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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Are Best Practices Really Best?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Organizations are facing multiple connected challenges. First, they need to prevent ethical mistakes in a high speed, highly transparent business environment. Second, they need to engage leaders in relevant ethical learning so that the principles “stick” and are used to handle real problems. Third, they need to help leaders apply ethical thinking so they don’t just take “best practices” at face value.

“The ‘supply side’ of ethics — i.e., organizations’ ability to avoid ethical lapses — has never been more challenging.”

Ghassan Khoury and Maria Semykoz, The New Frontier of Business Ethics, Gallup

The important thing to remember is that we are helping people learn HOW to think, not WHAT to think. Paul Thagard, PhD, a Canadian philisopher and cognitive scientist says that “ethical judgments are often highly emotional, when people express their strong approval or disapproval of various acts.   Whether they are also rational depends on whether the cognitive appraisal that is part of emotion is done well or badly.” (Paul Thagard, PhD, Ethical Thinking Should be Rational AND Emotional, Psychology Today)

Teaching ethical reasoning is not about teaching what one should do in particular circumstances, it is about teaching students how wisely to make very difficult decisions involving ethical considerations where the answers are anything but clear cut.

Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, Developing ethical reasoning and/or ethical decision making

If we want to implement ethical decisions, we will need to do our own ethical thinking and not borrow the thinking of others. Approaches considered “best practices” are often used as blueprints by organizations, but that is not always an effective approach when the goal is ethical thinking.

Tony Schwartz, in his HBR article What it Takes to Think Deeply About Complex Problems, reminds us that “managing complexity requires courage ­— the willingness to sit in the discomfort of uncertainty and let its rivers run through us.” He explains that “the best practice is to not overrely on best practices, which typically emerge from our current assumptions and worldview.

Replicating best practices is common since it seems to save organizations quite a bit of time and money. The problem is that the “best practice” that earned one organization a desired result may or may not have been derived using ethical thinking. It can be efficient, cost effective and impactful AND look like an amazing shortcut, but that “best practice” may not honor all of our organization’s values.

We need to do the work to apply ethical values to avoid replicating flawed thinking in our organizations. We can’t skip carefully ethical consideration just because an action is described as a “best practice.” To drive this point home, ask leader groups to run some “industry best practices” through your organization’s values to see how well they hold up.

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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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A Message About Gifts

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It has been a challenging year. This week I reflect on the progress being made (that may not show up in the news headlines) and how we can use our gifts in pursuit of good.

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” 

— Eleanor Roosevelt

This year I noticed people being more empowered to call out and stop unethical practices. I believe that it is up to each of us to use our gifts and talents to effect the kind of change we want to see in the world. 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

—- Anne Frank

I noticed organizations stretching to meet rising expectations for transparency and social impact. We have made progress.

Always remember that our human progress is not defined by the scandals in the news headlines. They are the “what not to do” and a distraction from our more important work. 

“Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.”

— Vaclay Havel

Always remember that you have gifts and capabilities that you have not yet tapped into that are waiting to be opened and used to build a better world. It’s time to open them.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

― Nelson Mandela

I wish you a wonderful, joyful and hopeful holiday season.

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Ethical Thinking: 3 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 3 new questions to ponder as we head into a New Year. They are important questions about our ethical intentions, action and impact that will help guide our ethical choices in the coming year.

  1. How closely do our strategic plans for the coming year align with our stated values and the ethical treatment of others? When our strategic plans don’t align with our values or aren’t ethical in some way, it raises a big red flag for constituents.
  2. How will we demonstrate to our constituents that our intentions and actions are responsible? Consumers want us to show them how we are ensuring responsible leadership, instead of telling them and expecting them to believe us.
  3. How could we have a more powerful positive impact on people, communities and the environment in the new year? Constituents expect us to have a positive social and environmental impact and we need to continue to stretch to meet increasing expectations.

As ethical expectations continue to increase, the answers to these questions will help us close the gaps between our ethical intentions, actions and impact and what constituents expect.

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Why It’s Time to Stop Saying We’re “Better Than” Other People

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It’s time to stop telling leaders they will only succeed if they are “better than” the competition. It’s time for business schools to stop telling students that they are “better than” their peers in the class or “better than” students in other programs. It’s time for teachers and religious leaders to stop telling people they can be “better than” everyone else.

