Trends In Ethical PR

By Linda Fisher Thornton

It is a difficult time to be in PR and Communications. The stakes are high and it’s easy to miss the mark. I spoke at the Virginia Professional Communicators Conference on Saturday, as the group celebrated its 60th Anniversary. We had lively discussions about how to see ethical nuances clearly when the issues are complex.

Today I am sharing quotes from articles about PR trends in navigating the complexity of today’s social issues while protecting reputation and brand value.  

PR  Plays a Critical Role in Brand Reputation

“PR pros are often referred to as The Brand Police for their work in reputation management, their efforts to preserve the health of the brand and to keep the public “cup of goodwill” full.”

Deidre Breakenridge, Five Reasons Why Business Leaders Are Relying on Public Relations in 2018, Nasdaq Market Insite

The Current Environment Requires PR Pros To Develop New Skills 

“Successful PR practitioners of the future must also be adept at business, content creation, environmental scanning, managing people, ethics, purpose-driven corporate social responsibility, stakeholder engagement and interpreting data and analytics.” 

Donald K. Wright, What Lies Ahead For Public Relations in 2018?

Brands Need to Be Clear on Values Before Speaking Up

“The famous Alexander Hamilton quote applies nicely here: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” Consider this an invitation to figure out what your brand stands for.”

SproutSocial, Championing Change in the Age of Social Media

Practitioners Need Robust Support 

“Millennial practitioners indicated they did not feel prepared to offer ethics counsel…Four factors were found to significantly impact Millennials’ perceptions of preparedness: mentors, ethics courses in college, employer-provided ethics training, and PRSA/PRSSA ethics training.”

Marlene Neill and Nancy Weaver, Institute For Public Relations, Ethics Study Identifies Need For Training & Mentors in the Workplace

Global Ethical PR Principles Available

“The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) has called on the worldwide PR industry to stand by 10 principles of ethical behaviour…The Helsinki Declaration (has) been launched today, aimed at uniting the global PR industry under a single banner of ethical behaviour. It takes into account the increasing influence of PR around the world, and the considerable dangers associated with unethical behaviour.”

ICCO, ICCO announces Helsinki Declaration for ethical behaviour at ICCO Global Summit 2017

Consumers Expect Brands to Take A Stand on Social Issues

“Two-thirds of consumers (66%) say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues…Not only do they want to hear from brands, but they expect brands to converse in intelligent and impactful ways.”

“The data demonstrates that people find brands’ voices most credible when an issue directly impacts their customers, employees or business operations.”

SproutSocial, Championing Change in the Age of Social Media

Putting all of the pieces together in ways that result in ethical communication takes practice. Ongoing ethical development for PR professionals helps them learn to navigate the complexity of the current environment and avoid public blunders. If you want to dig into the 7 Lenses Model to learn how to see the nuances of ethical issues, this post will get you started – Seeing the Nuances of Ethical Leadership (a Developmental Model)

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

TAP Into Trust With These 12 Principles

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Every organization needs to pay attention to trust. Trust improves metrics including productivity, employee satisfaction and ethical brand value. It makes organizations better places to work, places where people want to invest time and plan careers. 

After months of discussions, writing, sorting and voting, a small group of Trust Across America Trust Alliance members (I am honored to be among them) created a tool to stimulate conversations about organizational trust – The 12 Principles for TAPping Into Trust. If you are ready to invest in building trust, this tool will help you generate discussions within your organization.

TAP INTO TRUST

Click the button to TAP INTO Trust and access the 12 Principles (in English, Spanish, French and Arabic). 

How will you use the 12 Principles?

Here are questions you might ask your teams:

  • Which of the 12 Principles For TAPping Into Trust are our strengths?
  • Which represent areas where we need to do better?
  • What would it look like if we improved how we follow each principle on our “do better” list? What is our plan for closing those gaps?

In other Trust Across America news, Barbara Kimmel has announced that “the 10th anniversary issue of TRUST! Magazine explores the role good governance plays in building trustworthy organizations through interviews with lead directors, board chairs and CEOs.” Check out the full issue Here

When we choose to take the trust journey, we are always learning and improving. Let’s keep the conversation open. Share in the comments how these 12 Principles are helping you TAP Into Trust!

