Archive for honor

Character is Crumbling in Leadership

Posted in Core Values, Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2016 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

In military and civilian academic institutions around the world, above and beyond their core curriculum, character is taught and inspired.  In each of the military academies in the United States, as well as college Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs, the purpose and responsibility is to produce leaders of character.  To accomplish this, they incorporate the values of integrity, respect, responsibility, compassion, and gratitude into the daily life of cadets and midshipmen who aspire to become tomorrow’s leaders.

The U.S. Naval Academy’s mission, for example, is to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty.  They provide graduates who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.[i]  The Naval Academy has a deep and abiding commitment to the moral development of its midshipmen and to instilling the naval service core values of honor, courage, and commitment.[ii]

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point character development strategy promotes living honorably and building trust.  West Point believes that their approach not only develops character, but modifies behavior over the course of the 47-month cadet experience.  Ultimately, the desire is for cadets and rotating faculty members to depart West Point with the character, competence, and commitment to build and lead resilient teams that thrive in complex security environments.  Most importantly, everyone commits to living honorably and building trust, on and off duty.[iii]

The Cadet Honor Code at West Point:

A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.[iv]

Recommended Reading: Duty, Honor, Country

The U.S. Air Force Academy has the Center for Character and Leadership development, where they advance the understanding, practice, and integration of character and leadership development as a catalyst for achieving the academy’s highest purpose, while also preparing the cadets for service to the nation in the profession of arms.[v]  I think the Air Force Academy has it absolutely correct when they say that there has never been a more critical time to increase understanding of how moral and ethical dimensions interact with the complexities of leadership – not only in the military context, but across many fields of human endeavor.[vi]

The demonstration of moral and ethical attributes are essential for effective leadership as a commissioned officer in the U.S. military.

Those who possess leadership characteristics seek to discover the truth, decides what is right, and demonstrates the courage to act accordingly – always.[vii]  Officers in the military are to epitomize humility, self-effacement, and selfless service.  So, at the basic and academic level, before the bars are pinned onto a newly commissioned officer, candidates are taught the importance of equality, dignity, and respect.[viii]

Aside from all of these foundations for character development from which scholars transition into professionals in varying fields of expertise and responsibility, it seems that the façade of character in today’s military is crumbling.

Recommended Reading: Defining Military Character

The Moral Compass is Broken

In 2015, just in the U.S. Navy alone, there were twenty commanding officers, four executive officers, and eight senior enlisted firings.  In one of last year’s cases, the commanding officer of the Norfolk-based USS Anzio propositioned a subordinate for sex in exchange for career advancement during a “wetting down”[ix] party at a nearby bar.  There was heavy drinking and inappropriate fraternization that evening, followed the next day by an encounter in the commanding officer’s cabin.

The list for 2016 is already growing.  From the firing of top leaders of a U.S. Navy destroyer for allowing fireworks and gambling on their ship, to a Navy officer being accused of spying, it appears that the moral compass for these leaders has broken.

Related: Relieved of Command

How can it be that the moral compass for these leaders has broken?  Why have they ventured off course so far that they ruin their careers, tarnish the branch of service they belong, and betray those who have, up to that point, trusted them with precious people, equipment, and resources?  Has leading by example become so difficult in today’s complex military environment that doing the right thing has become challenging?

In an article on the Military Times website, Andrew Tilghman reported that the Pentagon’s force-wide look at misconduct among senior military officers, and the efforts to prevent it, found that the Navy and Air Force lag behind in professionalism, while the Army and the Marine Corps have a very mature profession of arms.  Rear Admiral Margaret “Peg” Klein, the defense secretary’s senior advisor for military professionalism, attributes the Army and Marine Corps’ success to sending junior officers into leadership positions, and their professional identity is learned very early in their careers, where they quickly learn the importance of trust, humility, integrity, and empathy.

Not only are officers and non-commissioned officer’s responsible for upholding their own ethical behavior, they are responsible for instilling morals in their subordinates.

It seems the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality is a growing epidemic throughout the ranks.  Maybe it’s time for the Pentagon to conduct an ethics stand down to reach every service member from four-star rank down to the recruit in basic training, similar to what the Marine Corps did a few years ago, to emphasize code of conduct and core values.  But, will that really begin the process to reduce and eliminate the problem?

Retired Army colonel, David S. Maxwell, Associate Director for Security Studies at Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, in an article about the growing concern over top military officers’ ethics, was quoted saying, “Faced with stress, and a very complex combat environment, people make mistakes.”  Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, in an article asking if recent ethics and sex scandals undermine integrity of the officer corps, said “The truth is just because people are wearing stars, doesn’t mean they are immune from human frailties.”  Are these legitimate reasons for these ethical lapses in judgement, or merely excuses?

Character is the foundation upon which all leadership traits are built.

