Ethical Thinking is Intentional, Thoughtful and Applied

By Linda Fisher Thornton

One of the things we know about ethical decision-making is that we need to take the time to do it. But if we fill up every minute of the day with meetings, deadlines, emails and projects, when will we have time to think about the impact of our choices? 

How will we consider our decisions in terms of ethical values if we don’t take time to consider our decisions at all?

Rushing to a decision in response to perceived external pressures is a good way to make an ethical mistake. The thinking that leads to ethical choices is intentional, thoughtful and applied.

Intentional and Thoughtful

Some people tend to trust their “gut” and make very quick decisions that turn into highly visible ethical failures. Listening to our “gut” has a place in ethical decision-making but it has to be balanced with a more intentional way of thinking about our choices. If we instantly assess the situation based on our very human implicit biases (we all have them), we are not likely to make a fair and ethical choice.

We have to intentionally overcome those flaws in our thinking to make moral choices. Once we decide to use ethical thinking, we need to take the time to dig into grey areas and explore the potential long-term ethical impact of the different paths we could take. 

Applied

How do we tap into our “ethical brain?” According to Professor Joshua Greene, there is no specific place in our brains that is “moral.” He points out in The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective that “It’s now clear that the ‘moral brain’ is, more or less, the whole brain, applying its computational powers to problems that we, on nonneuroscientific grounds, identify as ‘moral.'”

As we practice resolving dilemmas we find ethics to be less a goal than a pathway, less a destination than a trip, less an inoculation than a process.   — Rushworth Kidder

There is no automatic setting or magic technique for ethical thinking. It is a thoughtful process. We have to apply ourselves – to  understand issues, explore their ethical implications, and choose a moral path. Watch for leaders and organizations who are embracing this process and reaping the benefits through improved ethical brand value. 

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Context Matters: What We’re Learning About Food

By Linda Fisher Thornton

New research is turning conventional wisdom about healthy eating inside out. This new research radically changes the way we think about nutrition and wellness and will completely change “best practices” in food-related industries. Here is a sneak preview:

WHOLE FOODS (WITH THE FAT) TEND TO HAVE MORE FIBER AND A LOWER GLYCEMIC INDEX 

“Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food. As a general rule, the more cooked or processed a food, the higher the GI; however, this is not always true.”

Glycemic Index and Diabetes, American Diabetes Association

The reason it’s called “whole milk” has less to do with its fat content, than the fact that it’s comparatively unadulterated.

Roberto Ferdman, The whole truth about “whole milk”, The Washington Post

FOOD COMBINATIONS, LEVEL OF PROCESSING AND BRAIN RESPONSE ARE ALL IMPORTANT 

“Processed foods have an altered food matrix, which impacts their bioavailability.”

Hiip.com, What is the Food Matrix?

“Foods high in fat and carbohydrate are, calorie for calorie, valued more than foods containing only fat or carbohydrate and that this effect is associated with greater recruitment of central reward circuits.”

Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward, Cell Metabolism

INDIVIDUAL NUTRIENTS DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY

“The food matrix may exhibit a different relation with health indicators compared to single nutrients studied in isolation.”

Thorning et al., “Whole dairy matrix or single nutrients in assessment of health effects: current evidence and knowledge gaps,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Applying the “food matrix” concept we learn that we can’t accurately assess nutritional impact based on breaking down individual nutrients in isolation from the whole. We have to consider what we added and what we left out. In other words, context matters. 

We need to see the whole picture to understand human wellness. Whole foods from nature have complex nutritional combinations and protections built into them that vanish when you strip out the fiber and fat. As Aristotle recognized ages ago (and we’re just now rediscovering) “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Questions For Discussion

  1. How are we already contributing to health and well-being through our food choices?
  2. Where should we adjust our practices to reflect what researchers are learning about the complex food matrix?
  3. What should we stop doing or change to support the long-term health and wellness of our constituents?

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The Seductive Power of the Status Quo

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why do we have such a powerful negative reaction when we find out that we need to change? The status quo literally has a grip on us.

“Bearing in mind our natural propensity for the status quo will enable us to recognize the allure of inertia and more effectively overcome it.”

Rob Henderson, How Powerful is Status Quo Bias, Psychology Today

According to Sue Langley, at the Langley Group, “It takes more effort to think about and do something new than react out of instinct or habit.” Fortunately, she adds, “willpower, focused attention and mindful action can be used to push through resistance and rewire habitual patterns.” (The Neuroscience of Change, Langley Group)

Being aware of the brain’s tendency to want to keep things the same is important in terms of ethical decision making. What could we be missing? 

