As we begin a new year I came across a reminder that over the last several years we have at CAAFLog tended to keep track of Navy DFC’s (both officer and senior enlisted).

By way of SmallWarsJournal I came across, LT L. Heyworth, IV, Fireproof Commanding Officers, Proceedings Magazine (Jan. 2014).

We look at what appears, through our military justice prism, to be a tsunami of senior leader misconduct.  LT Heyworth sees a better context, that there is no “endemic problem.”  But he casts the issue in a different and interesting light that should still attract our interest for the roles we play in leading others to do the right thing, or holding them accountable if they don’t.  He notes:

Seeing these frequent headlines could cause many junior officers to develop a disproportionate understanding of the frequency of such events. Further, junior officers likely begin to question both the quality of our commanding officers and their own ability to avoid these same pitfalls, the details of which are rarely described at much length. . . .

The failure to lead by personal example and the impact of a CO’s relief can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for a crew of more than 250 sailors. A list of costs resulting from a commanding officer’s relief for cause could include lost productivity from distracted or unmotivated crews, a loss of continuity of leadership, lower retention rates of disenchanted sailors, and significant negative effects on personnel management to redirect prospective commanding officers to the affected commands. Due to the cascading costs involved in even a single relief for cause, Navy leadership is correct in attempting to further reduce these events.

He seeks to debunk what he calls two myths: that the failed are simply bad apples, or that they are already of weak moral character.  He finds support for the debunking in the 2010 Navy IG study.  I’ll leave you to decide what he finds to be a cause.

Leadership and ethics is hard; it requires “deep and consistent introspection,” reading (and not just textbooks), and application.  (I’ll avoid commenting on specific cases, but as I read some of the reported cases as they come out, I ask myself (and the gossips) where was the leadership?)

The key is then internalizing these concepts by asking, “How does this apply to me and my job?” This must begin as early as possible in one’s career to lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Some might say that military lawyers live and practice in a doubly ethical world.  As I look at my CLE balance I see I have to do only one mandatory hour this year (out of 12), and that is for ethics (out of 2).  But (even for the older):

It would be folly to presume one could only read a few books and attend mandatory PowerPoint training offered . . . throughout a career of service and be safeguarded against ethical dilemmas that require the strongest character to identify and resolve. Any leadership continuum . . . must steer clear of rewarding “checks in the block” and instead focus on personal development.

2 Responses to “Worth the read”

  1. stewie says:

    Perfection is no more attainable in the world of ethical behavior than in any other field of human behavior.  Perhaps I am cynical, but I believe there are few folks who have never done something unethical from stealing to cheating to adultery to what have you at some point in their lives.  This does not mean they aren’t good, decent, moral, and ethical.  It means they are human.  Obviously some are more ethical than others…but to me the simplest explanation when a senior leader gets caught doing something is not that they are morally weak or ethically challenged but simply, they got caught in a moment of human weakness that we all get caught in from time to time.  I’m sure the Venn Diagram of enlisted/officers who’ve committed adultery and gotten away with it is far larger than the one of those who were caught.
    Obviously getting caught means you pay whatever price is tied to that, but I’m finding myself less and less “head-shaky and judgy,” perhaps as I age, about the moral failings of others.  I totally concur that it’s about life-long reinforcement though.  Just like a healthy diet or physical fitness, moral fitness obviously needs to be worked out regularly.

  2. Phil Cave says: