Consumer Trends: 5 Things Brands Should Know

shopping-carts-2077841_1920By Linda Fisher Thornton

We’ve seen many articles about ethical consumerism, conscious capitalism and the responsible consumer. The bottom line is that consumers continue to expect much more from brands than an honest and perfectly executed transaction. This week, I share a high level view of 5 key things brands should know if they want to be successful in reaching responsible consumers.

Consumer Trends: 5 Things Brands Should Know

#1: Customers want more than a perfect transaction. According to Scott Lachut of PSFK, referring to the PSFK x Suzy Future Of Retail 2020 Survey, “63% are interested in purchasing a product that comes with related services to help them get the most out of their purchase” and “67% are interested in being invited to an exclusive event or activity in their favorite store.”

#2: Sustainability is becoming a way of life. According to Deloitte in Consumer 2020: Reading the Signs, an increasing number of (consumers) will be advocates for sustainability and demand it in products and practices.”

 #3: It’s important to understand where consumers are – by really listening to their concerns. Thomas Kolster, in the Adweek article It’s Time for Brands to Stop Climate Grandstanding and Listen to Consumer Needs says it time to listen, not preach. 

#4: Consumers expect authenticity AND transparency. Deloitte in Consumer 2020:Reading the Signs, says that consumers “will be likelier to sense when companies are not being genuine or authentic” and they will “expect and demand transparency.”

#5: Brands need to aim for common values that cross the spectrum of ideologies in a divisive climate. Gartner Inc., in Gartner Identifies Top Five Consumer Trends for Marketing Leaders in 2020 highlights the importance of “utiliz(ing) broadly appealing values in messaging to connect with consumers across ideologies.” 

It’s getting harder to adapt to changing consumer expectations, and keeping up with trends is the only way to meet the challenge. Stay tuned for more insights in future posts!

10 Quotes To Inspire Leaders in Divisive Times

grass-1913167_1920By Linda Fisher Thornton

There were many things that went right in the past year, despite the omnipresent bad news. Here is a collection of inspiring quotes to keep us moving forward and ready to face the challenges ahead.

“When the world is in the midst of change, when adversity and opportunity are almost indistinguishable, this is the time for visionary leadership and when leaders need to look beyond the survival needs of those they’re serving.”  — Chip Conley

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” — Emily Dickinson

“Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” — Stephen Covey

“Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.” — Malala Yousafzai

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” — Henry Ford

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” — Nelson Mandela

“I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death… I think… peace and tranquillity will return again.” — Anne Frank

“Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.” — John Wayne

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” — Albert Einstein

…and for good measure, here are 50 more.

Share more quotes you find inspiring in the comments!

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©2020 Leading in Context LLC

The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical Thinking and Decision Making require staying grounded in ethical values, but there is much more to do than knowing our values and living them every day through our choices. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and in Part 2, I broke down issues related to understanding Context. In Part 3, let’s take a look at Complexity.

Embracing Complexity is Part of Leadership

Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions. It means being intentional about decision making and avoiding making snap judgments.

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 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.

         — Linda Fisher Thornton, Dealing With Complexity in Leadership 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Use oversimplified approaches to understanding complex issues
  • Ignore the complexity of an issue because “it’s too hard to figure out.”
  • Fall into the trap of only noticing data that conveniently backs up their current beliefs

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders know that complexity is part of the leadership sphere and they embrace it 
  • They look for, notice, and talk about complexity
  • They work to find clear and compelling ways to communicate complex issues so that others can understand them

When we ignore complexity, many around us can easily see that we are not operating in reality. They can see that we’re not taking informed action and not solving problems in responsible ways. By embracing complexity, we stay on the path that leads to ethical solutions that work in the real world.

Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series! 

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking


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©2019 Leading in Context LLC

The Future of Education: Ethical Literacy For Handling Global Complexity

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We are not preparing students for success in the world where they will have to live and work. Some of the ways we currently think about “teaching” need to be scrapped and replaced.

It will be increasingly important that teachers and other learning guides dig into complexity in order to help prepare students who need to handle increasing complexity in their lives and work. A focus on ‘knowing’ must be replaced with a focus on ‘how to think, problem solve and successfully navigate global complexity using ethical values’.

The risk in not quickly making the change to a much more current and engaging way of preparing learners is that every outdated textbook used by schools to save money will contain at best inaccurate information and at worst morally offensive content. Every smart phone will have access to more current and relevant information than is being taught in the classroom. 

