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Ethics and Leadership News

April 18, 2013

A Career of Honorable Service: A talk with Brigadier General Daniel J. O'Donohue

Topics: Leadership

When one hears the word “military,” one may think of service, national security, and national pride.  What may not be the first association is: leadership.

During a visit to Columbia Business School on April 18, 2013, United States Marine Corps Brigadier General Daniel J. O’Donohue, a decorated officer with nearly 30 years of service in the armed forces, demonstrated that leadership in the military is not so different from leadership in business.

The Columbia Business School students attending the event expected to hear perspectives on honor, ethics, and morals from a leader outside the business world and Brigadier General O’Donohue did not disappoint. “I have titled my presentation today Ethical Leadership, but that sounds redundant, as there is no other way to lead,” he said in his opening remarks.  

From the session’s debate came the key question that both Brigadier General O’Donohue and the students present focused on: is it possible to replicate the deep sense of honor and morals of those in military service in the business world? 

The discussion touched upon many points, but what resonated with the audience most was how difficult it was for an employee to feel the same level of respect for a company that servicemen and women have for the military. Inspired by the conversation, Brigadier General O’Donohue observed that in the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, the author Katherine Boo reflects on her three years living in Mumbai’s slums. Even in a deeply corrupt and tragic environment, Boo observed kindness, respect for life, and the intent to do the right thing. Thus, Brigadier General O’Donohue proposed a new idea: honor, ethics, and morals are not intrinsic to the military, but to mankind.

Brigadier General O’Donohue concluded by stressing the importance of being prepared to face ethical dilemmas in situations where there is insufficient time to consider all options, by developing a personal code of ethics, adapted individually and lived daily. He encouraged all students in attendance, whom he regarded as “future leaders of the business world,” to evaluate whether their actions and behaviors adhered to a personal code and if it did not, what steps should be taken to develop one. 

This event was cohosted by the Honor Board, the Military in Business Association, and the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Student Leadership and Ethics Board,.

Brigadier General Daniel J. O'Donohue graduated from the College of William and Mary with a Bachelor of Arts in History and was commissioned in 1984. He is a distinguished graduate of the Amphibious Warfare School, the School of Advanced Warfighting, the National War College, and the Naval Postgraduate School. He has Masters of Science Degrees in National Security Strategy and Manpower Management.

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