Why is the “better than” message so harmful? It focuses on status and power instead of relationships, trust and collaboration, which represent the real currency for success. It sends the message that we have to “beat out” others to succeed, leading people to use either-or-thinking, not higher level systems thinking which is needed for success in a systems world.

The old message “Look to your left, look to your right. One of those people won’t be here by the end of the year” advocates beating people down and throwing them away when they don’t perform, instead of lifting them up and helping them succeed.

Competent leaders and educators aren’t using or teaching this kind of “better than” language because it’s an unethical message. It leads to unwanted behaviors, undue interpersonal tension and unethical competition.

As we move toward an inclusive society that works for all, the message that anyone is “better than” others undermines our progress and perpetuates old paradigms that can be harmful. The only way we should be using “better than” is in terms of our behavior and performance, not in comparing ourselves to other people. Are we better than we were yesterday and the day before? That’s how we will reach the elusive win.

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The End of Ethical Compartmentalization

By Linda Fisher Thornton

That Was Then

What people did in their spare time used to be private, allowing them to assume varying personas in their different roles. Someone could be buttoned up and ethical at work, but make really bad decisions elsewhere. People could choose to think about their lives as made up of separate roles that had separate rules.

This is Now

With the extreme transparency social media provides, multiple personas are discoverable. Incongruent ones are easily identified. Any perceived protection from compartmentalization is erased.

“Moral responsibility requires us to move away from a role-based life game which leads us to compartmentalize and forget who we are and what we value at a significant cost.”

— Cecile, Rozuel, University of Lancaster in Business Ethics

Ethical compartmentalization is not good leadership. Leaders are expected to be authentic, not just “play a role.” And ethics is not something we can “apply only when needed.”

Authenticity and Ethical Values

Authenticity requires that we make ethical choices all the time, not just in certain settings. Our ethical values need to be applied consistently across settings. Otherwise we are only “partly ethical” or “intermittently ethical.”

“Authentic leaders are ethical leaders. They’ve identified their ethical codes, and they never compromise on what they believe to be right and wrong.”               

  Authentic Leadership, Mindtools.com

With the end of any perceived benefits from compartmentalization, our various roles are simply additional places to apply our positive ethical values. Authentic leadership is consistent across responsibilities, roles and settings, and that includes how we apply our ethical values. It’s time to do the work.

“We need to focus on how we can enable leaders to become more authentic, and give them the tools to do so. In this way authentic leaders will be able to create better lives for everyone they serve.”

Bill George, Senior Fellow, Harvard Business School

We need to help leaders learn how to put ethical values into practice in every setting, every time.

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How Are You Using Your Influence?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

With leadership responsibility comes a certain amount of influence. We can impact how people think. We can advise them on the choices they make and invite them to follow our lead.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”                                                                              ― John C. Maxwell

 

How are you using your influence?

The best leaders use their influence for more than just achieving their own goals and the goals of their organizations. They use their influence to develop others and nudge them to grow into their own greatness. This not only helps the leaders who are supported and developed, but also all those people they will lead in the future. In this way. great leaders create a ripple of positive influence that extends beyond the tenure of their own leadership. 

Ethical influencers leave a positive legacy that outlasts their leadership.  

With leadership influence comes a certain amount of responsibility. We can impact how people take responsibility for their actions. We can advise them to make ethical choices and we can set the example as an ethical leader. 

How are you using your responsibility?

The best leaders take responsibility for their actions and encourage open dialogue about how to make ethical choices. They are not afraid to make mistakes and they admit them and learn from them. They help others understand that ethical business is not just “the right thing to do,” it helps define the organization’s ethical brand value and helps provide a competitive advantage.

Are you an ethical influencer in your daily leadership?

We can use our influence to develop future leaders (who will then go on to influence many others). Along we way we need to help them learn how to make ethical choices. That is the straightest path to leaving a positive leadership legacy in a world where identifying “the right thing to do” is challenging and complex. 

Are you an ethical influencer in your daily leadership? How will you use your influence to leave a positive legacy?

 

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What is Duality?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Duality?

What is duality? This is a tricky question, because the answer depends on your perspective and why you’re asking. Each discipline answers the question from a different angle. This post samples the varying disciplinary perspectives on duality.

