Peter S. Bowen
"I think Iím getting vertigo," the student pilot said.
"Get on your instruments and fly your aircraft," the instructor responded, "Iíll be coming up your right side." The instructor went to full power and began to close the distance separating the aircraft.
"I canít see the instruments," the student said, "I think Iím getting hypoxic." Hypoxia is a medical condition where a person is not receiving enough oxygen. Hypoxia is especially dangerous for pilots because it strikes them by surprise, quickly degrading their flying abilities and causing unconsciousness. The student pilot was about to eject before he lost consciousness.
"Add a little bit of power, stop," the instructor said as he approached the studentís airplane, "Right wing down, stop." They were now climbing through 3000í. The instructor had to think quickly. The student was probably going to pass out in the next 15 seconds-and die in a plane crash. What to do?
The bible of naval aviation is called NATOPS and contains everything you ever wanted to know about and all of the procedures for operating a particular aircraft. NATOPS has an entire chapter devoted to emergency procedures-procedures written in the blood of earlier aircraft crashes. Emergency procedures are taken extremely seriously and all pilots are regularly tested on them. If you crash an airplane, one of the primary ways in which you will be evaluated is in terms of whether or not you followed the emergency procedures.
Of course, there are emergency procedures for hypoxia. The first procedure is to pull a green ring to release emergency oxygen into the oxygen mask. According to the rules, that was the right thing to do. Instead of telling the student to pull the green ring however, the instructor violated NATOPS emergency procedures and told the student to take his oxygen mask off and open the cockpit vents to outside air.
Was that the right thing to do? According to the rules of NATOPS, the instructor clearly did the wrong thing. But are the NATOPS rules the final measure of right and wrong, or is there a more important, more fundamental measure? Do we have enough information to make a firm decision and end the story here, or do we need to know more?
NATOPS RIGHT OR WRONG?
In the little time available, the instructor figured that the air going through the mask to the student was bad and that emergency oxygen might be a solution-depending where the problem was. On the other hand, he knew that the outside air at 3000í was good for sure, so he told the student to vent his cockpit, remove his mask and breathe fresh air.
Later examination of the studentís flight equipment showed that the problem was in the hose and mask. Emergency oxygen would not have helped the student. In this very rare case, if they had followed the NATOPS rules, at best, the student would have ejected and at worst, he would have passed out and died in the aircraft crash. In a critical, stressful, time-constrained situation, the instructor trusted the judgment developed from experience and saved a pilot and airplane by violating the rules.
The moral of the story? NATOPS rules are sacred principles that represent the best written knowledge available about flying a particular airplane. They are outstanding guidelines to the successful operation of the aircraft and work in almost every situation. Anyone who blithely disregards NATOPS is a poor pilot and fool.
But there is a lot more to flying than the successful execution of a set of rules. Indeed, even NATOPS recognizes this with its first rule: Nothing in NATOPS is to preclude the exercise of good judgment. NATOPS does not exist for or justify itself; it exists for and finds its justification in the need for safe and orderly flight operations.
When we ask the question about whether the instructor did the right thing, we have two answers. In terms of the rules, the instructor was wrong. In terms of the purpose of the rules, the instructor was right. The instructor would not have been "wrong"-even if the plane had crashed-if he had followed NATOPS rules. But just as clearly, the best thing to do was to violate the NATOPS rules. How do we know? Because the violation of the rule achieved the purpose of the rules: safe and orderly flight.
That is why the primary measure of pilots is not their last score on a procedures test or the number of aerodynamics classes they have attended. The primary measure of pilots is their flight time, a measure of their flight experience. Pilots know that the rules provide a great guide that works almost all the time, but nothing replaces the wisdom that comes with experience.
A good pilot is one that executes their mission in a safe and orderly manner. They key to mission accomplishment and safe flight is wisdom. So how do we develop flight wisdom?
MASTERY OF FLIGHT
But as you practice the rules, skills and techniques of flying, you not only become better at performing individual skills (like a level turn), the skills and techniques not only become "ingrained", but the rules and techniques begin to come together in a comprehensive, intuitive, holistic manner. They come together in a way that is larger than the sum of the individual parts. You develop increasing situational awareness (SA), an overall, intuitive understanding of everything going on around you and the fluid relationships that exist between the environment and the different skill sets you are executing within that environment. As you continually practice and develop SA, you develop flight wisdom. As that SA and flight wisdom are maximized, you become a master-pilot.
