Will 2018 Be The Year?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As a global community, we have learned some things this year. Business leaders have learned that ethical leadership transforms organizational metrics. Global citizens have learned that values are the most important defining characteristics of nations, and if we don’t operate from a base of values we descend into conflict and chaos. 

Perhaps 2018 will be THE YEAR. Maybe based on everything that has happened this year, it will be the year we: 

  1. Agree on values first, then on operational details
  2. Lead from understanding and collaboration rather than a quest to “win” at others’ expense
  3. Select leaders who are grounded in ethical values and know how to apply them in every context
  4. Raise the bar on ourselves as the world changes, to stretch and grow into rising ethical expectations
  5. Reach out instead of lash out

As we head into the holiday season, I wish you great joy, peace and understanding. May we all become better at seeing the things that bind us together (and the things that don’t) for what they really are. 


I wish you great joy, peace and understanding this holiday season. Thank you for putting the Leading in Context Blog in the Feedspot Top Leadership RSS Feeds in 2017!

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©2017 Leading in Context LLC



Dealing With Complexity in Leadership

SAMSUNGBy Linda Fisher Thornton

Dealing with work complexity has become a major leadership development issue. And it is a challenge that has ethical implications. As our work becomes more complex, so do our ethical dilemmas.

What is Thinking Complexity?

We may want to lead responsibly but still struggle to make ethical decisions in highly complex situations. It would help if we could develop the thinking skills to navigate those situations more easily. If we were prepared to think at a high degree of complexity, we would be better able to understand the organization and its challenges from multiple perspectives when making difficult decisions.

“If managers and leaders are to scratch beneath the surface and delve into the substance of their organizations, what is needed is “cognitive complexity” which can be defined as “the intellectual ability of a manager or leader to envision the organization from multiple and competing perspectives so as to develop a depth of organizational understanding that is at least equal to the factors impacting its functioning.”

Richard Jacobs, Analyzing Organizations Through Cognitive Complexity, Villanova University

Considering multiple perspectives in decision-making provides an advantage to leaders and organizations as they juggle competing demands. How can we prepare leaders to do that?

Preparing Leaders

We are going to need to improve our thinking skills to be ready to deal with the increasing complexity of work in our networked global society. According to Nick Petrie, Center for Creative Leadership, we will need a completely new approach to developing leaders in order to deal with the level of change that is coming.

“There is one thing that I have become certain of and that is that the methods that have been used in the past to develop leaders really, truly, categorically will not be enough for the complexity of challenges which are on their way for organizations (and broader society).”

Nick Petrie, Future Trends in Leadership Development, Center for Creative Leadership

The ability to think through complex problems clearly is an asset to individual leaders and to the organizations they serve. We need to find ways to help leaders develop this ability, and to do that, it helps to understand what it is that leaders with a high degree of thinking complexity do.

What Do Leaders With High Thinking Complexity Do?

As you review this list, consider how you can seek meaningful leadership development experiences that support these practices.

Think in Multiple Dimensions and in Relationships

“Persons who are high in cognitive complexity are able to analyze (i.e., differentiate) a situation into many constituent elements, and then explore connections and potential relationships among the elements; they are multidimensional in their thinking.”

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. (1986). Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press, online at The College of St. Scholastica

Deal Well With Ambiguity and Contradictory Findings 

“There are numerous studies which suggest that individuals who have high cognitive complexity tend to be more tolerant of ambiguity, more comfortable not only with new findings but even with contradictory findings. Moreover, such individuals have a greater ability to observe the world in terms of grey rather than simply in terms of black and white.”

J. Rogers Hollingsworth, Knowledge, Communication and Creativity, University of Wisconsin-Madison, online at wisc.edu

Use Systems Thinking

“To meet the needs of requisite complexity, Knowledge Era leadership requires a change in thinking away from individual, controlling views, and toward views of organizations as complex adaptive systems that enable continuous creation and capture of knowledge.”

Uhl-Bien, Marion & McKelvey, Complexity Leadership Theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era, University of Lincoln-Nebraska

Intentionally Seek and Integrate New Information

“Complex people tend to be more open to new information, rely on their own integrative efforts than new information, seek more novel information, search across more categories of information, and are less externally information bound. They tend to take in more information and form more well rounded impressions than less complex persons.”

Streufert, S., & Swezey, R. W. Complexity, managers, and organizations. New York: Academic Press, online at The College of St. Scholastica

Connect Employees, Processes and Tools to Meet Goals

Ultimately, these women and men – armed with cognitive complexity and the skills and techniques associated with best practice – will manage and lead their organizations to achieve their goals by uniting people, technology and process in a more efficient and effective human way.

Richard Jacobs, Analyzing Organizations Through Cognitive Complexity, Villanova University

Simplify Complexity For Those They Lead

Those leaders of the units judged to be ‘most successful’ were not those who demonstrated the higher levels of systemic thinking but, rather, seemed able to simplify complexity for their teams.

Keith Normal Johnston, Complexity of thinking and levels of self-complexity required to sustainably manage the environment, thesis submitted to Australian National University

Leaders who develop a high level of thinking complexity will be better able to help our organizations understand and work through a wide variety of challenges, problems and opportunities. They will make sense out of issues and problems that are multidimensional and connected. And they will be prepared to do what all great leaders do – help those they lead deal with increasing complexity.
To Learn More:
Capitalizing on Complexity (and Other CEO Reports), The IBM C-Suite Studies, ibm.com


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

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


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How Is Ethical Leadership a Strategic Advantage?


By Linda Fisher Thornton

The Human Factor (India) asked me about ethical leadership trends from 2012 and predictions for 2013 for its January Issue on HR and Business Trends 2013. The article includes observations about:

  • How ethical leadership is evolving
  • Why we need to aim higher than simply obeying laws
  • How ethical leadership helps businesses compete, and
  • Three important areas of focus in ethical leadership for 2013

The Future of Ethical Leadership

“The future of ethical leadership involves a high degree of ethical awareness and ethical competence that is intentionally managed by business leaders. It involves considering a broader definition of ‘stakeholders,’ a desire to give back and contribute to the greater good, and a lower tolerance for harm to people and the planet. ”

Linda Fisher Thornton, It’s Time to Practice Ethical LeadershipJanuary 2013 Issue, The Human Factor (pages 50-51)

The full article (page 50) includes predictions and practical recommendations for areas of focus in 2013.

How is Ethical Leadership a Strategic Advantage?

Businesses that are proactive and that make ethical leadership a priority will benefit in many ways. Here are three of the many ways that ethical leadership helps us compete:

  • Ethical consumerism is growing. Consumers increasingly expect businesses to think beyond their own gain and to demonstrate concern and care for a broad array of stakeholders. Businesses that show concern earn the loyalty of increasingly savvy consumers who want to support ethical companies.
  • Ethical leadership and high-trust cultures bring out the best performance people have to offer, and bringing out people’s best performance will help our businesses compete effectively in today’s global marketplace.
  • Having strong ethical leadership and a high-trust culture will help us attract and retain the best talent. The capable and ethical people that we attract when we lead ethically will delight our customers, help us get more done, and improve our brand.

Welcome to the era where ethical leadership is a strategic advantage.

For further reading, also see What is Conscious Capitalism and The Leadership Development Advantage.


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

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


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