What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 5)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Meaningful Leadership? Making a Difference By Building a Better Society For the Future

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 relational ROI. In Part 4, we examined how meaningful leadership requires truth-seeking based on ethical values. In Part 5 we’ll take a look at how meaningful leadership makes a difference by building a better society for the future. 

Meaningful leadership sees the world in terms of building a better future together. The important focus on together requires not drawing lines around “better” or “worse” people or creating “in” and “out” groups.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

— Desmond Tutu

Meaningful leadership invests in building a better future together. That means making hard decisions today that will get us closer to a peaceful, safe society that works for everyone. In order to make this commitment, meaningful leadership requires being able to imagine such a future.

“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”

— Queen Elizabeth II

Beyond imagining a better future, meaningful leadership requires actualizing it. That means making choices every day that show commitment to collective well-being on a global scale.

“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Is My Leadership Meaningful? 

Meaningful leadership cannot be accomplished by talking about meaning. It must go much deeper than that. Evaluate how your leadership measures up by exploring these three questions:

If others carry on the work I have started into the future, what will be the net effect of my leadership in each of the areas of meaningful leadership below?

Meaningful Leadership Means:

  • Making a difference by creating positive work settings that invite meaningful work
  • Taking the difficult journey to becoming an authentic leader
  • Inviting difficult conversations about how to live out ethical values in difficult situations
  • Placing a high priority of positive interpersonal behavior that brings out people’s best
  • Excavating the layers of meaning and truth in complex issues using ethical values
  • Imagining a better future, in a peaceful, safe society that works for everyone
  • Helping to build that better future together, on a local, national and global scale

How closely is my leadership aligned with building a better future together?

What could I do to improve, starting today, in at least one area on that list?

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What is Meaningful Leadership? (Part 1)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

In this 5-part “What is Meaningful Leadership?” series, we’ll look at 5 different aspects of meaningful leadership, each one revealing opportunities for leader awareness and growth. In Part 1, we’ll look at the importance of creating meaningful work settings.

What is Meaningful Leadership? Creating Meaningful Work Settings

Meaningful leadership is supporting others in their quest for meaning. Humans Need It. Great leaders help people find it.

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

— Carl Jung

Meaningful leadership sees beyond self-concern to the long-term success and well-being of others.

When the leader’s concern shows, people respond. Trust is built, and the group benefits in many ways.

Meaningful leadership fuels innovation, curiosity and collaboration.

People thrive. They can move beyond survival and self-preservation concerns to create great companies, great products and services, and great teams.

Meaningful leadership drives important business metrics.

“One of the things that drives humans is their need for meaning, and if you can make every job meaningful, then you will guarantee that every job will be done to its highest level of excellence.”

— Erwin McManus

When people thrive, they can do their best work. That drives engagement, retention and productivity, which contribute to profitability and other positive outcomes.

Meaningful leadership requires a commitment to self-growth and other-growth. Ask yourself:

  1. How well am I finding meaning in my own work as a leader?  
  2. How ready am I to provide a meaningful work setting for others?
  3. If I am ready, how am I making it a priority? If not, what do I need to do to get there?

 

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Leaders: What’s Missing in Convenient Actions? – Values

By Linda Fisher Thornton

With all the inappropriate behavior in the news, I thought it would be a good time to explore the difference between actions that are CONVENIENT and those that are APPROPRIATE. Instead of saying “I’ll know appropriate when I see it” it seems necessary to break it down and articulate the difference clearly. So here goes…

Convenient is choosing the quick and easy solution. Appropriate adds considering the ethical impact.

 

Convenient is thinking about what we want. Appropriate adds thinking about what others want and expect.

 

Convenient is getting as much as we can from a deal. Appropriate makes sure the other parties get their needs met too. 

 

Convenient is getting all the attention. Appropriate is showing humility and sharing the spotlight.  

 

Convenient is doing something whenever we want to. Appropriate adds consideration for proper timing. 

Convenient is saying whatever we feel like saying. Appropriate is being respectful and considerate even when it’s difficult. 

