What is Meaningful Leadership? – 4 Common Threads

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is meaningful leadership? I recently wrote a 5 part blog series exploring different facets of that question.

Part 1 of this series looked at how leaders generate meaningful environments where others can thrive. Part 2 explored a leader’s own quest for authenticity. Part 3 looked at the role of powerful conversations and a focus on relational ROI. Part 4 examined how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. Part 5 focused on how meaningful leadership makes a difference by building a better society for the future.

Common Threads

There are four common threads that emerged from exploring the topic that I want to share today.

These are ways that leaders think about and approach their role that helps them create meaningful work experiences:

  1. Thinking global – considering the full impact of decisions on a global scale
  2. Valuing authenticity – seeing the leadership role as a process of growing into higher levels of leadership, not a position of power over others
  3. Seeking collective success – working with others for the good of the group, not the good of the leader
  4. Seeing beyond portfolio growth to human growth – valuing each individual and nurturing them to reach their potential (which requires seeing well beyond the bottom line)

The Leadership Mindset

It is interesting, but not surprising, that all of these approaches rely on the leader being able to take a long-term, “self-aware but humble” view of the leadership role.

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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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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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50 Trends to Follow in 2018

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What trends will impact your business this year? Get settled in with your favorite morning brew and review these 50+ trends impacting business and leadership decisions in 2018. Adapting to these broad changes will require constant shifts in leadership direction and focus, while staying grounded in positive ethical values.

50 Trends To Follow in 2018:

Digital Trends and Observations From Davos 2018, McKinsey and Company  (5)

Tech Trends 2018, Deloitte

5 Key Sustainability Trends For 2018, Britta Wyss Bisang, Ethical Corporation

Thinking inside the subscription box: New research on e-commerce consumers
Tony Chen, Ken Fenyo, Sylvia Yang, and Jessica Zhang, McKinsey

10 Workplace Trends You’ll See in 2018, Dan Schawbel, Forbes

14 Leadership Trends That Will Shape Organizations In 2018, Forbes

5 Trends for 2019,Trendwatching.com

Top 10 Global Trends For 2018, Euromonitor International

Upcoming Megatrends 2018 Report: When Trends Converge, Doug Warner, HP

9 Technology Mega Trends That Will Change The World In 2018, Bernard Marr, Forbes

6 Retail Trends For 2018, Gabrielle Mitchell, ANZ bluenotes

Top 5 IoT trends transforming business in 2018, Chris O’Connor, IBM

Help your leadership team be ready for what’s ahead. Keep an eye on these trends and discuss what they mean for your business.


To learn how to adapt your leadership to increasing global expectations, read 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

Trust: The Force That Drives Results

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When leaders trust and are trustworthy, this brings out their best and fuels a virtuous cycle that brings out the best in others and releases the potential of the organization for great performance. 

Ethical Leaders Are Trustworthy and They Choose to Trust Others

When we choose to trust, we access a higher level of capacity in ourselves and our organizations. When we are consistently trustworthy, people know they can count on us to support their success.

How Does Trust Drive Results?

Once thought by business leaders to be “soft,” trust is now proven to be a “results-changer.” Here is a sampling of the many ways trust transforms organizations:

  • It “accelerated growth, enhanced innovation, improved collaboration, stronger partnering, better execution, and heightened loyalty.” Franklin Covey, The Business Case For Trust, SpeedofTrust.com
  • “Trust has been elevated to a C-suite issue, not an afterthought, because consumer trust converts into bottom-line benefits; in our study, half of respondents say they are willing to pay a premium for products and services from companies they trust.” Cognizant, The Business Value of Trust

To move the trust conversation forward in your organization and boost important metrics, use the 12 Principles I shared – to TAP Into Trust!

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

 

Seeing The Nuances Of Ethical Leadership (A Developmental Model)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical leadership is not a position or a task. It is a complex array of roles, relationships and processes, and yet we use one term, “ethical leadership,” to talk about it. And in using that term, we often mean different things. 

What Then is Ethical Leadership?

Why has it been so difficult for researchers to agree on a single definition of ‘ethical leadership?’ Here are some important reasons: 

  • Our understanding of responsible leadership depends on where we are in our own moral development
  • People are writing about it from many different perspectives and using many different words to describe it
  • In leadership competence there are many possible combinations 

By “many possible combinations,” I am referring to the reality that leaders are not all competent in all aspects of ethical leadership and they vary in which areas they have mastered. A leader might excel at following laws, for example, but not know how to work well with diverse groups of people. Or a leader could be great at making a short-term profit, but not good at thinking long term and protecting the planet.

