Lead With Questions, Not Answers

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders Ask The Hard Questions

While it’s tempting to try to “have the answers,” good leaders instead ask the hard questions. They may be questions for which the world does not have workable answers. They may be questions that help reinvent a company or industry. They may be questions that must be answered now to prevent problems in the future. They may be questions that generate a much needed dialogue.

Leading With Questions Is Engaging

When We Give Questions, We Give People

  • Curiosity – a reason to explore and be interested
  • Insight – from thinking, reflection and engagement over time
  • Possibility – answers are yet to be discovered
  • Enhanced thinking skills

When We Give Answers, We Give People

  • Boredom – no effort or engagement required
  • Diminished thinking skills – lack of use, less practice
  • Resistance without growth – if they disagree and there is no room for discussion, they may resist
  • Compliance without engagement – they go along but they don’t know why they should care

Great Leaders Don’t Have “The Answer”

“Having the answer” isn’t leadership. Leadership involves engaging others in efforts that matter and bringing out their individual and collective best. “Having the answer” isn’t teaching. Teaching involves lighting the spark that will guide someone’s learning journey for a lifetime. Here are some wonderful observations on the importance of questions:

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”   ―Richard Feynman

“Courage doesn’t happen when you have all the answers. It happens when you are ready to face the questions you have been avoiding your whole life.”   ― Shannon L. Alder

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers. To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy.”   ― Madeleine L’Engle

Great leaders spend time thinking about the right questions to ask.

They engage others in discovering the questions and answering them together.

They pull from a diverse collection of resources and data.

They engage others in learning.

They find out how much they don’t know before looking for “the answers.”

 

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Leaders need to know how to answer the tough ethical questions. Seeing through all 7 Lenses gives them the perspective they need.

 

 

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18 Quotes To Inspire Leaders In The New Year (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Are your leaders prepared for the year ahead? Each day will bring new challenges, and to succeed within ethical boundaries, we’ll all need a clear picture of “good leadership.”

This series is an annual tradition and this year’s post includes 18 quotes (each linked to a post with leadership guidance) to inspire you to grow your leadership skills to be ready for whatever 2018 may bring. Part 1 includes the first 9.

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. 

Firing answers at each other doesn’t involve listening or self-reflection, but answering questions we have in common (and living into the answers) will require both. 

As leaders, it’s our job to create an engaging, ethical, high-trust environment where people can do the very best work of their lives. And while we’re doing that, the world is watching. 

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

Without the context, we are not aware – we only see the parts of an issue that we want to see. 

Challenges are “loud” and urgent. People need to learn how to think through their difficult challenges while staying grounded in ethical values. The first step is making it clear that our values always drive our choices. To avoid having your team get  pulled away from ethics, exercise your “values voice.”

Ethics-rich leadership, after all, isn’t about position power – it’s about values power. It treats values as the essential business tools they are.  Ethics-rich leaders will reap the ultimate rewards – in transformational performance. 

It turns out that truth, like ethics, is multidimensional. One sound bite is not going to capture it.

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. 

As we approach 2018, make sure each leader in your organization is clear about values and ready to adapt to increasing ethical expectations. 

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Talking About What Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have heard from readers that this topic is timely and they hope this series will not end with just 2 posts – so here is Part 3

Talking About What Matters

In the 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. In Talking About What Matters (Part 2), I explored how leaders need to “not have the answers” and be ready to engage in conversations about applying values. 

In Part 3, I want to offer some questions that lead to meaningful conversation. These are not questions that have known answers, but questions that dig into what is weighing on people’s hearts and minds, and identify gaps and opportunities in applying ethical values. 

Questions to Ask

Open ended questions help define appropriate behaviors in the context of your organizational values. They help leaders tolerate “not knowing” and get the conversation started. 

These questions are ones I proposed in an article published by the Association For Talent Development (formerly ASTD) in Training and Development Journal and in a Best of Leadership Development issue. They are helpful conversation starters:

  • What are the specific ethical behaviors that are required of all organizational leaders?
  • What are the consequences if they don’t behave ethically?
  • What are the situations that people encounter that could lead them into a grey area?
  • How should those grey areas be handled?
  • What does it look like when leaders perform according to the organization’s stated values?
  • What does it look like when they don’t?
  • How should people make decisions when they encounter difficult situations?
  • Where might our leaders fall into grey areas while implementing our goals and values?
  • What are areas where we will not tolerate compromise?
  • What are areas of flexibility?
  • Where do we need to clarify our mission and values, to make it clear that we are an ethical organization, and ethics is not negotiable?
  • How can we more effectively recruit, recognize, and retain ethical leaders?