Understanding The Challenge, Visualizing the Future

Students need to be able to think successfully at high levels of complexity in order to be effective workers, leaders and problem-solvers. Memorization of facts will definitely not help them be ready. In the old way of thinking, the more people are “taught,” the more they “know.” This thinking does not work because it ignores the important variables of motivation, relevance, learner engagement and the need to improve thinking capability. It ignores the importance of basing choices on ethical values, and focuses only on historical context. 

Learning has become highly self-directed and traditional approaches to teaching (“telling,” “sharing knowledge” and “testing knowledge”) do not support learner success in a complex global context. 

For example, does knowing the complete history of politics prepare learners to handle the current divisive political arena? No, but learning how to think about and act on ethical values will. Does knowing how to write catchy headlines that sell prepare learners for rapidly increasing expectations about appropriate social media posts? No, but learning how to think about and act on ethical values will. 

“Learning Future” Includes

  • A higher level of complexity in thinking (exploring shades of grey, not “right” and “wrong” answers with an answer key)
  • Technology-enabled, just-in-time, user-friendly learning
  • More individualized feedback based on skills needed for future job success 
  • More practicing and evaluating individual and group problem-solving
  • Less memorizing and testing facts (which are easily accessed)
  • More practice time spent learning how to think and act responsibly in the world
  • More awareness of how we fit into the global community
  • More engaging, self-directed work and less homework

A New Role for Leaders in Education

Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals and leaders. Employers are not easily impressed by book knowledge – they want to know what you can do, for them, in their context, accurately, at high speed, while avoiding ethical mistakes. Adapting to this high employer expectation will turn our current public education practices upside down. 

Ethical literacy is more important than memorization and good test scores. It will define the success of tomorrow’s leaders. We need to make it our top education priority. To respond rapidly to changes in the skills and abilities they will need for tomorrow’s jobs, school administrators will need to adapt quickly to new leadership and learning research and engage everyone in making the change. Only then will we prepare students for success in an exciting, forward-thinking and competitive global arena.  

Masters of Complexity: Leading Effectively in Public Education will help leaders visualize challenges and opportunities for change and decide where to start. 

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Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2018 Leading in Context LLC


There Are No Quick Fixes For Ethics


20140527_213834 (1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I have been thinking about how lightly some leaders take the subject of ethics. Some ignore ethical issues altogether or think ethical issues are unimportant compared to concerns about profitability. It’s a risky choice to take ethics lightly. Why? Unlike heart or kidney transplants, there are no “ethics transplants” for people who have made bad ethical decisions.

We are responsible for our choices. If an ethics transplant did exist and we could easily start over, imagine how long the waiting list would be for that procedure! Since there is no quick fix for failed ethics, we need to protect our ethical reputations carefully, and choose to stay on an ethical path.

In our global society, where almost anything can be obtained for a price, you can’t buy ethics.

While people can recover somewhat from ethical failures, it takes them a long time to earn back people’s trust, if they ever do. In the meantime, they have to pay the price for failing to make ethical choices.

Our choices are very much ours to live with, good or bad, for the rest of our lives. 

The journey to an ethical life and ethical leadership is rewarding but it takes personal effort. Plato believed that we should make ethics more important than silver or gold. Silver and gold, after all, are commodities that can be bought, sold or traded at will. Ethics (on the other hand) requires personal effort and growth over time.

Ethics cannot be bought, sold, traded or transferred. It can only be learned, taught and encouraged. You can’t buy it. No one can give it to you, and you can’t replace yours when things go wrong. That makes ethics priceless.


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©2015 Leading in Context LLC

11 Paths To Ethical Leadership Competence

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Developing competent ethical leaders can be a huge challenge. Why is it so difficult? We live in a globally connected society, and are expected to be globally aware. We are dealing with catastrophic change and uncertainty. We fill many different roles in our organizations, industries and communities. Each role we play and each decision we face has different ethical implications. Ethical competence is definitely not something that “just happens.” 

Mastering ethical leadership takes intentional preparation and learning. I believe that there are at least 11 Paths To Ethical Leadership Competence. Seeing them together in this graphic illustrates why it can be so difficult to prepare leaders to handle ethical challenges. As you review these 11 Paths, keep in mind that we don’t fully prepare leaders for ethical leadership until we address all of them.