Two Parts in Perpetual Opposition 

“Dualism (from the Latin word duo meaning “two”) denotes a state of two parts… Dualism can refer to moral dualism, (e.g. the conflict between good and evil), mind-body or mind-matter dualism (e.g. Cartesian Dualism) or physical dualism (e.g. the Chinese Yin and Yang).”

http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/duality?region=us dual nature

Duality in Human Nature   

“Stevenson describes how there is a good and an evil side to everyone’s personality, but what is important is how you behave and the decisions you make. The choices people make determine whether a person is good or not.”

Themes, Duality of Human Nature, BBC (On Stephenson, the Author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Duality in Language

“I take the term ‘duality’ to stand for an opposition or dichotomy between, or of, two entities.Some examples of dualities are: Day and Night, Left and Right (i.e., polarities of direction,and chirality, ‘handedness’), Positive and Negative (e.g., electromagnetic poles, values), Lifeand Death, Male and Female, Up and Down (i.e., polarities of spatial dimensions), True andFalse, Right and Wrong, etc.”

Begley, The Concept of Duality and its Representation in Language as Antonymy

Duality in Neuroscience and Cognition

“The idea that we have ‘two minds’, only one of which corresponds to personal, volitional cognition, has also wide implications beyond cognitive science.”

Frankish, The Duality of Mind

Duality in Leadership

In terms of ethical leadership, duality can refer to good and evil. But good and evil are not mutually exclusive. Someone is not “all good” or “all evil.”  We each have the capacity for both. So in ethical leadership, duality is an oversimplification. 

At the highest levels of leadership, thinking is more complex and duality is transcended.

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.” 

Jim Collins, Good to Great

We must stretch to see the complexity of ethical leadership, looking beyond the “all or nothing” “one or the other” thinking that duality represents. 

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The Messages Micromanagement Sends

magnifying-glass-48956_1280By Linda Fisher Thornton

Micromanaging is not just another “leadership style.” It harms people. When leaders micromanage, they send many negative messages to employees. Take a look at this list of more than 20 negative unspoken messages micromanagement sends to employees. Can you afford to let this happen in your organization? 

The Unspoken Messages of Micromanagement

  • I don’t think you can do it
  • I know how to do it and you don’t
  • I don’t trust you 
  • If I leave you alone, you’ll mess things up
  • Do what I say
  • Don’t think for yourself
  • I’m in control
  • If I didn’t think of it, I won’t like it
  • I see everything you do. 
  • I don’t respect you
  • I’m the one who matters on this team
  • I’ll be looking over your shoulder
  • I know I’m going to catch you doing something wrong
  • I’m not here to be liked
  • I’m going to find every mistake you make and call it to your attention
  • I’m not here to cater to you
  • You’ll never move up in this company
  • Your motivation is irrelevant
  • I may be doing this because I’m insecure about my leadership
  • I need to feel important
  • I may not have had any positive leadership role models
  • I may think this is what good leadership looks like
  • I don’t think you know what you’re doing
  • I don’t care if this behavior makes you uncomfortable
  • I may have been promoted too soon, before I learned how to lead others

Micromanagement may result from a high need for control or an unwillingness/inability to trust. A leader may not have had a positive leadership role model, or may have been promoted without any leadership development and left to sink or swim. These are just a few of the possible causes. If your boss is micromanaging you, you might find this helpful: 15 Ways to Get Your Boss to Stop Micromanaging You. If you think you might be a micromanager, you might want to read Signs That You’re a Micromanager. 

If you are an employer and a leader in your organization is micromanaging, you’ll need to act fast to provide development and coaching so the leader doesn’t send all of those negative messages to your talented employees. Otherwise, those essential and talented employees you thought were on a long-term career path with your firm may be heading for the career exit. 

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Systems Thinking: Untangling Increasing Pollen Allergies

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Large-scale problems usually have more than one cause. When we look for solutions, we need to investigate many different possible variables. Today, I’ll look at multiple causes of increasing allergies to pollen. This issue is of particular concern to me since I live in one of the Top 10 Most Challenging Places to Live With Spring Allergies (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America). 

Why is pollen worse in and near cities?

Why are allergies worse in urban areas? One of the causes is a result of our choices when planning urban areas and may surprise you. It is an unintended consequence of the preponderance of male shrubs and trees in cities. Tom Ogren says that that 99.9 times out of 100 it will be a male tree, and male trees emit pollen (Tom Ogren, NPR, Too Much Pollen? Blame the Males). It seems that the male trees are preferred because they don’t drop seeds or fruit. But what we get instead of dropped seeds or fruit negatively impacts the health of millions of people.