The difference between convenient and appropriate is adding VALUES to the equation. Ethical values. Business values. Leadership values. Convenient actions are self-serving. Appropriate actions meet the needs of self while honoring the needs of others and respecting the boundaries of appropriate interpersonal behavior.

Acting without values may be convenient (and we’ve seen plenty of examples), but it’s not leadership. You could call it grandstanding, power-grabbing, self-serving, opportunistic, immature or incompetent. The list could go on and on. When an action is convenient and not appropriate, don’t call it leadership. Leadership is about moving beyond concern for self to also consider the well-being and success of others. Without that ability, a person is simply self-serving, and not fulfilling the other-serving job of “leader.”

 


To learn a process for thinking through the ethical implications of any situation, 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)

 

Adaptation and Controlling Leadership Can’t Coexist

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Leaders who solve complex problems need a special blend of qualities – the curiosity to untangle the variables, the persistence to keep trying, and the openness to change beliefs and strategies as answers emerge from the chaos. 

But those qualities will only take them so far. They’ll also need to be great listeners and engaging leaders, so that they gather information from stakeholders and team members. They’ll need to be systems thinkers with a global mindset.

Even if leaders usually demonstrate those important qualities, when problems seem too complex to solve they may be tempted to use ineffective approaches to gain a sense of control. Facing increasing complexity, they may revert to negative patterns instead of adapting to change. I think we’ve probably all done this when we’re stressed – as leaders or even as parents – becoming more inflexible and demanding that things go a certain way.

“What we see in our data over and over again is that when faced with complexity, the natural proclivity of people and organizations is to respond with order—to turn to hierarchical approaches of leading and managing change top-down.”

MaryUhl-Bien and Michael Arena, in their article “Complexity leadership: Enabling people and organizations for adaptability

What happens when leaders fail to notice that they are “taking control” instead of influencing and engaging? They de-motivate teams of highly talented people trying to stay on the cutting edge of an industry. That de-motivation can lead to a spiraling decline in important organizational metrics.

While it may provide the illusion of control, controlling or top-down leadership doesn’t invite organic information sharing or encourage rapid adaptation. Both are needed for survival in today’s evolving global marketplace. 

Want to Learn More? Join Leading in Context CEO Linda Fisher Thornton Thursday, November 9 for Developing Leadership That Inspires, a Live Online Workshop via Compliance IQ.

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Great Leaders Unite

By Linda Fisher Thornton

­
The most capable and ethically competent leaders reach for unity, which represents the highest levels of interpersonal and global responsibility. While it would be much easier, the best leaders don’t just aim for “getting along” or “getting by.”
Queen Elizabeth II said “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
Great leaders use meaningful connections, shared values and mutual understanding to bring people together. Their decisions and chosen paths are mutually beneficial for multiple constituents. They understand leadership as a process of bringing out the individual and collective best in others for the long-term good.

The words and actions of the best leaders unite and uplift rather than divide and tear down. They use a calm demeanor and peaceful means to reach desired ends. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”

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6/8/17 – Communicating About Ethical Values: How To Talk About What Matters
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Trust Energizes Organizations

 

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

How transformational is the power of trust in organizations? It increases capacity and improves performance. It improves work satisfaction and quality of life: 

“Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”                        

Paul J. Zak, The Neuroscience of Trust, HBR

Trust is no longer considered a “nice to have” element in the effective workplace. It is a “must have” element that energizes the whole organization. Working in a safe high-trust environment, people can do extraordinary things.

On Monday I received a Trust Across America 2017 Top Thought Leaders in Trust award an12317-trust-mag-cover-featured a Lifetime Achievement Award. It is quite an honor to be recognized along with so many notable champions for trust.

See the short articles contributed by the Trust Across America 2017 Top Thought Leaders in Trust: Lifetime Award winners in the latest issue of TRUST! Magazine. This quote is from my piece on What Trust Means to Me on page 13: 

“When people work in a high trust environment, they experience the freedom and space to excel that leads to nothing less than organizational magic.”

