We Hold These Truths:

The Development and Assessment of Character

by CDR Patrick Kelly and Dr. John Gibson
Leadership and Character Development Branch
United States Coast Guard Academy

A paper prepared for presentation to the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics XVII Washington, D.C. January 25-26, 1996

 (The views presented herein are entirely those of the author, and do not repres ent the official position of the JSCOPE Conference, United States Coast Guard or the Department of Defense.)


When one thinks of the military professional, there is an assumed degree of both leadership ability and character that one expects to find. The debate of whether "leadership" can be taught has gone on for years. We believe that each individual has a "potential" as a leader and that it is possible to develop knowledge, skills, and abilities to achieve that potential. But what of character? Can this be developed or is one "born with it"? Is character something one learns during early years and tends to retain through life? Are there so many influences on one's character that it is too complex to even address, let alone develop? How do we even define this concept of character? Should we relate it to the organization and if so, how is this best accomplished? How should we integrate the concept of character in our leadership development program? Finally, if we agree that we can develop character and attempt to do so, how should we best assess our progress in meeting this challenge?

 The answers to these questions are the subject of this paper and will provide focus for our efforts in addressing this somewhat elusive topic. We will briefly discuss the need to address character development in today's military leaders. We will provide our definition of character and then address how to promote character development. In doing so, we will provide a model to assess the effectiveness of character development efforts that has application at Service Academies, as well as for other organizations.


The Need for Character Development

In recent years we have seen numerous incidents that illustrate the need for character development in our future leaders. We have all read about the increases in violent crime among the youth of our society, which is epitomized by the use of metal detectors to check for weapons being brought into our schools. The evolution of our society in the past twenty-five years has seen an increased prevalence of gangs, violent crime, drugs, abuse of children, and an increased drop out rate in our nations' schools.1 These developments all speak to the need for us to check our individual and collective moral compasses. In terms of the military services, do we even have to address these as legitimate issues? We have set up recruitment and selection systems that have attempted to screen out the individuals who we do not want to enter our respective services. Why not rely on these systems to provide us those with the character we desire? When the selection system fails, we can just remove those who made it in, yet fail to meet our character criteria.

 Even as we do manage those entering our ranks, there are arguably other aspects of character that we need to address. Do people entering our military still possess basic values to the extent they did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago? Are those entering our service academies now more prone to lie, cheat, steal, and attempt to deceive than in the past? Some evidence indicates we may have concerns in this area, even among high performing students entering our academies. When questioned in recent years, over 80% of those entering the Coast Guard Academy admitted to cheating at least once in either junior high or high school. This is consistent with some other findings.

 In a survey of 3100 top high-school juniors and seniors that was conducted for Who's Who Among American High School Students, 78% said they have cheated. And 89% said cheating was common at their schools.

 At the Naval Academy and West Point, some value differences have been noted. After he returned for a second tour as Naval Academy Superintendent in 1994, Admiral Charles Larson noticed "subtle differences" in the cadets.3

 We aren't as homogeneous in our values as we used to be. ... We have people coming in now (with whom) we have to establish, through our character development program, what that foundation is, what the values are.

 These points are echoed by General Howard Graves, Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who noted the following regarding the values of incoming cadets.

 They are coming from a much more relativistic society. ... They do not, as a group, have a history of picking up sound ethical principles in their high school or elementary education program.5

 In some instances we have also seen in some a lack of knowledge about even basic values and principles by those entering our academies. Chaplain Phillips, the former Senior Chaplain at the Coast Guard Academy, noted the following in an article for the Naval Institute Proceedings.