11 Types of Ethical Competence

Now I must ask you this important question: “How well are you addressing all 11 Paths to Ethical Leadership Competence in your leadership development?”

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CMOE ranked the Leading in Context Blog #37 on the Top 100 Most Socially Shared Leadership Blogs of 2014. Special thanks to CMOE and everyone who helped share this blog’s message!



100 Trends to Watch For 2013

100 Trends to Watch for 2013By Linda Fisher Thornton

100 Trends to Watch For 2013

As we head into 2013, the trend reports at the links below will give you a “business leader’s preview” of what to expect in sectors that range from consumer trends,  human resources, leadership and marketing to color, food, and technology. Enjoy!

10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2013,

Our 10 Trends for 2013 in 2 Minutes, JWT Intelliegence,

7 Hot Trends in Social Media Marketing,

Four Trends for the Future of Leadership Development, CCL,

Social Media Marketing Trends Collection, Priit Kallas,

Challenges Facing HR Over the Next Ten Years, Society for Human Resource Management,

The New Consumer Agenda, 2013-2015, Peter Fisk,

The Future of HR, Tom Haak,

Global Trends for 2013: A top 10 for business leaders, Thomas Malnight and Tracey Keys,

Top 10 Food Trends for 2013, Phil Lempert,

Hot Restaurant Menu Trends For 2013, Lisa Jennings,

Gartners Top IT Predictions for 2011-2015,

Can You Spot These 13 Sustainability Trends For 2013?, Julie Urlaub,

November 2012 TrendBriefing: PRESUMERS,

5 Digital Trends Shaping the Consumer Experience, Macala Wright,

Color Trends 2013,

Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Non-Government Experts, Federation of American Scientists,

Glimpse The Future of Work: Future Work Skills 2020, Apollo Research Institute,

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, US Director of National Intelligence,

If you want even more information, visit the Leading in Context Strategic Leadership and Leadership Trends pages on Pinterest for trends related to leadership and leadership development.

Failure is Part of Innovation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

To Innovate, Rethink the Blueprint

If we just try to make something better using the design blueprint that we’ve always used, it is very difficult to innovate. Using the blueprint we have used in the past ties us to the assumptions and limitations of that blueprint.

Rebuild the Basic Design

Using our existing infrastructure, plan, model, specs or blueprint will keep us locked into the assumptions that we used to create them. In order to freshen our approach, we need to look broadly at consumer and business trends, and build a new set of assumptions.

Once we have reframed our assumptions, we can craft something completely different. Reframing our assumptions helps us do more than just make a newer version of the old product.

See Failure as a Necessary Step

Benjamin Franklin said “Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”  Henry Ford spoke from experience when he said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

A culture that deals well with failure helps fuel innovation. When we create a new blueprint based on a new set of assumptions, it is likely that there will be some failures before a final product is ready for market.

“Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process. Almost all innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.”

Edward D. Hess, Darden Graduate School of Business, in Creating an Innovative Culture: Accepting Failure as Necessary, Forbes, June 20, 2012

Seeing failure as a necessary learning step creates the kind of culture where talented, creative people can do their best work.

“Leaders who see failure as a necessary part of trying new things will encourage innovation and engage creative employees. Instead of firing or blaming when people make mistakes, we can put them up on an ‘innovation learning’ board as a necessary learning step in the process of innovating.”

Valeria Moltoni in Innovation and Failure, Fast Company Expert Blog Post.

Embrace Uncertainty and Possibility

To lead for innovation, we need to become comfortable not having the “right” answers, and instead think about possibilities. In innovation, uncertainty is not uncomfortable – it gives us the space to recreate what we do.

When we rebuild assumptions we can create better solutions that meet multiple needs or solve multiple problems.

“Innovative thinking is not reliant on past experience or known facts. It imagines a desired future state
and figures out how to get there. It is intuitive and open to possibility. Rather than identifying right
answers or wrong answers, the goal is to find a better way and explore multiple possibilities. Ambiguity
is an advantage, not a problem. It allows us to ask, ‘what if?'”

David Horth, Center for Creative Leadership and Dan Buchner, Continuum, Innovation Leadership: How to Use Innovation to Lead Effectively, Work Collaboratively and Drive Results, 2009,

Think about how well you support possibility thinking and innovation as you answer the questions below.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Do we accept failure as a necessary part of learning or do we punish people who try new things and make mistakes?