Linda Fisher Thornton, “Leadership Ethics Training: Why is it So Hard to Get it Right?”  reprinted in Training and Development: The Best of Leadership Development, American Society for Training and Development. (March, 2010)

Leading In The “Figure It Out Space”

When we ask questions like these, and open the conversation, we have to set aside our need to be “right.” Values (when brought to life) live in the collective organizational space, not in the domain of any one leader. They also live in the “figure it out” space. It is the struggle to “figure out” how to apply the organization’s values in day to day work and leadership that brings them to life. 

 

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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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Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Everyone is a stakeholder at some level, and all stakeholders are important. We should consider all stakeholders as we lead – those we serve, those we lead, the powerless, the silenced, the planet, and all of humanity.” 

I shared this insight in a previous post – it was an aha moment from a Tweetchat I guest-hosted on Leading With Ethics. To reflect on where you are in the journey to leading with the mindset that “everyone is a stakeholder at some level,” explore the answers to these important questions:

  • How am I adding value for customers, employees and partners?
  • What ripples am I creating on the global landscape?
  • If everyone followed my lead, would they be showing that all stakeholders are important, regardless of who they are or where they live?
  • How well do I consider the interests of stakeholders who aren’t at the table, including the planet?
  • Have I explored and conquered my own “inner terrain” well enough to manage my biases so that they don’t impact my leadership?

To accomplish the ideal of considering all stakeholders in even our smallest decisions, we’ll have to do more than just imagine the possibilities. We’ll need to do the work.

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Ethical Leaders Stay Current as the World Changes

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Is Moral Development Observable?

 

 

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Most of us have some idea about human development because we have watched people grow up and pass through stages and milestones in their lives. We have seen babies roll over and sit up, and later walk on their own. We have watched children grow into teenagers and become adults.

Moral development is just as important as physical development, and should be going on at the same time as physical development, but it is not visible in terms of a person’s appearance. Because it is not visible, its important role in human development is sometimes overlooked.

Moral development is dependent on learning, so it is vital that organizations provide an environment that forwards moral learning. There are specific things that organizations can do to encourage moral development in leadership. They include teaching systems thinking and how to seek mutual benefit when making decisions.

Moral development requires learning. It doesn’t just happen.

There are also things parents can do to encourage moral development in children. “Young people need help learning how to succeed in living positive ethical values in a world filled with distractions and negative messages. Our job is to help them center themselves in positive ethical values and get to know themselves as good people.” (Thornton, Helping Young People Become Ethical Leaders, Leading in Context Blog)

To “observe” someone’s level of moral development, look beyond what they say to their behavior and their choices. Notice how well they treat others. Look for how well they seek solutions that benefit all parties, not just themselves. Notice what they value. Notice how consistently they think beyond their own interests and concerns to attend to the concerns of others.  These are the ways that moral development is made visible. 

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

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What Is Organizational Integrity?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Individual integrity is the full alignment in what a person thinks, says and does. Taking that concept to another level, this post will explore the question “what is organizational integrity?”

Clearly, organizational integrity is broader than individual integrity, but what does it include? It seems to me that taking the concept of individual integrity to the organizational level, organizational integrity would mean full alignment in what an organization thinks, says and does.

When an organization demonstrates full alignment, all company messages, actions, decisions, leadership and rewards align. It’s not enough to just ensure alignment, though, because alignment without values can lead an organization away from ethical decisions and actions.

Messages, actions, decisions, leadership and rewards  must be aligned around positive ethical values that the entire organization supports.

This positive values-based alignment in what an organization values, says and does creates the scaffolding for an ethical culture. What does your organization say it values? How consistently does it live out those values in daily practice?

If your leaders are all perfectly clear about which high level ethical values to uphold and how to demonstrate them, you are probably incorporating complexity into your leadership development. You are also probably providing leaders with the level of detail about ethical values that they need to navigate through information overload, constant change and demands from multiple stakeholders. If not, you may be rolling the dice by taking an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach to ethics.

Linda Fisher Thornton, “What Is Integrity?: Beyond I’ll Know it When I See It”, Leading in Context Blog

Leaders are the key to values alignment – they model and reinforce values and hold people accountable for following them. Organizational integrity (at its most effective) is what happens when leaders consistently immerse an organization in positive ethical values and align all leadership, actions, decisions, messages, and reward systems accordingly.

