Developing Trustworthy Commissioned Officers: Transcending the Honor Codes and Concepts

Article excerpt

The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instructions and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice so as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

--Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, in an address to the West Point Corps of Cadets, 11 August 1879

A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate anyone who does.

--The Cadet Honor Code, United States Military Academy

[Character is] those moral qualities that constitute the nature of a leader and shape his or her decisions and actions.

--USMA Circular 1-101, Cadet Leader Development System, 2005


OUR NATION'S THREE primary means of providing the armed forces with commissioned officers are the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), officer candidate schools (OCS), and the federal service academies. Each of these sources is duty bound to commission leaders of character, entrusted with leading America's soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen. The importance of commissioning leaders of character is uncontested, even axiomatic; but what is required and expected of a leader of character can be a source of debate. Our aim is to clarify what it means to be a leader of character and to recommend a holistic approach to developing such leaders in each of our sources of commissioning.

To begin, it is essential to define and understand "character." Next, we must determine a theoretical or empirical method by which character may be developed. Third, each source of commissioning must design and implement tangible activities within the developmental programs. Finally, we must agree on what observable, measurable attributes are expected.

Character Defined

U.S. Military Academy (USMA) Circular 1-101 defines character as "those moral qualities that constitute the nature of a leader and shape his or her decisions and actions." (1) Dr. Joel J. Kupperman, an accomplished professor, author, and philosopher, writes a similar definition of character: "[Cadet X] demonstrates ... character if and only if [Cadet X's] pattern of thought and action, especially in relation to matters affecting the happiness of others, is resistant to pressures, temptations, difficulties, and the insistent expectations of others." (2) This definition reveals one's character in across-the-board decisions and actions--not just in the avoidance of lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating, which most schools' honor codes prohibit. Similarly, Dr. James Rest's four-stage model of moral decision making (moral recognition, moral judgment, moral intention, and moral action) provides support for this perspective with its focus on recognizing that a moral-ethical issue exists (recognition or sensitivity), culminating in a behavior. In this light, our character includes values, virtues, aesthetics, ethics, morals (conscience), identity, and sense of purpose. (3) These qualities shape our decisions and attendant actions. By Kupperman's definition, these are the intrinsic qualities, generating observable outcomes and revealing our character.

Fundamentally, we expect a leader to be trustworthy. Trust is gained and sustained through the consistent demonstration of character, competence, and commitment. …


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