[January 20, 2015] Most children quickly earn a place in their family by learning to “tell the truth,” usually the result of stern lessons from a parent. This is often the first step to responsible adulthood. It’s no surprise then that when they are adults and occupy leadership positions they are aware of the advantages to maintaining their integrity. Likewise, senior leaders have the responsibility to be the standard bearers for strong moral principles. They are, by definition, the guardians of integrity.
The U.S. Army senior leaders learned the hard way in Vietnam when integrity was sometimes sacrificed for what appeared to be the greater good – winning the war. From the My Lai massacre to falsified body counts, from illegal drug use to child prostitution, a few leaders were willing to trade some of their integrity to appear successful on the battlefield or for more personal reasons. The Army emerged from Vietnam an institution nearly broken. Fortunately, due to the courageous actions by a few senior leaders, this trend was turned around.
By the mid 1980s, the U.S. Army and the rest of the U.S. military could be seen as being on the right path. Before this time, the military had difficulty attracting and holding onto good, talented people. After, it started to attract the best and brightest. In the early 1990s it was evident that the military had largely recovered, learning its hard-earned lessons and putting integrity at the top of its list of core values.
The integrity of people who occupy any organization should be guarded. Integrity must be taught as a non-negotiable trait and leaders mentored about its importance. Senior leaders are by default, the guardians of integrity. If not for them, who? We have all witnessed what happens when our moral principles are chipped away for some good reason … at least we think it is a good reason.
The U.S. military recovered its integrity after Vietnam. The problem in most Western societies is the trend away from demanding integrity. This sad trend has been building for some time now. Let’s hope that senior leaders will step forward to be … guardians of integrity. It starts with them telling us the truth.
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