What US Army Core Values Can Teach the Business World about Ethical Behavior
Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.
By Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University
Through the crucible of combat against many enemies and on many fronts, the U.S. Army has developed these core values for servicemembers:
- Selfless service
- Personal courage
These seven core values underpin the Army’s activities and are instilled into each new recruit. Active members and veterans carry these core values with them throughout their lives and seek to instill them in others, whether they are in government or the private sector.
The oath of enlistment that all recruits take states that they will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and the nation’s appointed leaders. Recruits are expected to be team players and to support the initiatives of the Army and of their leaders at all levels.
In addition, they must support their fellow soldiers and never leave them without help in a difficult situation. The Army is a diverse environment with members having different backgrounds and cultures. They are knit together to accomplish the mission and to protect one another in combat, a valuable lesson in teamwork.
Organizations today can instill loyalty in their employees by being loyal in return. It is the epitome of the Calvinist ideal of the social contract versus that of Rousseau.
Rousseau’s utilitarian concept is that civil society places individual personal freedom in “chains.” While an individual’s wishes and dreams are important, the will and needs of the many outweigh the few. His was essentially a political perspective on the social contract.
Conversely, Calvin viewed the social contract primarily through the lens of Judeo-Christian traditions. He emphasized the worth of the individual’s well-being and self-determination over that of the group.
In the past, a person could be recruited into a good firm or organization. If he or she did the job well, that person could expect to stay with the firm until retirement.
But somewhere along the way, the short-term profit motive in many cases has overridden this key factor for success. Without reciprocal loyalty from the firm, it is not surprising that many people today are always looking for a better opportunity elsewhere.
A lack of loyalty by the employer breeds a mercenary tendency in the employee. This can be remedied by changing the attitude of both the firm and the employee. The employer must develop and implement policies and plans that demonstrate to the firm the worth of the employee.
For example, a firm that provides educational assistance is making a major investment in that employee. The investment shows that the employer is interested in grooming the employee for a long-term commitment. It demonstrates to the employee that the firm sees him or her as a person and a valued part of the organization, and not just a cog in the machine of profitability.
The concept of duty is a firm standard that is taken seriously in the Army. The Army expects soldiers to do their duty even under conditions of stress, serious bodily harm or even death.
Soldiers may have to perform duties they might not necessarily agree with or wish to perform. Nevertheless, they perform those duties because they have sworn to do so and because they have faith in their leaders and in their team.
In organizations, duty encompasses one’s position within the firm as well as working amicably and professionally with others to accomplish mutual goals. Some duties are pleasant and some are not.
That duty might entail working late at times to accomplish the mission. Duty also means having the courage to point out deficiencies and errors by the organization and its personnel, even when such beliefs and suggestions are not popular within the corporate entity.
For example, engineers at Morton-Thiokol warned their superiors about the dangers of launching the Space Shuttle Challenger, due to problems with the rocket’s O-rings at low temperatures. Despite the warning, the launch went ahead and ended in disaster; the cause was determined to be O-ring failure. Whistleblowing involves great personal career risk even though it is the right thing to do.
The Army teaches respect not only for the chain of command but also for each other. Over several millennia, military organizations have developed a strict hierarchy of authority and an understanding that one must respect authority to accomplish the mission.
If an organization is to thrive, all people in the company, starting with the commander or chief executive officer, must respect their peers and superiors. Malden Mills (the developer of Polartec® fabric) and its CEO, Aaron Feuerstein, are a great example of mutual respect in the corporate world.
When Malden Mills suffered a catastrophic fire in 1995, Feuerstein could have thrown in the towel and retired. Instead, he kept his nearly 3,000 employees on the payroll for months as the mill was rebuilt.
Did he earn the respect of his employees? Absolutely.
Selfless service is evidenced by the many memorials across the nation to fallen soldiers. It is also seen in the faces of tired soldiers who, despite terrible circumstances and stress, perform unimaginable feats of bravery because they simply have to do so.
Outside the military, selfless service takes various forms. An organization that appreciates its community and shows that appreciation through events and community support exhibits selfless service as well. Great companies grow along with their communities and are rooted in that shared human experience through tough times and good.
Honor implies a trust and responsibility to those who have gone before to uphold their values.
It is also what motivates a great military unit to continue to excel. This was certainly the case when I served with the First Infantry Division – the legendary “Big Red One.”
In the military, maintaining the honor of the unit over time equates to esprit de corps, which is defined as pride in self and organization creating synergy. When servicemembers review the proud history of their units in previous wars and are faced with combat, they do not want to let down either their team or those who have gone before them.
This creates a synergy that can cause people to perform feats they never thought possible. When esprit de corps is transferred to the private sector it can pay big dividends in performance and quality of product.
In the private sector, honor is associated with integrity. Developing a sense of personal worth is important to our well-being. An inbred sense of honor ensures that we do not let ourselves or our fellow employees down when things are tough.
Integrity is associated with honesty. It is doing the right thing not only when others are watching, but – even more importantly – when they are not. Integrity also means that there are some things more important than profit or greed.
Obviously, private sector firms must concentrate on profit. However, there are times when a company will take a loss for the public good.
For instance, the Whirlpool Corporation was voted one of the world’s most ethical companies for 2018. One of the keys to its success is its balancing of functional expertise with leadership abilities. It is important for a firm’s employees to possess positive human relations skills as well as technical skills.
One of the key elements in Whirlpool’s success is its strong sense of social responsibility. This is reflected in the firm’s commitment to assisting programs that provide food and housing for needy families and youth employment.
Johnson & Johnson is another example of corporate ethics in action. In 2010, Barron’s rated Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturers of Tylenol, as the second most respected company in the world.
In 1982, when several people in the Chicago area died after taking Tylenol, the company immediately recalled 31 million bottles of the drug. Johnson & Johnson also offered to replace all previously sold bottles of the capsules with tablets. The firm lost approximately $1.24 billion in revenue.
But due to its immediate public-oriented reaction, J&J survived. This is a great demonstration of integrity – placing public safety above profitability.
Courage is that quality that makes soldiers act decisively to win the war and save their comrades, even when the heat of battle terrifies them. Personal courage exists everywhere in civilization and is not limited by race, color or creed.
In the workplace, personal courage means doing one’s job even when it is difficult. One must embrace personal courage and genuinely care about an organization, a family and even one’s self.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston in 2017, police sergeant Steve Perez rose out of bed Sunday morning to report for work. His wife begged him to stay home but he told her, “I’ve got work to do.” The 34-year police veteran drowned when his patrol car was swamped by floodwaters while he was attempting to get to the station house.
Personal courage can also mean being a whistleblower when others are acting illegally. For example, Kathryn Bolkovac was a Nebraska police officer who went abroad to provide police training in the Balkans under a United Nations mandate.
While she was there, Bolkovac discovered that members of the UN International Police Task Force in Bosnia were involved in a sex scandal involving the citizens they were there to protect. Despite great personal danger, Bolkovac brought this case to light. Her story inspired the 2011 movie “The Whistleblower.”
The U.S. Army’s core values are a valuable contribution to society. Used wisely, they can enrich every facet of our lives. There are many people in all walks of life today who strive daily to represent these values.
About the Author
Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. He holds a B.A. in law enforcement from Marshall University, an M.A. in military history from Vermont College of Norwich University and a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in criminal justice from Northcentral University. Jeffrey is also a published author, a former New York deputy sheriff and a retired Army officer, having served over 20 years in the U.S. Army. He currently serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Risk and Contingency Management (IJRCM).