 

 

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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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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2016 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

10 Ways The Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Our-understanding-of (5)By Linda Fisher Thornton

A convergence of positive trends is changing leadership expectations, and today I want to explore how those trends are changing the leadership relationship. 

There is no effective leadership based on position power and control in the workplace anymore. Employees have choices. They seek meaningful work that is more than “just a job.” Leaders who miss this shift will wonder why they can’t keep good people. 

“The whole notion of “positional leadership”—that people become leaders by virtue of their power or position—is being challenged. Leaders are instead being asked to inspire team loyalty through their expertise, vision, and judgment.”

Leadership Awakened, Nicky Wakefield, Anthony Abbatiello, Dimple Agarwal, Karen Pastakia, & Ardie van Berkel, Deloitte University Press

Succeeding with position power is about being the one in charge, but that approach doesn’t work well with today’s top talent. This shift in power is completely changing the skill sets that leaders need. 

Here are the first 5 of 10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing:

  1. From “making sure people work harder” to “making the workplace more pleasant” (so people can work effectively)

  2. From monitoring and correcting to engaging and coaching

  3. From delegating tasks to collaborating and co-creating

  4. From using authority to control people to using care to support people

  5. From separate offices for leaders to open work spaces with equal footing

These 5 changes in the leadership relationship are not happening everywhere yet, but they are happening in the best-led organizations. Are you seeing them in your workplace?

Our understanding of “good leadership” is evolving. This shift is being fueled by increasing leadership expectations – I wrote about them in 7 Lenses and in these posts:

Leaders need to adapt to a changing landscape so that they can attract, engage and keep great people. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, when I will share 5 more of the 10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing. 

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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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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2016 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

 

 

 

The Triple Bottom Line Is Just The Beginning

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Many organizations are still talking about the triple bottom line (Profits, People, Planet) as if it’s the gold standard for ethical business. 

While it’s a great improvement over focusing on profit alone, the triple bottom line doesn’t reflect the current expectations of customers, employees and global markets. 

Business leaders are expected to think beyond simple profits (how they benefit) to consider what happens to their many stakeholders. The Profit, People, Planet concept, a popular construct for understanding ethical business, doesn’t cover all of the bases.

For example, the Triple Bottom Line model excludes:

  • honoring laws and regulations
  • demonstrating moral awareness, character and integrity
  • contributing to communities, and 
  • working to ensure a good life for future generations

In the book 7 Lenses, I propose a model for talking about ethical leadership that goes well beyond the Triple Bottom Line to include seven different aspects of responsible business leadership. 

When we look at ethical dilemmas using all 7 Lenses, we get a kaleidoscopic view of what it means to be a responsible leader in a global society. If you want to understand how well you and your organization are leading, don’t stop at the Triple Bottom Line. Take a look through all 7 Lenses.

Yes, Profit, People and Planet are included in the 7 Lenses. But there’s much more to consider. Let’s stop talking about just three parts of ethical responsibility, and let’s talk about the whole picture.

 

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

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50 Ways to Lead For Trust (Part 3: The Last 20)

 

Make-Work-Meaningful-and (2)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is the third in a series on 50 Ways to Lead For Trust. Part 1 included numbers 1-15. Part 2 gave you 15 more, and this post includes the final 20 Ways to Lead For Trust.

Here are 20 more ways that you can build lasting trust through your daily leadership: 

31.  Ask What Keeps People From Success, and Remove Their Roadblocks

32.  Involve the Team in Charting Its Own Course For the Future

33.  Share the Credit

34.  Take Responsibility50-Ways-to-Lead-For-Trust

35.  Be Inclusive

36.  Support People’s Overall Well-Being

37.  Encourage Cooperation

38.  Bring Out Their Potential

39.  Promote Responsible Business

40. Trust Others To Do Great Work

41.  Require Respectful Interpersonal Behavior

42. Help People Handle Complexity

43. Ask Them to Work Smarter, Not Harder

44. Avoid Harm to Constituents

45. Do Good Works in the Community

46. Involve People in Service to Society

47. Be Positive and Proactive

48. Be Fair

49. Recognize Others

50. Make Work Meaningful and Rewarding

Use the 50 Ways to Lead For Trust to give yourself a “Trust Checkup.” Looking at these 50 actions, what will you choose to do TODAY to build a high-trust workplace where everyone can do great work?

