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Ethics versus Efficiency – What Military Leadership Can Learn from Business. By Detlef Aufderheide

In short by Hannah Nicklas

In business and in the military, ethical leadership principles must always be combined with clearly stated objectives. At the same time, ethical standards often seem incompatible with action that is geared to efficiency. But Detlef Aufderheide contradicts this assumption.

A basic model of justification and application is established in ethics. Using this model, clear guidelines can be derived from ethical standards, which should bring about ethically desirable outcomes. This no longer seems realistic in the modern business world, however, because decisions are rarely made by individual actors. The dynamics of decisions and outcomes are complex, and therefore unpredictable. For this reason, some business ethicists argue that guidance by ethical values in business is obsolete. They are of the opinion that these values simply cannot be implemented anymore.

Aufderheide vehemently objects to this. A particular characteristic of ethical leadership is that it responds flexibly to new challenges. Ethical standards are not weakened but instead strengthened precisely because they must always be applied in new ways when conditions change.

The same is true, Aufderheide contends, for Innere Führung in the German armed forces. Changes in general conditions and hence in the associated challenges do not call the concept into question. Instead, through the principle of uniting human being, soldier and citizen, the concept is designed to reconcile and continually rebalance different requirements. With specific regard to leadership ethics, this means avoiding the use of evaluative attributes such as “authoritarian” and “cooperative” for authoritative and participative leadership styles. A participative leadership style is not necessarily democratic, and even an authoritative leadership style can take the dignity of the soldier into account. Thus good leadership can also mean taking responsibility and giving clear instructions. As a rule of thumb: “Allow as much participation as possible and decide ‘authoritatively’ as little as necessary – but not less than necessary.” Aufderheide believes that in this way, the tensions between ethics and efficiency can be overcome.

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