Imagine yourself as a pilot flying a low-level ingress to a target attack in enemy territory when your section is jumped by a couple of enemy fighters. Your environment/situation is low altitude flight (watch out for the ground) in a high threat environment. You are executing several skill sets, all of which are interrelated, in a dynamic environment including basic flying skills, low-level navigation, formation (that is your wingman a mile away on your right), timing, fuel management, threat recognition and response, air-to-air skills, communication and weaponeering. As you recognize the new air-to-air threat and respond, you must execute every other skill set in relationship to it and each other. You must execute a level or climbing turn at low altitude to counter the threat while talking to and watching your wingman, switching to air-to-air weapons, looking for additional bogeys, and projecting ahead how you are going to make up the time and adjust navigation to get to the target as planned. The ability to do all of this nearly simultaneously requires SA and flight wisdom that is developed through real-world experience.
The master-pilot is not someone who simply executes a well-ingrained matrix of rules, but someone who flies based on an intuitive wisdom that transcends those rules. This is not some kind of irrational or mystical experience. It is eminently practical and rational. An intuitive wisdom that can be shared directly in discussion with other master-pilots, but can never be fully shared with those lacking that wisdom. Why? Because the wisdom would have to be translated into rules to be understood by others and rules can never fully capture the wisdom. Remember that rules come from and find their justification in the wisdom they seek.
When pilots develops these qualities, they are able to make the best decisions possible in the most ambiguous, stressful, chaotic situations-in exactly those "borderline situations" where the rules do not work well.
THE MASTERY PROCESS
Michael Jordan not only has the ingrained skill to hit a jump shot from anywhere on the court, but has an intuitive knowledge of where everyone is, where they are headed on the court and even what they are thinking. It is Jordanís basketball court SA that enables him to make the blind passes that surprise everyone except his teammates. Pro-football coaches spend enormous amounts of time trying to develop the same kind of SA in their quarterbacks. Those quarterbacks must continuously read the defense and adjust their offense from the point they approach the line of scrimmage to the time they release the ball. Great jazz musicians are classic examples of people who have become masters, developed deep musical SA, and are permitted to transcend the "rules" of music.
Perhaps the most familiar example of mastery is driving a car. We take all of the driverís education classes and we listen to our parents tell us about the rules of driving. Even with all the rules though, when we begin driving, we can not see anything going on more than six inches ahead of the hood ornament. It takes all of our concentration to turn a corner correctly. After some experience-a lot more experience than teenagers think necessary-driving begins to become intuitive and we develop situational awareness. Now we can see things going on a block down the street. With increased situational awareness we see the kid on the bike about to come out in the street, recognize that the car next to us is about to come into our lane without signaling, and conduct a conversation simultaneously. When we develop driving wisdom, we can recognize the special situations when we should break the rules in order to achieve the purpose of driving rules: safe travel to the destination.
A person who memorizes all of the driving rules, tips and techniques will never be a good driver until they actually sit behind the wheel and develop SA and driving wisdom. Their advantage over others is that their time spent memorizing rules will help them achieve driving-mastery more quickly than they otherwise would have.
There are three additional things concerning the development of intuitive wisdom. First, the mastery process applies to sets of skills combined to achieve a particular purpose within a dynamic environment. Driving involves sets of skills (navigation, rules of the road, car handling, etc.) combined to achieve a particular purpose (safe arrival at the destination or safe sightseeing) within a dynamic environment (on the Washington Beltway).
The mastery process does not apply as well to activities like plumbing which, though they involve several sets of skills, are not generally exercised within a dynamic environment. Why? Because mastery involves the intuitive understanding of the unfolding relationships of things to each other and those relationships are best learned in the context of changing/dynamic environments. And because intuitive understanding necessarily involves understanding the dynamic relationships between things-and relationships require at least two-single skills like the assembly of an M-16A2 do not fall into the mastery process. Single skills are repeated until the are ingrained. Multiple skills combined within a dynamic environment to achieve a purpose become intuitive.