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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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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2016 Leading in Context LLC

We’re All Padawan Learners

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

With the new Star Wars movie being released this month, my family and I recently watched all six of the original Star Wars movies in one week. It was an intense movie marathon, and watching them all in the order they were released gave us a unique perspective. 

Have you ever noticed that no matter how many times the forces of good overcome the forces of evil in the Star Wars movies, there is always another challenge? There is never a moment when the characters “arrive” and are exempt from ethical challenges. They can never let down their guard.

Why? Because power can corrupt or it can be used for good. In the six original Star Wars movies, we see what happens when a Padawan learner (Luke) is humble and stays the course, always open to learning. We also see what happens when a Padawan learner (Vader) thinks he has “arrived” and is no longer willing to learn from others. 

We are all Padawan learners on the ethical journey. We are subject to making mistakes, and we must continually learn to stay ahead of our ethical challenges.

The surprising truth is that we are all also teachers. Others are watching our choices and learning from us. 

As others observe our choices, how will they see us choosing to use our power?

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

 
 
 
 
 
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What Are You Talking About (Ethically Speaking)?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

There are many layers of meaning in ethics conversations. How far down are you going? Do you stop at surface messages or do you dig into real problems? See if you can find your ethics conversations below:

Layers of Ethical Conversation

 

SURFACE:

Corporate Messages

Marketing Slogans

Posters About Ethics and Integrity

STANDARDS:

Ethics Codes

Ethics Training

REALITY:

Tackling Real-Life Dilemmas That Are Difficult To Handle

How to Apply Ethics Expectations in Grey Areas and Between the Lines

What We Do Around Here When We Don’t Know the Right Thing to Do

 

Don’t lock down the ethics conversation at Surface and Standards. The level of Reality is where your employees want to talk about ethics. Don’t believe it? Just ask them. 

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

 
 
 
 
 
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Is Ethics a Body of Knowledge? (No! It’s a Process of Human Growth.)

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

If you think ethical awareness is about knowledge and learning, think again. Knowledge and learning are only useful in ethics if we are open to receiving them, open to shifting our perspective, and open to changing our minds.

Famous thinkers have long tied ethics to human growth.  Immanuel Kant believed that is “Man’s duty is to improve himself; to cultivate his mind; and, when he finds himself going astray, to bring the moral law to bear upon himself.” John Dewey said that “Growth itself is the only moral end.”

Why does human growth matter to us as ethical people? Take a moment to think about how we prepare ourselves for ethical living and ethical leadership. If we’re not pushing ourselves to become better people, and intentionally raising our level of ethical awareness, we’re probably stuck in the “ethics is a body of knowledge” mentality. 

Growth may be difficult, but there isn’t any other way to fully embrace ethics. We must grow into our ethical competence…intentionally…over time. When we are tempted to take a shortcut and think about ethics as a class or a theory, we should remember this: The “body of knowledge” isn’t going to need to make tough ethical choices. We are. 

 

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

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©2015 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

Leaders: Check Your Motivation, Your Authenticity and Your Ethics

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

If we are leading others, we need to be asking the questions of leadership – about our motivation, our authenticity and our ethics.

Continually asking ourselves these questions keeps us sharp, focused and aware of our greater impact on others, organizations and society.

The Questions of Leadership

What are some of the deep questions that we should be asking ourselves if we are leading others? This list includes a handful of the questions we may wrestle with on our leadership learning journey. Knowing the answers can keep us aligned with our greater mission, supporting not only our own success, but also the success of other individuals, groups and organizations.

Click on each question below for a blog post exploring the question:

1. Why do I want to lead?

2. How can I get past ego and self-interest to become an effective leader?

3. What does authentic leadership require?

4. How do I balance profits with other leadership outcomes?

5. What does it mean to be an ethical leader in a global society?

 

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

Includes case examples and questions.

 

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2015 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

 

 

Where Is Ethical Leadership Found?

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

While it may be convenient to think about ethical leadership as a task, a program, or a rule book, that’s not where it lives. It lives in our big and small choices. It lives in our decision-making. It lives in our organizational culture. It lives in our deep commitment to working for good.

We can’t get away with “externalizing” ethics because ethical leadership is much closer to home than we may readily admit. It isn’t somewhere “out there” at all – it is us, right here and right now. 

It is in our deeply-held values. It is in our day-to-day choices.  It is in our quest for good.

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

Includes case examples and questions.

 

 

 

LeadinginContext.com   Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2015 Leading in Context LLC

 

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