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

Seeing The Nuances Of Ethical Leadership (A Developmental Model)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership is not a position or a task. It is a complex array of roles, relationships and processes, and yet we use one term, “ethical leadership,” to talk about it. And in using that term, we often mean different things. 

What Then is Ethical Leadership?

Why has it been so difficult for researchers to agree on a single definition of ‘ethical leadership?’ Here are some important reasons: 

  • Our understanding of responsible leadership depends on where we are in our own moral development
  • People are writing about it from many different perspectives and using many different words to describe it
  • In leadership competence there are many possible combinations 

By “many possible combinations,” I am referring to the reality that leaders are not all competent in all aspects of ethical leadership and they vary in which areas they have mastered. A leader might excel at following laws, for example, but not know how to work well with diverse groups of people. Or a leader could be great at making a short-term profit, but not good at thinking long term and protecting the planet.

A Developmental Definition

Leadership is a changing process. It is difficult to define it because as the world changes, our understanding of what it means to lead responsibly in that world changes. Because it is a changing process, it is best viewed from a developmental perspective.

Leaders need to tackle complexity directly. Oversimplified approaches to complex problems lead to high profile ethical failures. 

Leaders need a way to understand their own learning and development that helps them keep up with  increasing ethical expectations.  The developmental model outlined in by book 7 Lenses (now in its 2nd printing) frames “ethical leadership” as a developmental continuum based on these assumptions:

  1. People grow
  2. People’s understanding of leadership responsibility grows as they learn and develop as human beings
  3. The way that people view life and reality will impact their leadership philosophy
  4. Times change
  5. The standards for acceptable behavior and leadership evolve as times change
  6. The world is complex and connected
  7. The complexity and connections raise the stakes on us as leaders and require us to think using a higher level of complexity
  8. Thinking at a higher level of complexity means we can consider more constituents and more variables when making decisions

Some ways of interpreting “ethical leadership” are more responsible than others. If we are going to use the term “ethical leadership” to refer to an entire spectrum of developmental levels, we will need a way to talk about the nuances of ethical competence. Applying the 7 Lenses model gives us a way to talk about those nuances. Here are two examples:

Regardless of level or title, the most competent ethical leaders make it a priority to learn and they struggle to stay competent in all 7 dimensions of ethical responsibility as the world changes. 

How will this developmental model help you talk about the nuances of ethical leadership? 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

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© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

Fear is a Poor Advisor (Moving Us Away From Ethical Thinking To Protect Us)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When we make decisions based on FEAR, our brains switch on the lower-level processor – which makes decisions based on a FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT response. The decision-making power of that part of our brain is extremely limited, turning our thoughts to lower level responses like “RUN!” or “HIT THEM FIRST.” Obviously, ethical decisions must be based on better thinking than “RUN” and “HIT THEM FIRST.”

Fear is a Poor Advisor

Our fear response takes us into PROTECT and DEFEND mode, and that mode causes us to shelter in place, retrench and protect our own interests. It drastically restricts the breadth of our thinking and doesn’t give much energy to thinking about our impact – what our choices will do to others.

Fear may generate feelings of anger as we turn our energy to “protect and defend.” Anger, like fear, is a poor advisor that pulls us away from ethical choices. 

“Anger results in systematic processing of anger-related information and selective use of
heuristics to evaluate information… This kind of processing is less than optimal for making ethical decisions because it induces biased, risky, and retaliatory thinking (Moons & Mackie, 2007).This type of encoding and use of social information results in alimited, self-focused interpretation of the situation, which has the potential to result in retaliatory or self-serving behaviors.” (Lenhart & Rabiner, 1995).