2. Where do we need to rethink our assumptions about how we do our work or how we design our product?

3. What is it about our existing blueprint that isn’t working any more? How will we rethink it to bring it up to date?


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Collaborative Leadership in a Global Society

What is Collaborative Leadership?

What does collaborative leadership look like in a global society?

At the societal level it’s taking the best that all of us know and can do and putting it together in ways that help everyone.

At the partnership level, it’s working across organizational and group boundaries to solve problems and accomplish shared goals.

At the workplace level, it’s respecting each other, clarifying complex issues and managing productive conflict.

Accomplishing these things requires that we learn a new set of approaches that are vastly different from the leadership that we may have used in the past.

What Do Collaborative Leaders Do?

Share Control

The problem is that companies face a mismatch: They have developed a strong base of operational leaders who perform well when they have direct control over a specific set of resources that they can deploy to achieve accountable results. Unfortunately, the matrixed, global structure that is becoming the norm for many organizations requires leaders who can subordinate their agenda, yield power and give up resources for the greater good.

Rick Lash, The Collaboration Imperative, Ivey Business Journal,

Build Connections and Influence Outside of Formal Systems

Collaborative Leadership is an influence relationship, which engenders safety, trust and commitment.

John Dentico, Collaborative Leadership Defined,

In her 1994 Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Advantage”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter talks about leaders who recognize that there are critical business relationships “that cannot be controlled by formal systems but require (a) dense web of interpersonal connections…”[1]., Collaborative Leadership

Work Through Ambiguity and Complexity Using Creativity and Innovation

It is clear that collaboration is a necessity in navigating today’s complex work environments where ambiguity and change are constants.

Susan Hoberecht, Ph.D. student in organizational systems at Saybrook University, Rethinking Complexity,

Collaboration, by its very nature, tends toward disorder at times and a lack of central control by any one entity.

Academics and Practitioners on Collaborative Leadership, Turning Point Leadership National Excellence Collaborative

The CEO’s in the IBM study saw the need to work with ambiguity in ways that engage creativity and support innovation. Our belief is that leaders who understand the nature of transformative learning will stop focusing on discredited controls and instead embrace creative collaboration – the lifeblood of truly 21st century organizations.

Nancy Southern, Organizational Systems Program, Saybrook University, Organizational Systems, What Leaders Need to Know,

Respect Others and Build on Differences

David Archer and Alex Cameron in their book Collaborative Leadership: How to succeed in an interconnected world, identify the basic task of the collaborative leader as the delivery of results across boundaries between different organisations. They say “Getting value from difference is at the heart of the collaborative leader’s task… they have to learn to share control, and to trust a partner to deliver, even though that partner may operate very differently from themselves.”[4], Collaborative Leadership

Align Goals and Accomplish a Shared Outcome

Collaborative success depends on trust, and trust depends on good communication. Collaborative leaders must not only be clear about their own goals, they must also understand and respect their collaborative partners’ goals in order to find ways to bring these diverse goals into alignment.

Rick Lash, The Collaboration Imperative, Ivey Business Journal,

Hank Rubin author and President of the Institute of Collaborative Leadership has written “A collaboration is a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome.” In his book “Collaborative Leadership: Developing Effective Partnerships for Communities and Schools” Rubin asks “Who is a collaborative leader?” and answers “You are a collaborative leader once you have accepted responsibility for building – or helping to ensure the success of – a heterogeneous team to accomplish a shared purpose ., Collaborative Leadership

Continuously Learn and Adapt

In the years ahead volatility and uncertainty will tyrannize markets, and companies will need leaders who are highly adaptive, continuous learners, able to lead diverse groups across functional disciplines, regions and cultures.

Rick Lash, The Collaboration Imperative, Ivey Business Journal,

The journey to a collaborative way of working is a daily challenge of learning and transformation., What is Collaboration?

Learning how to lead collaboratively will stretch us and transform how we work. We will need to learn continuously and become comfortable with not having the answers and not controlling the process. We will need to build trust across boundaries. While we will not have the answers ourselves, using collaborative leadership we will discover them together.

Related Posts: 

Complexity, Creativity and Collaboration, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

What is Creativity, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

10 Reasons to Embrace Complexity, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog


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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

What is Creativity?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Creativity?

