Integrity Must be our Watchword

We codify integrity in our organizational values. When we do that, we define what integrity looks like for ourselves and our professional community. Almost every profession has a professional code of ethics, and many firms as well.

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Honor Codes

As professionals, we codify integrity in our organizational values. When we do that, we define what integrity looks like for ourselves and our professional community. If you’re an engineer, or a lawyer, or a physician, you have a professional code of ethics. “First, do no harm,” the words of the Hippocratic oath, are the words of the very first codified code of ethics. The National Society of Professional Engineers has a system of ethics, as well. Paraphrasing, it’s: “Serve the public good, to maximize safety, work economically.”

Codes of honor are meant to tell us what the institution values, how the institution defines integrity. The Texas Aggie Code Of Honor is “An Aggie will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” West Point and the Air Force Academy’s codes of honor are very similar. The idea of a codified system of ethics is not confined to the military. Other academic institutions also have honor codes. Princeton, Yale, Virginia Tech, and hundreds of others have honor codes or ethics that are written down for the benefit of both “inside” and “outside” the group.

Clean the Mildew Immediately

What do you do as a leader with a breach in integrity? You have to address it immediately. It’s like mildew, the whole place is going to stink if you don’t address it quickly. Pretty soon a breach of integrity will stink up the place, and believe me, if you think nobody notices, they do.

How does it do that? It’s a breach of trust. If I can’t trust my teammate not to eat my lunch out of the refrigerator, then how can I trust him to have my back when it comes to going into an important meeting, or helping me prepare for a project, or going into combat alongside of him?

Integrity has got to be something that we live and demand of each other, and especially as leaders, you have to set the example. You have to be the model of integrity. I know as we get more senior in rank, both in the military and civilian side, we learn this, and the sooner you learn that you’re always “on parade,” and the more senior you are the more visible you are. Believe me, if you think no one sees you when you “cheat” – you’re mistaken. A “double life” where you’re trying to hide something from your colleagues, your boss, your spouse – whoever – always leads to run. Whatever “it” is, it will come out. Truly, each time I’ve seen anybody suffer a fall from grace, it’s been from a from a breach of integrity, either personal or professional. Their “double life” was met with sunlight with disastrous consequences.

Returning to Reagan

Lastly, remember just like President Reagan said, your integrity is built on the small choices you make each day. Be the same person on Monday morning that you were on Sunday morning.

Mickey is an expert in leadership and organizational change. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. Mickey now works with clients around the country to improve performance and help organizational transformation. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC. Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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