 ... the military must take a serious look at its assumptions about the moral and ethical standards of those it commissions or recruits... the influence of organized religion as a conduit for shared social and human values has waned. On my first day teaching a Morals and Ethics class at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I gave the 24 cadets in class a quiz to determine what formal knowledge they brought to the course. The last question asked the cadets to name as many of the Ten Commandments as they could. As the commandments are one of the foundations for ethical reflection in Western civilization, it seemed like an appropriate question. I figured that even if they had seen the Cecil B. Demille movie, they should be good for a couple.
I was wrong. One cadet knew eight commandments. Seven knew between four and six commandments. Eight knew between one and three. Eight cadets - one third of the class - could not with confidence name a single commandment. They had heard there was such a list but were unable to say with certainty that any particular behavior was part of it...
The institution must face the reality of incoming officers and enlisted personnel whose allegiance to and even awareness of long-standing traditional ethical values are shaky.6

 While we are by no means attempting to demean the value set of those entering our academies or the military services, we feel confident in asserting that these contemporary recruits have a more varied set of values than their predecessors ten or twenty years ago. If this is the case, can we expect to have repeated ethical and character lapses and associated problems these bring to our institutions and services? While almost every point mentioned already could be the subject of an individual study, from our focus on character development as a leadership issue, we find that it is necessary to develop or promote character of people entering the Coast Guard Academy and other organizations. This presents some challenges, including the issues of how do we go about accomplishing the development of character we desire and how do we assess this development?


Developing Character

A prerequisite in developing character is defining the term so that one can understand the context from which we attempt to address the topic. At the Coast Guard Academy we have articulated a definition for character through our Character Development Precept.

 Good character is moral action demonstrated in all circumstances. It is the result of reasoned and willful coordination between heart and mind.7

 Our definition of character is quite consistent with basic definitions one may find in a dictionary. In Webster's, character is defined as, "The combination of emotional, intellectual, and moral qualities distinguishing one person or group from another."8 We have related our concept of character to our definition of leadership in our Leadership Precept. We find the following definition useful for our purpose of developing leaders.

 Leadership is the practice of good character, competence, commitment, and community through example, decisions, and actions that engage others to achieve shared objectives and aspirations.9

 The "four Cs" at the Coast Guard Academy, character, competence, commitment, and community, have become a focus for our leadership development efforts. These are a natural outgrowth of the stated Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty, which were articulated during 1994.10 Now, a natural question might be that "The Coast Guard has been a very successful organization for over 200 years without stated core values, why are they needed in the first place?" These core values provide a foundation for the Service. As new people enter the Coast Guard, either through recruit training, officer accession programs, or at any civilian level, these values provide organizational expectations and thus become important navigational aids that guide successful conduct. The benefits of articulated values are particularly significant at an institution such as the Coast Guard Academy, where the student population completely changes each four year period. Furthermore, during periods of great change, whether organizational, technological, environmental, legal, or even ethical, having stated values can guide us through the turbulent "white water" that we meet, whether individually or organizationally.


Step #1 - Identify and codify organizational values

Dealing with character from an organizational context is important as we attempt to address how to develop it. Consistent with our character definition above, we believe character is two-dimensional. There is a core value system and there is behavior that occurs in support of that value system. The organization determines the desired value system that applies for that particular entity. At the Coast Guard Academy we have sought to articulate the values that are desired, drawing from the Coast Guard Core Values (Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty), the supporting Four C's (Character, Competence, Commitment, and Community), associated concepts articulated in Admiral Robert Kramek's Commandant's Direction, promulgated in 1994 (including Coast Guard Attributes of Excellence, Leadership, Service to the American Public, and Ethical Standards),11 and Academy Superintendent RADM Paul Versaw's "three watch words" (Professionalism, Accountability, and Responsibility).

 This process of determining exactly what we mean in defining values can prove challenging and it is almost easier to assume that everyone understands what the values are. For example, honor has always been a basic value at the Academy and in the Coast Guard; respect and devotion to duty have always been valued principles as well. Why do we need to explain these further? The main reason to go through the effort to articulate these is that they can be interpreted by individuals in different ways. One organization member's definition of respect could be very different from another's. Describing these values, while it may require time and effort and sitting on a "hard chair," is necessary to insure their consistent application throughout the organization. Thus, the first step in our model for character development is to identify and articulate the organizational values that are best for the organization.

 A second, and equally crucial part of this process, is examining our "statement of values" for consistency and conflict. Cadets will be quick to notice that value A can only be honored at the expense of value B (i.e., truth versus loyalty12), and ask "Which is more important?" While "both" may be a politically satisfying answer, it is useless to the cadet struggling with "doing the right thing." We should not be surprised to get cheating, for example, if we place demonstration of knowledge ahead of demonstration of character.

