The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

While change is a constant reality, it doesn’t always factor into leadership thinking. In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and the importance of understanding Context. In Part 3 and Part 4, I looked at embracing Complexity and the importance of full Inclusion. In Part 5, I’ll describe how embracing Change helps us make ethical decisions. 

Factoring in Change

What is one element of the global context that sometimes trips up well-meaning leaders? Constant change. Once you do the work to understand the context, you’re never done. Change is continuous. The ripple effect created by economic and social change in one time zone rapidly impacts life in another.

“Organizations face a radically shifting context for the workforce, the workplace, and the world of work. These shifts have changed the rules for nearly every organizational people practice, from learning to management to the definition of work itself.”

Deloitte University Press, Rewriting the Rules For the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends

Opening Our Eyes to Change

Change does not recognizes boundaries – it impacts us all and there is no way to escape its effects. 

Keeping up with change requires more than just observing and adjusting for changes in your industry and geographic location. It means scanning for early stage changes that may impact those we lead and serve. It means noticing change and making constant small adjustments in what we are doing BEFORE our leadership becomes obsolete. 

Moving Beyond Convenient Beliefs

It can seem convenient for some leaders to ignore context, complexity, inclusion and change. Doing that, they may falsely believe that it will work for them to continue to lead in ways that are out of step with current ethical expectations. The bad news for leaders who “close their eyes” to context, complexity, inclusion and change is that the ethical requirement that we honor them doesn’t go away, and others see it clearly. Leaders who fall into this tap are exposed as leading with their eyes closed in a world that requires alert, “eyes-open” leadership. 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Keep using the same outdated mindset and approach as the world is changing
  • Long for past times when things were different and act as if we are still in those times
  • Encourage others to ignore change and see the world as they do
  • Make important decisions with “eyes closed” to changes in the world – which leads to unethical decisions

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Acknowledge change and treat it as dynamic and constant
  • Watch for subtle and overt patterns
  • Talk about the patterns of change that they see so others can see and adapt to them
  • Make continual, incremental adjustments to adapt to observed changes

When we ignore change, we choose to become obsolete, and by making that choice, we leave the realm of ethical leadership. By embracing change, and “trimming our sails” to make incremental adjustments, we can stay in ethical waters as the tides and currents change.  

Stay tuned for Part 6! 

 

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