TVHS director draws from Navy experience to discuss ethics, trustworthy leadership with MTSU students

Tennessee Valley Healthcare System director, Jennifer Vedral-Baron speaking on Jan 26, 2017. (Sidelines/Steve Barnum)

Photo by Steve Barnum / Staff Writer

Tennessee Valley Healthcare System director and Navy veteran Jennifer Vedral-Baron spoke on campus Wednesday, discussing the importance of trusted leadership and refusing to be apathetic toward day-to-day ethics. Her talk was inspired by the article  “Lying to ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession” by Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras.

Vedral-Baron explained that the study conducted by Wong and Gerras found many military officers repeatedly exposed to overwhelming demands by their leadership such as directives and training. They were given tasks to manage that were impossible to complete, but still signed their names on the orders to show they had been fully compliant with the demands of their superiors. This caused associates to put their honor on the line in order to verify obedience. Vedral-Baron described them as becoming “ethically numb” to the situation — her term for looking past a small deception in order to further one’s own interest, even if it is ultimately for the greater good.

“The intent of the article was to spur conversation, and it did,” Vedral-Baron said.

“Officers’ signatures — when we write our names — that means something,” she continued. “But, as a result, the signature has become just [a] tool to maneuver through the military bureaucracy … rather than being the symbols of integrity and honesty.”

Vedral-Baron told the audience that while she always thought she had a strong moral compass — something she developed in her three-decade Navy career — the article forced her to reconsider some of the things that she did in the past that she had merely shrugged at previously.

Vedral-Baron recalled only an hour before reading the article when she asked her secretary to tell a little white lie: to tell an individual that Vedral-Baron was unavailable to speak to them even though she actually was. 

“It was little, but if [lying] becomes compounded, it becomes a behavioral pattern,” Vedral-Baron said. “[Success] requires that integrity becomes a way of life, woven into the fabric of our soul, and when you go against the fabric of your moral soul, and your moral compass, you get sick to your stomach. Like the day I told my secretary to lie for me.”

Vedral-Baron acknowledged that everyone will have moments when they aren’t fully honest, but they should always consider whether they are acting ethically or allowing themselves to become ethically numb. 

“Many of you, wherever you go in life…will work for a bureaucracy,” she said. “Even when the mission is pure, and what you are doing on a daily basis is good, you run the risk of becoming ethically numb due to the bombarding demands and the need to succeed.”

“Always remember that no one can take your integrity away from you,” Vedral-Baron reminded students.

She explained three recommendations made in Wong and Gerras’ article to implement trust in a leadership position: acknowledge the problem, exercise restraint and lead truthfully.

She closed her speech with a quote from St. Augustine, which reads: “When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful.’”

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