Power, Ethics, and Leadership

Power, Ethics, and
As a first principle of good stewardship we
will ensure that no person has reason to look
back on their association with us with
anything but pride. It would be a failure of
leadership if our soldiers and civilian
workforce looked upon their service to this
organization with a sense of shame.
George E. Reed, Ph.D.
[email protected]
Thoughts on Leadership
Fostering an ethical climate
Character or situation as drivers of
individual behavior?
Bathsheba Syndrome- “Screwing
Up Big Time”
Americans hold the military in a position
of extraordinary trust and confidence
Rosenthal, S. A. (2011). National Leadership Index 2011: A National Study of Confidence in Leadership. Center for
Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Leadership Style
The pattern of leadership behavior as perceived by others.
Style always matters.
Video trumps audio.
Leaders should do more listening
than telling, more understanding
than directing.
Speaking up and
listening down
People desperately want to please you.
Every action has a reaction.
It is lonely at the top.
There is no such thing as a casual
The boss can never have a bad day.
Discussion: What can
you do you?
What specific actions can you
take to foster an ethical climate;
where straight-talk flows up and
down the organizational
Fostering an Ethical Climate
Reward and develop the straight-talkers; protect the
Celebrate those who take principled positions.
Receive bad news well; never shoot the messenger.
Be a role model for speaking truth to power.
Two ears, two eyes, and one mouth- use them in those
proportions. Watch for “weak signals.”
“We don’t do that here” equals success.
Fostering an Ethical Climate
Tolerate some level of failure for the sake of learning
and experimentation.
Conduct after-action reviews, not post-mortems.
You don’t have to pretend to be the smartest person
in the room.
Avoid giving the answer before you ask the question.
Praise in public, criticize in private.
Don’t be a toxic leader.
Charting the ethical slideRed Flags
• Failure to note the situational imperative (systems and
pressures). Ethical breaches are chalked up to
individual character flaws.
• Rules and guidelines become a “game” to be won or
• This is a new environment that calls for new rules– the
old rules no longer apply.
• Ethics becomes the purview of the lawyers instead of
the leaders.
• Mission/resource mismatch.
• It’s all about the rules (minimalist approach) and not
about the values (inspirational approach).
Charting the ethical slideRed Flags
• Principled positions are not celebrated.
• There is no one who will listen when an ethical
dilemma or transgression is pointed out;
whistleblowers are destroyed.
• Values are simply posters and bumper stickers– “Do
the right thing.”
• The results are all that is important and there is no
discussion about how the results are achieved– “Just
get it done.”
• There are conflicts between espoused values and
enacted values.
Ripped from the Headlines
The Bathsheba Syndrome
• Ethical violations are the by-product of
• Successful people become complacent and
lose focus.
• They have privileged access to information,
people or resources.
• They have an inflated belief in their personal
ability to manipulate outcomes.
• Temptation comes with success and privilege.
The Character Project
• Calls for self-mastery and habituation to the higher
good. Traits and virtues. (Aristotle).
• Unethical behavior is the result of weakness,
pathology, undeveloped character, or lack of moral
• We see this in character development programs
(indoctrination, exhortation, values).
• Prominent in leader development and legalistic
• Locus of control sits with the individual moral agent.
• A world of good apples and bad apples.
• We just aren’t very good at influencing character.
• Mostly based on armchair theorizing.
• People are remarkably inconsistent in their
character and personality traits– good today, bad
tomorrow, or good in one context and bad in
• Situation and context influence human behavior
much more than we think.
It’s Not About Character
Stanford Prison Experiment
Obedience to Authority Experiments
The Helium Stick
Eyes on the cup experiment
Dan Ariely- Just How Moral Are We?
Start at 4:18
Stop at 13:10
Golden Nuggets
• The profession of arms is one of significant moral
• Leadership is a key variable in promoting unit climate.
• Bad stuff happens. The question is, just how fast will
you hear about it and have an opportunity to intervene.
• Peer behavior has a powerful influence on ethical
• Our conduct is influenced by subtle psychological and
social cues.
• We cannot rely on “character.”
• We can and should prepare leaders for temptations
inherent with power and authority.
Keep in touch
George E. Reed, Ph.D.
[email protected]
[email protected]
Discussion Questions
What can we do to ensure that we will hear from those
who have moral misgivings about what’s going on in
their unit?
What can we do to encourage the expression of
alternative views, doubts, and loyal dissent?
What techniques and tips can you recommend to
ensure that your colleagues are working in a manner
consistent with Army values.
What can we do to encourage collaboration and flow
of information across organizational boundaries?
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