Leaders: Establish, enforce and maintain standards and conduct

By Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. USMA Superintendent

August 25th, 2016 | Commentary, News
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr.  USMA Superintendent

One of the most important things I’ve learned in more than 40 years of leading Soldiers is that a unit is the reflection of its leader. If you have a good leader who sets and enforces high standards, you have a good unit. If you have a weak and ineffective leader who lets standards slip, then you have a weak and ineffective unit. A loudmouth, profane leader will quickly have a loudmouth, profane platoon.

As leaders, part of our responsibility is to establish and enforce standards within our organizations. An important piece of our leader development process is developing leaders who establish and maintain the highest standards and discipline.

When we see an infraction or something that’s not up to standard, there is the temptation to look the other way instead of correcting the deficiency, or assume that someone else will make the correction. But when we do that, we compromise the standard.

The moment you accept the subpar, the subpar becomes the new standard. Then before you know it, the standard slips again, and a new lower standard becomes the norm.

When we let standards slide, we have implicitly accepted a new lowered standard.

That means as leaders, we must enforce the standards continually and consistently. The moment we see something that’s not up to standard, we need to correct it, right then and there. We can’t enforce something with Cadet Smith, but let it slide with Cadet Jones. Likewise, we can’t let something slide on Monday, but then decide to enforce it on Tuesday.

Good leaders don’t assume the standards are being kept; they check and inspect often. As the saying goes: “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

Good leaders not only set and enforce standards, but they also know they have to embody those standards and be those standards themselves. Good leaders can’t effectively lead a PT session if they are out of shape. Good leaders can’t expect their Soldiers to show up on time for formation if they’re constantly running late. Good leaders can’t expect their Soldiers to have squared-away uniforms, if their own uniforms aren’t squared-away.

Those whom you lead should never have to wonder what the standard is—all they should have to do is look at you. Leaders who don’t set the standard through their own example will lose the trust of those they lead.

As members of the profession of arms, that trust relationship extends to our client, the American people. They have the expectation, and rightfully so, that we are upholding the highest of standards.

They have entrusted their sons and daughters to us, and they look to us when they want to see what’s right with America. When we fail to meet their expectations, it damages that trust relationship.

That’s why leadership must be transparent, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. Furthermore, that requires that our behavior must be consistent with our values 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

Social media has the ability to reach potentially millions of people in relatively short periods of time. Photos and videos can go “viral” in mere minutes and affect the public’s perception of us, either in a positive or negative way.

We’ve seen many examples, both good and bad, where one post or tweet has resulted in widespread coverage that has cast either a positive or negative light on us.

Social media creates more transparency, which can be a good thing, because it hold us, as leaders, accountable. It helps ensure that we live honorably, in accordance with our values and standards of conduct all the time.

As I’ve said before, character and integrity don’t have on/off switches. Good leaders shouldn’t live and act one way in public and then live and act an entirely different way in private.

So as this new academic year gets underway, I’m counting on each and every one of us to hold ourselves accountable and set and maintain the highest standards, both within ourselves and for those we lead.

It’s part of what creating a culture of excellence is all about. It’s what our Soldiers expect of us. It’s what America expects of us.

Beat Navy!