The Ethical Challenge for “Leaders in the Making”

By: Alexander de Avila | Jan 31, 2013 | 334 Views Opinion |

As someone who wants to serve, I find the number of U.S. military commanders whose personal and professional indiscretions were uncovered toward the end of last semester to be appalling. This failure of leadership is both confusing and upsetting to me as a CMCer.

One Army General has been charged with forcible sodomy, inappropriate relationships with female subordinates, and multiple counts of adultery. Another, after a long career in the Army and as Director of the C.I.A., recently resigned after admitting to having an extramarital affair with his biographer. A third has been demoted from four-star to three-star general for misusing millions of taxpayer dollars for lavish spending while he was in charge of U.S. – Africa Command. The list goes on.

The nature of these accusations is astonishing, but so is the fact that these men are at the very highest levels of leadership in our military and intelligence community. The problem isn’t limited to the Army, either. The Air Force is currently undergoing an investigation for an officer cadre sexually abusing female cadets. As a first step forward, the Air Force has ordered soldiers to remove all pinup images of women around the workplace.

According to the Department of Defense, one in three military women have been sexually assaulted.  This all comes amidst the Defense Department’s ongoing efforts to include more qualified women in combat.

Last week, the Pentagon announced that the military is finally ending its longtime policy of excluding women from direct combat roles.

I didn’t grow up idolizing sports figures or actors the way most do. My heroes were my ancestors who jumped out of planes in WWII and the faces I saw on CNN that would never return to America. Starstruck, to me, was talking with a Vietnam-era Navy SEAL, a family friend, who told me stories of thrilling victory and unimaginable heartbreak.

Seeing leaders at the top of the world’s premier fighting force abuse their power and mistreat women, especially at a time when the country desperately needs women to make an impact in its military’s efforts, is demoralizing.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said, “When lapses occur, they have the potential to erode public confidence in our leadership and in our system for the enforcement of our high ethical standards. Worse, they can be detrimental to the execution of our mission to defend the American people.”

Unfortunately, these recent revelations will very likely hurt our military’s ability to carry out its goals abroad, especially in Afghanistan. At the end of an interview, Secretary Panetta hinted at the Taliban using admissions of guilt as propaganda to whip up hatred for Americans in an attempt to take back the country from the Karzai government in Kabul.

How do we expect the populations we are trying to win over to trust us if our leaders cannot treat women with respect or at least hold themselves to a certain level of professionalism? How can we call on the men and women in our military to uphold a code of conduct when their most decorated superiors won’t? This fight requires us to maintain the moral high ground. Unfortunately, our leaders at the top seem to have forgotten this.

The U.S. military places a strong emphasis on legal rules of engagement, especially with regard to the proper treatment of prisoners of war. Does it teach its young male officers how to act when they are in a position of power one day, and a female member seeking career advancement is before them, alone, and in their office? It would seem not, or at least not adequately.

Likewise, CMC invests heavily in our training as future leaders. Whether we go into the private sector or the military, politics or finance, CMC instills in us a drive to be at the forefront in whichever field we choose. There is a fundamental problem here that CMC feeds into, glorifying positions of leadership and power but not teaching us how to act when we are in those positions.

Both leadership and ethics sequences are offered here at CMC, but the college only pushes the former, calling us “leaders in the making.” An emphasis on how to be productive leaders prevails, drowning out what it means to be decent people.

Learning how to lead effectively is surely important, but shouldn’t learning how to do so ethically be equally valued? Currently, only one requirement out of the five credits needed to complete the Leadership Sequence engages the critical idea of how ethics and leadership intertwine. The competitive spirit that drives growth in our country must be tempered by an understanding of humans and ethical interactions and applied to everyday life in the workplace.

CMC’s mission statement includes the words, “to educate its students for thoughtful and productive lives and responsible leadership in business, government, and the professions.” The education we receive at CMC drills us to have high expectations once we go out into the world. Ethics should be a general requirement for all students so that our training in leadership is on par with our understanding of humanity.

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  • Kayla

    I think this article is particularly topical given the ridiculously horrible theme of this week’s TNC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gavinlandgraf Gavin Landgraf

    Powerful article, Alexander. We are all in college to improve ourselves– in knowledge, intellect, and character. Let us not neglect the third.

    • Gavin lover

      Shut up and kiss me

  • Clare Riva

    Great article, Alex– well-researched and so true! I have an ethics sequence and those classes have been some of the most rewarding I’ve ever taken (and have been with the best professors!). I hope more students avail themselves of these opportunities in the future.

  • Let’s Hear It for the Boys

    Great article, Alex. It’s wonderful to see a young man our age considering these things so heavily. I would argue that it is young leaders like you that are and will be the saving grace of the armed forces in these instances in particular.

  • Connor Barclay

    “An emphasis on how to be productive leaders prevails, drowning out what it means to be decent people.”

    Well said, Alex. Well said.