Soldier and businessman David Petraeus has become the poster-dude for the David Syndrome (also known as the Bathsheba Syndrome, in popular parlance.) Now, thanks to CDR Stallard and Major Sanger, in the Marine Corps Gazette, we have a spiritual view of the antidote, the Nathan Solution.
The Nathan Solution hearkens back to the Bible story that Ludwig and Longnecker used to illustrate their theory that power leads to failure because powerful men become insulated by influence — until they go too far, and fall of their pedestals. Nathan was a prophet, and one of King David’s advisors. and he used a seemingly innocuous story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s sheep to reframe King David’s crime of raping/seducing the already married Bathsheba and killing her husband. Sanger and Stallard call Nathan, “the reprover,” the man brave enough to stand up to power and name the transgression others ignore.
They mourn the need for such a role, naming many formerly strong leaders who chose misconduct over integrity. “GEN Petraeus’ resignation from the Central Intelligence Agency due to an extramarital affair, GEN William Ward’s demotion to major general for using government resources for personal agendas, and BG Jeffrey Sinclair, currently pending general court-martial for several sexual misconduct–related charges are public examples of moral and ethical failure. It seems this list is perennially refreshed by senior officers and enlisted servicememembers who, after honorable careers without blemish, commit misconduct worthy of relief and perhaps prosecution.”
But how can this cultural problem (by no means limited to the military!) be addressed before it results in suspension or dishonor? The answer is: courageous followers.
They go on to note that there are two roles in the military who might take on the burden of challenging and perhaps preventing these leaders from failing their call to duty: chaplains and, less formally, subordinates. This is an interesting vision of modern applications of spiritual and follower counsel in a moral crisis. And in the military, an organization marred by sexism and sexual abuse as women join the ranks, this is a refreshing and interesting vision of leadership behind the scenes.
“Chaplains have a burden to bear because they are bound by regulatory policy to keep confidential all matters pertaining to their advice and counsel to a commander. This does not mean the chaplain is a passive observer of a violation of law, and his silence is inaction; chaplains should remain on task to ensure the commander receives the support necessary to make a prudent decision while maintaining confidentiality.” They can be there before Bathsheba becomes a problem, if they have the courage and trust to lead like Nathan.
But when misconduct happens, subordinates must decide if they offer counsel or report their superior. In the latter case, “the Nathan Solution” becomes “the Nathan Obligation.” Best to avoid that altogether, and steer a superior back on the right path, like Nathan:
“Before conduct reaches a level in which law must be invoked, it would be wise for commanders to seek counsel and be open to receiving guidance. Likewise, a Marine in the position of providing counsel to a superior must have the courage to be candid and persuasive. If a leader gives any indication that he will even come close to committing misconduct, that leader’s counselors must not only raise the issue, but also have the fortitude and intelligence to make recommendations that are convincing.”
I like this argument about the David Syndrome, because it goes back to a point that needs to be made and made again, until we all finally get it — our leaders will do what we allow them to do, either by our passivity or our active support. Followers may not feel powerful, but we/they are very, very powerful.
Like Nathan (who answered to a higher power, and therefore did not fear the consequences of his challenge) we are called to stand up for what’s right when we see a wrong being committed by the King Davids above us. And we’re also called to stand up for integrity, before a wrong is committed, in our expectations of our leaders!