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7 Questions with Linda Fisher Thornton
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7 Questions with Linda Fisher Thornton
Name: Linda Fisher Thornton
Current title: Founder and CEO
Current organisation: Leading in Context LLC
Linda Fisher Thornton is an innovative leadership development consultant with a passion for ethical leadership. Her book 7 Lenses, which is in its third printing, introduces a practical 7-Lens model and 14 Guiding Principles for learning ethical leadership and seeing the nuances of ethical complexity. Linda holds an undergraduate degree in Linguistics and Communications from the University of Virginia and a Masters in Adult Education and Human Development from George Washington University. A former bank senior vice president and now CEO of Leading in Context LLC, Linda has been in the leadership development field for over 25 years and is redefining “leadership” at a higher level with the ethical values built in. She is on Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers list and enjoys working with leaders across industries including Global Fortune 500, non-profit, government, health care, and education. Linda also teaches global leadership and applied ethics as an adjunct associate professor for the University of Richmond SPCS. Her website is LeadinginContext.com.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
There wasn’t a holistic and multidimensional model of ethical leadership before my research was published, so leaders and organizations didn’t know anything like it was out there. This created a huge challenge in spreading the word. I had to be crystal clear in explaining the 7 Lenses model and its benefits to a global audience that had no frame of reference. It took time to spread the word and I had to stay focused and avoid getting discouraged.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My dream job, Chief Learning Officer of a Virginia bank, disappeared during a merger with Wachovia, which was headquartered in another state. My husband and I had just gotten married and bought a house and didn’t want to relocate. After many sleepless nights I decided to open my own consulting firm. The business was successful right away, with my first client booked before new business cards were printed.
While running my new business, I kept teaching leadership for the University of Richmond, and after working with leaders and teaching leadership over time, I realized that our definitions of “leadership” left out the values. I looked for a leadership model that corrected that problem and didn’t find one. I ended up creating that model of leadership with the values built in and published it in a book called 7 Lenses. Its popularity has continued to grow, with organizations now using it to teach leaders across continents.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My workday starts with a light breakfast, green tea, and 20 minutes of Qui Gong to keep me centered. After that, I plan exactly what I want to accomplish that day, in priority order, and get to work. Of course, the list usually must be limited to just a few deliverables to allow time to respond to clients, answer inquiries, and assist students. While working, I take frequent breaks to avoid sitting for too long.
During lunch I check the news to see what’s happening in the world, then tune it out for the afternoon. I make time to learn across disciplines to stay at the top of my game. Before stopping for the day I plan what I want to accomplish the next day so I can get a running start in the morning.
After work I enjoy dinner time with my family. I rarely work after that, although occasionally it becomes necessary. Sleep is important for my well being, and I make it a priority to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, with a regular wind-down time to transition from a busy day to restful sleep.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The pandemic has been a wakeup call, making it clear that not only are we “not in control,” we also can’t imagine every scenario that might happen tomorrow that will force us to adapt and reinvent. We have to continually learn and stay ready to pivot. There will be surprises, and how we handle them will send a clear message about our priorities and values to all those we lead and serve.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey has had a powerful impact on my approach to leadership. Back when I was a bank division manager, I was certified by The Covey Leadership Institute to teach The 7 Habits to leaders, and its principles served as powerful guideposts on my journey.
Years later I found The Speed of Trust to be influential, and Stephen M. R. Covey and I eventually ended up as founding members of the same Trust Alliance. We were working to restore the trust in business through Trust Across America. I reached out to him, and he agreed to write the foreword for my book 7 Lenses.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
You develop individual capacity for adapting, managing complexity, making sense out of information, and ethical decision-making and leadership. You build team capacity for collaboration, innovation, adaptability, and trust. You build organizational capacity for ethical culture building. Then you have a leadership system that will get you where you want to go.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
It’s hard to pick just one story, but there was one part of my book writing journey that was particularly unexpected. I started out writing a different book. I had a five-part model but knew something was missing, so it wasn’t going to be part of the book.
After researching and writing for over two years, just a few weeks before the manuscript was finished, I realized what was missing and named the last two lenses. The multidimensional ethics model fell into place. I had to remove some chapters and write new ones to add to it. The title of the book was changed to 7 Lenses. It became a completely different book from the one that was planned. If I had stuck to the original plan, I would have had more control over the process but the book would not have been as powerful or impactful. Adaptability was definitely the name of the game. The process had to play out and it all came together in its own time.