  • Does that change we’ve been putting off put us at risk of failing to keep up with changing ethical expectations? 
  • Is our discomfort with change causing us to make decisions that harm individuals or groups?
  • Are we thinking short term because it is more familiar, when a long-term perspective is really needed?

It will take an intentional effort to overcome the seductive power of the status quo. Take charge of the decision-making process and use ethical values to make ethical choices. 

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 1

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 2

Ready To Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 3

Ready to Change the Ethics Quo (For Good)? Part 4

Grey Areas: Our Choices Define Us (Part 2)

 

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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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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 4)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Meaningful Leadership? Seeking the Truth & Excavating Grey Areas Using Ethical Values

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. In Part 2 we explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. In Part 3 we looked at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on collective success. In Part 4, we’ll examine how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. 

Meaningful leadership searches for the truth in a complex world. This requires seeing the nuances and moving beyond oversimplified either/or choices. It means investing time and effort in peeling away the irrelevant and the inaccurate to get to the heart of issues.

“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Meaningful leadership requires being willing to live in disequilibrium, without having all the answers.

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

— Socrates

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Meaningful leadership makes a lifetime commitment to learning and competence.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

— Albert Einstein

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

— Viktor E. Frankl

Meaningful leadership sees complex issues from multiple perspectives, including the important perspective of what is best in terms of ethical values. Failing to see issues in terms of ethical values means abandoning the guidance system of human civilization.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

— Marcel Proust

Meaningful leadership uses ethical values to understand difficult issues, digging into intent and impact and revealing the best choices for multiple stakeholders.

Meaningful leadership requires working through discomfort but it is worth the effort. Ask yourself:

  1. How carefully do I excavate complex issues before I make a decision or take a side?  
  2. How consistently do I use ethical values as the basis for excavating the grey areas?
  3. What could I do with my teams to help us all get better at basing our thinking process on ethical values?


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Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To celebrate 7 Lenses going into its second printing, this is the fifth 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),  Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2), Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3) and Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)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.

If you ask a room full of leaders to define ethical thinking, you’ll get dozens of different answers. Leaders struggle with increasing complexity and accelerating change and they may think that they know how to use ethical thinking. The problem is that the ethical thinking they have been using for years isn’t helping them now. Our thinking skills don’t just upgrade themselves as if set on “automatic upgrade.” Leaders have to practice struggling through ethical issues at increasingly higher levels of complexity.

Ethical thinking doesn’t just “happen” by itself in a rapidly changing global environment – the landscape is constantly changing and ethical expectations are increasing

As ethical challenges increase, leadership thinking needs to increase accordingly for leaders to keep up. If we use outdated software to run our most critical systems, they won’t be reliable and our business credibility will break down. The same is true for outdated leadership thinking. 

Ethical Awareness is Increasing

Corruption has long been approached with the implicit attitude that it is a victimless crime. This is now changing fast, as it has become impossible to ignore the links between corruption, poverty, conflict, and human rights violations.

Alison Taylor and James Cohen, The future of business ethics: Hyper-transparency and other global trends, FCPA Blog

Ethical Problems Must Be Handled Fast, In Real Time

“The caliber of the decision maker is decisive—especially when an immediate decision must arise from instinct rather than from discussion.”

Kenneth R. Andrews, Managing Uncertainty: Ethics in Practice, HBR

Developing Leaders Supports Employee Engagement

“The third factor in “irresistible” management is leadership development: Organizations with high levels of employee engagement focus on developing great leaders. They invest heavily in management development and ensure that new leaders are given ample support.”

Josh Bersin, Becoming Irresistable: A New Model For Employee Engagement, Deloitte Insights

A New Leadership Algorithm is Required

“The definition of strong leadership is evolving. Several interviews discuss topics relating to updating the leadership algorithm or leadership mindset to enhance the overall capacity.”

Maureen Metcalf, What Top Leaders And Academics Are Thinking About Leadership In 2017, Forbes.com

Pressure on leaders is increasing to make good choices and ethical brand value is a key part of organizational success. A bad choice captured on video can go viral on social media, causing the value of a company to plummet in hours. Don’t let your most critical brand ambassadors and coaches (your leaders) use outdated ethical thinking. 

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