Candor: Can the Army Handle the Truth?
Candor: Can the Army Handle the Truth?
A provocative paper recently published by the U.S. Army War College raises the question of whether the Army can handle the truth. Called “Closing the Candor Chasm: The Missing Element of Army Professionalism” and written by Col. Paul Paolozzi, the paper says speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a way of building professional relationships and a stronger Army. Candor can be intimidating and unwanted in some circumstances, but it should be a key part of professional communication, Paolozzi says.Paolozzi cites performance evaluations, training, education and counseling as areas in which complete honesty is missing. Candor, he says in the report, “is messy, hard, creates discomfort, and its presence is most often inversely proportional to rank and organizational size.”He wrote the report while a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and has since become chief of the Under Secretary of the Army’s Strategic Initiatives Group. Reaction to the report has been “100 percent very positive,” he says. “My concern, and the primary purpose of why I wrote, is founded on the problem that candor isn’t a part of our professional discourse, which makes it nearly impossible to get better,” he says.His report is part of the Professional Military Ethics Monograph Series and is available for downloading at www.StrategicStudiesInstitute.army.mil.
- Conformity is hammered into soldiers from their initial training, and rigid doctrine discourages speaking freely.
- The “can-do” Army culture could also be a factor. The Soldier’s Creed includes the line, “I will never accept defeat.” That describes a “duty-driven Army” in which flaws such as potential operational shortcomings are overlooked or left unmentioned.
- The Army’s “myopic focus” on the seven core values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage—may have “created an institutionalized blindness to other virtues.”
The Army can and should do something to improve internal criticism and competing ideas, Paolozzi writes, starting at the top. “First, tone and culture are set within the Army by the most senior leaders—the three- and four-star generals and the Sergeant Major of the Army,” he says, suggesting this could start with how conferences and routine meetings are conducted. He points out that if bluntness is encouraged and rewarded, this could be the start of a culture change.The next step is slightly more risky, with mid-level commanders feeling free to have “authentic communication” with their superiors.“Human nature will shape the environment in each individual unit across the Army, but after a campaign of reinforcement, candor should be an active expectation,” he says.Success at this point will depend on how those blunt and potentially negative assessments from subordinates are accepted by higher-ranking Army officers who may not like having their leadership and decision making questioned.Paolozzi says “caustic candor,” or someone’s notion of the truth delivered in a brutally honest and negative way, “may be the sender’s inability to understand how to speak with candor effectively.” He adds, “Not every engagement needs caustic candor, negativity, or an environment that leaves people bruised and most likely looking for opportunities to avoid future negative engagements.”Marshall, the ethicist, wasn’t terribly worried about too much honesty. “I say to cherish bluntness. It is the surest way to get to the whole truth,” he says. “Misanthropes are damaging, but learning to criticize without being obnoxious is a teachable skill.”Some Army leaders may not want to hear the truth, Paolozzi acknowledges. Some leaders do not “value candor and simply want compliance,” he says. “No need for disagreement, recommendations or anyone to reveal concerns—simply comply.”“This leadership environment isn’t limited to inexperienced lower-level engagements,” Paolozzi says. “It is just as common in the power hallways of the Pentagon. That can only be changed when the behavior is challenged, corrected and replaced with a new behavior.”*******************************************************************************Lies, Outright Lies and Rationalization
- Dishonesty: an outright lie.
- Misrepresentation: leaving out vital facts or presenting facts in a distorted or misleading way.
- Fraud: making promises you don’t intend to keep to induce someone to do something they otherwise wouldn’t.
- Deceit: using facts to mislead.
In ethical terms, all four are lying, he says.Marshall has a list of 37 types of rationalization, which he describes as slightly different but “do arguably more damage.” These are “the lies we tell ourselves to justify unethical conduct”:
- “Everybody Does It” is the “golden rationalization” based on the assumption that if, for example, someone cheats on a test it is OK for you to do it, too. “If someone really is making the argument that an action is no longer unethical because so many people do it, then that person is either in dire need of ethical instruction or an idiot,” he says.
- “It Worked Out for the Best” is another way of making it seem that bad conduct is OK. “Snooping into the contents of your host’s medicine cabinet is wrong, and the fact that you discovered a mislabeled pill bottle with rat poison in it doesn’t make your violation of her privacy ethical, even though it allows you to tell her and save her life,” he says.
- “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em” excuses bad behavior using the fight-fire-with-fire logic. “Although maxims and aphorisms cause a lot of confusion in ethical arguments, this one is still valid in its simple logic: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’” he says.
- What Marshall calls the “King’s Pass” is the excuse that someone is so important that his or her unethical behavior should be ignored. It could be called the “Commander’s Pass” in the military. “This is a terribly dangerous mind-set, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it,” Marshall says. “This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.”
For more information, visit: http://ethicsalarms.com/rule-book/unethical-rationalizations-and-misconceptions.*******************************************************************************Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonn Lilyea, a Desert Storm veteran and founder of a popular military blog that unmasks fake veterans and includes commentary on current military issues, says he’s doubtful about significant progress being possible on honesty in communication. “I don’t think they’re able to be honest with people outside of their units,” says Lilyea, whose blog is called This Ain’t Hell But You Can See It from Here, words taken from an iconic Vietnam War T-shirt slogan.Combat veterans, especially retirement-eligible ones, are the most likely to speak their minds, Lilyea says. “Experience gives the speaker some authority on a given subject and probably makes it more likely that they’ll let their opinion be known, just like in any profession, especially if they are in the twilight years of their career.”An example, he says, is reports he heard last year from troops in Afghanistan complaining that their commanders would not allow them to be armed in some circumstances while working with Afghan allies during a period of so-called “green-on-blue” incidents with Afghan soldiers and civilians attacking U.S. troops. “They were telling me that for every incident that we read about, there were three others happening.“It was just a few weeks after I started reporting it that the commanders announced that the troops would start arming themselves and the green-on-blue attacks have almost stopped; at least they’re happening less often,” Lilyea says. “The whole episode proved to me that the troops know what they’re talking about and senior Army leadership not so much.”Candor among NCOs is a key part of the Army, Paolozzi says. “They understand they are not placed in senior enlisted advisor’s positions to be liked, make friends, or be popular.”