Talking About What Matters (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

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

Talking About What Matters

In the post Talking About What Matters (Part 1) I explored how talking about ethical values engages people, helps them find meaning and improves the organization’s metrics. In Talking About What Matters (Part 2), I explored how leaders need to “not have the answers” and be ready to engage in conversations about applying values. 

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

Questions to Ask

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

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

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

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

Leading In The “Figure It Out Space”

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

 

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Reflections on Truth: Why Is It So Elusive?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Why Is The “Truth” So Elusive?

Last summer, I explored what great thinkers have said about truth in this post: Reflections on Truth: Are You a Seeker?  Today I’m going to dig a little deeper into the question “What is truth?”

I found the BBC radio show A Brief History of the Truth that explores the question across time to give us a broader understanding. It turns out that (according to American satirist Joe Queenan) people have had problems with the truth since the time of ancient civilizations. The broadcast is mostly humorous, but I loved this seriously insightful statement:

“Reality is very complicated. No one perspective on the world can capture everything. So when people talk about “the truth,” often the mistake they’re making is that they’re thinking you can capture everything that’s important about the truth only from one perspective.”

Heard on the BBC radio show “A Brief History of the Truth

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

How Do We Find It?

  • Look beyond the soundbite. Since one perspective won’t give us the answer, we will need to use various perspectives.
  • Look beyond our current beliefs and assumptions. We can’t see from multiple perspectives if all we can see is our current beliefs and assumptions, so we’ll need to assume we only have part of the picture.
  • Look beyond the most convenient answer. Since we may tend to see things in our own favor, we will need to assume that the most convenient answer for us is not necessarily the real answer.
  • Bring our curiosity and be open to new insights. If we are going to move past our own beliefs and assumptions and the most convenient answer, we’ll need to remain curious and open to new information that may profoundly change our understanding of the issue.

If you are trying to resolve a problem with a group, seeing the “truth” from the perspective of each person on the team will lead you to mutually beneficial solutions. Take a hard look at your “truth.” Is it one-dimensional, or open to learning about the other perspectives that will give you the whole picture? 

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The Missing Domain: Ethical Thinking

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Using the commonly taught types of thinking is very useful in life, and helps us be better professionals and business people. But there’s a catch.

Critical thinking can help you understand why a problem happened. It won’t help you find the most ethical solution to the problem once you identify it.

Creative thinking can help you figure your way out of a business challenge. It won’t keep you within the lines of appropriate and responsible behavior.

Design thinking can help you create amazing interactive technologies. It won’t help you resolve the new ethical issues those innovative technologies generate.

Even if we’re using all three types of thinking in our leadership, there is something important missing. 

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

C. S. Lewis

This quote from C. S. Lewis reminds us that values are necessary for higher level decisions and actions. They help us overcome selfish tendencies and guide us to consider how our choices will impact others. 

It Guides Responsible Behavior

Learning ethical thinking is an important part of human development, but many schools continue to teach subjects without it. 

It Helps Prevent Ethical Mistakes

Ethical thinking is central to many organization’s leader hiring process, but often left out as a grounding theme in leadership development. If your leadership development is not ethics-rich, here’s the big question. 

It’s Our Job 

Why are we teaching a high level understanding of subjects without teaching the ethical thinking to responsibly apply what people learn?

Why are people learning ethical thinking the hard way by making ethical mistakes we could be helping them prevent?

It’s our job as leaders to fill in the critically needed missing domain.

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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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9 Ethical Roles: Is Your Leadership Team “All In”


By Linda Fisher Thornton

I blogged a while back about the Critical Roles of the (Ethical) CEO. I realized later that these important ethical roles apply not just to CEOs, but also to all senior leaders in an organization. And if front line leaders don’t carry these roles throughout the organization, there will be gaps in the culture. 

An ethical culture will only happen if the leadership team is “All In.” 