 Where there is a potential conflict between values, and it is almost sure to exist, we should try first to resolve the conflict and, failing that, prioritize. To walk away from this toughest of all value issues is to fail our Corps of new officers. If those teaching or modeling core values to our new cadets can't sort through the conflicts and any inconsistencies in our core value statements, how can we expect our "learners" to do it?

 With this "what" dimension out of the way, we can turn to the "behavioral how?"


Developing Character - How?

Our exposition of the character traits we seek to develop, while specific to the Coast Guard Academy, is similar to many of those that have appeared recently in the military and business press - with citations too numerous to mention. What few, if any, of these articles deal with is an explanation of the processes by which character is developed - the "HOW?" question. Just as a naval architect would not attempt to design a vessel without reference to the rules of displacement and stability, we should not fashion "character development programs" without reference to the underlying "rules" of human behavior.

 While we can draw from the entire field of psychology for this effort, a quite definitive explanation can be found in Bandura's (1977) classic, Social Learning Theory. A few of the most relevant citations are:

 Some complex behavior can be produced only through the aid of modeling.... Where novel forms of behavior can be conveyed effectively only by social cues, modeling is an indispensable aspect of learning. Even when it is possible to establish new behaviors through other means, the process of acquisition can be considerably shortened through modeling.13

 Another distinguishing feature of social learning theory is the prominent role it assigns to self-regulatory capacities. By arranging environmental inducements, generating cognitive supports, and producing consequences for their own actions, people are able to exercise some measure of control over their own behavior.14

 Modeling has been shown to be a highly effective means of establishing abstract or rule-governed behavior. On the basis of observationally derived rules, people learn, among other things, judgmental orientations .... and standards of conduct.15

 Development of moral judgments is another area in which the abstract modeling paradigm has been extensively applied to test predictions from alternative theories of conceptual learning.16

 Kohlberg (1969) postulates a six-stage sequential typology beginning with punishment based obedience and evolving through instrumental hedonism, approval-seeking conformity, respect for authority, contractual legalistic observance and culminating in private conscience."17

 We cannot call behavior "character driven" until it reaches this last stage - where it is internalized by the performer. Psychologists have come to differentiate behavior based on its "locus of control." Behavior based on "external" control is effective only in the presence of an outside mechanism (i.e. when "getting caught" is reasonably probable). Behavior that is subject to an "internal locus of control" does not require an external instrumentality for compliance. This is the domain of "character.

 Self-reinforcement refers to a process in which individuals enhance and maintain their own behavior by rewarding themselves with rewards that they control whenever they attain self-prescribed standards.18

 According to social learning theory, self-regulated reinforcement increases performance mainly through its motivational function. By making self-reward conditional upon attaining a certain level of performance, individuals create self inducements to persist in their efforts until their performances match self prescribed standards.19

 What makes internally controlled behavior (i.e. character induced behavior) so powerful is its capacity to prevail when in conflict with external influences.

 People commonly experience conflict when they are rewarded socially or materially for behavior they themselves devalue. The anticipation of self reproach for conduct that violates one's standards provides a source of motivation to keep behavior in line with standards in the face of opposing inducements. There is no more devastating punishment than self-contempt. When self-devaluative consequences out weigh the force of external rewards for accommodating behavior, the external influences are relatively ineffective.20

 The squadron commander who took his troops home from "Tail Hook" the day before the infamous "gauntlet" was letting his "inner directed standards" prevail in the face of external inducements to do otherwise.21

 The preceding citations from Bandura hardly do justice to the robustness of social learning theory, or to is relevance for character development. We urge all of those with interest in this subject to acquire the text and study it. However, these passages will help "set the conceptual table" for our efforts at character development on the banks of the Thames, which we see as a four step process - the first of which, Identifying and Codifying Organizational Values - has just been described. (To keep us intellectually honest we will, from time to time, cite the theoretical basis from social learning theory for the processes we are describing.)


