A common professional ethic based on Core Values

By Dr. Antje Mays – The Citadel

Copyright 1998, Antje Mays – The Citadel, JSCOPE Conference XX, 1998


Change seems constant in society-at-large, and in business and military environments alike. Lately we have been awash in numerous military scandals. Sad tales abound of military-existential identity crises, adultery, sexual harassment, hazing, lack of installational security resulting in deadly consequences, and espionage – even sadder is the lack of consistency with which disciplinary actions were (or were not) meted out. Clearly this is the direct result of a wholesale lack of consistent standards in both policy and procedure, applied across-the-board, consistently, with a systematic checklist for appropriate review & action. At the same time, it would be hypocritical not to recognize the military as a microcosm of society – which in its own right has digressed from clear ethical standards free from ambivalence and produced less-than-upstanding citizens long before they ever join our services.

The purpose of this paper is to explore specific cases illustrating these issues – drawing from military and business scenarios – to identify the core issues and needs for ensuring a wholesome environment in which leadership with integrity can flourish. One clearly cannot purport to glibly prescribe a vague cookie-cutter general ethic. Yet the need for overall moral & ethical standards, institutional values for the armed services, leadership training, and general personnel training is glaringly obvious. Thus, any meaningful solution must look deeper than a general ethics statement and aim to overhaul military values, management practices, and provide a mechanism which rewards integrity and competence while condemning duplicity and incompetence.

Case synopses in business and military will follow the red threads of the "organizational cultures" underlying the each scenario. They will be measured against the following components:

Organizational / institutional values: · Moral / ethical standards · Interpersonal aspects affecting morale, trust, and ultimately mission effectiveness · In business & industry and the military alike, leadership philosophies directly impact the quality of service to external constituencies, extent of true mission accomplishment, internal levels of trust, and levels of morale. · Quality standards. · Policies & procedures governing mechanisms of upholding these standards. · Reward systems: do they reward quality? Integrity? Appropriate interpersonal skills? · Leadership / management training. · Task training. · Interpersonal skills training.

Subordinates need & want from their leaders: · Unequivocal integrity on the leader’s part * the only lasting way to command their respect. · Clear sense of morality and ethics. · Consistency of character. · Wisdom – knowing the difference between integrity and bluntly outspoken honesty at the expense of national-security secrecy needs. · Decisiveness. · High degree of knowledge; must be well-trained. · Excellent organizational and mission-execution skills. · Clear, consistent communication to subordinates, especially when missions must change. · Regard for the safety, wellbeing, and professional development of the subordinates. · Willingness and integrity to stand behind one’s subordinates. Leaders need following operational variables: · Authority/autonomy needed to make on-the-spot decision when necessary. · Operating space to allow for "stylistic" freedom in organizing tasks (of course, within reason of the appropriate quality controls). · Competent, knowledgeable subordinates who are themselves given to integrity & hard work.

Organizations need undergirding core values in order to function: Brought by individuals who must unequivocally espouse them, these traits are a must. · Character on the part of its individuals (moral & ethical consistency) · Integrity (clear definition of organizational mission, individual and operational competence, consistency, seamless teamwork) · Service before self (resisting the urge of personal gain or pleasure at the expense of the organization’s value system; willingness to give of oneself to further the organizations goals) · Excellence (continual pursuit of the highest standards)

According to LTC D. Simmons USAF, the Air Force established the Center for Character Development in 1993 to impact its cadets early on in their training. The U.S. Air Force’s admirable endeavor to instill these values in its trainees early on points to the on-target recognition of the individual’s inevitable effect on the organizational culture. High character or lack of caliber, integrity and moral turpitude alike, a heart for selfless service or the basest of egocentrism, devotion to excellence or cutting corners all serve to define the organization – for better or worse. If individuals given to integrity, excellence, and service are to thrive and continue in their commitment to quality, then the organization’s values must comprise a system which rewards these values. In business the organizational impact on the individual can enhance or destroy productivity and enhance or lower morale (and thereby influence "the bottom line"). In the military the added risks of lowered productivity, morale, respect, and obedience lead not only to a slowing down of output but also, most importantly, to significant danger to the lives of soldiers in a battle situation. Standards must be logically thought through and consistent, personnel action must follow a clear course of moral and procedural action. Thus mutual trust is established at peacetime and allows soldiers to become accustomed to clear standards and expectations. Only then can soldiers be realistically called upon to "trust the system" to the point of the unquestioning obedience and team spirit which are paramount especially in war scenarios.

