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So what’s the big deal with integrity anyway?

By Lt. Col. Michael Rimsky 11th Bomb Squadron commander

If you have been in the Air Force for any length of time, you probably know the Air Force Core Values: Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do. But why integrity first? Why is integrity so important? Integrity is so essential because everything else depends upon it.

Individual integrity is the foundation of noble character. Setting the example with honorable character builds trust with others. If people trust you, they will trust what you say. This trust builds respect as well. Trust and respect with others builds effective and selfless teammates. Effective and selfless teammates build strong, synchronized, and efficient teams. These outstanding teams have high morale because they like the people they are working with and they build a track record of continual success that advances the organization as a whole. This insatiable hunger for continuous improvement and high morale are the hallmark of high performing organizations. But why this insatiable desire for perfection in high performing organizations? Why are these people driven to work so hard? They are not doing it for themselves; rather they are doing it for their teammates. They feel purpose. They have formed a brotherhood; they work so hard because they cannot bear the thought of letting any of their teammates down. Added to this, if the leaders of the organization make known their appreciation, this will further bolster and sustain their outstanding performance. When all the workers and the leaders put their needs second to the organization's needs, great things happen. In this type of organization there is much greater efficiency because integrity is the standard. Much less resources (e.g. time, money) are devoted towards enforcing standards because most of the people do not want to do the wrong thing. Therefore, greater resources are available to be invested toward fulfilling the organization's primary mission, and thus a large amount of resources are not wasted on policing the organization or on secondary goals.

Think about excellent organizations you have worked for in the past. What made these organizations so great to be a part of? Most likely it had something to do with working with people of high integrity. In contrast, think about terrible organizations you have been a part of. Why were they so awful? Probably working with or for people who lacked integrity, the foundation of character, was a large part of the problem.

On a personal level, think about one of the best events in your life. Odds are you rate this as "one of the best" because of a relationship or relationships that were made or enhanced. In contrast, think about one of your lowest moments in life. Why was this event so devastating? Perhaps because there was a damaged or destroyed relationship due to betrayed trust.

Your personal victories of character must always precede your public victories. Your character is the foundation that all else in your professional and personal life stands upon. If the foundation of your character is not firm, your character will crack and eventually come crashing down in a public spectacle for all to see. Under the pressure of the public victories of promotion and/or increased responsibility, if you have not adequately prepared your character, you may enjoy success for a time, but you will ultimately come to ruin.

Think about this: if your boss made you the team leader in charge of something very important, how would you pick your teammates? One of the first questions you would probably ask yourself is "who do I trust?" In situations of great importance, technical skills are far secondary to trustworthiness. Most leaders would rather a worker of average ability and high integrity than one of extremely high ability and moderate integrity; if there is such a thing - you either have integrity or you don't. If a mistake is made, you really only have two choices. Make an excuse or humble yourself. Each one of you is in charge of others right now or will soon be. Which choice are you going to make? Fessing up, fixing it as best you can and moving on is the right answer.

I didn't notice until recently how closely my three things parallel the Air Force's Core Values. I first sent these three things to my squadron as part of an email outlining the results of the 2013 11th Bomb Squadron Unit Climate Assessment. I respectfully submit these for your consideration: Do what is right, all the time (integrity first); Help out your "bros" (service before self); Make it better for the person after you (excellence in all we do).

Why is integrity so important? Because it works! It is the bedrock of solid professional and personal relationships. Today, make/reaffirm the choice to be a man or woman of integrity always!