In the leadership development world, creativity is currently getting a great deal of attention. But what is it? Can you learn it? Is it a skill? How do we lead in ways that encourage it?

When we explore the question “What is creativity?” from a thinking and learning point of view, an open and active mind is clearly required – one that can see new possibilities. But is there more to it than that? This post explores the variables that make up what we think of as “creativity.”


Creativity is studied across a number of disciplines, and according to Wikipedia:

“Scholarly interest in creativity ranges widely…Creativity and creative acts are therefore studied across several disciplines – psychologycognitive scienceeducationphilosophy (particularly philosophy of science), technologytheologysociologylinguisticsbusiness studies, and economics. As a result, there are a multitude of definitions and approaches.”


Is it A Skill or a Mindset?

Can you learn “creativity” as a skill? According to John Maxwell in his book Thinking for a Change, creativity is not a single skill or attribute, but a mindset that embraces a broad array of different things including Ambiguity, Learning, Possibility, Connecting, Ideas, Options, Exploring Gaps and Inconsistencies, the Offbeat, and Failure.

In his book The Evolving Self; A Psychology for the Third Millennium, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reflects on the limits of reason and says “We must foster intuition to anticipate changes before they occur; empathy to understand that which cannot clearly be expressed; wisdom to see the connection between apparently unrelated events; and creativity to discover new ways of defining problems, new rules that will make it possible to adapt to the unexpected.”

Creativity, then, is as a way of thinking – a flexible, connecting mindset that helps us deal with a changing world, and keeps us nimble and adaptable.

How is it Different From Critical Thinking? 

 How does creative thinking relate to critical thinking? According to Sir Anthony Jay (Management Trainer) “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Gail Sheehy (Author) says that “creativity can be described as letting go of certainties.” 

The University of Michigan “Criticial and Creative Thinking” Page at sees criticial thinking as “the process we use to reflect on, assess and judge the assumption underlying our own and others ideas and efforts” and creative thinking as “the process we use to develop ideas that are unique, useful and worthy of further elaboration.” 

In his paper “Critical Thinking and Creativity:An Overview and Comparison of the Theories” Jean Marrapodi wrote that “Creative thinking is designed to create, and critical thinking is designed to analyze. It seems that creative thinking has aspects of critical thinking, and critical thinking has aspects of creativity.”

How Do Creative Thinkers Handle Failing?

Creativity is now seen as generating a great deal of value in our complex global society, but it requires the element of action and a tolerance for failure. In his article “Wierd Rules of Creativity: Think You Can Manage Creativity? Here’s Why You’re Wrong” Robert Sutton says that

If you want a creative organization, inaction is the worst kind of failure—and the only kind that deserves to be punished. Researcher Dean Keith Simonton provides strong evidence from multiple studies that creativity results from action. Renowned geniuses like Picasso, da Vinci, and physicist Richard Feynman didn’t succeed at a higher rate than their peers. They simply produced more, which meant that they had far more successes and failures than their unheralded colleagues.

Robert Sutton, “Wierd Rules of Creativity: Think You Can Manage Creativity? Here’s Why You’re Wrong” , Harvard Business School Working Knowledge for Business Leaders, online at

The Role of Creativity in Leadership

As leaders, we need to create an environment where learning and creativity are encouraged, where people are respectful, and where work is meaningful. In such an environment, people can actually enjoy what they’re doing.

Here are two compelling definitions  that place creativity in the context of the fun and the joy of learning:  

“Creativity is the joy of not knowing it all.” Ernie Zelinski, Creativity Expert 

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”  John Maxwell, Leadership Author

When we use our creativity, we can do our best work.  In her article “What is Creativity Anyway” Huffington Post author Jan Phillips says that “Creativity is about being fully alive, living courageously, or as the painter Joan Miro´ says, ‘Expressing with precision all the gold sparks the soul gives off.’ ”

Using our creativity is part of expressing our authenticity as leaders. Leaders who are leading authentically and using their creative capacities within ethical boundaries will find it easier to

  • stay ahead of change
  • build a loyal, productive team
  • find innovative solutions to complex problems, and
  • engage others in the work of meeting goals and advancing the organization’s vision and mission.

In his article on HBR Blog Network called “Why Are Creative Leaders So Rare?” Navi Radjou describes “a new breed of visionary and empathetic leaders who act less as commanders and more as coaches, less as managers and more as facilitators, and who foster self-respect rather that demanding respect.”

