A Strategy for the Development of Principled Professionals

January 27, 2020

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Samuel Huntington’s timeless words in The Soldier and the State remind us why the military must maintain a focus on being professional: “professionalism distinguishes today’s military member from the warriors of previous ages. In our society, the businessman may command more income, the politician may command more power, but the professional commands more respect.” The U.S. armed forces maintain the trust of the American people and the international community through a combination of professionalism and character. Retired Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, once said that “as military professionals, our most important asset is the trust of and credibility with the American people. We must always safeguard our professional integrity.” Although the military has some doctrine to codify what entails professional attributes and desirable attributes of its members, it does not have a comprehensive strategy and framework for professional development. The effect is that military professionalism is arguably being eroded. 

In the opening of a Foreign Policy piece that calls into question the military profession, Army Major Matthew Cavanaugh bluntly states: “the Profession of Arms is decaying (weakening or fraying — as opposed to a relative decline), and the primary causes are neglect, anti-intellectual bias, and a creeping, cancerous bureaucracy.” Recent years have seen arguments that illustrate neglect in the form of gross lying, anti-intellectualism in the form of failed foreign policy and bureaucracy as the baseline for mismanaged talent. As the military is the smallest it has been in the past 20 years, coupled with ever-busy operational commitments, many believe that it is not equipped with the adequate manpower or time to properly engage in leader development. This view fields a cycle of prioritization that focuses on what is urgent while neglecting what is important. Dwight Eisenhower once said that “we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future,” delineating urgent tasks as those that demand immediate attention (deadlines, emails, daily actions, etc.) and important tasks as those that contribute to long-term goals. With this in mind, it is critical to continue developing our personnel with respect to the long term. 

The military needs a common framework across all domains, experiences and personnel structures from which to operate. As values-based organizations, this common language must be derived from core professional attributes. This paper seeks to outline the current state of affairs regarding professional development. As such, this work focuses on principle development as a specific subset of professional development. Principles are fundamental truths that are foundational to the ever-evolving set of characteristics that become the system of beliefs and patterns of behavior that codify our professional persona. The Army’s doctrine—specifically the “three Cs” of character, competence and commitment—is used as a frame for understanding how one component of the armed forces currently codifies professionalism doctrinally and where it falls short. This lens is also used to help show why the key scientific principles of adult personality development, specifically moral/ethical development, should be considered for developmental strategy. Finally, this paper introduces a framework for implementing a strategy for principle development.

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