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02.26.14

The 7 Lenses of Ethical Leadership

Leading Forum
This post is by Linda Fisher Thornton the author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.

Our understanding of "ethical leadership" has not been clear enough to guide us through today’s complex ethical choices. We know from recent widespread ethical lapses in the business world that some leaders do not fully consider what will happen to others when they take actions that profit them and their businesses. Without a shared definition of ethical responsibility, people make decisions based on their own varying "ethics."
I believe that our current understanding of "ethical leadership" does not clearly describe the complexity and ethical implications of leader behaviors, and that there is an emerging clearer, bigger picture that will.

A Continuum of Perspectives

One of the reasons that it's so difficult to learn how to lead ethically is because we are not all using the same definition of our ultimate destination. To one leader, leading ethically means carefully protecting the environment. To another, it simply means responsible profitability. To a third, it means fair labor and responsible people management practices. To a fourth, it means serving the long-term greater good.

I believe that the bigger picture of ethical leadership incorporates all of these many perspectives that seem to be at odds with each other. In our global society "ethical leadership" is actually a continuum of different perspectives. Understanding "ethical leadership" as a continuum of perspectives helps us understand our choices in a broader context.
The way we define "leading ethically" needs to be broad enough, complex enough and multi-dimensional enough to help us talk about today's difficult choices intelligently.
Talking about these differing perspectives as part of the whole, and not competing perspectives moves the conversation forward.

A Multidimensional Framework

In 7 Lenses, I describe a clear multidimensional framework for ethical leadership that incorporates seven different perspectives on what it means to lead ethically in a global society. This framework honors organizational complexity and guides leaders through the challenge of honoring multiple stakeholders when making decisions.

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 serve communities?
PlanetHow can we honor life and ecosystems?
Greater GoodHow can we make the world better for future generations?


Only by considering all seven of these lenses do we get the full picture of our ethical leadership responsibility in a connected global society.
Starting with the Profit Lens, each lens we add to our perspective gives us a new sense of clarity about what ethical responsibility means.
Why is this ongoing learning journey so important for successful leadership? Besides responding to our moral responsibilities, proactive ethical leadership drives important business metrics and provides a competitive advantage. Forward-thinking leaders will use 7 Lenses as a learning guide on their journey to ethical leadership, and along the way, they will enjoy the many business benefits that result from bringing out the very best in their people and organizations.

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7 Lenses
Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO of Leading in Context LLC and one of the 2013 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She is the author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:24 PM
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