What and how we pay attention to something creates our experience, creates our life, creates our reality.
It is the attitude we choose to adopt towards the world: absent, present, open, curious, kind, detached, engaged, alienated, aversive, empathic, broad, narrow, sustained etc.
Attention therefore has the power to change whatever it meets for the better or worse. So how we attend to something or someone – or don’t – matters a very great deal.
Iain McGilchrist says in The Matter with Things (volume I, 2021): “The choice we make of how we dispose our consciousness is the ultimate creative act: it renders the world what it is. It is, therefore, a moral act: it has consequences”.
Attention … has the power to change whatever it meets for the better or worse. So how we attend to something or someone – or don’t – matters a very great deal
The traditional understanding of leadership is often individualistic, leader-centric and focused on behaviour, performance, success and productivity rather than the inner capabilities or capacities of a leader.
The Inner Development Goals (IDG) Initiative has done extensive research in recent years and found that there are five inner domains that leaders need to look at in order to deal with our increasingly complex environment and challenges. These are:
- Relationship to self
- Inner compass
- Integrity and authenticity (honesty)
- Learning mindset
- Critical thinking
- Complexity awareness
- Perspective skills
- Sense making
- Long-term thinking and visioning
- Empathy and compassion
- Communication skills
- Co-creation skills
- Inclusive mind-set and cultural competence
- Trust and mobilisation skills (inspiring others to engage in a shared purpose
When we, as leaders, begin to go beyond our own needs and wants, our ethical awareness increases
Following an eco-centric path
Ethical leadership requires leaders to develop these inner capacities to attend to self, each other and the world in a way that leads to freedom, ease and non-harm.
It’s the ability to see beyond the self, to move from ‘what I need and want’ towards ‘what the other needs and wants’ and ‘what the world needs and wants’.
It replaces a more anthropocentric, individualistic way of being in the world with a more eco-centric way of working and living.
Ethical leadership helps leaders move from ‘I’ to ‘I in relationship to’ (see diagram).
When we, as leaders, begin to go beyond our own needs and wants, our ethical awareness increases.
We begin to experience the impact our actions of thinking (judging, labelling our experience as good /bad, right/wrong, like/don’t like, valuable/invaluable), communicating and behaving have on others.
And in this process of increasing awareness, we begin to grow our understanding that rationality and thinking are not separate from our feelings and emotions, that the body-mind-heart-spirit is an integrated whole and that we are interconnected with our respective contexts, our work environment (our people and culture), our community and wider ecosystem.
What type of leader do you want to be?
Leading ethically manifests in our capacity to feel healthy shame. Healthy shame is what we feel when we know we haven’t lived up to our own values. It’s like an inner compass that keeps us moving toward all that matters to us.
In the midst of day-to-day organisational life with its high demands and complexities, it’s easy to lose touch with that deep inner knowing of what is most important to us.
It takes slowing down and self-reflection to re-collect and remember that which most matters to us, the type of leader-person we want to be, how we want to show up for ourselves and others.
These values are reflected in the inner capacities that we already possess and that we can re-ignite and further develop through increasing awareness and practice.
Let go of right and wrong and embrace inner ethics
Healthy shame is not easy to feel. It requires us to be humble and honest with ourselves, to practise daily and to be compassionate.
Yet to feel healthy shame means that our inner compass is working well. We know where we stand from our own centre and our own values, not from anyone else’s standpoint.
Healthy shame enables us to examine what caused us to fall below our own standards, allowing us to become more conscious of what drives our biases, limiting views, impulses, judgements, behavioural patterns, tendencies and feelings.
It’s a feeling of ‘I don’t feel good about something I did or didn’t say or do’ – a sense of unease or disquiet, as something that weighs on our conscience. It’s held in the body and manifests as physical tension, tightness or constraint.
This can be followed by self-enquiry, ie. by asking oneself: ‘What are my preconceived views or biases here?’, with a willingness to apologise, take responsibility and make amends.
As mentioned before, ethics is not about being good or bad which leads to unhealthy shame, ie. ‘I’m a bad person’. Ethics are the values and our inner capacities (skills and qualities) that govern our behaviour.
Leading ethically manifests in our capacity to feel healthy shame. Healthy shame is what we feel when we know we haven’t lived up to our own values. It’s like an inner compass that keeps us moving toward all that matters to us
Here is a framework of practice for leading ethically:
Awareness: What have I noticed in myself and others today?
The first and most crucial step to leading ethically is slowing down, listening more (to self and others) and noticing. Without awareness and waking up to what’s actually happening inside and outside of yourself, no change will happen.
Questions for self-enquiry:
- Where have I pursued my own interests at the expense of others?
- Where did I listen attentively to colleagues and was in good communication?
- What else have I noticed?
Attitude: What has my attitude been today?
The most important ingredient when practising ethics is your attitude, ie. how you attend to yourself, others and the world around you.
Your attitude is determined by your state of mind. Your state of mind is determined by your intention. Your intention determines your actions.
If your intention is to be positive, open, curious and kind, your state of mind is open, curious and kind and, as a result, your actions are skilful and lead to freedom, ease, connection with yourself and others.
If your intention is to be negative (often unconscious, habitual), aversive, hostile, your actions are unskilful and lead to distress, harm and disconnection from yourself and others.
If your intention is to be positive, open, curious and kind, your state of mind is open, curious and kind and, as a result, your actions are skilful and lead to freedom, ease, connection with yourself and others
Questions for self-enquiry:
- Where have I been unkind, judgemental, reactive, dishonest, aggressive, dismissive? What did it feel like in the body?
- Where have I been kind, empathic, understanding, generous, inclusive?
- What did it feel like in the body?
Relationality: How have I related and connected to others today?
We are relational beings, ie. intrinsically interconnected and interdependent. We always influence each other. What we think, say and do has an impact on self, others and the world.
Questions for self-enquiry:
- Whom have I disliked today and, consciously or unconsciously, pushed away or pushed out?
- Where have I turned towards others with interest and generosity?
- Have I included everyone as best as I could?
- Have I harmed anyone through my words, my way of thinking or behaving?
Inner values: What does most deeply matter to me?
Intuitively you know what is most important to you. And yet, day-to-day busyness can disrupt and cloud your inner compass that guides your actions. It’s worth spending time reflecting on your inner values, to (re)-connect to the things that are dearest to you.
Questions for self-enquiry:
- Where have I fallen below my own standard? What happened here?
- Where have I not shown up in the way I wanted to show up?
- Where have I been the leader I want to be and which value(s) was I in touch with?
- Where have I been guided by self-interest, wanting, grandiosity?
- Have I favoured some over others and why? What are my unconscious biases?
It’s important to examine yourself with a learning mindset and an attitude of curiosity, openness, kindness and compassion so you can further increase your ethical awareness vs collapsing into self-deprecation
Learning: What have I learned today?
Whatever your answers are to some of the questions you ask yourself, examine what you noticed and what happened. Celebrate what you liked about your ethical behaviour and look at what you want to do differently next time, what you want to do more of, where you can apologise, where you can make amends.
It’s important to examine yourself with a learning mindset and an attitude of curiosity, openness, kindness and compassion so you can further increase your ethical awareness vs collapsing into self-deprecation.
This is the practice of ethics, ie. having a daily intention to cultivate the best of yourself for the benefit of self, others and the wider world.
If you enjoyed this, read: Three ways ethical leadership can promote culture change