What Are You Talking About (Ethically Speaking)?


By Linda Fisher Thornton

There are many layers of meaning in ethics conversations. How far down are you going? Do you stop at surface messages or do you dig into real problems? See if you can find your ethics conversations below:

Layers of Ethical Conversation



Corporate Messages

Marketing Slogans

Posters About Ethics and Integrity


Ethics Codes

Ethics Training


Tackling Real-Life Dilemmas That Are Difficult To Handle

How to Apply Ethics Expectations in Grey Areas and Between the Lines

What We Do Around Here When We Don’t Know the Right Thing to Do


Don’t lock down the ethics conversation at Surface and Standards. The level of Reality is where your employees want to talk about ethics. Don’t believe it? Just ask them. 

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

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40 Ethical Culture Gaps To Avoid


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders set the tone for how ethical values are applied. They mentor those they lead, and serve as positive role models. It is not enough, though. for them to talk about ethical values, model what they look like in action and mentor others. They must also fiercely protect the ethical dynamics within their organizations. They are also the caretakers of ethical culture.

Leaders are the tireless caretakers of ethical culture.

There are many types of ethical culture problems. Each one can cause trouble on its own. When several are at play, watch out – the organization is at risk of ethical failure. 

Use this list of 40 Gaps to Avoid to assess your culture. These are warning signs that your ethical culture is at risk. Put a check mark beside any that you have observed in your organization. 

40 Ethical Culture Gaps To Avoid

  1. ___Boring Ethics Training
  2. ___Compliance Mindset Instead of Values Mindset
  3. ___Controlling or Fear-Based Leadership
  4. ___Crowd Following, Regardless of the Ethical Implications
  5. ___Entitlement Mentality
  6. ___Failure to Build and Protect Trust
  7. ___Failure to Enforce Ethics Expectations
  8. ___Failure to Recognize and Praise Ethical Actions
  9. ___Failure to Recognize and Punish Unethical Actions
  10. ___Failure of Top Leaders to Take Responsibility For Actions
  11. ___Firing Scapegoats Instead of Fixing the Culture and Leadership
  12. ___Ignoring Boundaries
  13. ___Ignoring Complexity of Work and Complexity of Ethical Issues 
  14. ___Ignoring Customer and/or Employee Feedback
  15. ___Intentionally Causing Harm
  16. ___Lack of Accountability
  17. ___Lack of Care and Respect for People
  18. ___Lack of Clarity About What Ethics Means in the Organization
  19. ___Lack of Commitment to Protect the Planet
  20. ___Lack of a Moral Compass
  21. ___Lack of Performance System Integration
  22. ___Lack of Positive Role Models
  23. ___Lack of Relevant Ethics Training
  24. ___Lack of Transparency
  25. ___Leaders Not Aware of Increasing Ethical Expectations
  26. ___Leaders Not Staying Competent as Times Change
  27. ___Linear Problem-Solving
  28. ___Marketing an Organization as Ethical When It’s Not
  29. ___No Code of Ethics
  30. ___No Performance Guidelines or Boundaries For Behavior
  31. ___No Safe Space to Discuss Ethical Grey Areas
  32. ___Oversimplified Conversations About Ethics
  33. ___Oversimplified Decision-Making That Leaves Out Ethics
  34. ___Oversimplified Definition of “Ethical” (“Do the Right Thing”)
  35. ___Power Plays by Top Leaders Instead of Open Communication and Involvement
  36. ___Singular Focus on Profitability and Results
  37. ___Treating Ethics as an Event, Class, or Task Rather Than an Ongoing Priority
  38. ___Unintentionally Harming Constituents
  39. ___Vague Messages About Ethics and Values
  40. ___Widespread Acceptance That Unethical Behavior and Decisions Are “The Way Things Are Around Here”

Leaders need to be the “cultural caretakers,” always on the lookout for ways to improve the ethical dynamics in their organizations. Preventing these 40 Ethical Culture Gaps is a great start. 


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Imagining The Future Of Leadership


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Learning At 2,400 Tweets Per Hour

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to co-host the live #LeadWithGiants Tweetchat with @DanVForbes on January 19, 2015. The topic was “The Future of Leadership,” and the live chat trended on Twitter at about 2,400 Tweets per hour.

