Saturday, February 21, 2015


 The Strategic Studies Institute recently published a 33-page paper about lying. It's worth the read (  While there is a bit of click-bait going on (Saying "Army Officers Lie" is certainly designed to get attention), the paper itself is well written and seems to be well researched.

As you read through it, replace "Army" with "Navy," and you'll find it still rings true.  For example, the study found that a unit needs 297 days to complete all mandated training, but only had 256 days to do so...meaning there is no physical way to complete all training.

"If units and individuals are literally unable to complete the tasks placed upon them, then reports submitted upward by leaders must be either admitting noncompliance, or they must be intentionally inaccurate. Units, however, rarely have the option to report that they have not completed the ARFORGEN pre-deployment checklist. Likewise, it is not an option for individuals to decide that they will forego sexual assault prevention training this quarter because they are too busy with other tasks. If reporting noncompliance is not an acceptable alternative because of the Army’s tendency toward zero defects, then it is important to examine the resultant institutional implications."

Does this sound like ORSE/INSURV?  Is our SAPR training any different?

The most important piece of the article talked about "Ethical fading," which it described here:

"Ethical fading occurs when the “moral colors of an ethical decision fade into bleached hues that are void of moral implications.” Ethical fading allows us to convince ourselves that considerations of right or wrong are not applicable to decisions that in any other circumstances would be ethical dilemmas. This is not so much because we lack a moral foundation or adequate ethics training, but because psychological processes and influencing factors subtly neutralize the “ethics” from an ethical dilemma....One factor that encourages ethical fading in the Army is the use of euphemisms and obscure phrases to disguise the ethical principles involved in decisions. Phrases such as checking the box and giving them what they want abound and focus attention on the Army’s annoying administrative demands rather than dwelling on the implications of dishonesty in official reports. Indeed, many officers even go as far as to insist that lying to the system can better be described as prioritizing, accepting prudent risk, or simply good leadership."

I guarantee you and your Sailors are guilty of this.  I know I am.  This is the root cause of a lot of issues.  For example, many commands let Sailors leave early on Fridays.  Many of those Sailors have put in  a lot of time during the week, so an early break is warranted.  Many of them have not however, and sadly the lazy ones are often the first to cry about wanting to leave early.  I've had more than one Chief or LPO tell me "The guys have worked hard, let's give them a break." when the exact opposite is true...and yet have you heard that mentioned in leadership school as being "good leadership?"  What about fudging engineering logs?  Or entering training into FLTMPS that we know
wasn't completed?  Or marking a spot check as complete when it wasn't?

Ethical fading is the start of that slow slide into bigger lying problems.  How do we get LTs that enter deliberately false training records?  Simple.  At one time said LT was an ENS and was allowed to finish 4 hours of SAPR training in an hour.  It was OK because he was super busy and the training was all a rehash anyway.  It wasn't long before the now-LTJG was hit at the end of the day with more mandatory training he missed, and one of the first classes, feeling sorry for him, told him "I'll take care of it."  Soon it wasn't long before whole training sessions were fabricated, all in the name of "getting it done."

The there are three counters to ethical fading: always be honest with your boss, willingly accept bad news, and know your subordinates business.

1. Always be honest with your boss.  This one is hard if your boss sucks, but it's important.  Your boss should naturally assume you are telling the truth.  A good boss will never get a chance to hear the truth if you don't tell him, and a bad one will probably blast you anyway.  We may think we are telling the Admiral/Captain/whomever what they want to hear, but we should always be honest, because otherwise things can't change.

2. Willingly accept bad news.  For bosses, get used to taking bad news.  If you shoot the messenger, you'll suddenly get lots of good news, which means your people are lying to you.  I had an XO at my last command that took bad news like a champ...I think I saw him get visibly angry once.  It gave me the confidence to tell him when things went bad, and it allowed us to fix problems when they were small.  I also had a CO that bit off anyone's head that brought him bad news.  He soon never got bad news, up until the day he was releived of command.

3. Know your subordinates business.  Don't be the boss and now "know how the sausage is made," or be a junior officer and accept that something is "NCO/Chief's business."  You don't need to be the one doing something, but you need to know how it's done.  That knowledge WILL stretch you, and you won't always be well received when you attempt to learn something new at your subordinates expense.  But once you understand what your subordinates actually do, you'll know when you need to push them, and when you've reached a limit and need to stop.

Ethical fading and the endemic lying that currently happens now can be stopped.  It's not easy, but it can be fixed.