The Influence of Anger, Fear, and Emotion Regulation on Ethical Decision Making, Human Performance,Vol. 26, Iss. 4, 2013
According to the University of Lausanne video, Unethical Decision Making in Organizations“Fear is an emotion that works at high speed without involving reason. “  “Fear… may ultimately lead to ethical blindness.” In a way, it’s like snow blindness, when you can only see snow in all directions and lose your bearings. When the dominant emotion is fear, people lose their ethical grounding and may quickly wander away from the organization’s values. It’s not a conscious choice, since their brains have automatically switched to lower-level decision making to protect them from real or perceived harm. Fear creates a blindness that blocks our ability to see past the immediate threat. 
Ethical Leadership is a Fear-Free ZoneGreat leaders build trust and work hard to remove fear from the workplace. We know that fear works against efforts to maintain an ethical culture. Creating a fear-free zone should be a top leadership priority in organizations wanting to protect reputation and ethical brand value. 
Ethical Thinking is Intentional.Before you make key decisions this week, be sure fear isn’t blinding you to ethical consequences. To make sure it doesn’t happen to others, take the time to talk with your team. Ask them “Are we working in a fear-free zone?” “What could we do to improve?” “How well are we staying grounded in the ethical values our organization says are important?”

Subscribe to this Blog For a New Thought-Provoking Article Each Week!

 

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

Guest Interview: Stay On Top Of Your Work Podcast

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week you can listen to a brand new interview I did with Kate Kurzawska, host of the Stay on Top of Your Work Timecamp Podcast! In the interview, I answer Kate’s top questions about ethical leadership, including these:

  • How do you lead teams ethically?
  • What should you consider when making a decision?
  • Why do people fail as leaders? 
  • What practices could help us avoid failing as leaders?
  • How do you manage the risk connected with people, with profits, with money, with every aspect of the company?
  • What’s the number one rule you couldn’t manage your work without? 

These questions are timely for leaders. Check out the answers in the podcast interview and transcript by clicking on the image above. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

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©2018 Leading in Context LLC

Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is Part 2 in a series. In case you missed the first one, here is 450th Post: Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 1). In the first post, I explored why leaders need to embrace disequilibrium. In Part 2, I explore how disequilibrium helps leaders deal with catastrophic change.

Disequilibrium Drives Adaptation

Accepting disequilibrium instead of trying to fight it, we can turn our attention to figuring things out as the landscape changes around us.

“Pulling us out of our insulated silos.  Requiring leaders to seek out the signals reverberating out of these shifts, continually deciphering and determining what these signals are saying and asking ‘What you are going to do about it?'”

dculberh.wordpress.com, Transforming Tension and Disequilibrium Into Breakthrough Experiences

Deciphering the signals of a changing system, environment, organization and world keeps us on our toes. It helps us keep up with catastrophic change and still make good leadership choices. It helps us adapt instead of retrench when we face rapid change.

It Helps Us Navigate Perpetual Uncertainty

Change is not something we can prevent, or even”manage” in the traditional sense. Embracing disequilibrium helps us move forward, adapting our approaches and strategies to better “navigate the uphill terrain of perpetual uncertainty.”

5 Questions 

Use these 5 questions to check how well you are responding to disequilibrium:

  1. How deeply am I embracing disequilibrium?
  2. Where could I be fighting it, causing more difficulty than is necessary for myself and others?
  3. If I admitted that my earlier definition of “normal” was no longer possible, how would I think and lead differently?
  4. How will I carry out the improvements described in my answer to #3?
  5. How will those changes improve my leadership and the performance of my teams?

Subscribe to the Leading in Context Blog For a New Article Each Week!

 

Top 100 Leadership Blog

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

450th Post: Leaders, Why You Need Disequilibrium (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This is the 450th Post on the Leading in Context Blog! In case you missed it, here is the 400th Post: The Journey to Meaning (Growth Required).

Disequilibrium is the sense of imbalance we feel as we deal with increasing complexity and change. This post, the first in a series, starts by exploring why leaders need to embrace it.

Avoiding Disequilibrium Is Harmful

Disequilibrium is not harmful to our leadership, unless we try to avoid it. That can cause us to retrench when change demands that we adapt.

“In today’s business world, change is inevitable. And if you’re only striving for equilibrium — which is all but impossible — you will merely continue doing the same thing, year after year, as the world moves on.”

Today’s Leaders Must Learn To Thrive In Disequilibrium, Forbes.com

If we try to avoid disequilibrium, we focus our attention backward, on returning to some “steady state” in the past instead of adapting forward.

