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Leaders may think that being decisive and “sure of things” helps them succeed, but if they do, they may be harboring an outdated view of leadership.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a leader who’s “certain,” we may think about someone who operates as a lone wolf or someone who is holding fast to an outdated world view and refusing to adapt as the world changes.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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Ethical Leaders Understand the Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In a previous post, I addressed some of the risks of not taking time to THINK before making decisions. Today, I want to explore why it is so important for leaders to understand the CONTEXT before they make decisions. 

As shown in the graphic, the context (in all of its complexity) becomes the central feature in building awareness of any ethical issue. Without the context, we are not aware – we only see the parts of an issue that we want to see. 

 

Context and Responsibility 3

Learning about the complexities of an issue helps us see the potential impact of our decision on others. 

We live in a world of human, economic, organizational, environmental and societal systems. Those systems interact globally in complex ways. Solving a complex problem without understanding it well can have unintended consequences

A clear understanding of the context is an important part of staying ethically aware and competent, and both are necessary qualities for responsible leadership. 

Ethical leaders know that there can be no ethical awareness without understanding the context, and without awareness, competence and responsibility are also out of reach. 

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Ethical Leaders Take Time To Think

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What sets ethical leaders apart from other leaders? They take the time to THINK before making decisions. And that’s not all they do that sets them apart. While they’re thinking:

  • They’re listening to those they lead and seeking input
  • They’re intentionally learning about the nuances of the context
  • They’re wrestling with how to do the right thing

The Quick Answer Is Risky

While it may be satisfying for leaders to give QUICK answers to a complex problem, there are risks associated with those quick responses:

  • The quick answers may create more problems than they solve (because the context is not yet fully understood)
  • The quick answers may not be as polite or inclusive or respectful as they should be (because there’s no thinking process, which is necessary for managing emotions)
  • The quick answers reveal a leader’s lack of careful thinking (to those who did take the time to understand the context).

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

When is ethical leadership required? – Every moment of every day, on every project, in every role, while taking on every challenge and making every decision. 

Ethical leaders take time to think before acting in all of these moments. When they encounter a similar problem in the future, they still take time to think. They don’t assume they have all the information they need, because they know that the context is perpetually changing. 

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Using the commonly taught types of thinking is very useful in life, and helps us be better professionals and business people. But there’s a catch.

Critical thinking can help you understand why a problem happened. It won’t help you find the most ethical solution to the problem once you identify it.

Creative thinking can help you figure your way out of a business challenge. It won’t keep you within the lines of appropriate and responsible behavior.

Design thinking can help you create amazing interactive technologies. It won’t help you resolve the new ethical issues those innovative technologies generate.

Even if we’re using all three types of thinking in our leadership, there is something important missing. 

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

C. S. Lewis

This quote from C. S. Lewis reminds us that values are necessary for higher level decisions and actions. They help us overcome selfish tendencies and guide us to consider how our choices will impact others. 

It Guides Responsible Behavior

Learning ethical thinking is an important part of human development, but many schools continue to teach subjects without it. 

It Helps Prevent Ethical Mistakes

Ethical thinking is central to many organization’s leader hiring process, but often left out as a grounding theme in leadership development. If your leadership development is not ethics-rich, here’s the big question. 

It’s Our Job 

Why are we teaching a high level understanding of subjects without teaching the ethical thinking to responsibly apply what people learn?

Why are people learning ethical thinking the hard way by making ethical mistakes we could be helping them prevent?

It’s our job as leaders to fill in the critically needed missing domain.

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Learn Ethical Thinking – in all 7 Ethical Dimensions of Leadership

 

 

 

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How Do You Make Better Decisions?

By Linda Fisher Thornton
 
How do you make decisions? Do you consider a series of important questions? Do you find out the needs of the people involved? Do you consult a diverse group of advisors? Or do you just wing it? Some of the ways we may be tempted to think through our challenges (how to stay within budget or how to be most profitable, for example) leave ethical values out of the equation. 
 
Ethical thinking helps us make good leadership decisions. When we use intentional ethical thinking, we make decisions based on ethical valuesUsing ethical thinking doesn’t just help us do the right thing. It also helps us resolve our most difficult leadership problems by broadening our awareness. 

Ethical thinking keeps us grounded in values, and on track to reach for shared solutions. That helps us make better decisions.

  Here are some of the many challenges that ethical thinking helps us resolve:
  • How to deal with new situations/issues/people
  • How to make tough decisions when multiple stakeholders are involved
  • How to be consistent
  • How to lead based on positive ethical values
  • The need for the time and space to figure things out

While there are many different ways to make decisions, not all them lead to ethical outcomes. The beauty of ethical thinking is that once we learn and practice it, we take it with us, and it becomes the basis of our decision-making (no extra time and space required).

