If you wanted to teach leaders how to make better decisions, what subjects would you include on your curriculum of consciousness?
As I was pondering this last week, I came across two guys down in deepest, darkest Southampton, who are quietly getting on with exploring the subject they’d put at the top of their curriculum. Because they believe in its importance, they are filming leaders talking about what they call ‘the Eth word’ – the vastly important and under-discussed subject of ethics. And they’ve got some interesting ‘big names’ sharing openly on camera about their personal values, about how much of themselves they bring to the workplace, about courage, vulnerability, about love and how their own ideals shape the cultures of their businesses.
Talking to Pete Thompson and Brian Davenport challenged me to consider what ethics really means to me…
First, it’s not something distasteful like cod-liver oil that we need to take to make us somehow better. It’s not some worthy checklist that should be used to police our behaviour. For me, ethics is fundamentally about design: I see it as the art of designing a self and a society that not only gives meaning to our lives, but gives form and function to what matters most to us, both personally and collectively. It’s about how we express our identities in ways that are both true and beautiful. This way of looking at ethics throws up three things for me – about creativity, service and identity:
- That ethics is about responding creatively to the changing situations we find ourselves in. I don’t think we can have a one-size-fits-all response to the complexity of situations we find ourselves in today, so we need to cultivate the kinds of situational responsiveness that has a sinewy flexibility. Creativity is the pivot-point of ethics as it gives optimism to difficult situations.
- That ethics is about service of a collective – design is always pragmatically for others. It recognises that everyone and everything has value and purpose, and so puts us in to generative relationship with others.
- That ethics is about identity – not just at the level of personal values, which gives us some sense of who we are; but also is fundamentally concerned with meaning and with belonging. And by ‘belonging’ I don’t only mean in a narrow, individualistic sense to our family, or community, or company but also to the environment. This view of ethics asks us how we both design ways of being together that are sustainable and also how we inter-relate systemically.
In the sense that ethics is about design in service of something more than ourselves, I think it is connected to the life and vitality of the soul. Definitely a subject I’d have on my curriculum of consciousness if I want to inspire integrity in leaders.