A Developmental Definition

Leadership is a changing process. It is difficult to define it because as the world changes, our understanding of what it means to lead responsibly in that world changes. Because it is a changing process, it is best viewed from a developmental perspective.

Leaders need to tackle complexity directly. Oversimplified approaches to complex problems lead to high profile ethical failures. 

Leaders need a way to understand their own learning and development that helps them keep up with  increasing ethical expectations.  The developmental model outlined in by book 7 Lenses (now in its 2nd printing) frames “ethical leadership” as a developmental continuum based on these assumptions:

  1. People grow
  2. People’s understanding of leadership responsibility grows as they learn and develop as human beings
  3. The way that people view life and reality will impact their leadership philosophy
  4. Times change
  5. The standards for acceptable behavior and leadership evolve as times change
  6. The world is complex and connected
  7. The complexity and connections raise the stakes on us as leaders and require us to think using a higher level of complexity
  8. Thinking at a higher level of complexity means we can consider more constituents and more variables when making decisions

Some ways of interpreting “ethical leadership” are more responsible than others. If we are going to use the term “ethical leadership” to refer to an entire spectrum of developmental levels, we will need a way to talk about the nuances of ethical competence. Applying the 7 Lenses model gives us a way to talk about those nuances. Here are two examples:

Regardless of level or title, the most competent ethical leaders make it a priority to learn and they struggle to stay competent in all 7 dimensions of ethical responsibility as the world changes. 

How will this developmental model help you talk about the nuances of ethical leadership? 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

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© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

Fear is a Poor Advisor (Moving Us Away From Ethical Thinking To Protect Us)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When we make decisions based on FEAR, our brains switch on the lower-level processor – which makes decisions based on a FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT response. The decision-making power of that part of our brain is extremely limited, turning our thoughts to lower level responses like “RUN!” or “HIT THEM FIRST.” Obviously, ethical decisions must be based on better thinking than “RUN” and “HIT THEM FIRST.”

Fear is a Poor Advisor

Our fear response takes us into PROTECT and DEFEND mode, and that mode causes us to shelter in place, retrench and protect our own interests. It drastically restricts the breadth of our thinking and doesn’t give much energy to thinking about our impact – what our choices will do to others.

Fear may generate feelings of anger as we turn our energy to “protect and defend.” Anger, like fear, is a poor advisor that pulls us away from ethical choices. 

“Anger results in systematic processing of anger-related information and selective use of
heuristics to evaluate information… This kind of processing is less than optimal for making ethical decisions because it induces biased, risky, and retaliatory thinking (Moons & Mackie, 2007).This type of encoding and use of social information results in alimited, self-focused interpretation of the situation, which has the potential to result in retaliatory or self-serving behaviors.” (Lenhart & Rabiner, 1995).

The Influence of Anger, Fear, and Emotion Regulation on Ethical Decision Making, Human Performance,Vol. 26, Iss. 4, 2013
According to the University of Lausanne video, Unethical Decision Making in Organizations“Fear is an emotion that works at high speed without involving reason. “  “Fear… may ultimately lead to ethical blindness.” In a way, it’s like snow blindness, when you can only see snow in all directions and lose your bearings. When the dominant emotion is fear, people lose their ethical grounding and may quickly wander away from the organization’s values. It’s not a conscious choice, since their brains have automatically switched to lower-level decision making to protect them from real or perceived harm. Fear creates a blindness that blocks our ability to see past the immediate threat. 
Ethical Leadership is a Fear-Free ZoneGreat leaders build trust and work hard to remove fear from the workplace. We know that fear works against efforts to maintain an ethical culture. Creating a fear-free zone should be a top leadership priority in organizations wanting to protect reputation and ethical brand value. 
Ethical Thinking is Intentional.Before you make key decisions this week, be sure fear isn’t blinding you to ethical consequences. To make sure it doesn’t happen to others, take the time to talk with your team. Ask them “Are we working in a fear-free zone?” “What could we do to improve?” “How well are we staying grounded in the ethical values our organization says are important?”

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Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

5 Years of Top Posts: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m sharing selected Top Posts By Year from the Leading in Context Blog. It’s a time capsule of the issues you thought were most important over the last 5 years. For each year, I have selected a theme that reflects the topics and focus of the top posts.          