“If you plant trees, look for species that do not aggravate allergies such as crape myrtle, dogwood, fig, fir, palm, pear, plum, redbud and redwood or the female cultivars of ash, box elder, cottonwood, maple, palm, poplar or willow” (Tammie Smith, For Those With Allergies, Here is a Pollen Primer, Richmond Times Dispatch)

How does pollen affect our brains?

One study, published at NCBI, finds that “allergies strain the brain, these results suggest, and key functions from attention to memory diminish the longer the battle rages.” 

Another study found that subjects with a history of allergies were more likely to be diagnosed with major depression. (Eric L. Hurwitz, Hal Morgenstern, Oxford, American Journal of Edpidemiology). WebMD also reports that “In one such study, adults with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with major depression in the previous 12 months. In another study, kids who had hay fever at age 5 or 6 were twice as likely to experience major depression over the ensuing 17 years.”

Why is pollen worse each year?

According to ECARF. “The term (seasonal) is no longer used, since many people react to the pollen of more than one flowering plant species and suffer from symptoms not only in the spring, but also in the summer or virtually all year round.”

This Vox video explains another reason why pollen levels are increasing, and what that increase does to human health.

 

“Seasonal allergies and asthma impose significant health burdens, with an estimated 10–30% of the global population afflicted by allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) and 300 million people worldwide affected by asthma.” (Charles W. Schmidt, Pollen Overload: Seasonal Allergies in a Changing Climate, NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Linked Issues

There are many other issues linked to the pollen problem including these: 

The Immune System

Allergies are the result of your immune system’s response to a substance… A person becomes allergic when their body develops antigens against a substance. Upon repeated exposure the severity of the reaction may increase.

Allergies and The Immune System, John Hopkins Medicine

Genetics

The allergic diseases are complex phenotypes for which a strong genetic basis has been firmly established.

Romina A. Ortiz and Kathleen C. Barnes, Genetics of Allergic Diseases, National Institute of Health

Pollution

Pollutants and climate change act as plant stressors, modifying the expression of plant molecules endowed with immunogenic properties, such as those present in pollens.”

Giovanna Schiavoni, Gennaro D’Amato, MD, and Claudia Afferni, The dangerous liaison between pollens and pollution in respiratory allergy, Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 

Increasing pollen allergies have multiple connected causes that should all be addressed in a broader context. It is easy to see that when we are dealing with systems, no one source or academic discipline can adequately unravel the complete picture.  

 

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WRIR “Inspire Indeed” Interview

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Christa Motley, host of Inspire Indeed at WRIR radio, invited me to the station to talk about the journey to writing my book 7 Lenses and how it is helping people who want to understand ethical issues. In the interview I give an overview of the 7 Lenses framework and how it is designed to be practical, clear and immediately used, not put on the shelf.

Using an example from the news, I show how the book’s 7-Lens model reveals the ethical impact of our decisions and actions. Christa asks if this journey has presented some challenges along the way… Listen in to the interview conversation by clicking the photo or the link below.

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WRIR’s Inspire Indeed is streamed through iHeart Radio. Special thanks to Christa Motley and all the volunteers at WRIR for having me on the show.

Listen to the Interview: https://inspireindeed.me/2019/10/15/ethical-leadership-with-linda-fisher-thornton/

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The Gut-Brain Axis (Ethical Questions)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I am a long-time advocate of systems thinking. It has risen in importance as an increasing number of our greatest human challenges can’t be understood or resolved without it.

Today, I’m taking a look at new findings on the human microbiome, which is known to impact the brain in important ways. You may have already seen the recent news about advances in our understanding of the Gut-Brain Axis.

Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.

The Brain-Gut Connection, John Hopkins Medicine

 The cells that make up our bodies are now better understood, and the current estimate is that only 43% of them are human (Adam Jezard, World Economic Forum). The rest of the cells are referred to as our microbiome. 

Not All Bacteria and Viruses are Bad

We have traditionally thought of bacteria and viruses as always bad and tried to kill them off. “There is now a multitude of evidence to suggest that this kill-all approach isn’t working (Adam Jezard, World Economic Forum).”The reason that killing all the bacteria and viruses in our bodies is not good is that some of them are necessary for our health, and can actually help our bodies fight the bad ones. Antibiotics are a kill-all approach that also eliminates the good bacteria. When the good bacteria are gone, it’s easier for the bad bacteria to take over.