A Case of Loyalty and Consistency

In Business

One marked example in the business sector provides ample management lessons in positive organizational interaction. Fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet valued her employees and treated them with respect and consistency. When the Great Depression forced her bankruptcy, she took responsibility to find new employment for each of her assistants. Economic turnaround and financial reorganization later permitted her to reopen her business, and all her original employees returned to her. The lesson? While she as the leader expected loyalty and high quality of service, she in turn was willing take a stand on behalf of her subordinates and to provide the managerial backdrop of stability, trustworthiness, commitment to the employees’ welfare. More than mere sentimentality, managerial willingness to provide employees with such internal stability psychologically frees workers to concentrate on improvement of service, innovation, and quality – the very contributions desired by the leader.

Lack of Values

* Inconsistency instills Doubts in the System Double standards and corruption abound in every type of organization. No societal institution is immune, as documented in the floods scholarly and tabloid coverage.

In Business

On condition of anonymity, a financial manager relayed to the author the case of a dishonest temporary part-time employee: the employee, owner of a business which sold items of use to the financial manager’s organization, engineered an unauthorized sale by bypassing the appropriate checkpoints. Upon inadvertent discovery of the corresponding fiscal trail, the financial manager reported the incident, which caused the temporary employee’s "wrath". Later the financial manager was accused of causing an unproductive workplace atmosphere, and the entire case was dismissed by the institution as irrelevant. In the end, no action of any sort resulted other than a gag order to the fiscal manager, and the incident was swept under the carpet. In good faith, the fiscal manager upheld integrity, practiced service to the organization before self at the risk of dismissal, and continually pursued excellence in his work. The institution’s cavalier response left him feeling betrayed and alienated. The message? Integrity does not matter, honesty is disdained rather than welcomed, confidences are fair game for betrayal; shady practices are rewarded, standards are upheld or disregarded at the whim of a moment, "self before service" is condoned, and the employee trying to uphold standards of integrity is deemed of lesser caliber. Issues raised: Leadership must embody commitment to standards and clearly communicate as well as enforce them. Lack of stable standards destroys morale, teamwork, and ultimately slows down the ability to accomplish the mission.

In the Military

Recent scandals of sexual misconduct have abounded in the media. The Aberdeen tales of sexual misconduct toward trainees clearly spell out a case of abuse of managerial power, breach of trust. Comparing the cases of Lt. Kelly Flinn and Gen. Joseph Ralston raised many issues and questions regarding the vacuum in standards at the policy level. Indeed Lt. Flinn’s case was beyond adultery. While the official grounds for the barely circumvented court-martial were cited as adultery, was the core issue at the heart of the matter her repeated cover-up of the affair with the husband of an enlisted woman paired with disobeying the order to discontinue the relationship? Was she punished for poor judgment? Were there additional, deeper, issues that failed to make press? In the event of Gen. Ralston, what were the mitigating circumstances in favoring his exoneration? Was it his long-standing career of distinction and Pentagon connections which shielded him from disciplinary action? Was it that his extramarital affair was long ago and that he had not endeavored to conceal it? Was it that the overall lack of tabloid coverage worked in his favor in supporting the argument that his marital straying posed "no danger to order & discipline in the ranks"? While Lt. Flinn escaped court-martial via general discharge, Gen. Ralston -- though not subjected to personnel action – himself did not emerge unscathed, as evidenced by the controversy shrouding his Joint Chiefs of Staff nomination. The message? Penalty may or may not be expected, lack of consistency from one case to the next suggests the lack of a universally set of standards against which to measure the severity of, much less the appropriate disciplinary action, such misconduct. In the case of Aberdeen, the prominent issues of whether or not men and women should jointly train in their young and emotionally immature (and thus vulnerable) state pointed to the deeper absence of moral and procedural guidance at the policy level. These and other adulterous scenarios opened up a national debate at scholarly and non-intellectual levels. The extent to which personal conduct should impact professional fate, questions about moral awareness in society at large, double standards in society at large, and the impact of all these moral and ethical gaps on personnel issues in and beyond the military – all these have come under scrutiny. Just begun, resolution of this debate in the near future seems unlikely.

