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The West Point Way of Teaching Duty

Duty – Taking action based on our assigned tasks and moral obligations.

“New Cadet Anderson! Why would you leave your squad mate hanging? For once your uniform is squared away, but you let him leave his room looking like a dirt bag! Man, I wouldn’t want you as my squad mate.”

Thus, the irate senior cadet Firstie began my first lesson into the concept of Duty. I was a baby-faced 19-year-old at West Point. I was in the first week of what we affectionately called “Beast Barracks.” The rest of the Army calls it “Basic Training.”

I barely knew the names of my squad mates, but this Firstie shouted at me that I was responsible for how they looked and how I looked. If my squad mates did not have their shoes shined, belt buckle polished or their shirt tucked in correctly—I had a moral obligation to help them get squared away.

By the end of Beast Barracks, most of the freshman at West Point understand this concept of Duty. In our book, Becoming a Leader of Character (check it out here), we define Duty as, “Taking action based on our assigned tasks and moral obligations.”

In Basic Training, my assigned task was to be sure I had my uniform on correctly and looked sharp. But, my moral obligation went beyond making sure I looked good. My moral obligation was about more than just me. My moral obligation included my roommate, my squad mates and the organization as whole. If there was a problem—if I noticed something out of place—I had a moral obligation to fix it, even if nobody told me to do so.

On July 2, 1984, I walked into the United States Military Academy at West Point as an individual with a lot of personal goals. By the end of August that same year, I was a part of a squad who would run through walls for each other. By the time I graduated on May 25, 1988, I was part of the West Point Class of 1988 who would do the exact same thing for any of our 900 plus classmates. And to this day, this concept of Duty has not changed among those classmates. We still understand our moral obligations to each other. We all step up to make sure members of our class are supported and nobody falls behind.

As an example, last year a classmate and his wife showed up at my father, The General’s, house to take him to a West Point event I was unable to attend. They called and offered to drive my father there. I hadn’t asked them to do this. They simply became aware of a need and fulfilled the need. They viewed it as their moral obligation to support their team member, even 30 years after graduation.

Imagine if our organizations embodied this same perspective on Duty. Imagine if the people on your team understood looking out for one another was their moral obligation. This would be a high functioning team. It would create an organization filled with Leaders of Character who led at every level. But, how does it begin? Most teams simply need someone to set the example and exercise the habit of Duty for them. What if that person was you?

Dig Deep Questions:

  • What moral obligation do you have to others at work?

  • How could shifting the perspective on Duty change your work team?


Exercising Duty takes work and is a lifelong journey. We want to partner with you as you practice the habit of Duty daily, which is why we have created FREE tools and resources to guide your journey.

To make it easy to keep the definition of Duty visible on your screens and devices, we would like to share our FREE Duty backgrounds for desktop and mobile available for download at:

USMA Directorate of Communication Press Kit, Current Photos

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