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West Point Cadets
West Point cadets and instructors

West Point Cadets

A group of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point take on the weekly 'On Leadership' questions. Who better to explore the gray areas of leadership than members of The Long Gray Line?

Defining your loyalties

Q. With Google ending self-censorship in China, the company stands to lose significant market-share in an enormous and growing market. Does it make sense for even the biggest firms to challenge political systems? When is it right for leaders to put a principled stand on human rights in front of their organization's self-interest?

When is the right time for leaders to stand up for human rights over profit or expansion? Whenever they have the opportunity to do so. It might just be because I'm in the military, but as I see it, any leader's duty, military or business, is to do the right thing. We would hope that all leaders would pick to stand for human rights over profits, leading in both ethics and business, but that's just not the case.

All powerful business leaders inherit a responsibility to use their power wisely. Along with the power Google enjoys as the number-one search engine comes a responsibility to use its influence and business tactics in an ethical manner. Yes, Google employees are people with families, and business deals affect whether someone will have a job at the end of the month, but you have to know where your loyalties lie as a leader before you face decisions like that of Google vs. China. Are you loyal to the well-being of your employees or that of human rights deprived people half a world away? -- Cadet Christina Tamayo

No time for seeking approval

You had your chance, Google, and it appears you may get a second chance, so "Don't Be Evil Again." The real problem with the perception of Google's initial dilemma lies in Western hubris and the faulty assumption that leading with courage always results in a positive outcome or the approval of others. The decision to self-censor was based on Serge Brin's belief that to not do so would place Chinese citizens at risk. Google's leadership rationalized a belief that they were taking the high road through self-censorship: They thought they were being protective. They were only being naïve. At least Brin and his supporting cast have realized they weren't doing anyone any favors and are now taking a clearer stand.

Anyone aspiring to lead should watch how Google's leadership moves forward. A leader must lead and act based on who they are and not because of what others may say or do for or to them. The real world is messy and mean, and for every new fan Google gains for their "stance" on human rights, they'll put another one at risk for persecution. Leaders don't have time to seek the approval of outsiders. They need to accept the consequences of their actions and move their organizations forward. -- Col. Eric Kail

A sense of pride

To whom much is given, much is expected. I am impressed by Google's decision to remain true to their company values and principles. I'm proud of Google's decision to stand up for human rights regardless of whether the people they are serving are American or not. Although this may hurt Google in the short run, Google's leadership is showing their employees and consumers they are willing to defend their beliefs. This will lead to greater trust and loyalty (maybe even a sense of pride) within their organization.

Leading is a privilege that comes with great responsibility, responsible leaders build trust. Followers want to know that their leaders will make ethical decisions, even at great personal cost. When it comes to human rights, it's never a good time to be quiet. It shows a lot about your character when you are willing to take action when others are paralyzed by fear for their own self interest. -- Cadet Carissa Hauck

Focusing on mission

Google's deliberate stand on a political issue is nothing new. Google.org expresses the company's "technology-driven philanthropy" mission that uses "Google's strengths in information and technology to build products and advocate for policies that address global challenges." They advocate for reduction in energy expenditure and deforestation. And freedom of speech, though not explicitly listed as part of its philanthropic mission, is certainly implied in the nature of the organization at large.

An organization acting in favor of human rights is maintaining its institutional integrity. Therefore, serving one's self-interest and advocating human rights often go hand-in-hand, depending on the organization's mission and goals. In Google's case, doing what is right is in their best self-interest. The decision to stop self-censoring by Google demonstrates that its leadership still understands right from wrong. It would be the detriment to Google's product, mission, and reputation to compromise its search-engine on the basis of political opposition. At least now they've stopped doing that to themselves. -- Cadet Katie Miller

American values?

Google's move to end self-censorship in China is surprising but necessary. Economically, the company will inevitably lose, but socially it will come out on top. This decision demonstrates Google's commitment to align its values with its actions.

Google's leaders had a choice: profit vs. human rights. Leaders make decisions, and having a known set of values to guide those decisions is imperative. I'd like to ask Google's leadership: Do you consider yourself to be in alignment with what others view as American values? Having the courage to defer from self-interest and understand that you represent those you lead is an invaluable yet essential attribute that will make you successful, profit or not. -- Cadet Katie Woodhams

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

By West Point Cadets

 |  March 25, 2010; 10:51 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: It's not just China | Next: Flunking the accountability test


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Google had 125 million loyal search users in China. Those folks picked Google over the home team, Baidu, and that should mean a lot to every American.

Google's decision to leave the market isn't like America abandoning its friends in Southeast Asia as we did when Saigon fell. Google's decision to leave the market isn't even like American soldiers fathering children in Vietnam and leaving them to the wiles of the North Vietnamese communist regime.

Google's departure from China is a regrettable one though. It takes integrity and tenacity to remain loyal to customers when Chinese students hack your site and wound your pride.

Cadets at West Point, learn from Google's error...

Don't Be Cowards.

Posted by: blasmaic | March 27, 2010 8:22 AM
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Don't necessarily agree with Google being harmed financially, short term of course, long term both engines are excellent doing the job so the choice may come down to ethics. I applaud the cadets supporting ethical behavior and in the words of their fellow brothers in arms, FN eh.

Posted by: jameschirico | March 27, 2010 7:28 AM
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Don't necessarily agree with Google being harmed financially, short term of course, long term both engines are excellent doing the job so the choice may come down to ethics. I applaud the cadets supporting ethical behavior and in the words of their fellow brothers in arms, FN eh.

Posted by: jameschirico | March 27, 2010 6:51 AM
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I think things are a bit more complicated then simply saying one must decide ethics versus profits, as over the long run, the two are tied together. Dominate social forces are determined by who has the most influence, and as we can see from all sources of media and politics, influence is determined in part by who has the most money. This is truth, albeit an unfortunate one. As China is becoming a large economic power, it is important for us to tie, in some way, our financial reigns to theirs, so we can participate in the benefits of their growth, and in the long run, can be certain we remain in a position of influence.

Did Google do the right thing? Sure. Are there times when it might be appropriate to cross short-term ethical boundaries for the sake of maintaining long-term ones? 8/6


Posted by: DaVeVeDa | March 25, 2010 5:05 PM
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Dear JFBN,
Certainly...and thank you for asking. For every person applauding Google's firmer stance on human rights, there is another who feels the burden. In this particular case, Chinese citizens who have come to rely on Google might now be more at risk of scrutiny and punishment by their government. A good friend of mine was once asked by a Chinese citizen if he should take a stance against organized crime. "Certainly" responded my friend. Then the man asked him "But what if it meant that my family wouldn't eat?" Let me know if this doesn't answer the mail for you.

Posted by: ericgkail | March 25, 2010 4:16 PM
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"...for every new fan Google gains for their "stance" on human rights, they'll put another one at risk for persecution."

Can you expand on that, Colonel?


Posted by: jfbn | March 25, 2010 3:08 PM
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