Unethical Leadership: Selective Respect


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.


Click the cover to read a free preview!


©2019 Leading in Context LLC




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

Leader Competence: Will it Be A Multiplier or a Divider?


slide2By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership competence is an issue that is gaining attention. Expectations of “good leadership” are increasing and leaders and organizations are scrambling to keep up. While sometimes people disagree about implementation, there is a strong consensus among scholars and research organizations that today’s leadership requires broad, high level thinking. 

With expectations for good leadership continuing to expand, some organizations still do not have leader competence on their strategy agendas. 

5 Compelling Reasons Leader Competence Should be a Top Strategic Priority:

  1. Competence informs thinking. Failing to stay competent, leaders may not be capable of thinking through the complex issues and situations they face in a global society and economy.
  2. Competence informs action. Failing to stay competent, leaders may solve the wrong problems or solve the right problems the wrong way.
  3. Competence fuels learning and growth. Failing to stay competent, leaders may get “stuck in place” and become entrenched in the face of challenges (instead of growing through them).
  4. Competence is required by law. There are laws and regulations in place to protect those who stay competent from being harmed by those who don’t.
  5. Competence fuels great performance. Competent leaders know how to develop competent associates who deliver great performance. 

Leader competence is either going to be a multiplier or a divider. When you have it, you multiply performance and trust, with exponential results. Without it, you divide your possible results by the incompetence factor. The more leaders who are behind the times, the higher the incompetence factor that is eroding your organization’s desired results. Can you afford to take the chance? Put ethical leadership competence on your strategic agenda this year.


Follow the Leading in Context Blog @leadingincontxt!


Top 100 Leadership Blog




Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

Includes case examples and questions.

Click the book cover for a preview.


Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2017 Leading in Context LLC

Twitter Helps Leaders “Think Global”

by Linda Fisher Thornton

At one point in the process of learning new social media channels, I actually said that I would never go on Twitter (In case you missed the post with that story, it was “Leaders and Social Media: 5 Reasons to Engage”).  I’ve learned quite a few things since the day I started on Twitter – April Fool’s Day 2010 – and I want to share what I have discovered about the learning impact of Twitter.

Twitter helps us learn to “think global” in a connected global society. It can transform us, the way we think, and the way we do business. It keeps us current, connects us with a global network of information and provides real-time data. In this post, I’ve sprinkled in some statistics along with my own observations about the learning benefits of Twitter.

Twitter Keeps us Current

  • Twitter helps us realize that social media is a vibrant and essential element of business communication, and it helps us get into the conversation.
  • Twitter connects us to people who are passionate about the same things we are passionate about, and to people who think differently from the way we think, and we can learn from each other.
  • Twitter is a powerful tool for learning about new and emerging issues and research. Many people post drafts of their work to get feedback from followers, and reach out to each other to share information.
  • Twitter helps us “think global” and learn about other countries. In the course of a week, we might connect with people on Twitter from dozens of countries, and we may need to use Google Translate to find out what they’re saying to us. What a way to build a global mindset!

 Twitter Enables Today’s Social Business

  • Twitter helps us connect with our readers, customers, colleagues, and partners. Today’s customer wants to engage with businesses on social media, and being there helps our business connect, survive and thrive.
  • Twitter helps us find out what people need that we may be able to provide.
  • Twitter helps us build credibility. When we connect, we have the opportunity to articulate our mission, and to inform others about how we can solve their problems with our services.
  • Twitter keeps us from becoming insulated. Engaging in dialogue on Twitter keeps us connected and aware.

Twitter Gives Us Real-Time Data 

With around 2,200 new tweets per second (whitefireseo.com), aggregating words mentioned in tweets provide unusually interesting information that can be updated continually. For example, take a look at the article Track Disease Trends on Twitter With Mappy Health by Mary C. Long.

Statistics to Tweet About

81% of respondents believe that CEOs who engage in social media are better equipped than their peers to lead companies in a web 2.0 world.

82% of respondents were more likely or much more likely to trust a company whose CEO and leadership team engage with social media.

78% of respondents would prefer to work for a company whose leadership is active on social media.

Brandfog.com, 2012 CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey

Internally, CEOs who are engaged on social media are able to break down counterproductive silos and facilitate greater communication and collaboration with the company.

Douglas Burdett, How Social Media Engagement Can Help B2B CEOs, business2community.com

Stages of Learning Twitter

These articles explain the stages of learning Twitter:

As we connect socially on Twitter, we naturally begin to expand our network globally. We begin to realize that the world is one community, and we begin to “think global.”