Second, a person that is a master of something is, by definition, good at that thing. A master-pilot is a good pilot because he achieves the purpose of all pilots: mission accomplishment in a safe and orderly manner. If we study a master-pilot we can derive the characteristics of a good pilot, but we will never truly understand what it means to be a good pilot until we become a master-pilot ourselves. Why? Because a good pilot possesses that intuitive wisdom that can not be fully translated into rules or words. It is an intuitive wisdom that can not be fully understood unless you have participated in it yourself.
Finally, a master possesses authority and license. As an expert in their activity, the comments, thoughts and statements of a master carry significant weight. Those who wish to become masters of that activity would do well to heed the comments of masters and are foolish to dismiss them, just as someone who wishes to master basketball would be smart to submit to the authority of Michael Jordan and foolish to ignore it. Those who are masters have also earned the right of license to exercise their wisdom in those chaotic, ambiguous, "borderline" situations where the rules do not apply well. The decision of a master in these difficult situations should generally be respected as the best possible decision within that situation.
It is possible that two masters in the same situation may choose two different paths. Both choices are valid if they achieve the purpose of the activity. Because their choices are based on their SA and wisdom, they can not be fully evaluated in terms of the "rules". Their choices may be evaluated however, in terms of whether they achieved the purpose of the activity and/or by a consensus of masters considering all aspects of the situation. Again, this is intuition, not mysticism.
The great danger, of course, is that some who have not achieved mastery may nevertheless break the rules, attempting to avoid responsibility by claiming mastery and license. In these situations, we must depend on the wisdom and authority of recognized masters to identify, guard us from the abuse and judge the legitimacy of the pseudo-masters.
What do we know? In complex, ambiguous, stressful, dynamic environments, we know through long experience that the best decisions come from people who possess the wisdom associated with that activity. At the core of that wisdom is situational awareness developed over time as a person intensely practices the skills and techniques associated with the activity. The situational awareness and wisdom are holistic and comprehensive, and are much more than the sum of the individual skills and techniques. Situational awareness is not ingrained or mystical, but an intuitive understanding of the skill sets, their relationships, and their relationship to the dynamics of the stressful environment and the purpose of the activity.
A person that possesses practical wisdom in association with an activity can be called a master of that activity. In the stressful, ambiguous borderline situations in which their judgment is best and most highly respected, a master may apply a variety of the rules-even conflicting rule systems-in order to obtain a better grasp of the situation, but makes a final decision based on their wisdom developed through experience. The final justification of a decision lies not in the rules of the activity, but in whether the purpose of the rules-successful accomplishment of the purpose of the activity-is realized. By demonstrating mastery of an activity, a master is necessarily good at that activity and recognized as an authority. The rules and techniques of an activity come from, are continuously revised by, and are justified by the masters of the activity who published them.
The mastery process is clearly effective at developing people who can make the best decisions possible in the challenging and stressful environments of their activities. That includes not just military personnel, but doctors, lawyers, sports players, police officers and many others. Warfare puts military people in the most demanding, chaotic, stressful and ambiguous situations imaginable, so why are we not using the mastery process to develop character mastery in our military people?
WHY VALUES DONíT WORK
The first problem is that values programs do not appear to make a difference in actual performance. The Josephson Institute, a southern California ethics institute, published its "Report on Ethics of American Youth" in October 1997, an ethics survey with 20,000 high school and middle school participants. While the report has received wide exposure in the press, some patterns that were not reported in the press may tell us a lot about the ineffectiveness of values programs. The following numbers are responses from high school students, the population from which the military draws its recruits.
The first set of numbers indicates that our schools and parents are working hard to instill good values and that our children are embracing those values. Note that 78% think that it is not worth it to lie, cheat or steal. The second set of numbers shows that the kids value ethics in general and believe that they are very ethical. The first two sets of numbers show us that we are working hard to instill values, that our kids have good values and that they consider themselves ethical (91%). Little doubt about it, our kids have great values!
But our success in values training stands in stark contrast to the third set of numbers that measures virtues, or qualities of character actually demonstrated. While our kids have great values, they lack virtues. We have taught them to think good behavior is important, but we have failed to help them demonstrate good behavior throughout their lives. We have turned them into hypocrites: they know what to think and say (at least on a survey), but we have not prepared them to actually live it.
