Becoming a Pattern Interrupter

This week at NLEC, we were doing a "teach back" on our Ethics Foundation class with one of
our newest instructors. As with many engagements at the school house, a fantastic discussion on ethical growth ensued to include a few of the following observations:

  • Trust is the fuel that builds capacity for resilience.
  • Ask the students: "Do you want to be an ethical leader?" If so, then you need to build trust. This topic shows you how.
  • This topic is all about getting the Sailor to operate at the highest level: self-regulation.
  • The notion of a “vulnerability gap” and its implication for leaders.

Vulnerability gap? Really? How do we square a "vulnerability" gap?

We promote "forceful watch stander back-up" with "a questioning attitude"... But how does this "vulnerability gap" fit in? Moreover, how do ethics fit into this equation (or character development)? Aren’t these watch stander principles focused primarily on the "competence" side of things? Not so much....

I commend to you Brooke Deterline's TED talk, "Creating Ethical Cultures in Business"

Deterline relates a personal experience with the vulnerability gap (2:20) and discusses how common and natural it is "... when you are focused on operational objectives and you throw pressure on top, (sound familiar?) the ethical implication of our acts will fade from our minds..." (5:50)

Our leadership take-away – the need for "social fitness training". Further, how can you become a "pattern interrupter"?

"The reality is that ethical choices, and in particular, difficult ethical choices are extremely personal, emotional and take place in a physical environment that might be very intense." (Dr Tipodi and CDR Todd)

Enter Behavioral Ethics...

The military leader heavily focused on mission accomplishment can be susceptible to the tendency of individual limitations and constraints, system and situational forces that obscure the ethical components of day to day operations. Because the leader is given wider discretionary license and greater moral permissibility in execution of the mission, these influences can lead an otherwise strong, ethical person to become susceptible to a course of action that may lead to moral compromise and ethical failure.

For this reason, mission accomplishment must always be seen in light of a calling to our particular Profession, called to sacrifice and serve something much greater than oneself. The activities we perfect and prepare to be ready to engage in are acts that the greater society sees as unethical and immoral if carried out by any other group for any other reason. The military objective can only be seen as morally permissible when it is authorized by a legitimate authority, conducted to protect and preserve the lives of others, and only when it is absolutely necessary. This is what gives our profession its moral force. When we focus on the technical aspects of mission accomplishment without regard to the moral force that legitimizes and constrains mission accomplishment, we open the door to emergent norms that invariably weaken the moral fiber of the Profession.

It is incumbent upon the leader then, to seek to understand and develop the ability to identify these individual limitations and constraints, system and situational forces that challenge clear, decisive ethical decision making in the heat of mission focus. Normative and applied ethics help us to understand what we "should" do in cold state, hypothetical situations. Behavioral ethics helps us understand why it is so difficult to grasp and do the "ought" in the heat of the battle


Now we haven’t received a lot of snow up here in New England this year, but if you want to try the "double black diamond" I highly recommend reading the attached paper, “Behavioral Ethics” co-authored by Dr. Paolo Tipodi of MCU and CDR David Todd of NLEC.

Consider – how do we grow our Sailor’s innate capacity for moral courage?