#METC: Moral Development

In this session we will explore leaders’ responsibility to develop their subordinates morally and ethically.  This can be a topic that makes people uncomfortable; there are some leaders who see developing their subordinates morally as the most intrusive form of leadership.  In the military, the moral development of subordinates is part of what it means to professionalize the force, by developing the junior service members’ skills, capacity for leadership, character, and sense of duty. Robinson’s reading for this section gives a broader justification of moral development as a leader’s responsibility.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development have received strong criticisms from some for being an overly gendered (male-focused), western, and progressive view of moral growth. For our purposes, all of those criticisms may be true; yet, his approach still retains value for keeping us mindful of the fact that what motivates you to act morally will likely be different from what motivates an 18 year old new recruit. Likewise, two 18 year olds may not be motivated by the same factors, so your efforts to cultivate them will necessarily differ.

A key feature of our conversation the next two nights will center around how to do this at the organizational level. It is one thing to tailor your motivational and mentoring strategies in situations of direct leadership; it is quite another to do so at the battalion / squadron level and above.

Conceptually, the leadership challenge is to communicate effectively to people who are motivated differently in order to maintain obedience, initiative, and moral action. Joseph Thomas translates Kohlberg’s stages into a military context that helps further clarify the relationship between professionalization and ethical development.

All of these readings help put some meat on the bones of last week’s topic of motivating moral behavior. James Rest sets out four components of moral behavior including moral sensitivity, judgment, motivation, and character. While Kohlberg is framed as moral motivation and judgment (what convinces us to act morally), Rest gives us a fuller picture of how moral development influences behavior, and the leadership challenges and opportunities associated with cultivating development in subordinates.

We’ll also look at the challenge of moral failure – as a leader, you have the ability to help subordinates turn failures into opportunities for further growth. This does not remove the necessity of accountability, but reframes accountability as restorative, rather than retributive. I know it sounds cheesy like that, but the fact remains the same. Failure provides opportunities for growth (for the individual and the unit). Thinking through how you can foster growth from failure is an important part of developing your subordinates.

Quick admin note: I’ll be unavailable for #METC this Wednesday evening, so we’ll start our section on targeted killings on Thursday. Sorry for the shift in the schedule, but I can’t move this particular commitment.


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