We should prepare leaders to take on these 9 important roles, to help them be “All In” in the quest for ethical culture building: 

Critical Roles of the Ethical Leader

Ethical Leadership Role Model

High Level Trust-Builder

Champion For Ethical Values

Ethical Prevention Advocate

Highest Leader Accountable For Ethics

Accountability Consistency Monitor

Ethics Dialogue Leader

Ethical Decision-Making Coach

Ethical Culture Builder

Through these important roles, leaders communicate, model and coach ethical thinking and action. That process increases the ethical capability of the organization over time, protects it from problems, and keeps the work environment positive.

Is your leadership team “All In” in taking on these roles and championing ethics throughout the organization? Help each leader develop the skills and confidence to handle these important roles. 

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The Evolving Purpose of Leadership: Why More is Expected Now

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What ever happened to transactional leadership and what has taken its place? How is our understanding of the purpose of leadership changing? Where is it headed?

In this video, I explain our evolving understanding of the purpose of leadership, and provide a context that explains why more is expected of leaders now. This trend update is based on Part 3 of my book 7 Lenses

Leaders across industries are stretching to meet expectations as the bar continues to be raised. Understanding the trends can help us get there.

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Your Guide to the Ethical Leadership Journey

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Are You Squeezing Every Drop Out of Your Talent?

When-the-leader-improves (1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

You may have thought this post was going to be about how to get people to do more and to achieve more.  It is about that, but not in the way you might think. In my experience, when the leader improves, everybody can do more. Bear with me as I describe for you how you can get the most out of your people by squeezing every drop out of your own talent and potential.

Think about how carefully you squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, or finish the last bit of orange juice before recycling the container. You want to get every drop, right? Applying that same mentality to your leadership, you’ll want to get the most out of it that you possibly can, by:

  • Learning proactively
  • Keeping up with changing leadership expectations
  • Staying competent in every aspect of your work
  • Reaching for your ethical best and setting a good example for others to follow
  • Asking your team how you can improve your leadership, and learning how to live up to their expectations

When you put consistent effort into leading, and work to get more out of your own talent, everyone on your team benefits. The results can be extraordinary. While it may seem counter-intuitive, squeezing every drop out of OUR leadership talent is what brings out THEIR best performance.

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10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 2)

Trust-and-responsibility

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Previously, I blogged about the first 5 of 10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing, and today I want to explore 5 more. These changes reflect a growing awareness that leadership never was about the leader – it is about how the leader takes responsibility and enables the success of others.

I guess we could say that some people got caught up in the perks of leadership and forgot about the service part and the need to take ethical responsibility. Well, some of those leadership perks are disappearing (like the corner office). 

Here are 5 more ways the leadership relationship is changing to favor those who leaders serve:

6.  From keeping production high to attracting and keeping top talent (who will keep production high)

7.  From telling to asking, involving, thinking together

8.  From an “open door policy” to “no door workspaces”

9.  From position power to competence and contribution power

10. From “do as I say, not as I do” to “Let me show you how” (demonstrating company values and ethics codes)

Trust and responsibility are the scaffolding underneath positive workplace relationships. The test of our leadership is not how well we handle tasks and direct people, but how well we build high-trust workplaces where everyone can work at their best.

All 10 of these changes in the leadership relationship reflect a new leadership mindset that is more ethically developed. The changing leadership relationship requires us to put ego aside and work for the good of those we lead and serve. After all, leadership is relational. It’s not about us. It’s about how well we bring the best in others.

 

 

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Advice For Leaders: John Mattone Blog Interview

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I am honored to share with you an Expert Interview that I did for the John Mattone Blog at JohnMattone.com. This interview explores my business journey and includes advice for leaders about learning and applying ethical leadership.

It addresses issues that concern leaders including:

  • qualities of ethical leaders
  • the multidimensional nature of ethical leadership
  • learning ethical thinking
  • identifying ethical leaders, and 
  • measuring leadership success.

Check out the article at the link below!