Many thanks to the #LeadWithGiants community members who participated in the discussion. Please note that I considered quoting individual Tweets, but there were so many good ones that I couldn’t narrow down which ones to feature! A link to the Tweetchat recap is provided below. Feel free to comment with more of your favorite insights from the conversation. 

During the Tweetchat, inspiring global voices weighed in on big questions, including these:

  • What will the future of leadership be like?
  • What is the best case scenario for the future of leadership?
  • How will we individually and collectively reach that best case scenario?

Envisioning Leadership Future

Here are some of the predictive insights shared during the discussion:

1. The future of leadership is globally collaborative and inclusive – communication, relationships and trust will be crucial.

2. Inspiring others through our leadership will not be about our words, it will be about our actions.

3. We will need to continually learn, stretch beyond our comfort zones, tackle complexity and adapt to rapid global change.

4. We will need to carefully balance our use of technology with maintaining human connections.

5. We must dig deeper and aim higher, taking daily steps to become the leader needed in a globally connected society.

6. We can take actions every day, no matter how small, to add value to the lives and work of others.

7. We must stand up for what is right, even when that perspective is unpopular.

8. Old rules will not apply and old mindsets will have to go.

9. We will need to deeply engage others in working toward shared goals, and develop them to be ready for future roles.

10. It will help to align ourselves with others who share this journey and provide positive support.

11. Without self-awareness, we will not succeed…

A Best Case Scenario

I believe that this is a possible best case scenario for the future of leadership:

When we say “leadership,” that term will include ethical responsibilities along with opportunities and benefits. “Leading” will be a positive term that will imply leading in the way that we want others to go, leading ethically, and leading in the way that creates a better future. With a clear picture of what responsible leadership looks like, unethical leadership will not be tolerated and will be less common. 

People who aspire to lead others will be drawn to the role by the opportunity to bring out the best in others (individually and collectively). 

Let’s actively create this best case scenario for the future of leadership through the choices we make today.

About the Tweetchat

A recap of “The Future of Leadership” #LeadWithGiants chat is here. Dan V. Forbes hosts #LeadWithGiants Mondays, 7 pm ET. 

My Journey: On April 1, 2010, I said the words ” I will never go on Twitter.” Later that same day, I started Tweeting. Read the story in my post “Leaders and Social Media: 5 Reasons to Engage.”


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Critical Roles of the (Ethical) CEO


By Linda Fisher Thornton

There have been many stories about unethical CEOs in the news, but not as many about the good ones. That’s a shame, because the ethical CEO is a positive powerhouse – devoted to serving employees, customers, and communities. I thought it would be helpful to describe some of the critical functions of the ethical CEO that enable organizational success. Intentionally investing in these roles creates the kind of workplaces that attract top employees and devoted customers. 

Critical Roles of the (Ethical) CEO

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

There are many other things that CEOs do besides the roles listed here, but these are particularly important for creating ethical high-trust cultures. The ethical CEO knows these roles should never be ignored when other pressures loom. The reason? Investing in these roles every day (while doing other things) greatly reduces the need for handling crises later.

Ethical CEOs know that ethical prevention, open dialogue and intentional trust-building are keys that unlock great organizational performance. Besides that, it’s much easier to help leaders wrestle with ethical problems in real-time than it is to clean up messes when there is a visible ethical mistake.

Don’t leave organizational ethics to chance.  Ethical cultures need these roles, and the best ethical CEOs tackle them earnestly. Are these roles included in the CEO’s job description in your organization?


522For 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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership

Toxic Culture 2By Linda Fisher Thornton

A reader commented on the post Can A Toxic Leader Be Ethical? Yes and No  requesting more information about the organizational side-effects of toxic leadership. If you have ever worked for a toxic leader (myself included) you have already experienced the powerful negative side effects first-hand.

When people are treated as “less than human,” “less than capable” or as “pawns in a game” some extremely negative things happen in the organization that derail its success. Attempts to control what people do and say makes them feel inadequate and unappreciated. Withholding information to preserve power creates an environment of suspicion. 

The effects of these behaviors over time is numbing. The downward effect on morale and productivity is easily visible in the fear, frustration and uncertainty on people’s faces. 

