The recently released Annual Standards of Conduct Guidance reminds all senior leaders of their personal ownership over their respective ethics programs and discusses my expectations concerning their personal standards of behavior and performance. In past years, the Standards of Conduct Guidance emphasized the importance of developing strong personal character in our senior officers and leading by example.

While this guidance is directed at our flag officers, we must all act as standards-based leaders who aspire to elevate personal behavior and performance to higher level outcomes and better unit cohesion. Whereas rules-based leaders may foster minimally accepted levels of behavior, standards-based leaders do what is right, which almost always exceeds the legal requirement.

In short, the annual guidance illustrates the close personal involvement that the Office of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations exercises in ensuring ownership and oversight of ethics in our Navy. In turn, I expect you to take ownership for the standards of conduct within your respective command, department or division. Our collective focus on this effort will help develop standards-based leaders who apply good judgment and meet the mission.

This year’s guidance focuses on trust, which is the cornerstone for leadership at all levels within the Navy. Principled, ethical leadership strengthens the Navy’s foundation of trust, which is essential to ensuring the safety of our people, safe operations at sea and the readiness of our force.

When we fail to meet the highest standards of personal and professional conduct, we jeopardize the institution and erode the efforts of everyone else on the team.

In order to be the high quality Sailors the public expects and our shipmates deserve, we must go beyond mere compliance and exceed the standard in everything we do.

Here are three things all of us can do to raise the standards in our Navy:

1) Improve our professional performance: Achieving minimal levels of performance is not good enough; true professional excellence requires breaking through required minimums to reach peak performance. Before we question the boundaries of a perceived roadblock, explore the wisdom behind the rule and intimately understand what it seeks to guard against.

2) Safeguard our personal character: Following the rules is important, but doing what is right is imperative. Never compromise our integrity, our morals or our honor. Our ethical compass must remain true. Our personal character is the root of our professional ethics.

3) Identify process improvements: Do not accept the status quo simply because that is how we have done things in the past. Have a questioning attitude that respects the chain-of-command while constantly seeking process improvement. Be intellectually curious about how the Navy can do things better, and provide value to this dynamic institution. Small things matter. When aggregated across the Fleet, relatively minor improvements can make a major difference.

Raising standards is a mission for all hands. Today’s environment is composed of infinite challenges and limited resources. Although we navigate through an invariable sea of change, our commitment to these principles must never waiver.

Thank you for your professionalism and your steadfast devotion in standing the watch. See you in the fleet.