That is because values programs do not work. Values programs promote values clarification, discuss values applications and consider case studies, but they do not actually develop the corresponding behavior. Values programs may provide a decision-making process and information, but they do little or nothing to actually develop virtuous habit patterns. And if they only talk about values (rules) and do not actually develop good habit patterns, then values programs can never develop the SA and wisdom required for character mastery.
While good habit patterns are critical, character mastery also requires an intellectual framework for understanding how everything works. At a minimum, can values programs provide that intellectual framework-at least for the military?
Values programs can not provide the intellectual framework because they are empty and fail to provide a compelling "why" or motivation for ethical behavior.
Values programs find their origin in the failure of modern society to come to a common understanding of the foundation of ethical behavior. Our society consists of deontologists, utilitarians, virtue ethicists, social contract and natural rights people, ethical egoists, emotivists, relativists, subjectivists, etc. While these people can not agree on a moral theory, apparently they can come to some consensus on the results of their theories. If we put them in a room and ask them to make lists of their theoryís favorite values, we can compare the lists and derive the values common to all. The whole point of the values process is that the values are selected by vote, by consensus, without a common philosophical foundation. The idea is that those who participate in the program can provide whatever justification they need or want for the values on their lists.
So values programs leave us with a list of common values. As members of whatever organization is sponsoring the values, we are supposed to act in accordance with the values. But that is more difficult than it initially appears. For if we are given the value "loyalty", how are we supposed to know how that applies in the real world? If I catch my roommate cheating on a test, then loyalty demands that I keep silent about his cheating. But those who published the values statement may object that this is not what they meant by loyalty. They may argue that a good cadet would report the cheating of a roommate out of a higher loyalty to the good of the unit and service.
We have two different interpretations of the same value, loyalty. How do we know which interpretation is correct? In order to find out which interpretation is correct, we must examine, discuss and define the value. But that means that the value of loyalty will take on the characteristics of one moral theory to the exclusion of others. But that is not allowed because it defeats the whole point of the values process.
This is a real problem that goes to the heart of the values concept, for values language is treaty language. The program values are acceptable to all sides, to all ethical theories, because each theory is free to understand the value in whatever terms are consistent with their theory. Even if that interpretation conflicts with interpretations of other theories. For a value to be acceptable to all ethical theories, it must be as undefined as possible, for the more a value is interpreted in one way (according to one theory), the more likely it will be unacceptable to another theory that interprets it differently. On the other hand, if we are going to use a value to make sense out of a complex ethical situation, we must interpret the value in terms of the particulars of the situation.
And so values present us with a conundrum. Values are supposed to provide us with a guide for behavior in complex, difficult ethical situations. But the more we try to make a value acceptable to all, the less we are able to use it as an effective guide in that situation. And the more we try to apply a value to a particular situation, the less likely it is to remain acceptable to all ethical theories because it will start to take the appearance of a particular theory. Values programs can not do both at the same time.
But even if we step over this fundamental inconsistency and simply consider values as a guide to behavior, we find that values suffer from the same deficiencies from which any code of behavior suffers. In order to be a guide to a wide-range of behavior, a code must be general in nature. But a general code does not help us in the very complex situations for which we seek guidance. The value of loyalty is general enough to apply to almost any situation, but it provides little concrete guidance concerning our cheating roommate unless we further define loyalty. But every time we further define loyalty, we add enormous complexity to our value system. And we can not devise some deeper understanding of loyalty to act as a guide, because that would force us across the line from values into ethical theories.
But, an objection may arise, the problem above is false because each person will define and apply the value in terms of whatever ethical theory with which they choose to justify it. The question then is, if everyone has their own ethical theory that leads to the same results, why have a values program at all? What is a values program supposed to accomplish that any ethical theory a person already believes in will not accomplish? But, the objection continues, some do not come with an ethical theory and the military must instill values in them. But that objection must fail, for how can the military instill values into a person without giving them a reason to believe in those values? And as we saw above, giving a reason for values is to instill a particular ethical theory and that is precisely what values systems were intended to avoid.
So values programs are empty in at least two ways: we can not make them overall guides without giving them substance, but that transforms them from values programs into moral theories. In addition, they can not function as practical guides to behavior because they will either be too general for real dilemmas or too specific to remember easily. Values programs have enormous appeal because we can make whatever we want of them. As long as ethics remains in the theoretical or potential realm, we can avoid giving them content and pretend that the values concept will stand. But when we move from the potential to the practical-when the values must be applied and given substance to be useful-conflict ensues and the values concept collapses. There are more problems.