13 (Culture-Numbing) Side Effects of Toxic Leadership on Organizational Culture

  1. Low productivity

  2. Low morale

  3. Rampant fear

  4. High stress

  5. Decreased learning

  6. Employees becoming detached and insulated to protect themselves

  7. Detached employees help each other less and don’t communicate as proactively

  8. Lack of proactive communication and teamwork leads to diminished company reputation

  9. Employees fail to find meaning in their work

  10. People dread what each day may bring

  11. Trust in each other and in the organization is lost

  12. People leave, generating high turnover

  13. The ripple effect from #1-12 above leads to deteriorating organizational results

Toxic leadership is unethical. It harms people, groups and organizations. The side effects are crippling. We must carefully prevent this kind of un-leadership from happening in our organizations.

To learn more, see Can a Toxic Leader Be Ethical? Yes and No . You may also enjoy Marla Gottschalk’s article Managers Beware: What Toxic “Jane” or “Joe” Can Do To Your Team.


522For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2014 Leading in Context LLC 

10 Ways Leading With Ethics is Transformational

10 Ways

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What are some of the ways that ethical leadership transforms people and brings out their best? And how does bringing out people’s best transform organizations?

Here is a list of 10 ways, inspired by the participants in the Leading With Ethics #leadfromwithin Tweetchat that I co-hosted with @LollyDaskal earlier this month.

10 Ways Leading With Ethics is Transformational

1.  It brings out people’s best by creating a safe work environment where everyone can do great work.

2.  It helps people pursue a higher purpose, and makes work meaningful and fun.

3.  It creates a supportive environment that helps people learn and grow.

4.  It develops employees who understand why ethics is so important and who tend to make good choices.

5.  It develops ethical leaders who foster respectful behavior and know how to build high-trust cultures.

6.  It reduces fear by making it clear that negative interpersonal behavior is not permitted.

7.  It lets people know where they stand, and how much they are valued.

8.  It creates a culture where ethical choices and integrity are the norm.

9.  It makes treating all stakeholders with care the minimum expectation.

10. It makes conversations about things that matter part of daily life.

Ethical cultures are mutually beneficial for leaders, employees, customers and other stakeholders. Work environments with ethics as a core value tend to bring out the best in people. The Ethics Resource Center finds that employees in ethical cultures are more loyal, feel more engaged in their work, and are more committed to their companies.

According to The SHRM Foundation Report Shaping an Ethical Workplace Culture “The most effective ethical workplace cultures weave ethical values seamlessly into every aspect of their work…Simply put: High ethics creates high trust. High trust creates great performance.”

How many of these 10 ethical practices are you implementing in your daily leadership?




For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014  Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 

Global-Minded Ethical Leadership

On a Global ScaleBy Linda Fisher Thornton

Why We Need to Be Global-Minded

How do we need to think about global citizenship in ethical leadership? Ten years ago, “thinking global” may have only been considered the concern of multinational companies, but today it is something we all need to do. Here is how today’s ethical leaders think about their global responsibilities:

“We demonstrate care and concern for all of our constituents, and think on a global scale. We consider the needs of multiple stakeholders when making even routine decisions. We include the planet, communities and our global society among our stakeholders.”

The Leading in Context® Manifesto

Questions For Global Thinking

Because we are part of a connected society, we cannot think about ethics on a small scale. Our daily choices can have a global ripple effect, and that effect can be either positive or negative depending on our choices. We need to consider the long-term impact of every decision.

What kinds of questions should we ask ourselves to make sure we are thinking on a global scale? Here are some to get you started:

What impact will this choice have on silent stakeholders (who are affected, but not involved in the decision)?

How will it impact people around the world (even though we may never meet them)?

How will it affect the long-term health of the environment (which cannot speak for itself)?

What if every leader used long-term, global thinking?

Previous Posts in This Series:

Improving Lives and Organizations

A Learning Journey That Brings Out Our Best

Proactivity, Performance and Potential

Possibility, Service and Making a Difference



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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2013 Leading in Context LLC 


What is Conscious Capitalism?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Conscious Capitalism?

In last week’s post, I explored how Ethics Means Acting Beyond Self Interest. This week, I’ll explore the same question at the organizational level.

What are an organization’s ethical responsibilities? How is conscious capitalism a way to understand them?