Step 2 - Promulgating, Explaining and Demonstrating the Codified Core Values

This process begins, not surprisingly, at the beginning - during SWAB summer, a six week period during which cadets receive their initial military indoctrination and are prepared to serve as fully functioning members of the Cadet Corps during the upcoming academic year. It tends to be a period of stressful chaos for the new cadets as they assimilate into this new organization; one with over 200 years of tradition. Here we get a major assist from the principles of social learning.

 Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.22

 The pace of SWAB summer is made tolerable only because of this dimension of "vicarious learning." It is not necessary for every SWAB to personally experience every behavior, as long as he/she sees someone else experience that behavior, and observes the consequences. This emphasis on personal experience, or vicarious experience is critical. Just talking about it doesn't get the job done.

 In attempts to influence human behavior, verbal persuasion is widely used because of its ease and ready availability. People are led, through persuasive suggestion, into believing they can cope successfully with what has overwhelmed them in the past. Efficacy expectations induced in this manner are likely to be weak and shortlived. In the face of distressing threats and a long history of failure in coping with them, whatever success expectations are induced by suggestion will be rapidly extinguished by disconfirming experiences.23 (i.e. SWABs are not successfully "talked" through the obstacle course, they are successfully "led" through it.)

 The important aspect of this process lies in the diffusion of the values. When incoming cadets find differences in the values being described and their own values, they will attempt to make sense of this difference. In these cases, they will invariably have questions regarding the reasons for a particular value, how it is applied, and consequences associated with not adhering to this value. Quite frequently there is a dialogue regarding the importance of a value and its application. If this step is accomplished effectively, the organizational values described are approved of, admired, and even respected. One must realize that during a SWAB Summer experience, the most one can hope for is to increase awareness regarding the values the organization holds dear. That doesn't mean, however, that new members cannot gain a deep appreciation for the existing organizational values. In the language of social learning theory, here's how it works:

 The actions of others acquire predictive value through correlated consequences in much the same way as do nonsocial physical and symbolic stimuli. Modeling cues prompt similar conduct when behaving like others produces rewarding outcomes . . . Because people usually display behavior of proven value, following good examples is much more efficacious than tedious trial and error. Thus, by relying on the actions of knowledgeable models, novices can act appropriately in diverse settings and at different events without having to discover what constitutes acceptable conduct from the shocked or pleased reactions of witnesses to their groping performances.24

 In the case of SWABs, the "knowledgeable models" are the Cadet Cadre, who provide the leadership for the experience. To the extent that the Cadre effectively models "character induced behavior," the SWABs stand a good chance of internally coding and subsequently replicating what is desired. It is because we have recognized the critical importance of Cadre behavior to the effective socialization of the SWABs that we have instituted a leadership development program specifically for the SWAB Summer Cadre. With the core values codified (Step 1) and demonstrated (Step 2) we are ready to move on to ....

Step 3 - Hold cadets accountable for evidencing character induced behavior in a supportive environment that is consistent with the espoused values.

Communicating expectations of the values as described above provides a framework within which an individual can function in that organization. Once the values and expectations are modeled, the individuals are then provided the opportunity to behave in a way that may or may not be in conformance with these values. This represents the test of one's character. As in the case of intellect, we normally don't recognize someone as having character unless it has been "tested." We say someone is "smart" only if we have seen one or more occasions in which the person has displayed "smartness." It is not a dimension that can be evaluated in the absence of observed behavior. Similarly, character must also be tested so that one can find evidence of the demonstration of "moral action."

 During this testing period individual actions are observed by someone else, who can provide feedback on whether behavior is consistent with stated values; whether the individual has displayed "good character." At the Coast Guard Academy, observers include upper-class cadets, peers, or junior cadets, company officers, senior enlisted mentors, faculty members, coaches, or other members of the staff and Coast Guard. The period of observation is essentially the four year period while the person is a cadet. A person is considered to be of "good character" if his/her values are consistent with those espoused by the organization, particularly if such behavior has disadvantageous personal consequences. The more personally disadvantageous the consequences, the stronger the perceived character (observed behavior that is consistent with the organizational values).

