To Understand Complexity, Use 7 Dimensions of Ethical Thinking

Ethics
THE BOTTOM LINE is that there is no “good leadership” without ethical thinking. We’ve seen what can happen when leaders make decisions based on personal interests without considering the ripple effect of those decisions. The thinking that powers leadership choices must be grounded in ethical values or the impact on important constituents will be overlooked.
When my book 7 Lenses was first published, I wrote a guest post about it called “The 7 Lenses of Ethical Leadership” for this blog. Since that time, 7 Lenses has gone into its second printing. This book helps leaders “see” the ethical impact of their choices through 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility. The lenses highlight the impact on many constituents, in the short term, and over generations, giving leaders a holistic ethical picture. As work complexity increases, the ethical thinking we use to address it must advance as well.

7 Lenses™ of Ethical Responsibility
ProfitHow much money will this make?
LawHow can we avoid punishment and penalties?
CharacterHow can we demonstrate integrity, congruence and moral awareness?
PeopleHow can we respect and care for people?
CommunitiesHow can we improve life in the communities we serve?
PlanetHow can we honor life and ecosystems?
Greater GoodHow can we make the world better for future generations?
Every leader must weigh the financial impact of decisions. Even non-profits have to carefully manage finances and raise funds using ethical practices. All companies have to comply with laws and regulations. The higher levels of ethical thinking, though, require a much longer-term perspective and a global worldview. We must be ready to make ethical decisions when dealing with multiple stakeholders with differing interests in the outcome.
In the 7 Lenses model in the book, each lens of the 7 focuses leader attention on one area of ethical leadership responsibility, and together all 7 of the lenses show leaders the combined impact of their choices. This way of thinking about ethics, in 7 dimensions, guides us to high level leadership thinking. Using better thinking we get better leadership.
Concepts and ethics guidelines that live “on the shelf” aren’t practical enough to help people navigate complexity. Leaders don’t just need to think ABOUT ethics, they need to think WITH ethical values to deal with catastrophic change and respond to increasing consumer expectations for transparency and ethical business. Ethical values drive business success and they should be the basis for every choice we make. Applying them builds trust and sets the foundation for all good business relationships.
Many leaders I talk with have a feeling that there is a more meaningful way of thinking and leading than what they’ve been seeing. These leaders want to have a positive impact in the workplace and make a difference in the world. Learning high level ethical thinking will not only help them handle the challenges they are already facing, it will also improve their long term social impact. We know that in the age of transparency, ethical brand value helps drive an organization’s bottom line results. How do we ensure that leaders will use the kind of thinking that leads to ethical action? We start by making ethical thinking “must have” development for leaders.
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Leading ForumThis post is by Linda Fisher Thornton. She is CEO of Leading in Context LLC and author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, now in its second printing. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Her website is LeadinginContext.com
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