Because values do not have a philosophical "reason" for their selection, they can not provide a "why" or motivation for their implementation. Let us return to our cheating roommate. Should we turn him in for cheating on the exam? Let us even assume that our values program can provide us specific guidance in this complex ethical situation without embodying a particular moral theory or losing its general applicability.
"Why" should I follow the guidance of the values-especially if the consequences for me are painful? Again, the emptiness of values comes back to haunt us. We can not look to the values program for the answer, because the whole point of a values program is to avoid the "why" question. The conventional answer is that we are supposed to find the "why" in whatever ethical theory we believe in. But the big problem, many ethics professors will tell you, is that the people who are enlisting and being commissioned in our military come lacking any ethical system. Somehow we have to give them an ethical system. But we cannot teach them a particular system because that would violate the spirit of values. Instead, we present a smorgasbord of ethical concepts from which they can select one they like. Or mix and match whatever they choose. Heaven help us if we actually direct them to a particular approach-like the mastery process. Very little chance a compelling "why" will arise out of this process.
Finally, even when there is a "why", it often fails to provide real motivation for good behavior. Utilitarian ethics tells us that the right action is the one that brings the greatest good to the greatest number. Sounds good. Now tell me again how that is supposed to provide me with the motivation to sacrifice my career in order to do the right thing? Lacking a "why" to begin with, values programs can not supply compelling motivation for ethical behavior.
The whole point of values programs is to get people to behave correctly in complex ethical situations, but values programs can not achieve this. Good behavior in any complex, stressful situation is a function of mastery, habit patterns and an intellectual framework that provides a consideration process and a motivation or reason "why". But these are exactly the things that a values program does not and can not provide.
Some argue that values programs are sufficient because all the ethical theories come to the same conclusions except in rare, borderline cases. They forget that the military is an institution that operates quite regularly in the most extreme, borderline situations imaginable. For the military, these cases are not rare. The military needs an ethics program that not only provides answers to difficult ethical dilemmas, but also develops the mastery and habit patterns required to actually implement them. An ethics program with a "why" and compelling motivation.
As we saw earlier, the mastery process is the best way to develop excellence in the midst of challenging, complex, dynamic environments. This is not rote memorization of particular skills, wrongful submission to a manipulative authority or mysticism. This is not a theory hatched in academia where objections are met with jury-rigged explanations. The mastery process has been proven effective in the most demanding life and death conditions possible-the very environment in which the military specializes-and the very place that most ethical rule-based theories break down.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT AND MASTERY
Character development is clearly an activity that falls within the mastery process. It involves at least two sets of skills combined to achieve a particular purpose within a dynamic environment. At a minimum, the sets of skills include whatever skill is being pursued (i.e. work, sports, family relationships, etc) and the skill of ethical consideration (does this help me become a good person or not?). Character development also has a clear purpose: to make us good people.
Life is best understood as a narrative or story continuum instead of a series of distinct events or situations-and therefore provides the dynamic environment for the character mastery process. Our lives are filled with the constant execution of skill sets-even if those skill sets are resting, sleeping or "doing nothing". And because everything in our lives is part of that continuum of doing, we can ask whether what we are doing contributes to our development as a good person or not.
There are many ethical theories out there with rules or guidelines that can help us understand whether what we are doing helps make us good: deontological, consequentialist, natural rights-based, etc. Just like the rules of flying, or shiphandling, or infantry combat provide outstanding guidelines in most situations, so many of these ethical theories can provide good guidance in most ethical situations. Just as continued application of the flying or shiphandling rules can help us develop SA and wisdom in those dynamic environments, so ethical theories can help us develop moral SA and wisdom. But just as anyone who believes that the purpose of flying is to apply the rules instead of becoming a master pilot misses the purpose of flying and the rules, so those who argue that the purpose of life is to follow particular ethical theories miss the point of life and the ethical rules. Rules of flying and the rules of ethical theories are supposed to develop SA and wisdom within us so that we can become master-pilots and good people. The rules are justified or rejected by how they help us become, or prevent us from becoming, a master pilot or good person. It is not the particular action that we take in an ethical dilemma that is critical, it is what we become by doing within that dilemma that is most important. The character mastery process develops good habit patterns, moral SA and wisdom, and explains the proper relationship between "the rules" and their purpose.
