Thursday, October 20, 2016

Is “Moral Pliability” the Key Ingredient in the Recipe for Success...?

Musings of a Retired Military Veteran

Conventional Wisdom talks of many ingredients in the recipe for success like professional excellence, proficiency at work, integrity, sincerity, hard work, talent etc.

When I was a junior officer I thought that the above sterling personal qualities combined with military ethos and value system constituted what we called OLQ or OFFICER LIKE QUALITIES.

But as we grew up in service we realized that we had been wrong and our views about OLQ were rather idealistic.

We observed that  the key “Officer Like Quality” (OLQ) was “Moral Pliability”.

This is true for all Officers  whether in the Defence Services or Civil Services. 

If you take a moral or ethical position and stand by your principles – if you are one of those old-fashioned orthodox “man of principle” types with “unshakable integrity” – then you are destined for failure – or you may even come to grief.

We have seen so many examples of the above.

So – Dear Reader – if you intend joining the Defence Services or Civil Services – or any job for that matter – here are some musings on “Moral Pliability” – the Key “Officer Like Quality” (OLQ) for career success. 

MORAL PLIABILITY (The Key Ingredient in the Recipe for Success) 

Look around you and ask yourself:

Who is most successful in the present day world?

The answer will be clear:

The Ethical Chameleon.

And what is that quality that will enable you to be an Ethical Chameleon...? 

To be an Ethical Chameleon you must possess the quality of Moral Pliability.

In today’s world 
 it does not pay you good dividends to be honest, straightforward and outspoken. 

Concepts like moral values and ethical conduct are outmoded and have no relevance in today
s times. 

If you practice ethical conduct and take a moral stand, and stand by your principles 
 you will be called difficult and dogmatic  and most likely – you will be written off in your career – you will fall by the wayside and be passed over for promotion  and you may spend your professional life in wilderness.  

So  remember  if you are one of those old-fashioned orthodox “men of principle” types with “unshakable integrity” – you are destined for failure. 

The key to success is to be able to swim with times and bend with the wind 
– and to be able to to metamorphose yourself and change colours like a Chameleon.

Yes, you must practice “Situational Ethics” and become an “Ethical Chameleon”.

In short  you should be Morally Pliable

Look around you. 

See for yourself that one common quality that most “successful” individuals have  MORAL PLIABILITY. 

You may observe that Moral Pliability is the sine qua non for career advancement and success in all types of organizations  government and non-government  civilian and military  business and academic  and of course  in politics. 

Conversely  if you are not morally pliable  you may get into trouble.


Look around you, in your workplace and outside, and you will realize that the most “successful” persons are those who are morally pliable.

In the early days of my navy career  when I was young and full of idealism  I used to wonder why so many professionally competent, talented, efficient and diligent officers do not get the success they deserve in their careers.

Now it is quite clear to me – they lacked that key Officer Like Quality (OLQ) which is the sine qua non to reach the top of the ladder: MORAL PLIABILITY

Yes  if you are morally pliable you will develop the ability to unquestioningly obey orders from your superiors without suffering qualms of conscience. 

Your bosses will feel comfortable with you and you will go a long way in your career.

Yes, proficiency may take you to a certain level but to rise beyond that you need that decisive ingredient in the recipe for success called moral pliability.

If you are honest, straightforward and upright you may even be labelled as an “idealist”, impractical, arrogant, conceited, dogmatic etc

Even worse  if you stand by your principles you may be branded as a difficult officer  as someone who cannot get along with others  and your career may be written off and you may be cast away by the wayside.

If you flow with the tide – if you bend your principles as the wind blows – then you will be appreciated as a “practical” person, tactful manager, a great team player.

After all  everyone loves an adaptable person with a flexible personality

This is true in most organizations – at work and also in personal relationships in a family.


Of course  there is a danger in being too flexible

Once you practice moral pliability for a long time and make it a habit to compromise your principles as the situation demands  you may reach a stage where you have no principles left to compromise.

Yes  the sustained practice of moral pliability is bound to affect your capability for creative and original thinking. 

To quote Norman Dixon:

A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express

I have seen this happen to so many morally pliable persons who turn into “Yes Sir Yes Sir Three Bags Full Sir...” type obsequious sycophants.

So  Dear Reader  look around your workplace, observe your colleagues, especially the eager-beaver hot-shot go-getter “successful” types. 

Reflect for a while and ask yourself:

Is better to be morally rigid and ethically steadfast...?

Or is it better to be morally “malleable” and ethically “ductile” and practice “situational ethics”...?   

When I see the number of morally pliable people achieve great “success” – I wonder whether this African saying is relevant here:

The wind does not break a tree that bends...” 

Or maybe the Ancient Chinese Wisdom:

“The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind...”

Or should you stand by your principles as John Quincy Adams says:

Always stand on principle  even if you stand alone...”

Or is it wiser to follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson:

“In matters of style  swim with the current

 In matters of principle – stand like a rock...”

Think about it  and you decide for yourself – what is right for you.

As an afterthought  let me add that there is a flip side to moral pliability too. 

As we discussed earlier  the first danger you may face if you become morally pliable is that you may lose the capacity for original thought.

There is a bigger danger as well.

Sometimes these morally pliable persons who reach the topmost positions in the hierarchy may bring disrepute to themselves and tarnish the reputation of their organizations – owing to this very quality of moral pliability that catalyzed their ascent to the top. 

Quite a paradox  isn’t it...?

Dear Reader  I think now you must be quite convinced that Moral Pliability is the key “Officer Like Quality” (OLQ).

I have given you the mantra  the key to success. 

I have told you the pros and the cons. 

The choice is yours. 

Do you want to be a Morally Pliable Ethical Chameleon...?

You have to decide:


Remember  your juniors and your children are observing you.

So – do not blame them if they too become morally pliable  and turn into Ethical Chameleons like you...!

Enjoy your work – and  have a great day. 

Wish you all the success in your career. 

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Revised version of my article MORAL PLIABILITY - The Key to Success written by me more than 20 years ago in the 1990s and posted online in my various blogs including at url: and  etc

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