Moral and ethical behavior is truly where one’s leadership becomes the bedrock of who we are as individuals, and as leaders.  Its strength comes from the fortitude to always do our best, and to always do what is right, no matter what may lure us away from making the right decision.  The four cornerstones of this foundation are the values of integrity, respect, responsibility and professionalism.  Or, to use a different and more common metaphor, these become the four points on the moral compass.  They are the core values of a leader that lead to uprightness and success.

No matter what our challenges happen to be, either driven by stress or human urges, we must strive to reach deep within ourselves to overcome the temptation to make poor decisions; no matter if we are in uniform downrange, or in daily life with our family or friends.  Our country, society, superiors, peers, subordinates, family, and friends are relying on our steady and consistent moral courage to translate into professional decorum and behavior; always.

Many respected military leaders of the past espoused the vitally important qualities of a leader.  Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps said, “Leadership is the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding, and moral character that enables a person to inspire and control a group of people successfully.”  Among General Douglas MacArthur’s 17 Principles of Leadership, which essentially acts as a leader’s self-assessment questionnaire, there is this question: “Am I a constant example to my subordinates in character, dress, deportment and courtesy?”[x]

An excerpt from the West Point Cadet Prayer reads, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole truth can be won.  Endow us with the courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.”[xi]

The trailhead to success was clearly identified to us early in our lives and careers.  Ultimately, it became our responsibility to continue to travel along a wholesome path.  But, at some point in our lives, we find ourselves at the intersection of human-nature and temptation, faced with the challenge to make the right decision.  When this happens to you, which way will you go?  Will your moral compass point you in the right direction?  Is the foundation of your character strong enough to stand firm?  Or, will your character crumble to the ground?  What will your leadership legacy be?  Lessons learned through life’s experiences, as well as the awareness and attentiveness to your surroundings, should always provide you the sense of direction necessary to make the right decision.  You must have courage, faith and confidence that your moral compass will point you in the right direction; the path toward the intersection of character and integrity.  If your ultimate destination is success and victory, follow your moral compass.[xii]



[i] U.S. Naval Academy. Mission of USNA. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016.

[ii] U.S. Naval Academy. Character Development. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016.

[iii] The William E. Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic. “Character Development Strategy – Live Honorably and Build Trust.” Letter by Robert L. Caslen, Jr., Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, Superintendent, United States Military Academy: Page 3. Dec. 2014. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016. documents/west point’s character development strategy(digital-2-4-15).pdf.

[iv] “The Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic – Honor.” The Simon Center for the Professional Military Ethic – Honor. Web. Accessed 17 Apr. 2016.

[v] “Center for Character & Leadership Development Homepage.” Center for Character & Leadership Development Homepage. U.S. Air Force Academy. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016.

[vi] U.S. Air Force Academy, Journal of Character & Leadership Integration (JCLI). Center for Character Development – Publications Archive. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016.

[vii] “Building Capacity to Lead – The West Point System for Leader Development.” Officership & Perspective: Our Targets for Leader Development | Leader of Character: Page 18. United States Military Academy. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016. the capacity to lead.pdf.

[viii] Wilson, Dale R. “Schofield’s Definition of Discipline.” Command Performance Leadership. Command Performance Leadership, 23 Feb. 2012. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016.

[ix] A ‘Wetting Down’ is a ceremony or event held congratulating a newly promoted officer.  More information can be found here:  “Social Customs & Traditions of the Sea Services.” Functions & Traditions – Wetting-Down Parties: page 14. Naval Services FamilyLine. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016. htttp://

[x] Donnithorne, Larry. The West Point Way of Leadership: From Learning Principled Leadership to Practicing it. New York: Currency Doubleday, 1993. pp. 178-179. Print.

[xi] Cadet Prayer. Office of Chaplains. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016. Prayer.aspx.

[xii] Adapted from “Pithy Points to Ponder (A Leader’s Moral Compass),” by Dale R. Wilson on the blog Command Performance Leadership. 14 Nov. 2012. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2016. Edited and adapted for this publication.


Leadership: My Military Heritage

Posted in Miscellaneous with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

Trevor, over at the blog Leadership Musings of a Skeptical Positivist is proud of his military heritage, and what the military has done to help lay his leadership foundation. The values of honor, courage and commitment are the cornerstones of that foundation, and he opens up in this post what those values mean to him, and to leadership in general.

I/O Musings of a Skeptical Positivist

Leadership ValuesNestled amidst the swampy forests of Fort Benning, Georgia, the image of Iron Mike is a common site.  No, not Mike Tyson.  Rather, Iron Mike, the U.S. Army’s Infantry symbol and mascot.  An advancing soldier, rifle clutched in one hand and his other arm raised above his head, beckoning others forward.  The infantry motto….Follow Me!

