we rebuild assumptions we can create better solutions that meet multiple needs or solve multiple problems.

“Innovative thinking is not reliant on past experience or known facts. It imagines a desired future state
and figures out how to get there. It is intuitive and open to possibility. Rather than identifying right
answers or wrong answers, the goal is to find a better way and explore multiple possibilities. Ambiguity
is an advantage, not a problem. It allows us to ask, ‘what if?'”

David Horth, Center for Creative Leadership and Dan Buchner, Continuum, Innovation Leadership: How to Use Innovation to Lead Effectively, Work Collaboratively and Drive Results, 2009, ccl.org

Think about how well you support possibility thinking and innovation as you answer the questions below.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Do we accept failure as a necessary part of learning or do we punish people who try new things and make mistakes?

2. Where do we need to rethink our assumptions about how we do our work or how we design our product?

3. What is it about our existing blueprint that isn’t working any more? How will we rethink it to bring it up to date?


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 

10 Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Author’s Note:  This post was written based on the collective responses to last week’s post.

10 Ways to Avoid the “Rightness” Trap

There were quite a few responses to last week’s post. The question Is Needing to Be “Right” Unethical? seemed to strike a chord with readers. These are just 10 of the themes raised by readers in their comment.  Collectively, these themes represent 10 ways to avoid falling into the “rightness” trap.

  1. An abundance philosophy – it helps us listen to others without needing to argue our points forcefully. It makes us more likely to seek a win-win solution. A scarcity mentality tends to cause us to see a disagreement as a win-lose situation, where we have to win.
  2. A  learner approach  – it helps us see that other people have good points too. A judger approach is more likely to cause us to see what is wrong with what the other person is saying.
  3. Awareness of our ego – it helps us realize that even though we get some satisfaction from being “right,” that does not mean that we should indulge our need to be right.
  4. Awareness of our mindset – thinking about how we developed our mindset, and the limitations and flaws in that mindset can help us step back when we think we need to be right.
  5. Our curiosity – using it helps us be open to listening to what people are saying from all perspectives.
  6. Our humility – it helps us be willing to admit when we are wrong (or when someone else’s idea is better).
  7. Our respect for others – this helps us remember that our need to be right shouldn’t cause us to treat others in a disrespectful way.
  8. Awareness that “reality” and “truth” are perceived differently – since people define these concepts in many different ways, our curiosity helps us explore how other people define them.
  9. Our good communication skills – they help us express ourselves calmly and respectfully.
  10. Our respect for differences – it helps us remember that other people have opinions, that their opinions will not  always match ours, and that we do not need to perceive these differences as a threat.

Thank you to the many people who commented. Your comments helped shape the discussion in ways that help us all learn. Feel free to suggest additions to this list!


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 

Reflections on Respecting Differences

Quotations About the Importance of Respecting Differences

I hope that you enjoy this collection of quotes about respecting differences. Notice how many different compelling reasons for respecting differences are included – some from unexpected sources!

Toward no crime have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief.                                                                                                                                                                     James Russell Lowell  

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
Mahatma Gandhi  
People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.
Linda Ellerbee
If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.
John F. Kennedy  
For too long, we have focused on our differences – in our politics and backgrounds, in our race and beliefs – rather than cherishing the unity and pride that binds us together.
Bob Riley
Equality, rightly understood as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences; wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Barry Goldwater
More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginning of all wars – yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between governments.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.
John F. Kennedy  
I believe that we are here for each other, not against each other. Everything comes from an understanding that you are a gift in my life – whoever you are, whatever our differences.
John Denver
Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.
J. K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


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  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

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