The gap between academic approaches to ethics that reason about how people should behave and the way people actually behave and make their decisions may prove to be quite wide as the assigned chapter makes evident. Ironically, however, is many cases the discrepancy between ethical believes and one’s own behavior can be noticed only in the post-factum analysis. This is especially so taking into account that many of our ethical judgments are made with an appeal to emotional reactions rather than rational and logical consideration. Looking back, I realize that I have had this insight back in the days when I was serving in the Army even though I did not have the knowledge and terminology to properly articulate it as I do now.
Among many occupational fields, the military appears to spark more ethical dilemmas than any other sphere which has to do primarily with the tasks military is responsible for handling which may be outside of what is considered ethically-acceptable and even legal outside the army. However, while this concern is clearly visible from the vantage point of view it may be difficult to think through for someone within the military itself. Especially for someone whose daily job does not involve making major decisions but revolves mainly around complying with orders and making a valuable contribution to a predetermined strategy. For an individual soldier, it is difficult to examine whether a specific order he receives is ethical or not even if he has the right to challenge this order if he feels suspicious about it. In other words, if one has an intention to act ethically, it might be difficult to know the necessary details for making a responsible ethical adjustment. And this is probably true for many other spheres, not just for the military as suggested by the textbook (Bazerman, & Tenbrunsel, 2011).
I remember this issue troubling me when I was in the military. Prompted by all the books and movies in Nazi Germany, I was thinking how could I make sure that I was doing the right thing. What I discovered was that it boiled down to trusting the leaders in charge to make ethically-right decisions. And this goes both for immediate commanders and army’s chief leadership. To decide whether or not to trust them, one starts intentionally assessing every action and every word of commanders for assessing how ethical they are in their everyday lives which would serve as a predictor of how ethical they would be when making important decisions. At that time, gathering enough evidence about my leaders was important to substantiate my trust in their decisions until finally, I could comply with orders with a piece of mind. In a way, this process of assessing the leader’s moral character was my System 2 examining the field prior to allowing the efficient System 1 to take control over the decisions in this sphere (Bazerman, & Tenbrunsel, 2011). What I now realize was essential for enabling System 2 to lead this process for some time was my awareness of the risk of ethical collusion and a conscious attempt to avoid them.
Apart from serving as yet another illustrations to the points made by chapter, the describes experience has also shaped me as a leader. Specifically, recalling how much emphasis I was placing on the leaders I worked with to ensure that I can trust them, I realize how important it is to hold oneself to rigorous ethical standard not just in the matters that involve public scrutiny but also in one’s day to day life, small decisions, and small bits of communication with others. In other words, in order to become a true leader who motivates and inspires others, one has to invest extra effort into ensuring that his actions are in line with his ethical beliefs.
- Bazerman, M.H., & Tenbrunsel, A.E. (2011). Blind Spots: Why we Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do About It. Princeton University Press.