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Ethical Leaders See the Whole Picture

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The “Less Than” Fallacy

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Anytime we think about another person or group as “less than,” or treat another person or group as “less than,” we are unethical. It’s very simple, really. We are all human, and as humans, we all have rights and dignity. We all have a right to be here and to be treated with respect and fairness. 

Attempts to portray others as “less than” may come from a desire for power, control or personal gain. They may stem from trying to overcome low self-esteem by imagined superiority. They may come from misinformation. They may come from having lost one’s own sense of humanity. 

In the past year, people have protested by the millions around the world to say “Enough.” The diverse groups that have gathered around the world want us to hear that, wherever it comes from, the “less than” fallacy has run its course. It is not part of who we are when we are at our best. It is not part of our successful future.

Treating people as “less than” makes it more difficult for them to fully contribute to society in ways that benefit us all. It’s time to get past a “less than” mentality, recognizing it as flawed thinking, so that we can focus our attention on mutual understanding. That would brings us “more than” the capacity we need to resolve our current global challenges. 

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Ethical Leaders See the Whole Picture

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Inclusion: The Power of “Regardless”

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Some inclusion statements begin with “we respect all people and treat them fairly, regardless of…”  and then include a long list of differences that we should overcome. These lists are hard to communicate, difficult to remember and ever-changing as we expand our understanding of human rights. 

Why not aim for where the statement is going, rather than where it’s been? We can keep adding to that “regardless” list until it becomes too unwieldy to use, or we can simply say now:

“We respect all people and treat them fairly, regardless.”

That’s the message behind the UN Global Declaration of Human Rights, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. 

I know what you might be thinking. Not everyone is ready to make this big leap all at once. What we can do is make sure that we are moving our organizations in this direction with all due haste, knowing that this is the leadership mindset that is required of us in a global society, regardless.

 

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Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

Includes case examples and questions.

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Top 10 Posts 2016: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2016, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these topics that readers accessed most frequently:

10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Great Leaders are Other-Focused

The Future of Learning Isn’t About “Knowing”

15 Quotes for Leadership Insight

Leaders, Don’t You Care? (9 Red Flags That Tell Employees You Don’t)

5 Insights Into the Future of Leadership Development Part 1

Every Leader is a Work in Progress (Yes, Even You)

What Does “Good Leadership” Mean?

What Does it Mean to “Be a Leader?”

Ethical Failures: What Causes Them?

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2016, it would be “Understanding Leader Roles, Responsibilities and Relationships.” Which 2016 post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about in 2017, comment here, or tweet your idea to @leadingincontxt!

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Prepare For Ethical Leadership Future – Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses

Includes case examples and questions.

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Reflections on Truth (Are You a Seeker?)

 

If-you-would-be-a-real

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Reflections on Truth

We’ve heard the expressions “truth is in the eye of the beholder” and “the truth shall set you free.” What is this truth that so many have spoken of? How do we find it? How does it relate to ethics? Ponder those important questions as you explore this collection of quotes about truth.

A Collection of Important Quotes About Truth 

There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness and truth.                                                                                                                                         Leo Tolstoy

Truth is certainly a branch of morality and a very important one to society.                                                                                                                                 Thomas Jefferson

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.                                                                                                   Marcus Aurelius

There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.                                                                                                                         Maya Angelou

If there were only one truth, you couldn’t paint a hundred canvases on the same theme.                                                                                                                Pablo Picasso

Justice and truth are such subtle points that our tools are too blunt to touch them accurately.                                                                                                         Blaise Pascal

The truth is a snare: you cannot have it, without being caught. You cannot have the truth in such a way that you catch it, but only in such a way that it catches you.

Soren Kierkegaard

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

Oscar Wilde

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.             John F. Kennedy

People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.                                                                                                         Andy Rooney

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.                                               Rene Descartes

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
Buddha

Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.

Carl Jung

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.
Dan Rather

The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.
Albert Einstein

According to the wisdom in these quotations, truth is not simple or easily found and there is an element of growth and open-mindedness required on the seeker’s journey. 

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Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses®. 

Includes how ethical expectations are increasing, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

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Being Thankful is a Virtue

A-thankful-heart-is-not

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Cicero’s quote reminds us that if we want to act on the important virtues that create a just society, we must first see the world with a thankful heart. 

Why is seeing the world with a thankful heart so important?

It helps us think beyond ourselves.

It keeps us aware of the good that others do for us.

It helps us consider our wants and needs with an attitude of plenty.

Today, may you go about your appointed rounds with a thankful heart. 

