By: Andrew Driscoll
March 16, 2013
Each soldier in the United States Army, or any military service, will have very different experiences with the ethical culture of their unit. Is this experience due to the organizational culture or how its leaders operate within that culture that creates such an unique experience for every soldier? The point is that if you ask 10 soldiers to conduct an ethical culture audit of the military, I believe you will get 10 different answers that fall on all points on the continuum. Responses that the Army is highly ethical would come from soldiers who have “internalized cultural expectations” (p. 152). Since the Army has such a strong culture, ethical or not, there are always going to be individuals who fight that culture and resist the “internalization” of some or all the values. Typically these soldiers separate from the military during their initial training or when their first time commitment is up, usually 2-3 years.
From my experience the United States Army has a highly ethical culture. One could sight any of several dozen scandals or investigations from Abu Grhaib prison abuse to the 101st Airborne soldiers raping and killing a family of five in Iraq to counter my assessment. But, I argue that these incidents occurred in spite of the strong culture, where a combination of “individual character traits” (p.198) and/or trauma suffered in combat operations caused unethical behavior contrary to the ethical training they received. To help prevent such incidents and also study behavior the US Army has developed the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic. Since 2008 the Army has incorporated the research from this organization and trained its mid-level leaders to implement its findings at the unit level. To have a highly ethical organization, you need leadership that is committed to continuous improvement and not complacent with the current culture. In an organization with over 500,000 active soldiers the mentality has to be, there is always room for improvement.
This mentality of continuous improvement must also come from the leadership of the military to be effective and implemented. Similar to Kelleher’s philosophy of “serving the needs of employees” (p.156), the Army has a strong tradition of taking care of soldiers and their families so they can take care of the country. The leadership of the Army has set up and participates in numerous programs to assist soldiers with any issue from financial to marital problems. I completed my undergraduate education in Finance and then joined the military. I had no idea how to do my taxes and the Army taught me, not a $100,000 plus education. Once I knew how to do my taxes, as a junior leader I was required to assist my soldiers. Formal leadership in the military is prominent, from the understanding the Uniform Code of military Justice, to daily corrective actions for very minor offenses that in other organizations would probably go unnoticed. This relationship tends to be very formal as all rules and regulations are written down and trained during your initial 12 weeks of basic training. The leader is also responsible for continuous training to include a weekly briefing on good decision making when off duty. The informal aspect is very unique for each leader, it typically comes from written policies that the leader permits his soldiers to dis-obey. Whether it is early dismissal on Friday, or a motto against regulations, it builds a trust a with soldiers that their leader is on their side as well. Except in extreme cases such as the Abu Grhaib prison unit, I have found that the informal systems are in alignment with the formal ones and where they differentiate are so minor that it does not cause issues. The best way to summarize ethical leadership is to know that soldiers react to your actions more than they do your words. A common Army Office motto is “Lead by Example.”...