Ethical Leadership is to the Moral Leader as Conscious Capitalism is to the Moral Company 

While ethical leadership is the term we use to describe what a moral leader does, conscious capitalism is a term that describes what a moral company does. According to BBC News E-Cyclopedia, “conscious capitalism stands for a more moral approach to what is often seen as ‘the dirty business of business.’” (Cited in Conscious Capitalism: Dirty Business No More by Ramla at NextbyRamla.Blogspot.com)

Conscious capitalism involves thinking beyond self-interests, demonstrating care for stakeholders at the global level, using a long-term time orientation and seeing the company’s role in the world through a systems view.

Taking A Systems View on the Moral Responsibilities of Business

According to Anne Federwisch,  Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University in Corporate Moral Responsibility and The Ethics of Product Usage … the idea of moral responsibility has been expanding over the years.”  While businesses that followed laws used to be considered “good,” there is now so much more that they need to do in order to be considered an ethical business.

According to John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, quoted in A Case for Conscious Capitalism: Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Brain Science, by Pillay and Sisodia in the Ivey Business Journal, “Conscious Capitalism is a philosophy of doing business that incorporates the principles of higher purpose (beyond profit maximization), stakeholder interdependence (rather than shareholder centricity), conscious leadership (instead of command-and-control or “carrots and sticks”) and conscious culture (in place of bottom-line obsession).”

When we lead with conscious capitalism, we assume responsibility for our impact on global markets and quality of life in addition to our impact on local communities.

“Conscious Capitalism stresses the importance of viewing stakeholders as interconnected and interdependent. All stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and community members – are regarded as important in their own right (not just as a means to better business results).”

“Conscious Capitalism® is a philosophy based on the belief that a more complex form of capitalism is emerging that holds the potential for enhancing corporate performance while simultaneously continuing to advance the quality of life for billions of people. The conscious capitalism movement challenges business leaders to rethink why their organizations exist and to acknowledge their companies’ roles in the interdependent global marketplace. ”

What is Conscious Capitalism? Conscious Capitalism, Inc., consciouscapitalism.org

In conscious capitalism, we don’t have to choose between caring about our business and caring about society. In an interview with Tom Palmer of Atlas Network, John Mackey explained that:

“A false dichotomy is often set up between self-interest, or selfishness, and altruism. To me it is a false dichotomy, because we’re obviously both. We are self-interested, but we’re not just self-interested. We also care about other people. We usually care a great deal about the well being of our families. We usually care about our communities and the larger society that we live in. We can also care about the well being of animals and our larger environment. We have ideals that motivate us to try to make the world a better place… I think that capitalism and business should fully reflect the complexity of human nature.”

What are the Benefits of Conscious Capitalism?

What are the benefits of thinking about and implementing business in a conscious way? How does conscious capitalism help businesses succeed in the global marketplace?

While conscious capitalism benefits people and communities, there are also clear benefits for the businesses that embrace this philosophy, including:

1. Better Financial Performance

“The pragmatic value of conscious capitalism is underscored by the fact that companies that adhere to these principles outperformed the market by a 9 to 1 ratio over a 10 year period.”

A Case for Conscious Capitalism: Conscious Leadership Through the Lens of Brain Science, by Pillay and Sisodia in the Ivey Business Journal

2. Relationships and Synergies for the Long Term

He (co-CEO John Mackey, Whole Foods) also spoke about the virtues of being generous with vendors, noting that cultivating strong relationships with suppliers pays off when times become difficult. “Business is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “It is in fact all about deriving value from synergies.”

Mark Hamstra, Whole Foods Cites Benefits of Conscious Capitalism, supermarketnews.com

“Another result is long-term trusted relationships with suppliers, consistent with The Integrity Chain, which is more profitable for both parties.”

4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism, ctsmithiii.wordpress.com

3. Stakeholder and Employee Engagement

“A compelling sense of purpose can create a high level of engagement by the stakeholders and generate tremendous organizational energy.”

Mark Hamstra, Whole Foods Cites Benefits of Conscious Capitalism, supermarketnews.com

“The result of this is empowered employees who we know work harder, are more creative, care more and are responsible for driving greater customer experiences.”

