Search overlay

Search form




        Armenakis gives Air Force Academy lessons on ethics

        April 24, 2014 By Joe McAdory

        All News


        Armenakis teaching a concept at a white board
        Achilles Armenakis, James T. Pursell Eminent Scholar in Ethics, is working to help the U.S. Air Force Academy implement ethics-related courses into its curriculum.
        You have a tough decision to make. One choice is right -- and ethical. One is not. How do you make the right decision? Achilles Armenakis, the James T. Pursell Eminent Scholar in Ethics in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, is investigating the answer. Armenakis suggests a person must first take ownership of the decision and fully understand what must be done. He then suggests that person must have the confidence that he or she can do it. Lastly, that person must have the courage to stand up and do the right thing. “If you don’t have the courage, that’s when it breaks down,” said Armenakis. Oftentimes decision-makers know what the right action is but they fail to implement it because of a lack of courage. This is what the United States Air Force Academy refers to as the “decision action gap.” Tough decisions are not made only in the business world. They are made in the military every day. That’s why the Air Force Academy invited Armenakis, and others, to speak at its annual Scholars Forum Feb. 25-28 in Colorado Springs, Colo. Armenakis teamed with cadet John Stanley to present the paper, “Formation, Maintenance, and Transformation of Organizational Culture: A Moral Perspective” to the academy’s senior leaders. “The idea is to have these speakers come in and have something to talk about that the leadership of the Air Force Academy could consider in its tweaking of their educational programs,” said Armenakis, Director of the James T. Pursell Sr. Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures, a research program at Auburn University designed to assess ethical and unethical cultures. Armenakis’ presentation weighed the importance organizational culture has on the behavior of employees within an organization. “Being in the military, we obviously have very specific cultures,” said Stanley, who considered working with Armenakis to be an awesome experience. “Sometimes however, we unfortunately have subcultures that do not always exactly align with the overall mission and culture of the Air Force. This is why Dr. Armenakis’ research is so applicable to us. We can use the information he provided us to spot and correct, any potential problems within our subcultures before they even become problems. “Two of the main things that stood out and directly apply to us here, is the ability for cadets and officers to assess the culture of their organizations and for them to positively make changes within those organizations.”Armenakis said he and Stanley corresponded for several weeks before making the presentation together. Armenakis made the case for moral culture, behavior and how to assess, including re-tooling the curriculum to make room for culture-assessment courses. Stanley, Armenakis said, explained to senior leaders “why this was important for Air Force cadets and the benefits cadets would get out of it.” “If they could teach cadets these skills when they became commissioned officers, they could do their own assessment of the culture of the group and identify pockets of unethical behaviors within the group,” Armenakis said. “John (Stanley) bought in big-time. He didn’t know anything about it two months earlier, but he was now selling it to senior leaders. Senior leaders asked, ‘how do we get this implemented into our curriculum?’ We discussed that.” Armenakis suggested the AFA allow cadets more flexibility in their curriculum so they could take “less hard-science courses and more soft-science courses that you would see in a management department.” “Dr. Armenakis’ discussion of moral potency and ethical cultures was a powerful reminder of the need to build moral ownership, courage and efficacy in our culture — especially when developing the Air Force’s future leaders,” said Lt. Col. Joel Witzel, Assistant Director for Scholarship at the Air Force Academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development. “Dr. Armenakis’ research in moral potency is the center of gravity for ethical development in higher education. If we’re going to bridge the decision-action gap, we will need to target ownership, courage, and efficacy. In this area, Dr. Armenakis’ research advances our framework for developing leaders of character.”