If you want to learn more about how thankfulness can be transformational, Jeff Haden shares 40 Inspiring Motivational Quotes About Gratitude with us at Inc.com.

 

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Which Values Are Ethical Values?

Tell-me-what-you-payBy Linda Fisher Thornton

My Applied Ethics students asked a great question that I want to answer in today’s post:  “Which Values Are Ethical Values?”

Quick Overview

Not all values are ethical values. Some values, such as efficiency, do not have an ethical component. Some ethical values involve qualities of an ethical self (such as honesty and integrity). Others describe positive and ethical behavior toward others, the environment and society.

Ethical values by definition are positive and they often require that we stretch outside of our own interests to respect, protect, serve and help others.

A (Starter) List of Ethical Values

  • Accountability
  • Altruism
  • Avoiding Harm
  • Benevolence
  • Care
  • Citizenship
  • Collaboration (See also Mutual Benefit)
  • Competence (Ethical)
  • Confidentiality
  • Doing Good
  • Fairness
  • Global World View
  • Greater Good
  • Honesty
  • Inclusion
  • Integrity
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Long-Term Thinking
  • Moral Awareness
  • Mutual Benefit
  • Open-Mindedness
  • Personal Congruence (Thoughts, words and actions aligned)
  • Positive Intent
  • Precaution (Choosing safe, healthful ingredients in food products, for example)
  • Preventing Harm
  • Respect For Boundaries
  • Respect For Others
  • Respect For Human Rights and Dignity
  • Service
  • Support For Well-Being of Others
  • Sustainability
  • Taking Responsibility
  • Transparency
  • Trustworthiness
  • Valuing Differences

Our values define who we are and drive the choices we make. Don’t let your daily decisions be made on autopilot. Choose the ethical values that will guide your life and your leadership.

 

For more on ethical values, see ChangeThis.com publication “What Ethical Leaders Believe” and Linda’s leadership book 7 Lenses, which gives a clear picture of ethical values through 7 Lenses and 14 Guiding Principles. 

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Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses® of Ethical Leadership. 

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©2015 Leading in Context LLC

Leaders, Keep Your Sense of Wonder

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This holiday season I wish you wonder –  the joyful, expectant mindset that comes with not knowing how things will turn out, but thinking they’re going to be good.

I don’t mean the ordinary type of wonder, such as wondering what you’ll have for dinner. I’m talking about the magical kind of wonder. This type of wonder refreshes our hopefulness, and keeps us open-minded and expectant. It is positive and exciting.

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What happens when we lead with a sense of wonder? We are open to new experiences, and we tend to look for the best in others and in the world. A sense of wonder keeps us curious and helps us understand things in new ways.

Here are some interesting perspectives on wonder, from some folks you may have heard of:

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.”      

                ——Neil Armstrong

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”  

               ——Albert Einstein

“Wisdom begins in wonder.”            

              ——Socrates

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

              ——-e. e. cummings

“Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.”

 

             ——-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”

           ——-Robert Fulghum

“Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation.”

           ——-Bette Davis

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”

          ——–Thomas Aquinas

“From wonder into wonder existence opens.”

         ——–Lao Tzu

 

Leaders, this holiday season, enjoy the delight of not having all the answers. Remember to look for the magic and keep your sense of wonder.

Happy Holidays to All!

*Vote for your 10 favorite CSR thought leaders at Global CEO’s Top 100 CSR Leaders (Linda Fisher Thornton is #32).

 

522For 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 
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©2014 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Definitions of “Good” (Why We Disagree About Ethics)

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why is it so difficult to agree on the right thing to do? One of the reasons we may not agree is that each of us may be using a different definition of what is “good.” Here are 7 different interpretations of what is ethically good, based on the framework in 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership (2013). Which ones are you using in your leadership?

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© 2013 Leading in Context LLC

1 – Profit

Using the Profit Lens, we see what is “Good” in a money sense. Good means what is good for economic growth, good for income growth, and good for organizational growth.

2 – Law

Using the Law Lens, we see what is “Good” in a legal sense. Good means following all laws and regulations.

3 – Character

Using the Character Lens, we see what is “Good” in a morally grounded sense. Good means demonstrating character and integrity, and showing a high degree of moral awareness.

4 – People

Using the People Lens, we see what is “Good” for people’s well-being. Good means supporting people’s success and bringing out their best.

5 – Communities

Using the Communities Lens, we see what is “Good” for the health and well-being of communities. Good is what supports thriving families and provides needed community services.

6 – Planet

Using the Planet Lens, we see what is “Good” for the planet and nature. Good means protecting plants, wildlife and natural lands, and treating the planet and ecosystems that we depend on for our lives with care.