CTSmithIII, 4 Tenets of Conscious Capitalism, ctsmithiii.wordpress.com

4. Shared Meaning and Purpose

“I’m absolutely confident that practicing the principles of Conscious Capitalism brings both a deeper sense of meaning and purpose to your employees (and customers), as well as higher financial returns in the long run. It provides an authentic context to the “story of us,” the fact that business is about relationships, about creating value and not extracting value from those relationships.”

Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joes and CEO of Conscious Capitalism, Inc.  quoted in Conscious Capitalists Share Their Smarts, monkeydish.com

5. Increased Innovation and Trust

“The benefits far outweigh this challenge. Employee morale and engagement increase, innovation flourishes and the principles of your brand relationship with consumers, namely trust, is reinforced by living core values that align with your consumers’ own values. We feel a remarkable sense of duty and accomplishment in building a better business model and caring today for seven generations of tomorrow.”

 John Replogle, President and CEO of Seventh Generation, quoted in Conscious Capitalists Share Their Smarts, monkeydish.com

 Doing “Good” Is Its Own Reward

Conscious capitalism is the view that we, as business leaders, can make money and make the world a better place at the same time. This is not an unrealistic dream – this is a new way of leading that an increasing number of companies are choosing. And those leaders choosing conscious capitalism are finding out that the old saying is true – that doing “good” is its own reward.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Are we leading in ways that make us part of the global conscious capitalism movement?

2. In what ways do we enhance lives and communities in the course of our business?

3. How could we better demonstrate systems thinking and a long-term view?

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What Does Ethical Consumerism Mean for Business?

by Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Ethical Consumerism?

Ethical consumerism means that more customers are choosing to purchase goods that are ethically sourced, ethically made and ethically distributed. In her article “Ethical Consumerism and Conservatism: Hand in Glove” in the Heinz Journal, Jacqueline Payne describes the ethical consumer this way:

“An ethical consumer is someone who buys things that are produced ethically. Depending on the context, ethical production may mean producing something that is recycled, using labor that is produced in facilities without the use of slavery and child labor, or processing food that is raised organic or free range. If you buy one of these products, you could be an ethical consumer and not even know it… or you may not be one. However, the whole point of the ethical consumerism movement is that you ‘know’ what you are buying and that you buy things that are produced ethically because not ‘knowing’ leads to abuse and exploitation.”

Jacqueline Payne, “Ethical Consumerism and Conservatism: Hand in Glove,” The Heinz Journal, Carnegie Mellon University

What Do Ethical Consumers Want?

Consumers are increasingly purchasing ethically sourced and prepared foods. In Top 10 Global Food Trends, Fiona Haynes, lowfatcooking.about.com, says that “More people want to eat eggs, meat or chicken that was raised or killed humanely or to know that the people who grew the coffee they buy were fairly paid.”

In “Ethical Consumerism and the Purchase of Human Rights Clothes” Human Rights Support describes the increasing consumer demand for ethically produced clothing:

An industry that is seeing a push for high-quality products that are produced in a way that supports human rights is the clothing industry. Consumers are demanding human rights clothes and looking for ways to purchase them.

“Ethical Consumerism and the Purchase of Human Rights Clothes”, Human Rights Support, cdhrsupport.com

Trendwatching.com’s 12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012 decribes an “eco-cycology” trend in which “Brands will increasingly take back all of their products for recycling (sometimes forced by new legislation), and recycle them responsibly and innovatively.” According to Trendwatching.com, “trading in is the new buying.”

In “Top Trends for 2012: Purity, Authenticity and Sustainability Lead the Way” Innova Marketing describes the customer demand for pure products, and points out that in a customer’s mind, “sustainability is a given.”

According to GlobeScan.com, even consumers in developing companies see the value of the new “green economy” where doing business sustainably is the norm:

GlobeScan’s and SustainAbility‘s most recent survey of global consumers, conducted in collaboration with National Geographic, shows that those in emerging economies are even more likely than their developed-world peers to reject the notion that environmental responsibility and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive.

The survey among consumers across 17 countries asked them to say whether they thought a Green Economy would be more or less effective than today’s economy in addressing a range of environmental and social challenges—and found that, globally, consumers thought a Green Economy would be more effective in all areas except for the creation of low-paying jobs.

Developing World Consumers More Upbeat About Economic Impact of a Green Economy, GlobeScan.com

How Should Businesses Respond?

