Understanding Ethical Leadership in a Complex World

business leadership tips

business leadership tipsIn the ongoing dialogue about ethical leadership, it has been described many different ways. It has been thought to be primarily focused on following laws, or on humanitarian service, or on preventing harm, to name a few.

When we pick one aspect of ethical leadership and make it our primary focus, we ignore other parts of the whole that are just as important. Only when we look at ethical leadership in all of its natural complexity, and consider all of its dimensions, do we get a clear view of what it means to take responsibility in a complex world.

It’s Multidimensional

Laws represent the minimum standard for behavior, but they don’t reflect the optimal level of ethical leadership. In my new book 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, I describe ethical leadership at its highest level – the kind of leadership that builds better companies, better communities and a better world. In it I describe 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility that need to be considered in our day-to-day leadership.

7 Lenses™ of Ethical Responsibility

  1. Profit – How much money will this make?
  2. Law – How can we avoid punishment and penalties?
  3. Character – How can we demonstrate integrity, congruence and moral awareness?
  4. People – How can we respect and care for people?
  5. Communities – How can we serve communities?
  6. Planet – How can we honor life, nature and ecosystems?
  7. Greater Good – How can we make the world better for future generations?

7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership,
© 2013 Leading in Context LLC

It’s Personal

Clearly, ethical leadership has personal aspects. Our character and moral awareness are unique and personal. Our own worldview impacts how we see ourselves and how broadly we consider our responsibility to others.

Self-Check: How well am I demonstrating moral awareness and staying ethical competent?

It’s Interpersonal

Ethical leadership has an important element that is interpersonal. This dimension includes how we treat others, including how we demonstrate respect and care. It is important to treat others well even when we don’t agree with their approach or their ideas.

Self-Check: How well am I consistently treating others with respect and care, even when I disagree?

It’s Environmental

The Sustainability movement is a powerful one, and ethical leadership has an important environmental dimension. We need to consider the long term impact of our choices on the planet.

Self-Check: How well am I using natural resources wisely and demonstrate care for life, nature and the environment?

It’s Societal

It has become clear in the business world that businesses are responsible for more than their own success. They are responsible for being good corporate citizens and for helping ensure healthy, safe communities.

Self-Check: How will I improve the communities we serve, to make life better?

And our societal responsibilities don’t end there. We must also think about our long-term impact. The decisions we make today don’t just have an impact for today. They often have a long-term ripple effect that can either be positive or negative.

Self-Check: How will the way I am leading now avoid harm and improve the quality of life for future generations?

It’s Transformational

When we take responsibility for our ethics at the personal, interpersonal, environmental and societal levels, we are on an intentional learning journey to ethical leadership. We bring out our best leadership, and we inspire those we lead to take responsibility broadly too. The ripple effect that is generated by us taking responsibility creates a more meaningful work experience, engages employees, builds trust and improves important business metrics. Transform your organization through proactive ethical leadership.


If you enjoyed the above article, consider purchasing the Linda Fisher Thornton book from Amazon
7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership

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