Expert Interview With Linda Fisher Thornton on the John Mattone Blog

 

 

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

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50 Ways To Lead For Trust (Part 1)

Lead-With-Ethical-Values

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This post is the first in a series on practical ways to lead that build trust. See how many of the first fifteen you incorporate into your daily leadership:

1. Care

2. Ask

3. Support

4. Be Available50-Ways-to-Lead-For-Trust

5. Be Consistent

6. Be Honest

7. Be Reliable

8. Be Understanding

9. Think Long Term

10. Build Positive Relationships

11. Be Humble

12. Always Keep Learning

13. Ask Those You Lead How You Can Improve (and Then Do It)

14. Meet the Standards You Expect of Others

15. Lead With Ethical Values

Pick one of these fifteen important trust-building actions to improve this month. Your team deserves it!

 

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5 Warning Signs Of Oversimplified Ethics

 

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders and organizations can get into real trouble if they oversimplify ethics. Some examples of what that might look like include dormant ethics statements (that look good on paper but are not brought to life) and grandiose statements (that are vague and not well understood). 

Here are 5 warning signs to watch for that signal an oversimplified approach to ethics:

5 Warning Signs Of Oversimplified Ethics

1. Ethical values are communicated, but never explained or practiced.

2. Ethics is thought of as a program or a requirement, not a way of thinking and acting.

3. Ethical values and ethical learning are treated as separate from the core mission of the organization,

4. Discussions about ethical grey areas are quickly discouraged.

5. Ethics training and leadership training are separate (which won’t prepare leaders to make ethical decisions in their daily work).

To make the boundaries of ethics clear, we need to explore the borders and grey areas. Trying to make things CLEAR and keeping them SIMPLE are not at all the same.

 

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 Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future 

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There Are No Quick Fixes For Ethics

 

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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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Leaders: Is Respect Enough?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Respectful behavior makes it possible for people to work together successfully. But when we ask the teams we lead to be respectful, I wonder if we’re aiming too low. Shouldn’t we be asking for more? 

Are we just settling for “avoiding conflict and tension?” Are we missing an opportunity to teach those we lead that respect is the minimum standard for workplace behavior, and that there is so much more?

Respect is incredibly important. In the quest to create workplaces where people can find meaning and do their best work, I believe that we need to aim much higher. We need to teach people what it means to genuinely care about others and support their success. We need to show them how to be in service in the world. That’s real ethical leadership. Are you aiming high enough?

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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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Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

Modeling Ethical Behavior

By Linda Fisher Thornton

As leaders, we are not working in isolation. What we do sets the tone for what employees do. Because we are leading them, they will tend to follow and learn from our choices. What kinds of choices do we need to make to ensure that employees make ethical choices in their daily work? What does it look like when we effectively model ethical leadership?

The Manifesto

“We model ethical leadership and behavior. We realize that we can only bring out the best in those we lead when we embrace continuous learning. We know that our role is to listen, learn and improve, serving as a role model for what ethical behavior looks like. We learn just as much as we teach. We listen deeply to others, not sharing our own thinking without regard to theirs. We model ethical leadership, with our thoughts, words and deeds in full alignment. We are open to learning and model the ethical behavior we ask of others.

The Leading in Context® Manifesto

Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

How important is it to model ethical behavior? Think about the combined impact when everyone you lead follows your example. If your example is positive, then you get abundant ethical behavior. If your example is negative, then you get abundant unethical behavior.

It is simultaneously a burden and an opportunity for us as leaders to model ethical behavior. It is a burden in that we must work hard to ensure that we are modeling the highest ethics. It is an opportunity in that modeling ethical behavior brings out the best in us and those we lead.

A leader’s ethical shortcomings are magnified throughout the organization. However, consider that the same is true for ethical improvements. What could happen if you intentionally worked to improve the ethics of your day-to-day choices? The ripple effect that your improvement would generate would improve the ethics of many others. That’s the magnified impact of ethical modeling.

 

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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 
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