Ethical consumers want much more than a good product for a good price. They also look for these things in a company, brand or product:

  • Natural, Pure Ingredients
  • Ethical Sourcing, Production and Distribution
  • Clear Information About Nutrition
  • Transparency
  • Fair Labor
  • Honoring Human Rights
  • Protecting Human Health
  • Respecting the Environment
  • Sustainability
  • Ethical Marketing and Advertising
  • Renewable/Recyclable Packaging
  • Giving Back to the Community and Society

Businesses need to carefully examine how well they are meeting the evolving ethical expectations of consumers. They will be simultaneously responding to ethical consumerism trends and figuring out “how to remain profitable yet sustainable in a flat economy.” (Experts Split on Whether Growth and Sustainable Consumption Compatible, GlobalScan.com)

How far ahead or behind is your company in responding to today’s ethical consumer? Use the questions below to explore how ethical consumerism will impact the way you do business in the next 5 years.

Questions for Discussion:

1. How might the ethical consumerism trend affect our business in the next 1-5 years?

2. What will we need to change to keep up with what ethical consumers expect?

3. How will responding to these trends help our business and our customers?


8 Reasons Why You Should Take Ethical Consumption More Seriously, TomorrowToday.uk.com

Ethical Consumer: From Margin to Mainstream, EthicalConsumer.org

12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012, Trendwatching.com


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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

10 Reasons to Embrace Complexity

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leading Through Complexity and Uncertainty

In The Center For Creative Leadership’s White Paper, The Future of Leadership Development, Nick Petrie describes the new work environment as “typified by an increased level of complexity and interconnectedness.” This new work environment requires new leadership skills, including a willingness to lead when the situation is complex and the outcome uncertain.

“Embrace complexity,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos told about 3,000 graduates who persevered through a national financial crisis and devastating Nashville floods during their tenure at Vanderbilt University.

“Challenge your assumptions, welcome disagreements and along with others make a mission of discovery and education,” Zeppos advised in his May 11, 2012 Commencement address. “Be confident that the habits of mind you have practiced here … will help you face the future and all the unexpectedness it brings. … Living in this way you will make us all proud, and you will make this world a better place.”

Chancellor Urges Vanderbilt Grads to Embrace Complexity, Vanderbilt University, insidevandy.com

 Complexity Presents New Challenges for Leaders

Leading through complexity is not easy.  According to Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights From the 2010 Global CEO Study at IBM.com, “Today, CEOs are telling us that the complexity of operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world is their primary challenge. And, a surprising number of them told us that they feel ill-equipped to succeed in this drastically different world.”

Why Should We Embrace Complexity?

Embracing complexity means acknowledging that we do not have the answers, and we do not know the outcome. It means being willing to think and lead in new ways.

10 reasons why we need to embrace complexity and learn our way through uncertain times:

1. Because complexity is the way things are

2. Because by embracing the way things are, we seek to understand them at the level where we need to resolve problems

3. Because embracing complexity helps us avoid oversimplified, knee-jerk reactions

4. Because it forces us to rethink what we do at a higher level, and keeps us from just going through the motions of leading

5. Because it helps us get beyond the surface chaos to see naturally complex and connected systems

6. Because our organizations are relying on us to make decisions in ways that benefit multiple stakeholders

7. Because it is how we learn and grow

8. Because it is one of the key competencies sought in leaders, and it will make us highly employable and highly valuable to the organizations we serve

9.  Because it makes problems and solutions clearer

10. Because considering the impact of our choices at multiple levels helps us make more responsible decisions

What Happens If We Don’t Embrace it?

The old ways of thinking (linear, analytical, sequential problem solving for example) are not going to help us lead successfully through complexity.

The linear mindset does not reflect how organizations are structured (they are systems made up of subsystems), so solutions generated using linear thinking are generated “out of context” and are not likely to be successful.  This means that more problems are generated by each solution.
Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem Solving, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

If we fail to acknowledge and wrestle with the complexities of leadership in a global society, then…

  1. We see only parts and fragments of problems, not natural complexity and connectedness
  2. We attempt to solve problems at the level of the parts and fragments, and in doing that,
  3. We create new problems

Related Posts

Leading Ethically Through Complexity: How to Prepare Leaders, Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog

Five Unintended Consequences of Linear Problem Solving, 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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Ethical Leadership and…a Global Society

Are We Moving Toward a “Global Society”?