A Second Genome

“Prof Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist from Caltech, argues: ‘We don’t have just one genome, the genes of our microbiome present essentially a second genome which augment the activity of our own” (James Gallagher, BBC). In the article, he goes on to say that what makes us human is “the combination of our own DNA, plus the DNA of our gut microbes (James Gallagher, BBC).” Clearly, we need to use systems thinking (and not cause-and-effect thinking) for this to make any sense.  

How the Brain is Impacted

Here are some things we have learned about the multiple ways the microbiome impacts the functions of the brain:

“Insights into the gut-brain crosstalk have revealed a complex communication system that not only ensures the proper maintenance of gastrointestinal homeostasis, but is likely to have multiple effects on affect, motivation, and higher cognitive functions.”   

“microbiota influences stress reactivity and anxiety-like behavior.”

Carabotti, Scirocco, Maselli and Severia, The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Annuls of Gastroenterology

There are clearly many reasons to protect the health of our microbiome. How do we do that? We can start by eating a healthy, high fiber diet. If we eat a healthy, high fiber diet, are the good bacteria in our microbiome safe if we don’t take antibiotics? Not so fast. According to a recent study, many of “the world’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics” (Kara Fox, CNN).

Protecting the Microbiome

Now we know that the health of our microbiome is intricately connected to overall human health. It is not something to be treated as an invader. It should instead be treated with care. Individuals will need to reconsider how their diet and habits will impact the microbiome, and businesses will need to assess the positive or negative impact of their products. 

Since our understanding of the microbiome and its importance to our health has advanced, the burden is now on all of us to adapt. Use the list of Ethical Questions below to determine the next steps. 

Ethical Questions

  1. What kinds of meals, snacks and drinks are we serving in our food services, meetings, conferences and retreats?
  2. How could our products be impacting the gut microbiome?
  3. Do our products feed the bad bacteria or the goodHow high is the sugar content? The fiber content?
  4. As we market our products, are we encouraging habits that support a healthy microbiome or an unhealthy one?
  5. What should we change about our products and marketing to align with new information about the microbiome and its impact on human health?

Resources:

How Your Gut Might Modify Your Mind, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society

Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

 

 

 

 

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Unethical Leadership: Selective Respect

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

We’ve seen selective respect too often. Beyond harming the people who are disrespected, it also destroys trust, and leads to chaotic environments and fear-based cultures. Even though we’ve all seen selective respect in action, we may not have had the vocabulary to describe why it’s wrong (beyond calling it mean or inappropriate). This week I’m digging in to those details. 

I define “selective respect” as doling out respect only under certain circumstances. It is not an ethical leadership behavior since it applies the ethical value of respect conditionally and not universally. 

Examples of Selective Respect in Action:

  • Teachers picking on certain students while encouraging others.
  • “Cool” kids teasing less popular kids while being chummy with their friends.
  • Employees repeating ethnic jokes or otherwise demeaning certain groups of people.
  • Public leaders treating people in their groups (political, racial, religious, gender, etc.) kindly while alienating and attacking others. 

The times when respect is applied may be predictable (certain people or groups are predictably respected or not respected) or unpredictable (who is treated respectfully varies from moment to moment).

Important Ethical Principles Selective Respect Violates:

  • Respect for Others (the ethical principle is not respect for certain others, it is respect for all others)
  • Respect for Differences (this requires moving beyond the “like me” bias)
  • Trustworthiness (only some people can trust you to treat them well)
  • Moral Awareness (shows a lack of awareness that respect is a minimum standard for ethical leadership and must be universally applied)
  • Ethical Competence (selective respect is a sign of failure to stay ethically  competent)
  • Ethical Thinking (believing that some people are “not worthy” of respect is unethical thinking)
  • Modeling Expected Behavior (selective respect shows others the route to an unethical path, multiplying the error and the harm it generates)

Are you tired of people talking about toxic leadership behaviors as different “styles” or different approaches to leadership, without saying what really needed to be said? When you see leaders using selective respect, call it what it is – unethical leadership.

 

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In the post comments, one reader mentioned the risks of “calling out” an ethical leader in a toxic culture. If you work in a toxic culture, read Taking on a Workplace Bully to assess the risks before you call out unethical leadership. 

For More on Unethical Leadership: Unethical Thinking Leads to Unethical Leadership

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 recognize 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! 

 

Click the cover to read a free preview!

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