First Sergeant's Corner: Integrity

  • Published
  • By MSgt Matthew Adelman, First Sergeant, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center
This month’s AFMC Connect subject is integrity.  Integrity is such a foundational trait that the Air Force chose it not just as one of our core values, but the first core value.  Many of us understand fundamentally that integrity is essentially ‘doing the right thing.’  However, integrity has much more depth than that.  Going further, how can we possibly expect to determine and commit to doing the right thing?  To determine what the right thing is, we must look at the true meaning of integrity.  One of the most interesting things I have heard reference integrity is that it isn’t just doing the right thing when no one is around; in fact, I once heard a leader say: “integrity is also doing the right thing when everyone else is telling you to do the wrong thing.”  At times through my career, I have found myself watching an organization fall victim to group think and selfish motives for a host of reasons.  At times you hear the excuse “this is how we have always done it” or “no one has ever corrected me before” and perhaps my favorite is just pure selfish motivation.  These justifications erode integrity and weaken an organization’s mission set.  When members of a team have high levels of trust, it is often gained through leaders and followers that possess a high degree of integrity. 
As you can imagine, when I was a young Airman I made several mistakes.  On one such occasion I repeatedly reported to work late several days in a row.  I had no real excuse; I was just being lazy and failed to commit to my obligations.  When I was asked what was going on, I showed a lack of integrity by choosing to lie to my Flight Chief by making up an elaborate story about how my cat chewed through my alarm clock cord (I never said it was a logical story, mostly because I didn’t even have a cat).  When my lie fell apart, like they always do, my Flight Chief chose to make this a learning lesson for me and had me write my own letter of counseling.  After I wrote it, he and I had a conversation and he helped me navigate just how ridiculous this whole scenario was.  Like many before me, I realized that a lack of integrity made me look silly, eroded trust, and was a barrier to growth and personal responsibility.  In another story, much later in my career I sat in a production meeting and listened to a Flight Chief (a SMSgt) tell our SEL that one of his subordinates (a TSgt) was to blame for not ordering enough hydraulic fluid to do a full system flush on an aircraft.  With a zero balance of fluid on base, the airplane would not be returned to the flightline on schedule.  Our SEL was highly upset with the Flight Chief, not because of the mistake, but because the Flight Chief was so willing to throw one of his own subordinates under the bus to shift blame away from him.  The Flight Chief showed a lack of integrity by not owning his airspace.  What he should have told the Chief was: “I discovered some deficiencies in my Flight that I failed to address which has now impacted our ability to deliver an airplane on time.  I will make sure that this problem is not repeated, in the meantime I am hoping I can get solutions from everyone here on how to remedy this.”
So how can we build integrity to help us gain that tool of resilience to build up organizations instead of eroding them?  First, we must own our mistakes as our mistakes and not attempt to shift blame onto others.  Leaders also need to be willing to own the mistakes of their subordinates to our superiors, like what that Flight Chief should have done during that meeting.  Next, we can build on integrity by properly recognizing others for the effort and ability.  In this way, we show gratitude and respect.  Misplacing rewards for effort is a sure way to cause subordinates to shut down, disengage, and abandon the organization.  Afterall, if reward for effort is misplaced, you create an environment of negative punishment-taking away a desired stimulus to weaken behavior.  Going further, you must stick to your commitments.  Being accountable is also important, whether the result was success or failure.  Finally, by showing patience and flexibility, you can find solutions to problems as they emerge that can actually turn failure into success.  In the story I mentioned about the Flight Chief, several units were able to “donate” enough fluid to get the aircraft back in the fight on schedule, making the Flight Chief’s decision to throw the TSgt under the bus an even harder hit to his integrity.  In closing, do the right thing when everyone is watching, when everyone is not watching, and when those around you are pushing you to do the opposite of what is right.