The character mastery process also provides a reason "why" and motivation. The reason why we should use the rules is that they help us develop the habit patterns that lead to moral SA and wisdom. The reason that we strive for moral SA and wisdom is that it makes us good people and provides the best chance for happiness. The motivation is personal fulfillment.
The character mastery process works, but how do we translate it into a program that actually develops character in the real world? What would that program look like?
THE SANGREAL APPROACH
Virtue teams can be nested within virtue teams: a platoon within a company within a battalion within a regiment; a class within a school within a community; a business team within a department within a division within a corporation within the community; or a family within a small family community within a church within a larger community. In each case, the virtue team on the lower tier participates as a member of the larger virtue team. Properly pursued, the goals of each virtue team contribute to the goals of each larger virtue team in which it is a participant.
When a virtue team is properly committed, lead and focused, it develops what we call the Sangreal Dynamic. Consider an infantry platoon committed to preparing for victory in combat. As platoon members commit themselves to that goal, they must develop three qualities: teamwork, professional skills and character. The better they are able to operate as a team, the more likely they are to execute tactics well, the more likely they are to win. They must make professional skills intuitive. They must know how to operate their weapons, to patrol, to exhibit fire control discipline, and to execute the proper tactics in different kinds of terrain: urban, desert, mountains and forest. Finally, they must demonstrate good character in order to build trust, confidence and teamwork. Nothing will shatter teamwork or commitment faster than dishonesty, cowardice, unfairness or irresponsibility.
The qualities are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. As they pursue teamwork, they must develop professional skills and character-or the team will fail. As they pursue professional skills-though it may be drudgery-they develop qualities of character like courage, honesty, endurance and duty, and bond more tightly together as a team. As they develop character, they better understand and deepen their commitment to their teammates, further developing teamwork and professional skills.
Finally, as they develop their professional skills and character, they will earn the respect, trust and confidence of their peers, seniors and subordinates. If they can add the qualities of good judgment under stress and vision to their professional skills and character, they can become outstanding leaders. And as they become leaders, they will be inspired to further develop their own character, skills and teamwork-for that is what they will expect of their subordinates and so they must set the example. That in turn inspires subordinates to continuously improve the same qualities in themselves. And so virtue teams and the Sangreal Dynamic include a natural, continuous improvement process.
Note that military leadership itself is a mastery process that involves the combination of several skill sets in the most demanding, dynamic environments possible. The best leaders develop an intuitive understanding (SA) of what is unfolding on the battlefield, or their area of responsibility, and the wisdom to do the best possible within that environment.
Virtue teams and the Sangreal Dynamic provide the best opportunity to actually develop real leadership, character, teamwork and skills, and to form the most powerful teams possible. But the process can be made even more effective.
By developing a culture and tradition of excellence, an organization can firmly establish, reinforce and extend the strength of this dynamic. By making the kind of person created by the virtue team and Sangreal Dynamic the expectation of the organization, they can inspire superior performance and continuous improvement. This can be done in three dimensions: horizontally, vertically and historically.
All Marines are expected to have outstanding professional skills, character and commitment to the team. They are also expected to be constantly developing their leadership skills. The Marine Corps uses everything it can-customs, traditions, rituals, uniforms, history, etc.-to continually reinforce these qualities and inspire improvement. One hundred years ago the Marine Corps was the least respected military service. Since then it has worked hard to develop a reputation for and an image of excellence. It has transformed those into a set of expectations for all Marines. A good Marine works very hard to develop their leadership, character, teamwork and skills because that is what they owe their peers (horizontal dimension), and their seniors and subordinates (vertical dimension). There is a third dimension, a historical dimension. The Marine Corps uses the stories of Marines of the past-Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Khe Sanh-to set the example and inspire Marines of today to outstanding performance. And the Corps challenges the Marines of today to raise that bar to ensure that future Marines will maintain the honor and respect of their Corps tomorrow.