 Another significant consideration regarding the development of character is the organizational climate in which the individuals are operating. Once values are communicated, those who are new to the organization look for consistencies or differences in their daily operating environment. If the existing environment or climate is consistent with the values the organization is espousing, individuals will be more inclined to adhere to the articulated organizational values. Where they find differences, they will try to conduct themselves in such a way that results in their success in the operating environment. A complicating factor is how to assess the existing climate in terms of consistency of the organization's stated values. If individuals know the type of climate that is desired by upper management, they will tend to state that the desired climate exists, even when this is not true.

 Let us provide two examples to illustrate these points. Cadet A enters the Coast Guard Academy and during SWAB Summer is told that cheating represents an honor offense and is not permitted. During the honor and character training sessions, Cadet A tends to agree that cheating is fundamentally wrong, but he has cheated in high school, and regards cheating as no big deal. As Cadet A proceeds during the academic year, he will function in an environment that either condones cheating or does not. If he finds cheating to be the norm in this operating environment, he will probably tend to cheat, even though he knows it is the wrong thing to do. Furthermore, if cheating tends to be the norm in the environment, his behavior will not be regarded as being of "bad character" and he can expect no negative consequences from his actions from the cadets he associates with. However, if superiors ask if there are instances of cheating at the institution, they will be told "Absolutely not!"

 Another example illustrates character issues relating to respect. Cadet B is a male cadet who has attended an all-male military prep school and arrives at the Coast Guard Academy with a belief that women do not really belong at the service academies. He is admitted with a class that is one-third female. During SWAB Summer he attends Human Relations lectures that focus on the equal treatment of all cadets, regardless of gender, racial, or religious differences. He can appreciate these values, particularly since he sees women excel in the Academy's rigorous program. Furthermore, Cadet B wants to be a successful cadet and so he keeps his views about women to himself. As he enters the academic year and the Corps returns, his antenna will be up to see how women are really treated in the operating environment. If he sits at a wardroom table with upper-class cadets who have the attitude that "women don't belong here", whether spoken or unspoken, Cadet B will tend to not internalize what he learned during the summer, and his values relating to respect for women will not be consistent with those espoused by the organization. He recognizes what the organization's values are relating to respect, yet he doesn't see that in his operating environment. When he sees that the upper-class cadets don't "walk the talk", he determines what tends to be permissible regarding this value of respect.

 A key issue that must be considered here relates to the system of accountability for the organizational values that exists in the operating environment. In our military services, seniors hold others accountable for abiding by the stated values of the organization. If the seniors don't "buy in" to the organizational values and don't hold others accountable, character development efforts will be impeded. This is a particularly significant issue at the service academies, where the seniors who are holding others accountable are cadets who are themselves trainees and exhibit varied levels of maturity. Thus, our third step is probably the most challenging to foster in the organization.

 Another complicating aspect of Step 3 is how to measure whether the environment is supportive and consistent with the espoused values. At the Coast Guard Academy, we have made various attempts at assessing our organizational "climate", the first of which was a "Culture and Climate Assessment of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy" completed in July, 1992. While not much of the information reported in the Study was surprising to those at the Academy, it did provide a valuable focus for leadership and character development efforts. For example, the highest regarded cadet values as reported by cadets were competitiveness and CYA (covering one's behind).25 This has influenced Cadet training system changes we have made, including those relating to followership and critical thinking. We have continued in a variety of ways to assess the cadet culture and climate, and initial indications are that we are making progress.

 Accomplishing this critical third step should result in the development of the "organizational character" we are seeking. The question is, did it?


Step 4: Assessing character development from individual and organizational perspectives.

There is an old routine in Vaudeville where the comic stands in the middle of a set that looks like Times Square, swinging a multi-colored rope around his head. The straight man asks, "What are you doing that for?" - To which the comic replies, "I'm chasing all the buffalo out of Times Square." The straight man replies, "There aren't any buffalo in Times Square," to which the comic says, "See, it works!"

