When it comes to the development of character, ethics, and integrity we would do well to heed the wise advice of Blaise Pascal, who famously observed, “the heart has its reason, which reason cannot know.” Ethical development that targets the head and neglects the heart, tends to create ethical legalists who can reason themselves into or out of most any action or inaction. Thus, it is critically important that we educate for conscience; essential that through education and advocacy we cultivate self-awareness and awaken the values voice inside every individual.
The development of conscience must be an essential focus of values education; and yet, as Mary Gentile has argued in her book, Giving Voice to Values, the development of conscience alone is insufficient. Conscience—a sense of right from wrong—also requires a sense of competence—a sense of practical know-how. Competence speaks to what Gentile and others have referred to as “post-decision making” when we know what we ought to do and need to figure out how to make it happen within the challenges of the real world pressures and stresses (Gentile, 2010).
In our work this has meant that we distill complex and multifaceted moral and performance character values into their more specific competencies. Our operational definition of character as “values in action,” gets calibrated by a focus on the development of specific character competencies. Competent: “able to”; incompetent: “unable to”. Organizations want and need “individuals who are able to …”, for example, give and receive constructive criticism, manage priorities and reduce stress, be fair to all involved, continue trying in the face of difficulty, and so on.
Competencies are process skills that connect awareness and sensitivity, to reasoning and judgment, to behavior. The development of competencies requires action and reflection, practice with feedback, real-world simulation that targets practice of essential skills in settings that are similar to the real challenges one would face, and yet still safe enough to allow the development of mastery. When skills for each of these processes are fully developed and become automatic, cognition and action become intertwined and an individual consistently engages in positive behavior (see, for example, review of related research in Narvaez, 2006).
The development of competencies has meant the ability for us to teach general skills universal to all settings, while also targeting the development of skills specific to particular settings—be they in school, sport, or work. A contextualized view allows us to approach each situation as having its own challenges and requisite skills. We simulate for the most common situations you will face in this specific context. Too often training for ethics and character is too amorphous to teach or learn—certainly to assess. IEE’s research-based tools distill theory and research into replicable guides for thinking and behavior. Consider, for example, our Win-Win Negotiation Tool, which provides a guide for effective negotiation—a complex and critically important skill.
Our work has been focused on developing a battery of Tools within each of our Excellence & Ethics Focus Areas.
In essence, Excellence & Ethics tools, like the Win-Win Negotiation Tool, define standards and expectations. These “tools” represent what Mary Gentile would call “scripts” that guide implementation, thereby ensuring a more efficient and consistent standard of output. Clear and concise (i.e., simple, concrete, memorable, action-oriented) tools become models to guide behavior across the organization. Consistent and pervasive use of the tools over time leads to individual and organizational habits.
The support for and value of our work has increased in school, sport, and workplace settings as we have begun to develop both conscience (a belief that I ought to) and competence (a belief that I am able to).
Note: This blog excerpted and adapted from a paper delivered at the Baum Symposium on Ethics at Drake University, October 3, 2012.