As members of the U.S. Air Force, we have all heard the standard definition of integrity, “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” Another way to think of integrity, as the famous humorist Will Rogers said, is to “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”
Why is it that integrity is our first and most important core value? If you haven’t read the Air Force’s “The Little Blue Book” on our Core Values, it is truly a great place to start learning more about them. Integrity is broken down into eight moral traits:
Courage: This is the “do the right thing even when no one is looking” part. Have the guts to always do the right thing, even if it holds a degree of fear to do so. Sometimes the truth isn’t easy; however, it is still the truth.
Honesty: A person of integrity doesn’t cut corners, period. My old boss, retired General Peter Pace explains it this way: “Your integrity is sacrosanct. It is who you are. Never let anyone step on your integrity – that’s absolutely where you must stand solid.”
Responsibility: Acknowledge the duties which have been assigned to you, and carry them out to the best of your abilities, no matter how small the task may seem. Albert Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
Accountability: Don’t shift blame to others when it is your responsibility. When you make a mistake, own your mistake. Conversely, don’t take credit for things that are the work of others. Make sure your Airmen shine before you do, always. When your boss asks you if that F-22 is ready to fly, if those performance reports were processed on time or if those routers were configured and are ready to accept network traffic, he or she needs to be able to take you at your word.
Justice: Similar actions must see similar rewards or punishments. If you’re in a position of command or to recommend judicial or non-judicial punishment to a commander, do your best to ensure that similar offenses receive similar punishment.
Openness: As a leader, you must encourage a free flow of information in both directions of the chain of command. Make sure you take the commander’s vision and translate it into mission accomplishment. At the same time, make sure your people are comfortable coming to you when they need help with personal or professional issues.
Self-Respect: The Little Blue Book says “A person of integrity does not behave in ways that would bring discredit upon himself or the organization to which he belongs.” This applies 24 hours a day, in or out of uniform. For example, a DUI received off-base still brings discredit upon you and the Air Force.
Humility: A person of integrity is humble. We need to be humble about the fact that we are leaders; regardless of the number of stripes on your sleeve, or what metal rank you wear on your collar, you are a leader. Be humble about the fact that we all lead America’s sons and daughters. Just think about the kind of leader you’d want to have leading your own child, and be that person.
In my opinion, without integrity, the other two core values lose significance. If people don’t believe your word, then how do they know that you’re truly putting service before self? How do they know you don’t have an ulterior motive for doing what you do? If your people don’t trust you to do what is right, how can they know that you give 100 percent effort in providing “excellence in all you do?”
When making a decision about whether or not you should do something, it might help to ask yourself this: If your choice was printed on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow, would you be okay about it? How will you feel about yourself tomorrow after the decision is made? An additional consideration I make is whether I can go home to my wife and kids, look them in the eye, and proudly say what I did today. Would my wife or kids ever be ashamed of my choices?
I recently spoke with Staff Sgt. Myranda Hinguanzo from the 1st Operations Support Squadron Flight Records office, Langley Air Force Base, Va., to get her perspective on integrity.
“I’ve learned that someone is always watching,” she said. “From the chief in my unit who from time to time requires my expertise, to the newly assigned airman sitting across the room from me, to my 3-year-old son who mimics everything I do and say.
“I want to set the example for those watching so that it naturally becomes a part of who they are and what they stand for as well,” she continued.
If at some point you’ve set poor examples for subordinates, you may have lost your integrity in the eyes of your Airmen, and they will lose confidence in your ability to lead them in any and all ways.
To turn this situation around, assess what you did wrong and learn from your mistakes. Learning mistakes means not repeating them. Let’s say you’ve been arriving to work late on a regular basis. You may realize it’s time to change your ways and apologize to your Airmen.
Your Airmen can and should accept your apology; however, if you begin to arrive late again, obviously the lesson hasn’t yet been learned, and it will be even harder to regain their respect.
All three of our core values are vital to our Air Force being the best air, space and cyberspace force in the world; however, without first dedicating ourselves to living a life of integrity, on or off-duty, we cannot truly place service before ourselves, nor can we display excellence in all we do.