 In many respects, we "assume" the presence of character if nothing is happening that would indicate its absence. If there is no cheating, etc., we attribute it to the presence of "character." The great tests of character usually come unexpectedly and with significant consequences involved. The problem with waiting for these "defining moments" to determine if we have been successful in our character development efforts is that if we haven't, it's too late to fix it, and the cause is lost!

 For that reason we seek ways of at least giving us clues as to the success of our character development efforts, so our causes will not be lost. We feel we can get these "clues" in at least four ways, three organizational in nature, and one relating to the individual.

 A. Does the codification of our core values, the foundation upon which rests our castle of character, pass the tests of clarity, consistency and reasonableness? It is much too easy for the leaders of an organization to write their value statements so they "play well in the press," even though they cannot possibly "play well in the trenches." Social learning theory cautions us about making our "value standards" either too easy, or too difficult.

 ...people function as active agents in their own self-motivation. Their standard setting determines which discrepancies are motivating and which activities they strive to master. Strength of self-inducement varies curvilinearly with level of discrepancy between standards and demonstrated competence: relatively easy goals are insufficiently challenging to arouse much interest, moderately difficult ones maintain high effort and produce satisfactions through subgoal achievements, while goals set well beyond one's reach are discouraging.26

 As mentioned previously, organizational leaders also have the obligation to specify priorities when there is unavoidable conflict between values. More than one consumer company has gone belly-up because managers told employees that "profit and customer service are of equal importance," but only took action to replace managers whose profits were down when they tolerated managers who delivered high profits with poor service. It was only when the customers bailed-out in wholesale numbers that the values were realigned, usually by the new CEO!

 Chaplain Phillips, in the previously cited article, alludes to the story of Vanderbilt University's Dean Madison Sarratt, who taught freshman math.

 Today I am going to give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass both of them. But if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry. There are many good men in the world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry, but there are no good men who cannot pass an examination in honesty.27

 Our first test, then, is how well organizational leaders have avoided playing to the grandstand in the codification of their core values, and have communicated to their constituents a clear, challenging, consistent and reasonable foundation for their organization's character development efforts. This involves nothing more - nor less than a close scrutiny and analysis of the organization's statement of core values.

 B. Are these core values consistently modeled to those whom we would have internalize these values, by everyone who is observed by them? Bandura cautions..

 In the course of development, rewarding physical experiences are repeatedly associated with expressions of the interest and approval of others, and unpleasant experiences with disapproval. Through correlation of events, these social reactions themselves become predictors of primary consequences and thereby become incentives. The effectiveness of social reactions as incentives derives from their predictive value rather than inhering in the reactions themselves. For this reason, the approval or disapproval of people who exercise rewarding and punishing power is more influential than similar expressions by individual's who cannot affect one's life."28 (Emphasis ours)

 In a word, this is the test that asks, "Do we ask you to do as we do, or do as we say?" There is plenty of evidence that when in conflict, "doing" always prevails over "saying." Shakespeare was right when he said "all the worlds a stage and all the men and women players on it." Those of us privileged to be on the faculties of our great military academies are "on stage" twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And our audience is one of the most critical. If we can't handle this heat we should take the advice of Harry Truman and get out of the kitchen.

 As already mentioned, one way to ascertain how our young "character developers" perceive the consistency of the modeling to which they are exposed, is to ask them! And that is just what we do, through regularly implemented "climate surveys." While it can be sobering, the feedback from these instruments can be vitally important to course corrections in character development. We recommend this measurement process to everyone. On an individual and collective basis, cadets or other subordinates understand who "walks the talk" and who doesn't. The key issue here is trust. If the subordinates trust their superiors, they will provide honest climate information. If not, an anonymous climate survey could provide this valuable data. Either way, leaders need this essential information.

 C. Is the organizational climate "user friendly" to the development of the desired character induced behavior?

 While it is the function of military academies to produce graduates who are capable of heroic acts in times of crisis, we need to remind ourselves that our future officers do not enter as heroes, they enter as teenagers! We are the shepherds that help them along the path from teenage pratfalls to adult heroism. It can, at times, be torturous. Compassion must be blended with compliance.

