BLUF: Codes connect belief to behavior and create accountability. Much of my life has been governed by codes, but today it really isn't. In an effort to determine what my code should be, I pulled from the three most impactful works on principled but practical living I've found. And then I made sure my faith is reflected as well.
In late 2003 I was a brand new light infantry platoon leader in southern Afghanistan. I led 40 soldiers through a platoon sergeant and four squad leaders - each one an experienced and empowered noncommissioned officer. I had inherited one of the most capable platoons out of twelve in the battalion - and that meant that the platoon could more or less do its job of quickly closing with (on foot, usually, after a helicopter or truck ride) and killing or capturing any Taliban or Al Qaeda we came across in the entire country, without me. More than once I had to back off and reassess my role - and did so by consulting a platoon leader’s duties and responsibilities in Field Manual 7-8 (Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad) as well as the Ranger Handbook. At many points across that trip, that took the better part of a year, I found that having a reference for what I was supposed to do and why was very helpful. I encountered a lot of situations nobody could have predicted, but having a code by which I could operate - and best lead my team and serve my force - allowed me to operate at my highest performance.
I've spent a lot of my live living under codes, oaths and creeds. In mid-2002 it was the oath of office, and before heading to Afghanistan later in 2002 it was the Ranger Creed. Five years later at Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion (SERE) school it was the Code of Conduct of the United States Fighting Force. If I'm thinking back even further, I was subject to some versions of them in college, and even military high school. They governed a lot - what you did, what you said, how you did your work, and often they became - at least to some degree - who you were. The most impactful ones I was made to recite every day.
Looking at the Ranger Creed, KS Anthony explained the value of codes like this in one of our first Quartermaster Newsletters a year ago.
Those things must be done: they’re oaths. They remove the element of choice. You already chose to volunteer: here are the incumbent responsibilities. Oaths aren’t about options: they’re about being bound by the power of openly spoken words.
Looking back on how much codes, oaths and creeds have covered my life, I’m struck by the fact that I don’t have one for my profession anymore. Most workplace codes of conduct, mission statements and values lists are a joke - they aren’t reflected in daily behavior and thus remain either aspirational or a mandatory exercise in business bullshit. People don’t abide by them because they ceased to reflect reality as soon as the closest leader violated them in front of everyone else. Codes are only as valuable and real as we're willing to make them with our own actions - and their enforcement by a peer group or supervisor is pretty key as well. The one I’m subject to right now is the vow of marriage - and the current divorce rate in the US shows you that a significant part of our country has disregarded this one for a long time.
There are three major works that have really impacted how I see my work today. The simplicity and focus of their perspectives inspire me to commit myself to a standard much like I did in service. They include:
If I'm going to build a code I believe in, and can live, these are the best places to start. All together these works have 16 stated practices and 5 traits of a good leader - but there’s a fair amount of overlap. As many of the actions fit into the traits, I’ve reorganized the practices by trait, here: