[January 22, 2015] Carved in granite for all to see is the West Point U.S. Military Academy (USMA) cadet honor code. It’s a simple description of those things that make for a better leader and is there for all to see. It states that “A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”1 When followed, things go well … but when disregarded, bad results will eventually follow.
A less known unofficial and unwritten secret in the U.S. Army is that West Point educated officers are expected to be our guardians of integrity, values, and standards. Certainly, only the best is expected of all officers but West Point cadets are expected to preserve that something special. The good news is that is generally true. This is probably not unique in large organizations; that there exists a body of people who have the extraordinary duty of ensuring the foundation is maintained.
I am not a graduate of West Point Military Academy so this is not a biased assessment. Fortunately, all U.S. military institutions hold great pride in ensuring that their newly commission officers have fully internalized this expectation.
For example, the U.S. Air Force honor code is, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine have similar philosophies. When men and women are in combat they must trust those they work with implicitly, even with their lives. Honesty is the foundation of that trust.
When military personnel begin to let other priorities overcome that code, even when it seems right to do so at the time, the trust we have in each other begins to erode. I have known a handful of senior officers who allowed transgressions in their commands to knowingly go unpunished. Eventually everyone knew that commander lacked what it took to be a true leader and their career ended soon after.
The USMA cadet code is at the heart for any organization to instill the basics of leadership in their personnel. For anyone wanting to be a great leader, this is also the starting point.
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