It’s this image that inspired a nineteen year old Army Private in the early 90s, not only for its romantic visage of honor and courage, but for the message it held up as the standard for leadership.

Half a decade later, it was the Navy’s touted values of Honor, Courage, Commitment that helped round out my vision of what leadership means.  It’s a combination of all these that defines the highest quality of leadership to me.

Follow MeFollow Me – More than simply being provided the authority to demand performance of others, it’s the essence of…

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Core Values

Posted in Core Values, Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2011 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

Whoever you are and wherever you fit into an organization, core values are the basic guide to how to conduct yourself in your day-to-day activities, and how you work together as a team to improve the quality of your work, your people and yourself.  Core values are much more than minimum standards.  They inspire us to do our very best at all times.  They are a common bond among all people, and are the glue that unifies any group.

The United States military is dedicated to core values to build the foundation of trust and leadership upon which their strength is based and victory is achieved.  They are the principles on which each military service was founded, and they continue to guide them today.  Service members understand and live by these core values, and have stood ready to protect the nation and its freedom; ready to carry out any mission, to deter any conflict around the globe, and if called upon to fight and be victorious.  They are faithful to these core values as their abiding duty and privilege. 

The core values I will be discussing are the elements of character that lay the foundation of leadership and followership in any walk of life.  They are the valuable traits, virtues and competencies that make great people and successful organizations.  As you will see, these core values are intertwined, and are uniquely related to one another.  They become the standard for behavior that should never be compromised. 


Duty is the legal or moral obligation to accomplish all assigned or implied tasks to the fullest of your ability.  Everyone must do what needs to be done without having to be told to do it.  Duty requires a willingness to accept full responsibility for your actions and for the performance of your subordinates.  It also requires a leader to take the initiative and anticipate requirements based on the situation.  Some people think that duty means putting in their time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.  But, duty means accomplishing all assigned tasks to the best of your ability.  Leaders, and the teams they lead, must have a deep commitment to duty and what is best for the organization. 


To abide by an uncompromising code of integrity, taking full responsibility for your actions and keeping your word; to conduct yourself in the highest ethical manner in all relationships with peers, superiors and subordinates, as well as being honest, truthful and sincere in your dealings with each other, and with those who you do business with.  You must be willing to make honest recommendations, and to accept advice and suggestions of junior personnel; encourage new ideas.  You are accountable for your professional and personal behavior, and you must fulfill or exceed your responsibilities with honor.  You should never give in to pressures that can challenge your ethical reasoning such as self-interest, peer pressure, pressure from subordinates or pressure from superiors.  Living with honor, and being honest with oneself is perhaps the best way to live each of the core values. 


Have the courage to meet the demands of your profession and the mission when it is challenging, demanding, or otherwise difficult.  Make decisions and act in the best interest of your organization, without regard to personal consequences.  Meet these challenges while adhering to a higher standard of personal conduct and decency.  Courage is the value that gives you the moral and mental strength to do what is right, with confidence and resolution, even in the face of personal or professional temptation or adversity.  Expect and encourage candor and integrity of your people.  If you believe you are right, after sober consideration, hold your position.  Practicing moral courage in your daily lives builds a strong and honorable character. 


Dedicate yourself to the professional, personal and spiritual well-being of your people.  Be obligated to and strive for positive change and constant improvement.  Exhibit the highest degree of moral character, professional excellence, quality and competence in what you have been entrusted to achieve.  Be loyal and have a faithful adherence to your people, team, department, unit and/or company.  Loyalty is the thread that binds actions together and causes everyone to support each other, your superiors, and your company. 


Selfless service is placing your duty before your personal desires.  It is the ability to endure hardships and insurmountable odds because of your dedication and loyalty to your fellow employees and your company.  Selfless service is a rare virtue in today’s society, and it needs to be instilled throughout the organization through inspired leadership.  Organizations who work as a cohesive team become an unbeatable force.  The selfless employee and/or leader does not make decisions or take actions designed to promote self, to further a career or to enhance personal comfort. 


Integrity is a character trait that means to firmly adhere to a code of moral and ethical principles.  It is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking.  Possessing high personal moral standards and to be honest is the basis for the trust and confidence that must exist within an organization.  It is the source for great personal strength and is the foundation for organizational effectiveness.  As leaders, all employees are watching and looking to see that you are honest and live by your word.  And, no person of integrity tries to shift the blame to others or take credit for the work of others.  Most importantly, a person of high integrity has self-respect; as a professional and a human being.  They do not behave in ways that would bring discredit upon themself or the organization to which they belong. 


Respect is treating others with consideration and honor.  It is the ability to accept and value other individuals.  Respect begins with a fundamental understanding that all people possess worth as human beings; to show respect toward people without regard to race, religion or gender.  It is developed by accepting others and acknowledging their worth to an organization.  Therefore, we have to foster respect up and down the chain of command.


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