Ethics & Leadership

These questions are posed in a military context, but they have broader application. Indeed, most of them are drawn from the broader debate about human ethics -- only some of them have their origin in explicitly military concepts.
1. What are the ethical dimensions of power and authority in the military? This includes formal command authority, giving rewards and punishments, informal power/influence and personal power (friendship, loyalty, and expertise.) What is the ethical power or temptation of self-interest? Does power magnify moral characteristics that are already there? Or does it corrupt moral character?

2. Is the morality of the leader a matter of what they do in their public role or also their private life when not in that role? Is it possible for these to be separate or different, or must they be in harmony and alignment? Can a good leader have immoral or bad private morality? Is it important that the leader serve as an ethical role model?

3. What are the duties of the leader to her followers? Is it permissible to use followers merely as a means to another end, or must they always be viewed as ends in themselves? Are the duties of leaders and followers two sides of the same coin or are they fundamentally different? Do followers have ethical duties to the leader beyond obedience?

4. How should leaders think about the Big Picture (Mission) or the Greater Good? How does a leader decide what is best for the Greater Good (Mission)? What if some of their followers (or others) must suffer for this to be achieved? Is that ethically permissible? What are the leader's obligations to those who suffer? What happens if these actions lead to guilt and/or moral injury in leaders and followers?

5. How important is charisma or personal power (The Great Man/Woman) in contemporary military leadership? What are the ethical implications of charisma in leading? Do leaders need an emotional connection or appeal with followers to be effective? What kinds of connections make good, ethical leaders? Trust? Servant Leaders? Transformative Leaders? Relational Leadership?

6. How do cultural and moral differences (ethical relativism) impact the intersection of leadership and ethics? How ought a good leader navigate moral disagreements, tensions and conflicts? Ought the leader's view of what is 'right' prevail? Must one have ethical agreement to work together and achieve the mission?
Those are important questions.

UPDATE: Related: The Army Chief of Staff wants to remind junior officers that they are empowered to disobey direct orders, but they had better be "morally and ethically correct."
Milley then made news headlines by calling for “disciplined disobedience.” This idea undoubtedly caused jaws to drop among many Army leaders, but it actually echoes back to the idea of “selective disobedience” one of his predecessors endorsed in the late 1970s. In Milley’s formulation, disobeying orders can be justified to achieve the larger purpose of the mission. According to Milley,
[A] subordinate needs to understand that they have the freedom and they are empowered to disobey a specific order, a specified task, in order to accomplish a purpose. Now, that takes a lot of judgment … it can’t just be willy-nilly disobedience. This has got to be disciplined disobedience to achieve the higher purpose.
He added, “disobedience, when done, must be done with trust and integrity, and you must be morally and ethically correct.”
Being morally and ethically correct will often mean answering these questions "correctly." Are there correct answers to all of them? That would make it a lot simpler.


Anonymous said...

1. The ethical parts are based on the expectation of the culture the leader and followers share. Historically, power is morally corrosive.

2. A leader does not need to be a paragon, but they must not disgust the followers. I do not believe man can compartmentalize enough to be a moral leader, but a cad in private life. Note I said moral leaders, the question asked about good leaders​. Good at what?

3. The duties depend on the stakes. The acceptance of sacrifice depends on the stakes and the perceived virtue of the leader. An immoral leader may ask for a just sacrifice, but their immorality clouds the necessity. The virtue of the followers is also of interest. Does a leader have different duties to a band of thieves versus clergy?

4. It is ethical to commit orders that will cause suffering if the stakes warrent it. At some point the ends justify the means. To fail in facing suffering in the short term may cause disaster.

5. What is charisma? Is it a thing of nature or spirit? I think the rest is situationally dependant on the persons involved? Can athiest discuss things of spirit?

6. If the ethics are not in sync, one or both parties are going to regret it. The methods of resolution are going to vary based on the followers and stakes. Screaming drill Sergeant is not leading senior citizens at yoga.

Some of these questions are like asking what is life. We have observations, experience, intuition, but our hands fail to touch the substance.

-stc Michael

Grim said...

It's an excellent start that you answered some of those questions with questions. :)

Tom said...

Knotty questions. I have thoughts, but I'm not sure I have answers.

1. In general, among adults, I think consent is the ethical basis of power. In our current military, formal authority is contractual. For a period of time, people become soldiers and give their consent to their leaders' lawful exercise of authority. Informal power is earned and also depends on consent. There is danger in power; it can always be used selfishly.

2. People fail morally in different ways. I guess it is possible to fulfill one's moral duties as a leader and yet have other moral failings. Still, there has to be some consistency; some private failings would impact one's performance as a leader, and I don't think someone could be utterly moral as a leader and utterly immoral outside of that role.

I do think it's better for all involved if the leader does serve as an ethical role model, and I think it is better for unit performance if the whole unit shares the same moral framework.

3. In general, I think it is wrong to use people as a means to an end. However, what is the telos of a warrior? Is sending a warrior into almost certain death in order to achieve the mission always using him or her as a means to an end? Or is potential death in battle part of the telos of a warrior? Isn't a large part of the respect we have for warriors because of their willingness to risk death?

4. I think the big picture is framed by the necessity of keeping the war just.

"What if some of their followers (or others) must suffer for this to be achieved? Is that ethically permissible?"

That is an odd question to ask in the context of the military. It is tantamount to asking if it's moral to even have a military at all.

The rest will have to wait. Gotta run.