Creative Thinking Resources:

Creativity Tools,

Creativity Tools,

Tools for Creating Ideas,


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  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 


Precautionary Principle: Profiting With Care

What is the Precautionary Principle?

Simply stated, the Precautionary Principle asks us to err on the side of caution. Following the Precautionary Principle as business leaders, for example, we would avoid using product ingredients that may be harmful in addition to avoiding those that we know are harmful.

Using the Precautionary Principle we would do more than simply follow the law – we would make the decision that would be in the best long-term interests of our customers and other stakeholders.

Proactive Leadership for the Long Term

The Precautionary Principle (PP) is a proactive way for leaders to make decisions that are the best over the long term.  Using the PP, we take the long view and make decisions that offer the most protection to our company and its stakeholders.

It was originally formulated as a response to the constraints of policy and science in sufficiently addressing complex and uncertain risks and its consequences to human health and the environment (Tickner, 2003: xiii).

Rabbi Elamparo Deloso in “The Precautionary Principle: Relevance in International Law and Climate Change” a Masters Thesis in International Environmental Science, Lund University, Sweden

The Temptation to Squeeze Out Extra Profits

Using the Precautionary Principle as a basis for making decisions helps businesses avoid the temptation to squeeze out extra profits while something is “still legal.” The PP uses a  broader definition of what is “responsible” and a narrower definition of the level of  “harm” that is acceptable.

There is still some disagreement about how widely we should use the PP.  Some leaders think precaution is critical and others think it is unnecessary. Here are two examples of what can happen when we do and do not use the PP in business decisions:

Example 1: Embracing PP and Avoiding Suspected Carcinogen

Erring on the side of caution, a company using the Precautionary Principle would stop using ingredients that were suspected carcinogens rather than waiting for a series of studies that showed with certainty that they caused cancer.

Regulations often lag behind science and consumer experience. Waiting for scientific certainty and for an ingredient to be banned, a company could harm millions of people and poison the environment.

Precautionary companies would take action to avoid the harm that might take place while we were waiting to be “sure” that it was actually harmful.

Example 2: Choosing to Do Harm 

NPR did a news story on the cosmetics industry several years ago that revealed that some cosmetics manufacturers were using ingredients that were suspected of causing harm to people and had been banned in other countries. The cosmetics manufacturers were selling purer versions of their products in the tighter-regulation countries, but still selling the suspected harmful ingredients here in the U.S., where the Precautionary Principle had not yet fully been embraced.

Why would any business continue using ingredients suspected of being harmful? If they were using a narrow profit-based view of  responsibility it could easily happen. If the banned ingredients were cheaper, and they were not yet illegal in the US, then legally they could  be used.

……But is that a responsible decision?

The Importance of Profiting With Care

In a profit-based view of business responsibility, profits are not balanced against possible harm. That short-sighted view does not honor the way that we now understand our global leadership responsibilities. The world is more connected, and that connection informs consumers.

Businesses continuing to use ingredients that have been banned in some countries as possible carcinogens are finding that global shopping sites now rate them lower on ethical business.

The emergence of the PP has marked a shift from postdamage control (civil liability as a curative tool) to the level of a pre-damage control  (anticipatory measures) of risks.

The Precautionary Principle, UNESCO World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST)

Precaution is Gaining Momentum

The Precautionary Principle is gaining momentum as the way the world can best deal with risk and human and environmental safety.  Looking at ethics on a global scale, and our world as one global community, it makes sense to  many to err on the side of caution when evaluating possible harm that choices could cause.

…philosopher C. West Churchman had struggled with the question, “What is morality?” He eventually decided that morality is “what a future generation would ask us to do if they were here to ask.”

Edward Cornish in his book Futuring: The Exploration of the Future, published by the World Future Society

Global principles (developed by diverse global groups) are including precaution as a required element of responsible business.  The U.S. has now recognized the importance of Precaution as a guiding principle:

We believe: (number 12) even in the face of scientific uncertainty, society should take reasonable actions to avert risks where the potential harm to human health or the environment is thought to be serious or irreparable.

President’s Council on Sustainable Development. Sustainable America: A New Consensus, 1996, cited in The Precautionary Principle in Action: A Handbook

There are 17 international treaties and agreements that include the Precautionary Principle on pages 20-23 in The Precautionary Principle in Action: A Handbook, written by Tickner, Raffensperger and Myers for the Environmental Science Health Network.

