What Happens When You Ignore Complexity?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ignoring complexity reduces the number of variables considered in a decision. That may seem convenient (see last week’s post) but it also removes the nuanced thinking that is necessary for ethical decision-making. With all the information available in a socially connected world, it is easy to fall victim to the quick oversimplified understanding of issues. This “quick glance” way of gathering information doesn’t reveal the breadth and depth of what’s really going on.

“The contemporary context also reflects the fact that issues associated with access to information and with technology may enhance the temptation and ease of making unethical choices.”

Mark Winston, The Complexity of Ethical Decision Making, Information Ethics

Basing decisions on “quick glance” information gathering is not just uninformed and unwise, it can be harmful. It is definitely in a leader’s best interest to learn about the nuances and avoid the temptation to make a quick potentially unethical decision. Here are some ways that removing complexity can get us into deep ethical trouble:

  • Without acknowledging complexity, we may only look at the variables we already understand and ignore others that are critical to the decision
  • Without acknowledging complexity, we may only look at the short-term impact and ignore the long-term risks
  • Without acknowledging complexity. we may decide only based on self-interest and personal gain
  • Without acknowledging complexity, we may leap into something that does more harm than good
  • Without acknowledging complexity, we may quickly show our ignorance to others who took the time to understand the nuances
  • Without acknowledging complexity, we may make our own job harder by creating more problems than we solve

We can’t simply review one or two articles that reinforce our own beliefs about an issue and make an ethical decision. It takes more effort than that to understand the variables. Who are the constituents? What are their needs and goals? What is the presenting problem? Is that a symptom of a bigger problem? Do we understand that bigger problem and how the two are connected? If we try to fix a symptom without addressing the cause how will that make things worse? What other global issues and trends impact this problem? How? What are the most ethical options given all of the connected variables? 

“Solving a problem” without understanding the context is like changing individual notes in a song without considering the effect on the song. The result can be a meaningless mess. 

Here’s the key point – There is no good leadership without ethical thinking and ethical thinking requires digging into the nuances of complex issues. In a global society, our problems are connected in intricate boundary-spanning ways. Globally, we have the thinking power to untangle our complex problems and make the best choices. We just need to choose to use it. 

 

Special Series Celebrating the 2nd 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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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.

Top 100 Leadership Blog

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)

 

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

By Linda Fisher Thornton

“Ethics” Means Acting Beyond Self-Interest

Ethics is fundamentally about acting beyond our own self-interests. Can we be ethical without considering others and acting in ways that benefit them? Here are some interesting questions and quotes on the subject.

As you read, think about the business leader’s responsibility to act beyond the interests of the business and beyond personal gain.

Questions About Ethics, Ego and Acting Out of Concern for Others

1. Is ethics moving beyond the ego to show concern for others?

“While egoism may be a strong motivator of human behavior, ethics traditionally assumes that human beings are also capable of acting from a concern for others that is not derived from a concern for their own welfare.”

“The moral point of view goes beyond self-interest to a standpoint that takes everyone’s interests into account. Ethics, then, assumes that self interest is not the basis for all human behavior, although some philosophers, e.g., Hobbes, have tried to base ethics on self-interest. Their efforts, however, have not been widely accepted.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

2. Can we define ethics based on reason, when reason doesn’t involve others?

“Justice can’t be determined by examining a single case, since the advantage to society of a rule of justice depends on how it works in general under the circumstances in which it is introduced.”

“Thus the views of the moral rationalists on the role of reason in ethics, even if they can be made coherent, are false.”

David Hume, Stanford.edu, quoting from Hume’s autobiographical essay, “My Own Life”

3. If we serve others now, will we benefit long-term?

“Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.[1][2][3]   It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will “do well by doing good”.[4][5][6]”

“Enlightened self-interest also has implications for long-term benefits as opposed to short-term benefits to oneself.[7] When an individual pursues enlightened self-interest that person may sacrifice short-term interests to maximize long-term interests. This is a form of deferred gratification.”

Enlightened Self-Interest, Wikipedia.com

4. Are we at our best when we consider others?

“The motives which lie behind our behaviors are often mixed and complex. But studies such as these are among the challenges to the long held view that even at our best, we are only out for ourselves. Rather, at our best, we may only be out for others.”

Andre and Velasquez, Unmasking the Motives of the Good Samaritan, Ethics and Self-Interest, Santa Clara University

5. What, then, is ethical behavior?

“In some ways, putting the greater good before your own can be thought of as the definition of ethical leadership, since it underlies so many of the other components.”“Ethical behavior reflects a value system that grows out of a coherent view of the world, based on equity, justice, the needs and rights of others as well as oneself, a sense of obligation to others and to the society, and the legitimate needs and standards of the society.”

The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas, ku.edu

What does all of this mean for leaders?

We are all responsible for acting beyond our own self-interests. In this age of ‘infotainment’ and information overload, we have to know ourselves, know our responsibility to others, and choose to act beyond self-interest and short-term gain.

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 Axiom Business Book Award Winner 
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