#METC: Setting an Ethical Command Climate

In this section we’re talking about setting an ethical command climate. We’ve got a lot going on here:

  • The challenges of command in a multicultural society across a distributed battlefield;
  • The challenges of commanding increasingly large units composed of people with different moral backgrounds and levels of expertise;
  • Spectacular failures and significant successes; and,
  • Suggestions for best practices.

My goal for us by the end of this session is to refine our understanding of what leaders can do to cultivate an organization that is disciplined, focused, motivated, and cohesive. I’ll argue, and we can chew on this in discussion, that ethical units are the fruit of strong command climates – they come from discipline, focus, motivation and cohesion (because those traits are the anecdote to ambiguity, isolation, powerlessness, boredom, and danger that Paul Bartone lays out in his reading, Understanding Prisoner Abuse at Abu Ghraib for this section.  They create people’s sense of commitment, control, and challenge).

In “The Responsibility of Leadership in Command,” Gen John Michael Loh notes, “The essence of command and leadership is to create a climate throughout the unit that inspires all to achieve extraordinary goals and levels of performance at all times and under all conditions, especially in the stress of combat.”

While this course is focused on military ethics, the issue of how to build ethical climates in organizations is universal, so I expect that folks from different backgrounds will have a lot to contribute.

I’ve assigned the Bartone piece listed above, which partners with The Taguba Report (declassified 15 October 2004). Also, please take a look at the ICRC’s Report on The Roots of Behaviour in War. To the American service members who do: Don’t freak out that the ICRC is saying negative things about combatants violating international humanitarian law. (1) The report studied combatants in four countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Congo, and Georgia) so their findings — while important — aren’t reflective of American military behavior; and (2) the psychological dynamics captured in the report are reflected in US military units, even if the behaviors aren’t, which highlights the main question of this lesson: How do military leaders create and maintain ethical command climates that protect against the social inclination for unrestrained violence among combatants in war?

I also strongly recommend Roger Shinn, “Ethical Aspects of the Exercise of Command,” in Military Ethics: Reflections on Principles (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1987), 45-60. Unfortunately, I can’t find a publicly available electronic version to share with you.

I’ll start posting questions with the #METC hashtag around 8pm Eastern. Please include #METC in your tweets if you post on the topic (rather than just replying to me). Come and go as you’re able; we’ll continue the conversation tomorrow as well, so nothing’s time sensitive. I look forward to the conversation!

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One thought on “#METC: Setting an Ethical Command Climate

  1. Pingback: #METC: Responding to the Command Climate | Endeavor to Persevere

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