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Ethics is a Strategic Imperative for All Hands

By Adm. Bill Moran
Vice Chief of Naval Operations

Historically ethics has often been seen as a legalistic, zero sum determination of compliance with rules and minimum standards. We can — and we must — do better. Working together, we can view ethics for what it truly is: A strategic imperative for all of us, one that shifts our individual and organizational mind-sets from merely doing the thing right (i.e., process compliance) to always doing the right thing (i.e., the alignment of process, purpose, and values).

Fostering a culture that recognizes ethics as a strategic imperative for all hands will require three immediate actions from the team.

1. Officers: Empower down and learn daily from your team.

U.S. Navy Capt. Murz Morris, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, speaks to Sailors during an all-hands call aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) in the Indian Ocean, Dec. 6, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Logan C. Kellums/Released)

Most problems are best solved in the work spaces of your respective commands rather than here in Washington, D.C. Believe in your Sailors’ ingenuity, intellect and courage to innovate. Working closely at every step with your Chiefs Mess, you must earn, protect, and reciprocate your Sailors’ trust and confidence by making the deck plates our laboratory for new ideas and creative solutions.

Encourage your people to take smart, calculated, and measured risks to raise standards of performance and professionalism. Sailors want you to value their input and be open to positive feedback. Be comfortable with respectful and constructive confrontation, trust your teams, and mission accomplishment will follow.

2. Chiefs and Lead Petty Officers: Promote a culture of open communication and continual feedback.

Rear Adm. Edward Cashman speaks to the Chiefs’ Mess aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107), Jan. 3.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Andrew Hays/Released)

Constructive and respectful criticism is a hallmark of naval service. Sailors feel comfortable providing their honest feedback when they are confident that their voice will be heard.

As deck plate leaders and front line supervisors, you know your Sailors best; listen and learn, teach and develop, and recognize and reward your Sailors every single day. Actively invest in their personal and professional development, know them as people (not just Sailors), and enable their success.

3. Junior Sailors: Identify problems, propose solutions and take ownership.

You are smarter, more adaptable, and more innovative than any other generation of Sailors. Focus your immense talents on finding ways to improve your work centers, departments, commands, and our Navy.

Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) hold lines steady during a replenishment-at-sea. (U.S. Navy photo by ENS Sijing Y. Qiu/Released)

Do not fear failure; trust and collaborate creatively with your chain of command to improve, yet humbly recognize that our Navy is one team that must work together to achieve success. Anchored by your honesty and integrity, raise your own standards, so as to raise those of your command and of our entire Navy team.

Transforming ethics into a strategic asset is another step in the continued vitality of our people, our institution, and our purpose. Competing with character by overlaying ethics as a strategic imperative in everything we do will enhance readiness and result in a more lethal force that reflects the American values you protect every single day.

I am excited about the future of our Navy, and proud to serve with you as we confront the uncertainty of tomorrow together. See you in the Fleet! U.S. Navy