To imagine the world as a global society we must look at the issue from a view that is many levels above our day-to-day routines and our sometimes mechanical responses to our day-to-day challenges.

When we see the world as a global society, we see that we need to act as if what happens to others, even people we may never meet, matters. We all share space, food and natural resources. We also share international communication and transportation systems and a global economy.

Thinking about our planet as home to a global society, it is clear that we must act as if what happens to the environment matters. Our survival is dependent on the limited resources we have available and how responsibly we use them.

Trends in A Global Context  

Our collective thinking is evolving. There are currently movements toward

  • random acts of kindness
  • collaboration
  • ethical consumerism
  • sustainable business
  • sharing information to help others

and movements away from

  • tolerance for greed
  • tolerance for harm
  • tolerance for disrespect
  • tolerance for angry behavior
  • tolerance for environmental destruction

Does this mean that we are finally beginning to think and act like a global society?


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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Social Media for “Good”

Joining the Social Media Information Wave

In the post Leaders and Social Media: 5 Reasons to Engage I gave 5 compelling reasons to join the social media information wave.

  1. Not Embracing Social Media is a Risk
  2. Social Media Helps us Adapt
  3. The Newest Information is Shared There Freely First
  4. It’s a Learning Connection to the “Global Brain”
  5. It’s a Hub Connecting You to the Meaningful Information You Need
  Leaders and Social Media: 5 Reasons to Engage Linda Fisher Thornton, Leading in Context Blog
These 5 reasons to engage in social media describe how social media can benefit us as leaders who are learning in complex times, but that’s only one perspective on the benefits of the social media connection.
In this post I’ll explore some of the ways social media can be used for “good.”

Connecting For Good
How can social media help us help others? How does it change how we think about marketing? How is social media pushing marketing to become more service-oriented?
Here are 5 ways that social media helps us help others and change the world.
5 Ways Social Media Can Be Used for “Good”
1.  It connects and mobilizes people to create positive change locally, regionally and globally
2.  It allows free sharing of information and advice that helps others solve complex problems
3.  It changes business marketing – with so many messages out there, the new “marketing” looks
      more like adding value and providing free services to demonstrate what your company can do
4.  It fosters fast, connected, global networks of diverse thinkers who are interested in a topic,
      allowing them to more quickly solve problems that cross geographic and political boundaries
5.  It enables anyone with a cause to start a movement to right a wrong, educate others and
     change the world for good.
These books and articles will help you learn more about ways to use social media for “good.”

9 Social Media Uprisings That Sought to Change the World in 2011  Zoe Fox, Mashable.com

How Social Media Really Can Produce Social Change Stephanie Myers, TriplePundit.com

10 Ways to Change the World Through Social Media Max Gladwell, MaxGladwell.com

Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time Book by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

Can NonProfits Use Pinterest to Change the World? kellis, GlobalGiving.org

Is Youtility the Future of Marketing? Jay Baer, ConvinceandConvert.com

The Networked NonProfit Book by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine

Social Media for Social Good: A How to Guide for Non-Profits Book by Heather Mansfield


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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

100 Leadership and Ethics Blogs 2012


“Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”
(Brian Clark) quoted in 50 Thoughtful, Funny and Polemic Blogging Quotes

Looking for Leadership Blogs?

This collection of blog lists provides links that will lead you to hundreds of blogs about leadership, management and ethics. Understandably, some of the lists will overlap, since each blog list creator selects blogs based on different factors.

Jurgen Appelo lists the Top 150 Management and Leadership Blogs.

Nicole White lists The Top 100 Leadership Blogs at bestuniversities.com.

Stephenslighthouse.com has selected The 50 Best Blogs For Future Leaders

Blogrank’s Top 50 Leadership Blogs sorts them by many different variables – number of unique visitors, RSS subscribers, etc.,

The Blogbridge Top 100 Blogs includes leadership topics.

Looking for Ethics Blogs?

OnlineMBAGuide.net lists its 50 Best Business Ethics Blogs.

The GRC Blog Roundup: Best Business Ethics Blogs and Ethical Issues at Vivimind at corporatecomplianceinsights.com includes more.