2017: Adapting To Increasing Stakeholder Expectations

Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

Ethical Leadership is About Service, Not Privilege

Ethical Leadership: The “On” Switch For Adaptability

Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

2016: Understanding Leader Roles, Responsibilities & Relationships

10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Great Leaders are Other-Focused

The Future of Learning Isn’t About “Knowing”

2015: Becoming Our Ethical Best

Imagining the Future of Leadership

Just Say No to 10 Behaviors That Kill Competence

40 Ways to Build an Ethical Culture (An Ethical To Do List)

2014: Changing Ethical Leadership Expectations

10 Forces Fueling the Values-Based Leadership Movement

Understanding (And Preventing) Ethical Leadership Failures

What is the Ultimate Goal of Leadership?

2013 Theme: Leading Through Complexity While Building Trust

Dealing With Complexity in Leadership

Should Trust Be Freely Offered or Conditionally Earned?

Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

These top posts are ones that readers found most useful. There will be many more compelling articles about ethical thinking and leadership coming in 2018. New posts are published weekly at LeadinginContext.com/Blog. If there are topics you want to learn more about in 2018, please suggest them in the comments!

 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

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© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

Ethics codes and manuals are detailed but don’t provide high level direction on how to apply ethical values to decisions and actions. To make matters worse, the way we teach ethics is often low level, only based on laws and regulations, or oversimplified, describing whether something is “ethical or not” without exploring its ethical dimensions. 

Col Fernando Giancotti says in Strategic Leadership and the Narrow Mind: What We Don’t Do Well and Why – “Stepping up to a more comprehensive, less fragile ethic than the “good or bad” one is necessary to induce ethical, and not cynical, answers to the ambiguity and contradictions of our era.”

Leaders need a coherent ethical framework to help them navigate global and ethical complexity 

Giving leaders a robust framework for understanding ethical issues and choices is a must. The framework leaders use should be easy to remember so that they can recall it when they don’t have their materials at hand. They can’t lead well in a highly complex evolving global society without it. Here are some of the powerful benefits we gain when we meet the leadership need at a high enough level: 

Helps Leaders Remember and Apply Learning

“Coherence: Every part fits together. Every recall re-embeds the whole map.”

— David Rock, Why Leadership Development is Broken & How To Fix It Webinar, 2017

Avoids Guesswork

“What’s important is that having an ethical framework provides you with a basis for making difficult ethical decisions, rather than leaving you to struggle with each separate decision in a vacuum. It’s like the difference between building a house from a set of plans, and building it from guesswork, one piece of wood at a time.”

The Community Tool Box Chapter 8: Ethical Leadership,  Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas.

Provides a Clear Basis For Decision Making

“Ethical reasoning is hard because there are so many ways to fail…. Individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of the steps are completed, they are not likely to behave in an ethical way, regardless of the amount of training they have received in ethics, and regardless of their levels of other types of skills.”

Robert J. Sternberg, Cornell University, Developing ethical reasoning and/or ethical decision making

Fills The Gap Between “Wanting to Do the Right Thing” and “Knowing How”

“That persons with management responsibility must find the principles to resolve conflicting ethical claims in their own minds and hearts is an unwelcome discovery. Most of us keep quiet about it.”

Ethics in Practice, Kenneth R. Andrews, Harvard Business Review

Piecemeal leadership development, with no connection to a coherent framework, doesn’t “stick.” Worse, if we teach leadership and ethics separately, we can’t expect leaders to figure out how to integrate the principles on their own. Leadership development is only coherent if the ethical values are built in. 

Read the Next Post in the Series: Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

 

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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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Are You Leaving a Positive Legacy? (10 Questions Across 5 Dimensions)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

When we think about leadership in the “here and now” we tend to think about what will be most effective in the short run. When we think about our leadership over decades, though. we can turn our attention to the longer-term impact we have on others – our positive legacy. 

Long-term thinking (or the failure to apply it) can make or break our efforts to leave a positive legacy. In effective leadership, we look beyond our own interests and reflect on how we will generate a positive impact on others over time through our daily decisions and actions. 

5 Dimensions Of Our Leadership Legacy

Our positive legacy is typically discussed as a “thing” but there is more nuance than that descirption implies. This post explores five dimensions that help us understand and improve our leadership legacy. 

Reflect on the legacy you are leaving by asking yourself these 10 questions across 5 important dimensions of leadership. 

1. Personal Legacy

How am I having a positive impact on individuals through my leadership now?

How do I improve the lives of those I lead?

2. Interpersonal Legacy

How do I model the positive interpersonal behavior that leads to better workplaces and communities?

How do I teach others to promote respect, inclusion and a peaceful global society?

3. Organizational Legacy

How do I set high standard for leadership in the organizations I serve?

How do I solve problems, remove roadblocks and otherwise improve the organizations I serve?

4. Community Legacy

How do I magnify and support the positive impact of other people’s contributions to communities?