A Guide to Finding What You Need: How to Use the Leading in Context® Website


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Why We Need A Strong Moral Center

By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Need for A Strong Moral Center

The ethical challenges we face are increasingly complex, and we need a strong moral center to guide us through them. We can think about it as having a strong character, being principle-centered, having integrity, or following an ethical compass. No matter what we call it, we need a strong moral foundation.

“You don’t get the opportunity to think when those challenges to your moral integrity arise. You’ve got to have an anchor already out there. Sitting in these classrooms, getting this great education, is the perfect time to think about who you are and what you’ll allow yourself to do. Because you will be challenged at times when you least expect it and are least prepared to deal with it. If you don’t have a moral foundation, then the winds assaulting your integrity can blow you off course.”

Wharton Leadership Digest, FINDING YOUR MORAL COMPASS: Reflections From General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, online at leadership.wharton.upenn.edu/digest.

This moral center that we cultivate helps us make good choices in interactions with other people. It reminds us that we need to think beyond our own interests to the long-term well-being of others and society. It reminds us that how we treat others is an ethical choice.

“people with a strong moral identity were more considerate of others—and they were significantly more considerate if they were also good at regulating their emotions.”

Jason Marsh, The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence, Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley , online at greatergood.berkeley.edu

Developing a strong moral center is a long-term process. We build the foundation with support from our parents in our early years. We seek experiences that strengthen our moral center. We read throughout our lives. We learn. We study. We teach others.

I have noticed that many people who have a strong moral center also have a sense of humility.

Humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues.
— Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu), Chinese sage (551-479 B.C.)

How are humility and a strong moral center connected?

A strong moral center helps us see beyond ourselves. Seeing beyond ourselves helps us realize our responsibility to others. Realizing our responsibility to serve and care for others keeps us humble.


For more, see new 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

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Civility is an Ethical Issue

by Linda Fisher Thornton

Civility is Part of  Ethical Behavior

The Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary defines civility as “polite, reasonable, and respectful behavior.” These behaviors are the ones we use when we treat others with care.

According to Michael Brannigan, The Pfaff Endowed Chair in Ethics and Moral Values at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY., “Ethics deals fundamentally with how we treat each other on a daily basis. Indeed, our small acts of civility and incivility constitute the heart of morality.”

Responsible leaders know that civility is the minimum standard for how we should treat others. As members of a society, we are expected to behave in ways that allow others to pursue their life’s work and to contribute fully to that society.

Civility is at the Core of Ethical Leadership

Treating others with respect and care is an important part of being a good citizen, and it is a “load-bearing beam” that provides a foundation for ethical leadership.
According to Wikipedia‘s definition, “Ethical leadership is leadership that is involved in leading in a manner that respects the rights and dignity of others.” (Trevino, Brown and Hartman, 2003)
In their article, “The Moral Foundations of Ethical Leadership” in the Journal of Values Based Leadership,  Joseph P. Hester and Don R. Killian conclude that:

Civility has in the past been on the sidelines of ethical discussions, and we can agree that its role has been neglected. As we have incorporated strands of insights from moral theorists and sociologists, we agreed that civility ― this unfocused value ― can no longer be ignored. We can’t speak about ethics and moral behaviors without talking about community, issues of morality exposed by human need, and the moral role that civility plays in the leadership culture.

Joseph P. Hester and Don R. Killian, “The Moral Foundations of Ethical Leadership,” The Journal of Values Based Leadership, online at http://www.valuesbasedleadershipjournal.com

Civility is an ethical issue in a global society. Ethical leadership includes the responsibility for treating others with respect and care, even when it’s not convenient, and even when it impacts profitability.  This responsibility includes:

  • respecting others
  • avoiding harm
  • building trust
  • reducing stress
  • listening to others (regardless of their position)
  • engaging people in meaningful work, and
  • providing an environment where everyone can do their best

Civility is a “load-bearing beam” in the foundation of ethical leadership. Ethical companies accept nothing less.

Questions for Discussion:

1. How clearly do our performance standards specify that we expect respectful behavior?

2. Do all of our leaders know that civility is the minimum standard for behavior in our organization?

3. How well are we backing up our performance expectations by holding people accountable for using ethical interpersonal behavior?

4. How can we make our expectation for respectful behavior clearer?

5. How can we strengthen the accountability for using ethical interpersonal behavior at all levels of leadership?


For more, see new 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

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

%d bloggers like this: