Some Further Thoughts on the Implications of “Jeansgate”
By 12570 Mike Kennedy
Readers of e-Veritas will recall that in the edition that was published two weeks ago, I offered some personal perspectives on the recent “Jeansgate” affair. I am appreciative of the fact that some of our readers took the time to offer feedback, and read their comments with great interest. I was particularly pleased to see fairly detailed comments from Doug Southen and James Doherty, both of who were seniors at RMC when I was a recruit in 1976-77, and both of who I knew very well back then, and still know today.
Having now had a chance to think about everything a bit more over the past couple of weeks, and to reflect on the various comments that were made, I have a few additional perspectives I would like to share. Comments on what follows would of course be welcomed.
First of all, I hope it will be clearly understood that the comments made in my earlier article were not intended to serve as a criticism of the Commandant and his military staff, or to somehow suggest that I believe that the current state of leadership and discipline at the College is unsatisfactory. As an Ex-Cadet myself, I think I understand – and endorse – the notion that in any military organization, proper discipline have to be maintained, at all times and without exception. Apart from maintaining a reasonable semblance of order, discipline is what gives us an identity, and sets us apart from the civilian population. I think we would all agree that this is one of the most important lessons an institution like RMC has to teach.
From what I understand, the collective punishment was imposed not as a result of an isolated incident, but rather, in response to what had become a recurrent pattern of disobedience on the part of certain cadets. If that is in fact the case, then the senior military staff were clearly faced with a problem they had to deal with, and to their credit, they did. Some observers may take issue with the remedy that was prescribed and with the way it was imposed, but the reality was, turning a blind eye to the situation that had apparently developed simply would not have been an option. To have done so would have done a great disservice to RMC, and to everything the institution stands for.
The real objective of my article was not to call into question the competence of the military leadership or the state of discipline at the College, but rather, to pose the larger question: what kind of discipline and leadership do we want at RMC ? I am sure that the imposition of the recent collective punishment created a situation from which no one derived any great pleasure. So as we look to the future, and as we consider what might be learned as a result of this experience, the question I would ask is, how can we achieve a state of discipline that eliminates – or at the very least, greatly reduces – any future need for similar type of punishments ? Or to put in another way, how can we create a culture wherein cadets are highly motivated to discipline themselves, because they understand and accept their responsibilities as members of the RMC community ?
The comments offered by readers were extremely interesting. For example, I noted with interest Doug Southen’s comments about the obligation to obey lawful orders, and in particular, his emphatic statement that “IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT THEIR OPINION MIGHT BE OF THE LAWFUL COMMAND”. I would argue that Doug has got it partially right. Yes, it is true that when a lawful order is issued by a commander, a subordinate’s opinion of the order does not in any way diminish his or her responsibility to comply with that order. The subordinate’s opinion does nothing to change the fact that he or she MUST obey the order. Whatever that opinion may be, the subordinate cannot legally make any choice as to whether or not they WILL obey the order. In a military society, they have to. Otherwise, the entire organization will inevitably collapse.
But that being said, I also would suggest that the opinion formed by subordinates has a great deal to do with HOW they will choose to obey the order. And this, I believe, is something a commander has to think about very carefully any time he or she chooses to an issue an order.
Consider two alternate scenarios, both of which are very possible in real life. In the first instance, subordinates are issued an order which, according to the criteria laid down by Doug, is fully lawful. But for any number of potential reasons, the recipients of the order also decide that it is impractical, unreasonable, demeaning, or somehow irrelevant to the organization’s larger mission.
What likely happens in a situation like this ? The subordinates may well obey the order. But they will resent having to do so, they will exert only the bare minimum of effort to comply, and their sole motivation for obeying the order will be to avoid the negative consequences associated with not obeying it. They will also question the competence and motives of the leader, and may be reluctant to follow his or her orders in the future.
All of us can no doubt remember examples of the kind of situation I have described above that we ourselves have seen in real life. In my view, this is not the kind of leadership that good people will respond to. It certainly does nothing to inspire confidence in the leader, or to help build the kind of morale and fighting spirit that is needed in any successful military organization.
Now consider the alternate scenario I alluded to earlier. In this case, as in the first instance, an order is issued. It is perfectly lawful. But it is also explained clearly and carefully to subordinates. They understand what they are being directed to do, and the reasons why. They see the order as being practical, sensible, fair, and reasonable. They are able to understand and appreciate that the successful execution of the order will make an important contribution to the organization’s larger mission. They accept the order as being both a challenge to their professional abilities, and at the same time, an appeal to their pride to rise to that challenge, And they believe that their leader respects them for their abilities, and has confidence they can be relied up to do their best to comply.
What happens in this scenario ? The order is obeyed. But much more than that, it is likely to be obeyed willingly and enthusiastically by subordinates who respect their leader, and who do not want to let him or her down. They will approach their duties with pride and confidence in their own abilities, and those of their team. They will go the extra mile and do what it takes to get the job done, even if it requires facing great risks and exerting a seemingly herculean amount of effort. When all is said and done, they will take pride and satisfaction from a mission well accomplished, and will look forward to taking on new challenges. And they will look up to and admire their leader, and see him or her as being a competent and dedicated professional who genuinely cares about them, and a role model whose example they want to emulate.
Now that’s the kind of leadership I would like to see at RMC, and in the Canadian Forces. How about you ?
I suppose the larger point I am seeking to make here is, leaders in any context need to remember that the issuing of orders requires not simply the exercise of AUTHORITY, it also requires the exercise of JUDGEMENT. In other words, orders must certainly be lawful; that is the minimum standard that has to be met for orders to have any degree of legitimacy. But beyond that, so as to have any hope of ensuring that their orders can be properly enforced, leaders need to be prepared to do some hard thinking, and ask themselves some tough questions.
Specifically, I’d suggest that leaders need to be sure that the orders they choose to give are practical and workable under the circumstances, and that they are appropriate for the organization’s larger mission. They need to communicate their orders effectively to subordinates, and ensure that their team members understand what is expected, and why it is important. And they need to make it clear to subordinates that they can count upon the full support of the leader to provide whatever assistance may be required to ensure that orders are properly carried out.
As Major General Worthington so accurately observed in his remarks delivered in 1946, “Soldiers are the salt of the earth, and will stand any amount of hardship if they know the score.”
In my previous commentary on “Jeansgate”, I expressed the view that today’s generation of cadets are not fundamentally all that much different from any generation that has gone before them. Again, the venerable Doug Southen took issue with this statement, expressing the view that the young people of today are not the same as those of his generation and mine. And once again, I would say that Doug has got it partially right.
It is true that any generation is a product of the society in which it was raised, and to this extent, Doug is correct that there are indeed many differences between the “millennials” now at the College and the “Baby Boomers” who were there in our day in the 1970’s. I am sure that General Turner would have said much the same about the longhairs that arrived on the parade square in August 1976, when comparing then to the members of the “Last War Class” who reported with him in 1940. But I would also suggest that in reality, many of these perceived differences may be only skin deep. Social norms may certainly change, but human nature does not. I’m not at all convinced that the factors and influences that motivate people to be the best they can be are that much different today from what was the case at the time the College first opened its doors in 1876.
At the recent Toronto branch dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting beside a woman who will be graduating this year, and soon thereafter, embarking on a career as a naval engineer. Speaking with this young lady, it quickly became clear that she is articulate, intelligent, motivated, and highly accomplished. Clearly a very impressive young person who has the potential to do great things, and who is destined to go places in her future career, If this young woman is representative of the kind of people that we now have at RMC, then that leaves me feeling confident that the quality of today’s generation of cadets is as good as it has ever been, Maybe better than ever, in fact.
Then I think of guys like Doug Southen and James Doherty, who were, to use Doug’s words, “twenty year old kids” when I first met them in 1976. To anyone who knew them back then, they were two very different personalities and two very different leadership styles. But what I remember most about both of them was, they were both hugely important mentors and role models for junior cadets like myself who taught us by their own example what the values of the College were all about, and who inspired us to become more than what we might otherwise ever have been.
It wasn’t easy back then, certainly not for us as recruits, and I’m sure not for them either. But today, when I think of Southen, Doherty, and others like them, I think I now appreciate that they are the kind of people that all of us can be proud to be associated with, and honoured to be able to call lifelong friends. These two guys, and those who are like them, are the kind of Ex-Cadets who represent the best of the best of what the College is really supposed to be about.
So what’s the bottom line here ? I would suggest it may be that as we think about “Jeansgate” and its larger implications, we need to remember that much like their predecessors of any generation, the cadets of today are fundamentally good people. They come to RMC seeking a challenge, and looking for an opportunity to improve themselves in life. They will live up to – or live down to – the standards that are set for them, and the examples with which they are provided. Their behavior will be a reflection of not only themselves as people, but also the larger system they are surrounded by, and the role models to whom they are exposed.
So let’s ask ourselves, what kind of leadership do these young people deserve ? What is it that the rest of us can do to bring out the best in them, inspire them to reach beyond themselves, and help them to realize their true potential as the leaders who will shape Canada’s future ? In my view, these are the real questions we should be asking in the aftermath of “Jeansgate”.
As the Class of 2018 prepares to graduate in a few days, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them for all they have accomplished during their time at the College, and to wish them well in their future careers. Whatever challenges or setbacks they may have had to contend with, I believe all of them can take great pride in becoming graduates of an institution that is unlike any other, and that has served Canada remarkably well in its now over 140 years of existence. At the same time, I would also like to wish the more junior cadets who remain at RMC all the best, and say that I hope they complete all the further requirements to graduate successfully, and get the most out of whatever time they have left at the College.
Finally, I would also like to thank the Commandant, the Principal, and the military, academic, and civilian staff for everything they have done for the members of this year’s graduating class. If the cadets who I met at the Toronto Branch dinner are representative of the kind of people the College is turning out, then General Bouchard, Dr. Kowal, and all of their colleagues should be very proud of the young men and women who are entrusted to their care, and they deserve our congratulations and thanks for a job well done.
And finally, with respect to “Jeansgate” itself, I’d like to see all of us learn what we can from this unfortunate episode, and move forward from it in a renewed spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. The College is simply too great an institution to allow its image to be tarnished over the kind of petty issues that were involved in this situation. I’m confident that if all of us in the RMC community can make a renewed commitment to work together for the collective and greater good, then the College will be well positioned to build upon its past traditions of excellence, and render many more years of outstanding service to Canada.