How do I leave communities better than I found them?

5. Greater Good Legacy

How do I influence the course of human events in a positive way?

How do I make life better on our planet for future generations, leaving a positive legacy long after I am gone?

Our Legacy Compounds

As we lead, we should not overestimate our own importance. The greatest leadership legacy is achieved by preparing others to do great things. This generates a positive ripple effect that multiplies and compounds the positive impact of our leadership. 

Don’t leave your legacy to chance as you manage the many tasks of the new year. Take a moment to reflect on your leadership strengths and choose a dimension (of the 5 above) where you can improve your leadership this year. 

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Top 10 Posts 2017: Leading in Context Blog

 

 

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Of the 52 posts published on the Leading in Context Blog in 2017, these 10 were the most popular. See if you notice a theme that connects these topics that readers accessed most frequently:

Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

Ethical Leadership is About Service, Not Privilege

Ethical Leadership: The “On” Switch For Adaptability

Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

4 Connected Trends Shaping the Future of Leadership

The Evolving Purpose of Leadership: Why More is Expected Now

Yes, Leaders: Behavior Matters

5 Sites For Globally Responsible Business Leadership

Is Our Leadership “Good?”

If I had to pick a theme for these posts that were most popular in 2017, it would be “Leaders Adapt to Rising Stakeholder Expectations.” Which 2017 post was your favorite? If you have ethical leadership topics you want to learn more about in 2018, comment on this post, or tweet your idea to @leadingincontxt!

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Rethinking “Smart” Leadership in an Ethical Context

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m looking at what it means to be a “smart” leader through the 7 Lenses (introduced in the book 7 Lenses) to get the full ethical context. Take note: You can do this with any idea, concept or project to better understand the ethical nuances.

Lens 1 Profit

“Smart” means making as much money as you can (which has no ethical grounding).

Lens 2 Law

“Smart” means avoiding punishments and penalties and taking advantage of loopholes for maximum gain (which isn’t leading with values).

Lens 3 Character

“Smart” means always thinking from a grounding in personal ethical values and ethical awareness.

Lens 4 People

“Smart” means being aware of our impact on a diverse group of others, working hard to benefit them and avoid harm.

Lens 5 Communities

“Smart” means pulling the community together and improving the lives of the people who live there.

Lens 6 Planet

“Smart” means protecting the planet, nature and ecosystems for our future well-being.

Lens 7 Greater Good

“Smart” means making life better for future generations.

Seeing the Whole Picture

Looking through these 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility, we see a picture that matches the highest levels of corporate social responsibility. We begin to realize that “smart leadership” includes acting on all of these lenses at the same time. This practical multi-lens perspective shows us the nuances of how we need to respond to our stakeholders and handle our ethical challenges. 

Click on the book cover below to see a preview and consider how this way of thinking could move your organization’s metrics (see Chapter 2 for details).

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The Trouble With Certainty

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders may think that being decisive and “sure of things” helps them succeed, but if they do, they may be harboring an outdated view of leadership.

What has changed about how we see leadership and certainty? 

Being certain carries with it the connotation of not engaging others in the conversation and using one-way communication. It evokes images of an iron fist pounding on a desk, not a leader who enjoys “working beside” a talented and diverse team.

Imagining a leader who’s “certain,” we may think about someone who operates as a lone wolf or someone who is holding fast to an outdated world view and refusing to adapt as the world changes. 

The Quest For Uncertainty

Whereas certainty is “out,” uncertainty is the new hallmark of great leadership. Uncertain leaders ask more questions and engage more stakeholders. They see value in dialogue and in the somewhat messy but always interesting process of learning. Uncertain leaders know that the minute they become “certain” and unwilling to adapt to change, they are at risk of making an ethical mistake. 

When is certainty a good thing in a global environment?

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. 

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Do Laws Set the Standard For Ethics?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Do Laws Set the Standard For Ethics?” may be a simple question, but the answer is complicated. They do and they don’t set the standard. 

Laws set the MINIMUM standard for ethical behavior. This is the level that I call the punishment threshold. If your behavior drops below this level, you will be fined, sanctioned, sent to jail, or otherwise punished. The reason there are punishments when laws are violated is because they are considered the rock bottom of what we should be able to expect from people. Obviously, we don’t want everyone behaving at this level. 

Ethical values set the OPTIMAL standard for ethical behavior. They define the desired behaviors – what we want people to do. Applying ethical values requires a broad understanding of our responsibilities and a willingness to take responsibility for our role in the workplace and society. 

No one should use “following laws” as a measure of their good citizenship. It’s ethical values that are the true measure of leaders and organizations.

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