7 – Greater Good

Using the Greater Good Lens, we see what is “Good” in the broadest sense, at the highest level, for the longest-term. Good is what creates a peaceful, global society where people can thrive.

Which of these 7 Lenses do you use in your daily leadership? Hint: They’re all important for intentional ethical leadership.

 

Follow the Leading in Context Blog for weekly posts that help Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership™ 

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For more, see 7 Lenses (foreword by Stephen M. R. Covey). This practical guide to the future of ethical leadership takes us well beyond the triple bottom line to 7 different perspectives on ethical leadership, and provides 14 Guiding Principles that help us honor them all in daily leadership.

21 Question Assessment Based on the 7 Lenses™ Framework: 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 
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© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

Understanding (and Preventing) Ethical Leadership Failures

Ethical Failures

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Understanding What Causes Ethical Leadership Failures

Ethical leadership failures can be caused by different types of problems that may compound. Some of these problems are individual and others may be embedded in the organizational culture.

In 7 Lenses, I describe the kind of proactive ethical leadership that builds ethical cultures. The book is a road map for how to lead ethically in a complex world. While 7 Lenses is written from a positive perspective to help leaders avoid ethical problems and create ethical cultures, I often get asked “What causes ethical failures? What goes wrong?”

So this week I am exploring that question from two perspectives – that of what individual leaders do (or don’t do) and common organizational problems.

Individual and Organizational Causes

Here is a starter list of some of the factors that can lead to ethical failure. The list includes things that individual leaders do (or don’t do), and things that organizations do (or don’t do) to set a positive example and support ethical thinking and behavior.

These factors are connected, and it is often difficult to isolate just one of them when something goes wrong. See if you recognize any of these happening in your organization.

Individual

Ignoring  Boundaries (Ignoring Ethics Codes And Organizational Values That Forbid An Action)

Failing to Use Self-Control (“I Will Do This Even Though It’s Not Allowed”)

Entitlement View (“I Definitely Deserve This Even Though It’s Not Allowed”)

Prominent Personal Values (“I Think This Is Really Fine To Do Even Though It’s Not Allowed”)

Crowd Following (“Everybody Else is Doing It, So It Must Be Fine”)

Lack of Moral Compass (“Nobody Specifically Said That I Can’t Do It, So It Must Be Fine If I Do It”)

Organizational

Lack of Clarity (“What Does Ethical Mean Around Here?”)

No Ethical Leadership and Behavior Standards (“There Are No Rules About This”)

Oversimplified Rules (“Just Do the Right Thing”)

Lack of Positive Role Models (“Who Is Doing It the Right Way?”)

No Training or Coaching (“How Will I Learn It?”)

No Accountability, No Enforcement (“Nothing Bad Happens If I Do It, Even Though It’s Not Allowed”)

No Performance Integration (“We Say We Want Ethics, But We Reward and Promote Based on Sales and Output”)

When Problems Happen, Scapegoats Are Quickly Fired (Instead of Learning From Mistakes and Fixing the Culture)

Compounding Factors

Keep in mind that ethical failures may or may not be due to just one of these factors, but several that compound to create a ripple effect. Here are a few examples where the problem is worsened due to a combination of factors.

  • There are no ethical leadership standards and no positive role models (no way to be sure what to do)
  • A leader has an entitlement view and there is a lack of clarity about what ethical leadership means in the organization (it is easier to justify entitlement, when ethical expectations are unclear).
  • A leader lacks a moral compass and the organization lacks ethical leadership standards (the leader may act based on personal ethics, which may be slanted toward self-gain).
  • A leader has trouble with ethical boundaries and there is no accountability for ethical behavior in the organization (It increases the chances of ethical problems when both the leader and the organization lack clear ethical boundaries).

Problems within the ethical culture clearly make it harder for individual leaders to stay on an ethical path.

Preventing  (or Identifying and Correcting) These Problems in Your Organization

Now imagine what can happen when you have 3 or more of these factors (and perhaps others not named here) happening at the same time. Each additional factor can make it easier for problems to develop. Our goal as leaders is to prevent the problems that lead to a failure of ethical leadership. To do that we need to start talking about the dynamics that cause ethical problems and how to keep them from happening in our organizations.  How do we start the conversation? Talk candidly with leaders at all levels about issues named above that may have become a problem in your organization. For a detailed conversation guide, see Leading the Conversation About Ethical Leadership. For an understanding of how to manage ethical performance in the organization see Managing Ethical Leadership as a Performance System.

Feel free to name additional factors that you have observed that can lead to ethical failure in your comments. 

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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

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

 

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