Equilibrium Should Never Be Our Goal

We cannot return complex situations or systems to “normal” due to the rate of catastrophic change. “Normal” has become a perpetually moving target, never pausing long enough for us to get a good look. Understanding that equilibrium should never be our goal helps us make better leadership choices.

“Leadership is about knowing what the range is and managing others through the range of acceptable disequilibrium.”

Talenpac.com, The Range of Acceptable Disequilibrium

It helps for us to think about disequilibrium as a necessary part of leadership. It helps us grow and support others as they deal with change. Accepting disequilibrium as “the way things are” (and not something to be avoided) is important for successful leadership.

Ask yourself these questions about how well you’re dealing with disequilibrium:

  1. When do I avoid complexity and try to return situations to “normal?”
  2. How well am I handling the discomfort caused by disequilibrium?
  3. Do I routinely look backward or adapt forward?

Watch for the second post in this series, coming soon!

 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

Top 100 Leadership Blog

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©2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking (Guest Post)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

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

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

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

 

 

Special Series Celebrating the 2nd Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

Top 100 Leadership Blog

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©2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

Are You Leaving a Positive Legacy? (10 Questions Across 5 Dimensions)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When we think about leadership in the “here and now” we tend to think about what will be most effective in the short run. When we think about our leadership over decades, though. we can turn our attention to the longer-term impact we have on others – our positive legacy. 

Long-term thinking (or the failure to apply it) can make or break our efforts to leave a positive legacy. In effective leadership, we look beyond our own interests and reflect on how we will generate a positive impact on others over time through our daily decisions and actions. 

5 Dimensions Of Our Leadership Legacy

Our positive legacy is typically discussed as a “thing” but there is more nuance than that descirption implies. This post explores five dimensions that help us understand and improve our leadership legacy. 

Reflect on the legacy you are leaving by asking yourself these 10 questions across 5 important dimensions of leadership. 

1. Personal Legacy

How am I having a positive impact on individuals through my leadership now?

How do I improve the lives of those I lead?

2. Interpersonal Legacy

How do I model the positive interpersonal behavior that leads to better workplaces and communities?

How do I teach others to promote respect, inclusion and a peaceful global society?

3. Organizational Legacy

How do I set high standard for leadership in the organizations I serve?

How do I solve problems, remove roadblocks and otherwise improve the organizations I serve?

4. Community Legacy

How do I magnify and support the positive impact of other people’s contributions to communities?

How do I leave communities better than I found them?

5. Greater Good Legacy

How do I influence the course of human events in a positive way?

How do I make life better on our planet for future generations, leaving a positive legacy long after I am gone?

Our Legacy Compounds

As we lead, we should not overestimate our own importance. The greatest leadership legacy is achieved by preparing others to do great things. This generates a positive ripple effect that multiplies and compounds the positive impact of our leadership. 

Don’t leave your legacy to chance as you manage the many tasks of the new year. Take a moment to reflect on your leadership strengths and choose a dimension (of the 5 above) where you can improve your leadership this year. 

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Rethinking “Smart” Leadership in an Ethical Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m looking at what it means to be a “smart” leader through the 7 Lenses (introduced in the book 7 Lenses) to get the full ethical context. Take note: You can do this with any idea, concept or project to better understand the ethical nuances.

Lens 1 Profit

“Smart” means making as much money as you can (which has no ethical grounding).

Lens 2 Law

“Smart” means avoiding punishments and penalties and taking advantage of loopholes for maximum gain (which isn’t leading with values).

Lens 3 Character

“Smart” means always thinking from a grounding in personal ethical values and ethical awareness.

Lens 4 People

“Smart” means being aware of our impact on a diverse group of others, working hard to benefit them and avoid harm.

Lens 5 Communities

“Smart” means pulling the community together and improving the lives of the people who live there.

Lens 6 Planet

“Smart” means protecting the planet, nature and ecosystems for our future well-being.

Lens 7 Greater Good

“Smart” means making life better for future generations.

Seeing the Whole Picture

Looking through these 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility, we see a picture that matches the highest levels of corporate social responsibility. We begin to realize that “smart leadership” includes acting on all of these lenses at the same time. This practical multi-lens perspective shows us the nuances of how we need to respond to our stakeholders and handle our ethical challenges. 

