Executive Doctorate | Leading Change

“A constant series of epiphanies” – Boeing Senior Ethics Advisor on her Journey to Earn her Doctorate

Colleen Lyons is a Dallas-based Senior Ethics Advisor with Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company. Here she answers questions about her own journey in values-driven leadership.

Executive Doctorate | Leading Change

Colleen (pictured third from left) and classmates discuss leading organizational change.

What prompted you to consider a Ph.D.?

A former colleague and mentor of mine called me a few years ago and said he’d just completed a doctoral program. It sowed the seed, and over time the idea of earning a Ph.D. came to seem right.

I’m passionate about contributing to ethical capitalism. This helps me understand more, and will help open doors for me to do my job better.

Also, I love going to school.

What led you to Benedictine University’s program?

It was a convergence of things that led me here; really, it was a 15-year journey. It started years ago, when I was at a highly respected market research firm; the further I went up in the organization, I started to see how profitability and ethics intertwined. I became very interested in how ethical culture impacts business outcomes. Eventually I was a non-degree graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary to study global ethics, to work in response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis. Later I earned my master’s in bio ethics and ended up at Boeing.

A colleague at Boeing introduced me to values-driven leadership, and I began to consider Benedictine’s program.

As an ethics expert, how do you see the connection between ethics and values-driven leadership?

Values-driven leadership is what makes for a truly ethical culture. Ethical behavior is a personal decision first, and everything else falls from it.

In business, the way I explain it is by saying you cannot outsource your ethics to a code of conduct. Enron had a strong code of conduct, but we know what happened there.

Values-driven leadership is a well-defined set of values that are non-negotiable on a personal level. From there, you can influence others. Values-driven leadership is about influence, not compliance. You need compliance, but that cannot be all. Values driven leadership enables shared accountability.

You need the values to cultivate a system, because it’s possible to have a really great code of conduct and still have people within the organization do really terrible things.

Values are also aspirational. Most of us are trying to be good. People don’t want to be knuckle-heads, but we all are at times.  Well-crafted systems, processes, policies and procedures can serve as a poison pill against the pressures that prompt good actors to succumb to misconduct.

So for me, to really have an ethical organization, we need values-driven leadership.

Of all that you’ve studied so far, what is stretching your thinking the most?

Getting an outside perspective of myself using the literature and class discussions is a constant series of epiphanies. It’s like walking through Versailles – there are mirrors everywhere, providing never-seen before views, but there are so many you cannot fixate.

From an intellectual perspective, the exposure to the literature is incredible. You cannot go through this without being humbled by the history of the field and what’s happened before you. It’s a high bar to contribute something.

In addition to our faculty, our visiting scholars are deep thinkers that are so engaged in life, very well-rounded people. For example, Dr. Anjan Chakravartty from University of Notre Dame, who taught our philosophy of science course: he is a serious mind with deep character and a delightful humanity.

Finally, my classmates help me think differently. They challenge each other with humor and grace.

What do you hope to research for your dissertation topic?

I’m interested in courage – specifically, the role of courage in an open and accountable culture. How do you make it possible to speak up, to give voice to your values, especially in a VUCA [volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous] world?

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Learn more about our Executive Doctoral Program in Values-Driven Leadership at this link. 

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