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Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

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Never Underestimate The Power of Trust

never-underestimate-the

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Trust is powerful. It is being recognized as a pivot point in business and a powerful catalyst for financial success. This updated Harvard Business review article connects trust with ROI and risk management:

A low-trust environment makes everything about doing business more difficult… loss of trust leads to higher transaction costs, lower brand value, and greater difficulty attracting, retaining, and managing talent. Ultimately, it can mean boycotts, negative publicity, and unwanted regulation.”

Beinhocker, Davis & Mendoca, 10 Trends You Have to Watch, HBR.org.

Trust is a Powerful Market Differentiator

A recent World Economic Forum report on the evolving role of trust in business describes the power of trust in the market:

“If these trust-rich, more resilient companies are the survivors of each period of turbulence, then they will come to dominate the market – and the model of the high-trust corporation will become prevalent.”

World Economic Forum, The Evolution of Trust in Business: From Delivery to Values

I like the term “trust-rich” because it describes the ability of trust to transform every corner of a business or organization. It also describes the positive financial impact that results from consistent trustworthy leadership.

Is your organization “trust-rich?”

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

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What’s Does Genuine Respect Look Like?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We can disagree calmly in ways that help us solve problems together, or we can show our stripes by using aggressive behavior under the banner of “with all due respect.” Whichever approach we use, how we interpret respect impacts the people around us. 

There is no place for disrespectful behavior in a “good” society. Even if we agree on that point, respect can be understood from a variety of angles. You may already be thinking of a leader who operated in the red zone (in the graphic above), creating a toxic environment that caused emotional harm.

Real respect is not one dimensional.  

You may have also encountered people operating in the yellow zone who were carefully polite but did not go out of their way to help others or demonstrate care.  

Real respect is not selective. It’s not selfish.

How we choose to offer respect to others is an ethical issue. A narrow view – for example, “I will respect whoever I choose to respect and no one else” can lead to negative interpersonal behavior, which increases tension, conflict and stress. 

Leaders with a SELFish understanding of respect may look for opportunities to BENEFIT THEMSELVES by using respect selectively. 

Leaders with an OTHERish understanding of respect might look for opportunities to BE FAIR AND EQUAL in respecting others, not showing favoritism to certain groups, but showing respect for all. 

Respect at the highest level incorporates positive intent and impact. 

Leaders with a high level OTHERish understanding of respect (that incorporates care for others) will go beyond using polite behavior to look for opportunities to help and be in service to others. They will tend to stay in the green zone, where they don’t just “not offend people,” they have an intentional positive impact on others.

I think of the “respect” in the yellow zone as only the minimum standard for interpersonal behavior. Don’t great leaders give so much more?

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10 Ways The Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Our-understanding-of (5)By Linda Fisher Thornton

A convergence of positive trends is changing leadership expectations, and today I want to explore how those trends are changing the leadership relationship. 

There is no effective leadership based on position power and control in the workplace anymore. Employees have choices. They seek meaningful work that is more than “just a job.” Leaders who miss this shift will wonder why they can’t keep good people. 

“The whole notion of “positional leadership”—that people become leaders by virtue of their power or position—is being challenged. Leaders are instead being asked to inspire team loyalty through their expertise, vision, and judgment.”

Leadership Awakened, Nicky Wakefield, Anthony Abbatiello, Dimple Agarwal, Karen Pastakia, & Ardie van Berkel, Deloitte University Press

Succeeding with position power is about being the one in charge, but that approach doesn’t work well with today’s top talent. This shift in power is completely changing the skill sets that leaders need. 

Here are the first 5 of 10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing:

  1. From “making sure people work harder” to “making the workplace more pleasant” (so people can work effectively)

  2. From monitoring and correcting to engaging and coaching

  3. From delegating tasks to collaborating and co-creating

  4. From using authority to control people to using care to support people

  5. From separate offices for leaders to open work spaces with equal footing

These 5 changes in the leadership relationship are not happening everywhere yet, but they are happening in the best-led organizations. Are you seeing them in your workplace?

Our understanding of “good leadership” is evolving. This shift is being fueled by increasing leadership expectations – I wrote about them in 7 Lenses and in these posts:

Leaders need to adapt to a changing landscape so that they can attract, engage and keep great people. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, when I will share 5 more of the 10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing. 

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

Includes how ethical expectations are increasing, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

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