Click on the book cover below to see a preview and consider how this way of thinking could move your organization’s metrics (see Chapter 2 for details).

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The Trouble With Certainty

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders may think that being decisive and “sure of things” helps them succeed, but if they do, they may be harboring an outdated view of leadership.

What has changed about how we see leadership and certainty? 

Being certain carries with it the connotation of not engaging others in the conversation and using one-way communication. It evokes images of an iron fist pounding on a desk, not a leader who enjoys “working beside” a talented and diverse team.

Imagining a leader who’s “certain,” we may think about someone who operates as a lone wolf or someone who is holding fast to an outdated world view and refusing to adapt as the world changes. 

The Quest For Uncertainty

Whereas certainty is “out,” uncertainty is the new hallmark of great leadership. Uncertain leaders ask more questions and engage more stakeholders. They see value in dialogue and in the somewhat messy but always interesting process of learning. Uncertain leaders know that the minute they become “certain” and unwilling to adapt to change, they are at risk of making an ethical mistake. 

When is certainty a good thing in a global environment?

While uncertainty is hallmark of great leadership, there is one thing leaders should always be sure about in a rapidly changing global context. It helps them navigate the uphill terrain of perpetual uncertainty. What is it that they should always be sure about? Their values. 

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Adaptation and Controlling Leadership Can’t Coexist

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

But those qualities will only take them so far. They’ll also need to be great listeners and engaging leaders, so that they gather information from stakeholders and team members. They’ll need to be systems thinkers with a global mindset.

Even if leaders usually demonstrate those important qualities, when problems seem too complex to solve they may be tempted to use ineffective approaches to gain a sense of control. Facing increasing complexity, they may revert to negative patterns instead of adapting to change. I think we’ve probably all done this when we’re stressed – as leaders or even as parents – becoming more inflexible and demanding that things go a certain way.

“What we see in our data over and over again is that when faced with complexity, the natural proclivity of people and organizations is to respond with order—to turn to hierarchical approaches of leading and managing change top-down.”

MaryUhl-Bien and Michael Arena, in their article “Complexity leadership: Enabling people and organizations for adaptability

What happens when leaders fail to notice that they are “taking control” instead of influencing and engaging? They de-motivate teams of highly talented people trying to stay on the cutting edge of an industry. That de-motivation can lead to a spiraling decline in important organizational metrics.

While it may provide the illusion of control, controlling or top-down leadership doesn’t invite organic information sharing or encourage rapid adaptation. Both are needed for survival in today’s evolving global marketplace. 

Want to Learn More? Join Leading in Context CEO Linda Fisher Thornton Thursday, November 9 for Developing Leadership That Inspires, a Live Online Workshop via Compliance IQ.

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Credit Where Credit is Due

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Author’s Note: This post is in honor of the many people who have had to fight to get credit for their own work.

Giving Credit and Taking Responsibility

As our understanding of good leadership continues to advance, we are rapidly moving away from leaders “giving responsibility and taking credit” in leadership and moving toward “giving credit and taking responsibility.” This change is overdue, and is part of a bigger change in our understanding of the purpose of leadership.

What’s Wrong With Taking Credit?

We’ve seen many cases of leaders in the news who claimed to have credentials that they did not earn (and many were fired as a result). That is the visible side of the “taking credit” problem. 

There is also a more hidden side to the problem. I have heard from people who have had superiors tell them that they were “too inexperienced” or “too low level” to publish groundbreaking work they had done (and that it would have to be published under the superior’s name instead).

It Violates Many Ethical Principles

Taking credit for work that someone else has done violates many ethical principles:

  • It’s dishonest. It tries to grab credit for something without having to do the hard work. That’s typically referred to in society as “stealing.” 
  • It derails or delays the success of the person who DID do the hard work. That’s usually referred to as “harm.”
  • Intentionally saying that something is true when it isn’t true is often called “lying.
  • When a person claims false credentials, that’s also called “fraud.” 

Remember that good leadership is all about what we do for others to enable their success. That means we hold the responsibility for supporting the success of others all the time, even when their work is measurably better than ours. 