Profitability is usually the reason that businesses continue using products after they are identified as possibly harmful or known to be harmful. At the same time that our economy struggles to regain stability, consumers are increasingly aware of how they are affected by the long-term greed of  business leaders who have chosen to ignore precaution and cause harm. Consumers are aware that if you use an ingredient or process that you know MIGHT be very harmful in the long run, then you know that you MIGHT be causing them great harm, and you are still choosing to use that ingredient.

Today’s more informed consumers are seeking businesses and products that go well beyond following laws to intentionally demonstrate a higher level of care and concern for constituents.

Because the Precautionary Principle is broad and still being interpreted, I’ve included resources below that explore the complexities of its various interpretations.

Questions For Discussion:

1. In what areas are we applying the Precautionary Principle?

2. Where are we ignoring precaution so that we can increase profits?

3. What are the likely long-term results of our decisions as shown in our responses to questions 1 and 2 above?

4. What could we do now to apply the Principle of Precaution and how could that improve our brand?

For Further Reading:

Debating the Precautionary Principle by Henk van den Belt,

“A Core Precautionary Principle” article by Stephen M. Gardiner, Philosophy, University of Washington, in The Journal of Political Philosophy

For information about cosmetic safety, see Market Shift: The Story of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and the Growth in Demand for Safe Cosmetics at


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Top 100 Thinkers in Management, Leadership and Business

Multiple “Top Thinkers” Lists

It is no surprise that there is not just one list of thinkers in management, leadership and business. There are many, and they vary in scope and topic.

Global Thinkers

Many of the best thinkers listed here are demonstrating inclusive, global thinking, the kind of thinking we need for leading ethically in a complex world.

Here is a wonderful sampling of thinkers that impact business, management and responsible leadership:

The Management A-List: The Annual Global Management Survey

The 50 Most Influential Management Gurus

Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior

Thinkers 50  (World’s top 50 business thinkers)

The World’s Most Influential Business Thinkers

Top 100 Internet of Things Thinkers

Management A-List: World’s Most Respected Management Thinkers

Thinkers 50 2011 Awards (Strategy, Global Village, Breakthrough Idea, Innovation, etc.)


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Complexity and Childhood Education

We are Beginning to Understand the Kind of Educational Leadership that Prepares Young Students for Success in Our Complex World. Many forward-thinking leaders are advocating the following educational approaches and roles that lead to creativity, learning, growth and innovation:

The Teaching Approach is more organic, flowing, rather than rigid and fixed. It is responsive and based on where the learners and learner groups need to go to take their learning to the next level.

The Teacher functions more like the “media specialist” – a supportive, human hub of information used when needed as learners explore subjects in their own way to integrate information. A human guide to “how to learn what you need to know to succeed in tomorrow’s world” and not “how to memorize” or “how to pass a test.”

The Measurement considers individual and group progress and learning, not just measurement to a “minimum standard.” We measure what we want them to do – grow, learn, deepen knowledge and understanding, think about and solve complex problems, and treat one another respectfully. Discussion of “right” and “wrong” answers is avoided. Complexity is embraced and discussed openly – when could something be right and when could it be wrong? How does thinking about the question in terms of “right and wrong” oversimplify it?

The Environment is respectful, safe, engaging and low-stress. The joy of learning is apparent and anything that can make students feel “not good enough” has been removed. People support each other’s learning and place that first, ahead of any other external measures of success. Students are encouraged to find out what they love to learn about and pursue that learning with a passion. Movement and music are used as ways to explore learning and sitting still is not considered necessary for learning to happen.

The Leadership puts the well-being of the whole child in first position when making decisions, and one of the top goals is to nurture a love for learning, fun, exploration and wonder. Leaders understand that learning is an organic process and that memorization alone does not prepare learners for life and work in our complex world. Technology and social media are embraced for their ability to help meet learner’s needs but not used as an “end” in themselves. Grades are considered a form of judgement and are used minimally or phased out in favor of measures of learning progress.

The Learner is engaged in following curiosity, developing individual gifts and talents, respecting and helping others and preparing to use individual gifts and talents in service to others as healthy and productive citizen of our global society. Basic skills are learned in that context, providing meaning and the intrinsic motivation for learners to excel. In this scenario, homework gradually becomes an outdated construct and learners have more time to explore the natural world, stay physically active and participate in community service.