The fourth and final component of the process is Strategic Purpose. Remember that virtue teams required people committed to each other and the noble goal of the team. It should be evident that leadership, character, teamwork and skill development will take place in proportion to that commitment. The commitment of the people will be in proportion to the nobility of the final, or strategic purpose of the team. If the military wants the maximum commitment from the best people, they must offer them the best strategic purpose. If the military wants people who are committed to all-round excellence, they must offer excellence as their strategic purpose. Seizing the objective, providing logistical support, establishing air superiority or safeguarding the sea-lanes are all important, but their real function is to provide a means to organizational and personal excellence.
It is here that excellence serves as a natural safeguard against immoral or criminal acts. If you put mission ahead of excellence, then it becomes permissible to sacrifice moral considerations in order to achieve the mission. If the strategic purpose of excellence is preeminent and we achieve excellence by striving for mission accomplishment, then we still work just as hard to accomplish the mission, but we are prohibited from sacrificing moral considerations in order to achieve the mission.
Excellence is the reason why the Marine Corps achieves its recruiting goals. The Marine Corps offers recruits the chance to develop personal excellence through service to their unit, their Corps, their nation and God.
This goes to another point, the nature of the relationship between the team and individual. In modern business theory, a worker tries to get as much money from the company for as little work as possible. The company tries to get as much work out of the worker for as little money as possible. If they can come to an agreement, they have a contract. The company-worker relationship is fundamentally confrontational and contractual.
But the virtue team relationship is different. If the virtue team hopes to achieve its goal, the team must commit itself to developing the leadership, character, teamwork and skills of its people. An individual can only achieve his goal of personal excellence-the development of character, leadership, teamwork and professionalism-by fully committing himself to team success. In this process the person does not lose their identity to the team, but discovers their deepest self through participation in the team. Individual and virtue team goals are not conflicting, but are aligned from the bottom to the strategic purpose of the team. The virtue team relationship is not contractual, it is a covenant.
One of the critical mistakes of values programs is that they treat character development as a separate, mostly intellectual, process. In fact, real character is best developed in the context of a virtue team pursuing a noble goal, and in the context of the Sangreal Dynamic, that seamless interrelationship between character, teamwork, skill and leadership development.
BEYOND CORE VALUES TO CHARACTER MASTERY
First, develop real character, leadership, teamwork and skills in people by making them part of a virtue team in as many activities as possible. In the military where people almost always function as part of a unit or team, this should be relatively easy.
Second, develop these qualities in conjunction with each other as part of a deliberate process. That process should include providing them with a framework for understanding what is going to happen, putting them in well-structured, dynamic situations where they can develop these qualities and these qualities are tested, and debriefing them quickly and frankly about their performance and how to improve it. This should occur as an aspect of all training evolutions, from executing infantry tactics to planning an awards ceremony.
Third, establish a set of expectations and a culture and tradition of excellence that reinforces those expectations. That culture and tradition of excellence should pervade as many aspects of life as possible using ritual, customs, traditions, etc. that always point back, through history and stories, to the strategic purpose: personal and organizational excellence.
Fourth, provide an intellectual framework that enables them to understand the mastery process-including the character mastery process-and the interrelationship of virtue teams, the Sangreal Dynamic, the culture and tradition of excellence, and strategic purpose. It should include discussion of ethical theories and the role they play-including strengths and weaknesses-in developing moral SA and wisdom. With this framework they will understand that everything they do either contributes to or detracts from their personal excellence and the excellence of their team. While the framework is important, it is only a small part of the process. Real character development is not a classroom exercise, it is a continuing process that never stops. A continuous process that takes place in the context of a dynamic environment and in relationship to the execution of other skill sets and activities.
Anyone who has managed to make it this far through the paper will recognize that this program has much in common with the virtue tradition and that many of the elements in this program already exist within the military services. All the better. It is much easier to take what we already possess, organize and understand it correctly, and use it to achieve excellence, than it is to create the elements out of whole cloth.
Values programs can not possibly provide true character development because they do not develop the habit patterns, moral SA or moral wisdom required for character mastery. They lack a comprehensive framework, a reason why and the ability to provide motivation.
True character development best occurs in the context of executing multiple skill sets in a dynamic environment while a member of a team pursuing a noble goal. But that is just philosophic-speak for saying that real character is best developed by pursuing excellence wholeheartedly in all aspects of life.
We use the mastery process to develop the best officers and enlisted Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Soldiers in the world. It is time that we go beyond core values and use that same mastery process to develop the best character possible in all of our people.