Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More on the Bathsheba Syndrome and our Navy Commanding Officer leadership challenges

Ethical leadership is the way a particular leader acts within ethical guidelines, however set. Ethical leaders use their power to serve others and to further the mission, values, and goals of the organization. Unethical leaders use their power to further their own personal vision and goals.

Stories abound of the unethical acts of top-level leaders. Misuse of the organization’s resources, insider trading in stocks based on confidential information and sexual impropriety are a few common occurrences. Why do leaders act in this way? Do those who have no moral code to guide them take these actions? Or are these people under pressure to compete at any cost? One argument made is that it is not only unprincipled leaders or those under heavy competitive pressure who act unethically. It can be the very success of leaders that gives them the power and resources that can cause them to take actions that are obviously unethical.

The Bathsheba syndrome is named after King David of Israel and his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his army officers. It describes how a leader’s success can cause unethical acts that the leader knows to be wrong. When the leader becomes successful, that person is given privileged access to information and the control over organizational resources. These are given for a reason. They are tools with which the leader keeps in touch with events in and outside the organization and which the leader uses to set and revise the organization’s strategy. But a leader might come to think that these tools of top leadership are in fact rewards for past successes. The leader may relax and enjoy the privileges and control of the position. When the leader succumbs to temptations that abound at the top, strategic focus may be lost. The job of leader is not being done.

Often these unethical actions can be covered up using the power that comes with the position. This then reinforces the leader’s belief in a personal ability to control outcomes. Further unethical actions are then taken. Leaders may come to see themselves as above the law with respect to the rules of the organization. Information about these actions is kept from those lower in the hierarchy. Power is wielded to force others to accept these abuses. Those who complain are likely to be removed from their positions.

The lesson in the Bathsheba syndrome is that everyone is susceptible to the temptations that come with power and control. It is not just the unprincipled that take advantage of being on top. To avoid this problem the leader must lead a balanced life of work and family. In this way the leader is less likely to lose touch with reality. It is also critical for leaders to remember that privilege and status were given to do the job and not as a reward.

The leadership of ethics refers to the leader’s actions to help set ethical guidelines and to encourage their use in organizational decision-making. Because leaders help to create the social knowledge in an organization, they must concern themselves with acting ethically and creating the conditions that encourage others to act in an ethical manner.

Acting ethically is critically important. Organizational members must see the leader as responsible and credible if they are to act ethically themselves. To create ethical awareness and the conditions for ethical actions, the leader needs to take three actions.
  • First, a code of ethical conduct should be created.
  • Second, ethical and unethical actions must be made explicit. Ethical gray areas must be discussed and clarified.
  • Third, the leader must be willing to reward ethical behaviour and punish unethical behaviour.

From Richard Field on Management and Information Science HERE.


Anonymous said...

Your continued dwelling on CO firings is very offensive to me.

LCDR Bob Morrison said...

Why? Are you a CO that needs to be fired?

stephen said...

I think the point is that those beneath these fired CO's deserved better...........

Mike Lambert said...


I agree with you completely. They deserve better and we have a shared responsibility to provide better leadership.

seanheritage said...

I might also offer that a fourth action is to ensure command climate encourages constructive criticism and feedack from juniors.

Anonymous said...


You say "They deserve better and we have a shared responsibility to provide better leadership"

You are no longer a part of the "We." I think you may want to heed the message in your resent post: "Admiral Arleigh Burke's Sage Advice."

Mike Lambert said...

Oh, I beg to differ with you Anonymous
3:48PM. I am VERY much a part of the WE.

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of the CO (ashore) sent one of his JOs to sea for extended periods so the CO could have an affair with the JO's wife. The JO was none the wiser for a long period of time and was anxious to curry favor with the CO by doing his bidding. Came home one time and no longer had a wife. But, he did have a great FITREP!

Stephen said...

Another point or two:

Every sailor that served under these men and women is someone's child.

I think those children deserve better than what has been showing up lately and getting fired. So Anonymous, would you want your children serving under some of these men and women being relieved for behavior issues??

I believe a lot of the BEHAVIOR issues have A LOT of prior history. The buck was passed to the future and the many suffer for the few-because he was a front runner, or she's going to be an Admiral some day.

Another sore spot-look at what Lisa Nowak got. Now would some E-7 have gotten the same thing for similar behavior??


Pegford said...

Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. Not my original thought, of course.

True Blue Navy said...

Great article. Commanding Officers have a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to their command and the Navy. They should be the example to their Sailors and uphold the highest standards of conduct, particularity when considering the fact that they are frequently called upon to review and decide cases of disciplinary infractions within their commands. A Commanding Officer who abuses their positions for personal gain is letting their commands down, the Navy leadership who entrusted them with the position, and themselves. When a Commanding Officer violates regulations, they too must be held accountable. The Commanding Officer is responsible for the good order and discipline of the command, and they cannot fulfill this responsibility if the are violating rules and regulations.

Anchored said...

I thought I would post my response on this one too, since the first thread didn't see as much of a conversation.

Due to the length of my reply I have posted over on my blog. If interested in my counter-Bathsheba syndrome theory, I call the "Glass Shaken" theory, here is the link

Thanks for the always thought-provoking topics. This one got me thinking.

Anonymous said...

After I had been in the Navy awhile and read the story of David I thought "he sounds like several of my CO's". God told David he would pay the price for his mistakes, but was expected to continue to lead in the interim. It was comforting to me to think that leaders having moral failings is not a new problem. I still cannot figure out why we keep putting the dirtbags in charge, though.

CWO4 Brian Ashpole, USN-Retired said...

I read Anchor's blog and agree with him. Here's some counter point from a practicing Christian's biblical point of view:

"To create ethical awareness and the conditions for ethical actions, the leader needs to take three actions."

"First, a code of ethical conduct should be created."

-You shall worship no other gods before me. (Our hearts are Idol Factories and we can become consumed by our positions)

-Love the Lord your God will all of you heart, mind, and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself"

"Second, ethical and unethical actions must be made explicit. Ethical gray areas must be discussed and clarified."

-"You shall not covet ..."

"Third, the leader must be willing to reward ethical behaviour and punish unethical behaviour."

-By our nature, we are all sinners and must learn to repent and turn away from sinful actions. There is redemption.

I've probably offended a few here but that's okay.

Andy Johnson said...

From a slightly different perspective I totally agree. I have spent more than 40 years in business and have seen the damage to promising institutions that lapses in ethics a the top can have.

In businesses, of all sizes, the ethics and morality of those at the top are reflected and amplified by those in all levels of the company. The standard of behavior demonstrated can lead to loss of business, lawsuits, and high turnover of personnel.

All relationships are based on trust. If the customer cannot trust the company they take their business elsewhere. If employees cannot have trust of reward and pride in their individual as well as group efforts they must either play along or leave.

Choosing the people who run a company is crucial for employees as well as investors...

I am glad that the Navy takes this issue very seriously. I wish that more young people leaving HS and hom would have some experience in this environment. It would be very beneficial for them, their future and our larger society.

I spent my 6 years in the Navy. I have encouraged every young person I have met to join. It is a great place to change from large boy into human sized man...