Ethical Thinking Requires Dialogue

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership requires us to understand the context and embrace the natural complexity of issues. One of the pieces that we can’t be successful without is learning from the widely varying perspectives of others.

“Kohlberg believed, as did Piaget, that most moral development occurs through social interaction.”

Robert N. Barger, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, A SUMMARY OF LAWRENCE KOHLBERG’S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT

Thinking in a vacuum without considering the needs of others we may forget important elements of the decision-making process. Have you heard the expression “There’s no ‘I’ in team?” Maybe there’s also (metaphorically) no ‘I’ in ethical thinking when we need to understand complex issues.

In highly complex situations we need to listen to and learn from each other to get ethics right.

One person will be the most knowledgeable about laws governing our work, another will understand the trends and consumer expectations, yet another will ask hard questions to make sure we consider our constituents’ needs. Dealing with particularly complex issues demands an inclusive thinking process. Without any one of these important voices we may lose our way.

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5 Years of Top Posts: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m sharing selected Top Posts By Year from the Leading in Context Blog. It’s a time capsule of the issues you thought were most important over the last 5 years. For each year, I have selected a theme that reflects the topics and focus of the top posts.          

2017: Adapting To Increasing Stakeholder Expectations

Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

Ethical Leadership is About Service, Not Privilege

Ethical Leadership: The “On” Switch For Adaptability

Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

2016: Understanding Leader Roles, Responsibilities & Relationships

10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Great Leaders are Other-Focused

The Future of Learning Isn’t About “Knowing”

2015: Becoming Our Ethical Best

Imagining the Future of Leadership

Just Say No to 10 Behaviors That Kill Competence

40 Ways to Build an Ethical Culture (An Ethical To Do List)

2014: Changing Ethical Leadership Expectations

10 Forces Fueling the Values-Based Leadership Movement

Understanding (And Preventing) Ethical Leadership Failures

What is the Ultimate Goal of Leadership?

2013 Theme: Leading Through Complexity While Building Trust

Dealing With Complexity in Leadership

Should Trust Be Freely Offered or Conditionally Earned?

Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

These top posts are ones that readers found most useful. There will be many more compelling articles about ethical thinking and leadership coming in 2018. New posts are published weekly at LeadinginContext.com/Blog. If there are topics you want to learn more about in 2018, please suggest them 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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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the third post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed them, take a look at Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1) and Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2).  I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your plans for developing leaders in 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

Ethics codes and manuals are detailed but don’t provide high level direction on how to apply ethical values to decisions and actions. To make matters worse, the way we teach ethics is often low level, only based on laws and regulations, or oversimplified, describing whether something is “ethical or not” without exploring its ethical dimensions. 

Col Fernando Giancotti says in Strategic Leadership and the Narrow Mind: What We Don’t Do Well and Why – “Stepping up to a more comprehensive, less fragile ethic than the “good or bad” one is necessary to induce ethical, and not cynical, answers to the ambiguity and contradictions of our era.”

Leaders need a coherent ethical framework to help them navigate global and ethical complexity 

Giving leaders a robust framework for understanding ethical issues and choices is a must. The framework leaders use should be easy to remember so that they can recall it when they don’t have their materials at hand. They can’t lead well in a highly complex evolving global society without it. Here are some of the powerful benefits we gain when we meet the leadership need at a high enough level: 

Helps Leaders Remember and Apply Learning

“Coherence: Every part fits together. Every recall re-embeds the whole map.”

— David Rock, Why Leadership Development is Broken & How To Fix It Webinar, 2017

Avoids Guesswork

“What’s important is that having an ethical framework provides you with a basis for making difficult ethical decisions, rather than leaving you to struggle with each separate decision in a vacuum. It’s like the difference between building a house from a set of plans, and building it from guesswork, one piece of wood at a time.”

The Community Tool Box Chapter 8: Ethical Leadership,  Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas.

Provides a Clear Basis For Decision Making

“Ethical reasoning is hard because there are so many ways to fail…. Individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of the steps are completed, they are not likely to behave in an ethical way, regardless of the amount of training they have received in ethics, and regardless of their levels of other types of skills.”

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

Fills The Gap Between “Wanting to Do the Right Thing” and “Knowing How”

“That persons with management responsibility must find the principles to resolve conflicting ethical claims in their own minds and hearts is an unwelcome discovery. Most of us keep quiet about it.”

Ethics in Practice, Kenneth R. Andrews, Harvard Business Review

Piecemeal leadership development, with no connection to a coherent framework, doesn’t “stick.” Worse, if we teach leadership and ethics separately, we can’t expect leaders to figure out how to integrate the principles on their own. Leadership development is only coherent if the ethical values are built in. 

Read the Next Post in the Series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

 

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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the second post in a special series focused on Why Ethical Thinking Matters. In case you missed it, last week’s post was Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1). I’m hoping the strategies shared in this series will give you a fresh perspective on your talent development plans for 2018.

You may already realize that ethical thinking is important, and if you do, I ask you to spread the word. To help you champion the cause in your organizations and on social media, I have included the business case below.

The way we have developed leaders has traditionally been to teach one topic at a time. Each topic reflects a different skill they will need to apply in their leadership. The problem with that is that it’s like teaching them how to put together a puzzle by showing them only a few pieces at a time. What leaders need is much higher level than what we have been giving them, and the gap seems to be widening. You simply can’t solve a complex, multidimensional puzzle a few pieces at a time. The broader context matters.

Leaders need a context for thinking about good leadership that is broad enough to provide insight into multiple perspectives and stakeholders.

Mark Lukens points out in his Fast Company article 3 Ways For Senior Managers To Keep A Broad Perspective, that “your assumptions and prejudices could stand in the way of better strategy. And in a world where it takes constant improvement to stay ahead, a broad perspective is just as crucial as special expertise.”  Leaders will not easily learn how to solve complex high level problems when we are only showing them a few pieces of the context at a time.  Helping leaders understand the evolving global context in which they lead is important for practical reasons including:

The Context and Rules Are Shifting

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

Complexity is Increasing

“Global competition, networks, and stakeholder empowerment are transforming former manageable, bounded challenges into endless Gordian knots… Small wonder “complex problem solving” is listed by the World Economic Forum as the top workforce skill for 2020—as it was for 2015.

Brook Manville, Six Leadership Practices For Wicked Problem Solving, Forbes.com

Leadership Responsibility is Global

“Many of our informants expressed their belief that true global leaders feel accountable for shaping our shared global future. This emerging emphasis on global responsibility as a key quality of global leadership will be explored further in our continued research.”

Boix-Mansilla, Chua, Kehayes and Patankar, Leading With the World in Mind, Asia Society and Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Stakeholders Are Part of Complex Global Networks

“Today’s leaders are faced with highly unpredictable and volatile environments that defy long-range planning. Their organizations are enmeshed in a new interconnected world of complex global networks that engage in novel ways of co-evolution and co-creation, with stakeholders dispersed across the globe.”

Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton, Social Technology and the Changing Context of Leadership, Wharton Center For Leadership and Change Management

We need to help leaders learn and apply ethical thinking in the broad context of a global society and the evolving global definition of “good leadership.” Only then will they be ready to meet the increasing expectations and varying needs of multiple stakeholders.

Read the next post in the series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

 

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