The World Watchdogs: Top 50 Human Rights Blogs is online at criminaljusticeusa.com.

There’s a Best Green Blogs Directory at bestgreenblogs.com.

Post Your Favorites! 

Feel free to share your favorite leadership and ethics blog directories. Submit your comment below!


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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @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 unprme.org

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 unprme.org

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
Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses

© 2012 Leading in Context LLC 

Leaders & Social Media: 5 Reasons to Engage

Leaders and Information Overload

In today’s world of work, we have to

  • keep up with an overwhelming amount of information
  • scan trends and forecasts and
  • incorporate the needs of multiple stakeholders into workable solutions.

Our job is to make sense out of it all in order to make work life easier for those we lead. Since the world changes fast, we have to learn just as fast… and share it fast with our employees…and then adapt to what we’ve learned. Social media has become the fastest information media available, tackling emerging issues long before mainstream publications do.

Five Important Reasons to Engage in Social Media

1.  Not Embracing Social Media is a Risk

In today’s world that is connected at light speed, refusing to adapt to new communication channels means choosing to be out of the loop.  I am able to say this with confidence because I almost missed the social media information wave. Two and a half years ago I said out loud (quite confidently) “I’ll never go on Twitter.” My patient technology and learning advisor  Allison, said “Didn’t you say you were blogging?” I confirmed that yes, I was blogging. What she said next changed my understanding of social media and information. She said “People are organizing and accessing their blog subscriptions on Twitter using their smart phones. How will they find you?”

2.  Social Media Helps Us Adapt

While some people still think that social media is one more thing to add to their to-do list that they don’t have time for, I now know that social media is a great tool for keeping up with changes in the world, changes in my customer’s needs, changes in the emerging knowledge across disciplines, and changes in how we define leadership and learning.

Social media is much more than “one more thing to do” –  it’s how we do what we do in an information-connected society – and it’s an efficient filter for finding relevant information.

Searching social media platforms using multiple search terms, we can quickly access the intersection of any two, three or more fields. Learning something completely new at that intersection helps us expand our thinking, makes our work better, helps us serve our customers better, and helps our work be more relevant in today’s business context.

3. The Newest Information is Freely Shared There First

A lot of people are trying to make sense out of the sea of information.

They are sharing what they’ve learned so that we don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

They are sharing so that we can solve global problems together.

I am a social media convert who is enjoying getting insights about new research and feedback on my work from people around the globe. Social media channels shorten my research time, help me be better at what I do, and keep me in close touch with my customers, clients and readers.

4. It’s a Learning Connection to the “Global Brain”

We can even think about social media as a conduit to the “global brain.” Dean Pomerleau, a researcher at Intel labs Pittsburgh links Twitter to brain research on his blog ‘Thoughtful Cog” in a post called “Twitter and the Global Brain.”

Imagine a Twitter user as a neuron.  He/she makes the equivalent of a synapse with each of his/her followers.  When a Twitter user sends out a tweet, it is the equivalent of a neuron firing.  Followers who receive the tweet decide whether to propagate the activity by retweeting the message, in a sense by deciding whether they too should fire in response to the tweet…

On a macro scale, this will represent the equivalent of thoughts emerging in the Global Brain, in the form of rapid, coordinated firing of millions of these virtual neurons.  These thoughts will propagate and potentially trigger other thoughts in the network.

5. It’s a Hub Connecting You to the Meaningful Information You Need

Social media is really a hub that connects you to the information you need, not in a random sense, but in a way that has meaning. Whatever topic has piqued your curiosity is likely being studied by somebody else somewhere in the world. Other people who are curious about what you’re curious about have already researched it and are recommending the next article or book or blogger that you can learn from.

Social media is more than just noise, and doesn’t have to add to information overload. Its connections and knowledge-sharing help us cut through the ocean of information out there so that we can learn and grow. Those connections help us understand this global community that we find ourselves a part of.

Have you jumped into the social media information wave yet?



For more, see Linda’s book 7 Lenses and the 21 Question Assessment: How Current is My Message About Ethics?

7 Lenses is a Bronze Axiom Business Book Award Winner in Business Ethics41cEVx-Tu4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
2014 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
About 7 Lenses
 Info@LeadinginContext.com  @leadingincontxt  @7Lenses 
© 2011 Leading in Context LLC 

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