 According to Aristotle, governments and other social institutions should be set up so that it is both possible and sensible for people to be honest, loyal, compassionate, fair, etc. It is unwise to create and perpetuate work environments that make ethically responsible behavior into acts of moral courage.29

 A responsible employee not only obeys the rules and follows orders, but also attempts to do what is morally right. In a healthy moral environment, these two sets of responsible behaviors overlap, i.e. by doing one's job and acting in the interest of the company, one also does the right thing. The point is that organizations need to be places where ordinary life is not a daily moral struggle.30

 Ciulla is not suggesting that we settle for moral values no higher than those that come easily. Rather, she suggests that the processes we use to "drive up" our moral standards must be compassionate as well as challenging. Psychologists have known for years that movement to a more mature and demanding level of behavior is facilitated by occasional "regressions" to less mature levels. One of the major challenges to those of us who lead these institutions is determining when and how much slack line can be paid out, and still produce our end result. Social learning theory gives us some guidance in this effort.

 Many of the activities that enhance competencies are initially tiresome and uninteresting. It is not until one acquires proficiency in them that they become rewarding. Without the aid of positive incentives during early phases of skill acquisition, potentialities remain undeveloped. Instead, more often than not, coercion and threats are brought to bear, which instills antipathies rather than competencies. The best way to insure the prerequisite learning is to support efforts until behavior is developed to the point that it produces naturally sustaining consequences.31

 We are making real progress in this direction in New London. Our leadership training for the SWAB cadre is emphasizing the importance of demonstration and positive reinforcement. Our Commandant of Cadets, Captain Patrick Stillman, decided that we would stop using physical activity as punishment (drop and give me 25!) and instead focus on the importance of exercise to total physical fitness development and health. SWABs still do pushups, but within the context of personal development, and more often than not with the members of their cadre pushing-up right beside them. The difference in this dynamic of "you messed up and are going to do push-ups" to "we are going to be in top physical condition and are going to do push-ups together" is noteworthy and even exciting.

 Instilling confidence and celebrating small wins have proven to be more effective in motivating desired behavior than degrading and dehumanizing tactics. We can demand more from people when we expect success, and tell them that, than when we expect failure, and tell them that! The standards have not been lowered. If anything, they have been raised, as they need to be in this increasingly tough and competitive world. The gains have been made in the subtle difference between "managing" SWABs and "leading" them.

 We are looking for a gradual, but steady, improvement in character induced behavior over the 200 week cadet experience. To help us better measure our progress, we are revamping our cadet appraisal system. We plan to utilize a separate form for each year, so that individual appraisal forms can be shorter, and focus more specifically on behavior relevant to the cadet's level of development. (For example, "maintaining room in accordance with military standards" is a separate item on the 4th class form, while it is included as a global part of "military standards" at the first class level.)

 The new system will also focus more on development, rather than simple rank order categorization, particularly at the fourth and third class levels. While the two messages "the cadet's room is usually in disorder," and "the cadet needs to review cadet housekeeping standards and do a better job of implementing them" convey the same substantive message, they are a world apart developmentally. It is also easier for a supervising cadet to call attention to deficiencies when they are phrased as developmental needs, rather than as "failures." As a result, we expect the "average ratings" at the 4/c and 3/c levels will be lower, as they should be, to communicate a greater need for improvement. Part of maintaining a "moral friendly" environment is changing "gotcha's" into "helpya's."

 D. Evaluating individual character induced behavior. (The organization has done its job - have the student officers responded?)

 In addition to providing a "score card" for the "moral user-friendliness" of the Coast Guard Academy, the new student appraisal forms will also allow us to do a better job of tracking the growth and development of individual cadets. Elements of character induced behavior (i.e. behavior driven by an "internal locus of control") will be an increasingly important part of student appraisals through the 200 week experience. Input into these appraisals comes from other cadets, their division officers and others.