Emerging ideas

* beginnings of reform? The U.S. Air Force’s most commendable approach to instilling the core values of character, competence, integrity, service before self, and excellence in its cadets. This is a important first step: Any values, virtuous and treacherous alike, at the personal level inevitably flavor the values of the organization served. While it is difficult and indeed unwise to seek a "one-size-fits-all" approach to all organizations’ moral and ethical challenges, beginning with teaching the individual who will subsequently contribute to service & society is the key to long-term success.

As-of-yet unanswered questions to be examined as to the feasibility of a common statement of the professional military ethic: · How specific should it be? An ethical umbrella statement should be general enough for universal applicability to all branches of the military. · Who would enforce it? · Should the military branches monitor themselves or should their level of adhesion to a code of ethics be overseen by civilian government? (autonomy, efficiency vs. bureaucracy / over-emphasis on "process") · Beneath the surface of the need for an ethics policy is underlying need is an entire society’s need to return to an undergirding agreed-upon standard of morality & ethics. · Regardless of the specifics of policy or procedure, it is crucial to guard against over-bureaucratization and to remember to focus on the core values of character, integrity, service before self, and excellence.

In Closing

Trust, integrity, and consistent leadership style are paramount to the success of the military and mission accomplishment. Yet it cannot be artificially legislated. Rather, it must be fostered through capable management by people with clear, task-oriented mission vision and clear, consistent, high moral & ethical standards. We must take great care to guard against outward lip service of appearance rather than real adherence to real standards. Otherwise integrity & trust have no context. Trust can only develop and flourish when it is rewarded with a backdrop of consistently upheld values – for society-at-large, not only the military or business & industry. While the debate has begun, it is paramount to continue the thought process to its conclusion – the desired end of ethically sound and morally astute individuals who will seek to improve the quality of military life, public service, business, community, and society at large.


· Buckley William F. "U.S. vs. Flinn? Court martialing of Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn for adultery", National review, vol.49:no.11 (June16, 1997), pp.62-64.

· Capaccio, Tony. "The Kelly Flinn Spin Patrol : media coverage of sexual musconduct charges", American journalism review, vol.19:no.7 (September 1997), pp.12-14.

· Corelli, Rae. "A high flyer’s disgrace: critics question the U.S. military’s rules about sex". Maclean’s, June 2, 1997 : no.2, pp.38-39.

· Final Report for Academic Year 1996-97. (John M. Olin lecture series in national security and defense studies). USAF Academy, CO : Dept. of Political Science, U.S. Air Force Academy. August 1997.

· Fogelman, Ron. "A question of trust, not sex – Lt. Kelly Flinn’s 1996 adultery and discharge from the Air Force". Newsweek, vol.130:no.21 (November 24, 1997), p.60.

· Gruenwald, Juliana. "Potential Joint Chiefs nominee felled by adultery controversy" [Air Force General Joseph W. Ralston]. Congressional quarterly weekly report, vol.55:no.24 (June15, 1997), p.1391.

· Newman, Richard. "Flinn’s affairs and the military’s reality check – Air Force pilot Kelly Flinn was granted a general discharge on adultery charges, but her case may spark reform". U.S. news & world report, vol.122:no.21 (June 2, 1997), p.36.

· Newman, Richard. "Tell us your name, rank, and sex life : the extramarital affair that is derailing Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman nominee Joseph Ralston". U.S. news & world report, vol.122:no.23 (June 16, 1997), p.34.

· "Persons at arms : the disciplines of war – adultery in the military". Economist, vol.343:no.8021 (June 14, 1997), p.25.

· Schneider, William. "Yet again, the political is personal". National journal, vol.29:no.22 (May 31, 1997), p.1110.

· Simmons, Daniel R. LTC, USAF. Core values : foundation for the twenty-first century. (The Maxwell papers ; no.11). Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University, September 1997

· Thomas, Evan. "Shifting lines : after cracking down on an adulterous female pilot, the brass shields an adulterous male general". Newsweek, vol.129:no.24 (June16, 1997), pp.32-27.

· Vistica, Gregory L. and Evan Thomas. "Sex and lies – compilation of Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn’s adultery scandal and other 1990s military scandals". Newsweek, vol.129:no.22 (June 2, 1997), pp.26-32.

· "Winners & losers" : the fortunes of Air Force officer Kelly Flinn, extramarital affairs of presidents, Stedman Graham, misfortunes of William Cohen, Michael J. Bowers, and Bob Bennett". Time, vol.149:no.24 (June16, 1997), p.15.