Look for opportunities this week to take responsibility and give credit.

Share your insights in the comments!

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Talking About What Matters (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In a previous post Talking About What Matters (Part 1), I explored how talking about ethical values engages people, helps them find meaning and improves the organization’s metrics. This week I want to begin to explore what the conversation should include. 

You may be surprised to learn that it’s not all about what WE COMMUNICATE about values – it’s their questions that will help us bring values to life.

Our carefully crafted messages about values don’t help people resolve the tricky issues. Those are just scratching the SURFACEWhen people are trying to apply them to resolve tricky issues, that’s when values count the most. 

We need to address their deepest questions. We need to explore the grey areas where they want to understand how to apply values.  Addressing their deepest questions helps them resolve REAL issues, and that brings values to life. 

Many leaders miss the questions or don’t help people resolve them. It’s our job as leaders to fill in the spaces around the words – to help people dig into the places where they see conflicting messages about values and sort them out. Here are two examples that drive home the need for conversations about conflicting messages about values:

Is Respect Really Valued Here?

What if we have always said that respect is critical, but our new manager was disrespectful to members of the team in the last meeting? What might people need to talk about?

How Am I Supposed To Choose Sustainable Options?

What if a project team member knows sustainability is a company value but the purchasing department isn’t offering sustainable paper options in the right size for the task? She knows she’s not supposed to go around purchasing to order items, but she is supposed to uphold the value of sustainability in her choices. Now what?

These kinds of situations are incredibly common. By helping people resolve them, we are moving organizational values from living “on paper” to their rightful place – central to our work. We are releasing the power and potential of those values to transform the organization. 

Some leaders shy away from tough questions like these because they don’t know the answers. Here’s the piece of information they lack: Leaders don’t have to know the answers themselves to help resolve questions like these. In fact, they need to be ready to “not have the answers.” 

The leader’s job is to tolerate the discomfort of not knowing, and to generate authentic conversations about values. By “not knowing” the answers themselves, leaders help others take the journey to meaning.

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Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post begins a series on talking about what matters. Great attention is often paid to values in defining and marketing an organization. But what happens after that? It’s the ongoing dialogue about how to apply those values that brings them to life. 

Some leaders assume that if the values are written down, they will be followed. The problem with that assumption is that while people may WANT to follow the organization’s stated values, they may not know how. Until we engage people in conversations about HOW to apply ethical values, they only exist as an “ideal wish list,” not a set of guiding values for day-to-day work. 

Humans Are Meaning-Seeking Creatures

People seek meaning. We’ve known this since ancient times, but we’re still learning how to help them find it. 

Man is “a being in search of meaning.”            –Plato

“Consciously or not, we are all on a quest for answers, trying to learn the lessons of life… We search for meaning.”           –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”            –Carl Jung

Great leaders make it a priority to help people find the meaning they seek. They take the time to imagine what each person could accomplish, and who they could become. They help them grow into the best of themselves. 

Why Should We Talk About What Matters?

In addition to helping individuals find meaning in their work, conversations about what matters also help guide organizations to the success they seek. 

Ethical values are a framework for generating a positive impact on constituents and the broader global community.

Talking about ethical values, done right, engages the workforce and improves the organization’s metrics in these important ways. 

  • Engaging people’s hearts and minds in figuring out the right things to do in challenging situations

Helping people figure out the right thing to do increases ethical awareness and ethical competence.

  • Building confidence and helping people find meaning in their work

A sense of meaning and purpose improves engagement, retention and job satisfaction.

  • Centering groups and focusing work on positive outcomes for constituents

Focusing on positive outcomes for constituents makes work more satisfying and reduces ethical risk.

  • Driving good decisions and choices based on values

Having ongoing and meaningful conversations about values improves ethical thinking and decision making.

Talking about what matters gives people the grounding they need to find meaning in their work. Helping them understand and apply ethical values improves organizational outcomes.

Ethical values are the secret ingredient in some of the world’s greatest companies. But they don’t reveal their magic when they live on the website and marketing materials. The magic happens when values become active guiding principles. To get there, we’ll need to have some conversations about what matters…

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