 All of our cadets now get a shipboard experience between their 2nd and 1st class years. Feedback from their shipboard officers yields significant insight into their progress in character development. Character, or lack thereof, frequently surfaces in supervisory situations, when people are given "position power" over others. We provide our cadets with ample opportunity - starting with the 3rd class year - to develop those aspects of character that go with having power over others. Their Company Officers pay particular attention - as a second level of report - to the behavior of these "budding officers." Virtually all our 2/c Cadets get a chance to serve as Cadre in connection with our SWAB Summer, Admissions, or afloat programs. The specific leadership training they receive for their cadre experiences is heavily laden with elements of character, upon which they are evaluated.

 Finally, of course, the commanding officers of the ships to which all of our graduates go are not the least bit reticent about evaluating our final product. And that evaluation process never stops, both formally and informally. Because of the heavy involvement in our local and national communities - as law enforcement officers, as pollution fighters, as rescuers, as well as warriors - Coast Guard personnel are always on the stage of public observation. The character they display when in the public eye is more important to the long term success of the Coast Guard than any other asset of our Service. Strong character not only enables the individual officer to prosper, it enables our Service to prosper. Thus, we must treat the development and assessment of character as our highest educational priority.



1 Lickona, Thomas. Educating for Character. New York: Bantam, 1991. pp. 3-5.

 2 Levine, Daniel. "Cheating in Our Schools: A National Scandal." Reader's Digest Oct. 1995: p. 66.

 3 Philpott, Tom. "Academies: Are They Still Worth the Cost?" The Retired Officer Magazine Oct. 1995: p. 35.

 4 Ibid.

 5 Ibid.

 6 Phillips, Robert. "The Lemming Effect." Proceedings July 1994: p. 41.

 7 U.S. Coast Guard Academy Character Development Precept, 1995.

 8 Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary, p. 249.

 9 U.S. Coast Guard Academy Leadership Precept, 1995.

 10 U.S. Coast Guard Core Values, 1994.

 11 U.S. Coast Guard Commandant's Direction, 1994

 12 Kidder, Rushworth. How Good People Make Tough Choices. New York: William Morrow, 1995. pp. 117-126.

 13 Bandura, Albert. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1977. p. 12

 14 Ibid., p. 13.

 15 Ibid., p. 42.

 16 Ibid.

 17 Ibid.

 18 Ibid., p. 130.

 19 Ibid.

 20 Ibid.

 21 Phillips, p. 42.

 22 Bandura, p. 22.

 23 Ibid., p. 82.

 24 Ibid., p. 87

 25 "Culture and Climate Assessment of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy," Prepared by Princeton Economic Research, Inc., Princeton, NJ, July, 1992, pp. 21-22.

 26 Bandura, p. 165.

 27 Phillips, p. 42.

 28 Bandura, p. 102.

 29 Ciulla, Joanne. "Messages from the Environment: The Influence of Policies and Practices on Employee Responsibility." The Leader's Companion, ed. J. Thomas Wren. (New York: The Free Press, 1995) p. 493.

 30 Ciulla, p. 494.

 31 Bandura, p. 104.



Bandura, Albert. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1977.

 Ciulla, Joanne. "Messages from the Environment: The Influence of Policies and Practices on Employee Responsibility." The Leader's Companion, ed. J. Thomas Wren. (New York: The Free Press, 1995) pp. 492-499.

 "Culture and Climate Assessment of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy," Prepared by Princeton Economic Research, Inc., Princeton, NJ, July, 1992.

 Kidder, Rushworth. How Good People Make Tough Choices. New York: William Morrow, 1995.

 Levine, Daniel. "Cheating in Our Schools: A National Scandal." Reader's Digest Oct. 1995: pp. 65-70.

 Lickona, Thomas. Educating for Character. New York: Bantam, 1991.

 Phillips, Robert. "The Lemming Effect." Proceedings July 1994: pp. 40-42.

 Philpott, Tom. "Academies: Are They Still Worth the Cost?" The Retired Officer Magazine Oct. 1995: pp. 31-36.

 U.S. Coast Guard Academy Character Development Precept, 1995.

 U.S. Coast Guard Core Values, 1994.

 U.S. Coast Guard Academy Leadership Precept, 1995.

 Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984.