The Possibilities

I believe that students are capable of achieving much more than we realize when the restrictions on learning are removed and they are free to explore our complex world with their own curiosity and love for learning. There are many courageous principals and teachers who are making these changes in their classrooms and schools, even within an educational infrastructure that is struggling to adapt to a new model of learning.

When we believe that innovative educational leadership is attainable – instead of accepting things as they are – everything changes.

Sources for Learning:

Linda Fisher Thornton is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is also CEO/Owner of Leading in Context LLC, a consulting firm helping business leaders lead responsibly in a complex world.  Her background includes:

  • Executive Leadership Experience as Chief Learning Officer of a Virginia Bank
  • 26 Year Record of Engaging Training Design, Curriculum Planning and Group Facilitation 
  • Bachelors Degree in Communication and Linguistics from the University of Virginia
  • Masters Degree in Adult Education and Human Development from George Washington University
  • Award-Winning History of  Community Service and Training Relevance


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Responsible Management Education: UN Principles

What is the Purpose of Management Education? 

The purpose of management education is obviously to develop capable and responsible managers. But what does that mean?

Does it mean:

  • Responsible profitability?
  • Service to society?
  • Economic development?
  • Sustainability?

How Do We Know What to Teach?

The UN Principles for Responsible Management Education guide us so that we can be sure that we are incorporating the global principles of  responsible management into our teaching and training. They provide clarity about the values we should focus on when teaching managers.

Principle 1 provides a great deal of clarity about the purpose and scope of our teaching:

Principle 1 | Purpose: We will develop the capabilities of students to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large and to work for an inclusive and sustainable global economy.

United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education at

Principles 2 through 6  provide guidance about how to achieve that purpose through Values, Method, Research, Partnership and Dialogue.

Our Clear Responsibility

If we had no guidelines, we’d be left to determine just what we wanted responsible business management to mean. Because these guidelines exist for us as educators, we are now compelled to stretch beyond whatever definition of  “responsible management and leadership” we are now using to incorporate this broader global definition.

There is no longer a place for the kind of management and leadership training that teaches only how to make money while following the law. There is so much more required of us that it is irresponsible to teach only profitability and law to the exclusion of other variables like sustainability and service to society that are important for our global future.

“We urge business schools to adopt the Principles and organizations to balance their economic and social objectives.”

Declaration for the 2nd Global Forum for Responsible Management Education

As Teachers and Trainers, We Need to Be Role Models for Others

When teaching managers and leaders in universities and corporations, we need to be sure that we are teaching the global values that will serve leaders well in our connected society. When we do, we are demonstrating and modeling responsible leadership and preparing leaders to be part of the solution as we solve problems that cross organizations, continents and disciplines.

“The Principles for Responsible Management Education have the capacity to take the case for universal values and business into classrooms on every continent.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, quoted on

Questions for Discussion:

1. How well does our management and leadership education align with the UN Principles?

2. What are the major differences between what we are teaching and the UN Principles?

3. How will we realign what we do to be in line with the UN Principles?

4. How will our realignment with UN Principles help the leaders we teach be more responsible corporate and global citizens?


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

How to Use the Leading in Context® Website

The Request That Inspired This Post

“Which of your posts reg. ethics do you recommend I start with? Your site looks really rich!”

via Twitter, December 2, 2011

The Leading in Context Mission

As leaders, we all struggle to keep up with the changing workplace, and we need tools that clarify the grey areas about how to lead responsibly.

It is my hope that the engaging materials that you find here will help you lead meaningful discussions about ethical leadership in your organizations.

All of them are designed to take discussions about leadership and ethical cultures well beyond “the right thing to do” to incorporate the complexities of work life and leadership in our connected society. 

How to Use The Leading in Context® Website

Consider how you want to find information and then click a link below:

◊ To understand the evolving definition of “leading ethically” in a global society    (Read Selected Posts)
◊ To follow my curiosity    (Scan the Blog Index for titles that interest you!)
◊ To stay on top of trends, changes & emerging issues impacting leadership    (Read Selected Posts)
◊ To learn about how to think ethically    (Read Selected Posts)
◊ To develop ethical leaders in my organization    (Visit the Store)
◊ To build an ethical culture   (Read Selected Posts)


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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

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