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Strength of character … got some?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Katherine Spence
  • 90th Medical Operations Squadron commander
The cornerstone and foundation of the United States Air Force is developing leaders of character. Strength of character can be defined as determination, perseverance and rational action in the face of adversity; it is who you are when no one else is looking -- the extent to which you execute your core values.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles expounding on the various desirable characteristics and moral traits of great leaders. The Air Force says it all in our core values.

The Air Force Core Values -- Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All We Do -- are a great set of values to live by.

The first core value -- Integrity First: It is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking. It is the moral compass, the inner voice, the voice of self-control and the basis for the trust imperative in today's military. A person of integrity is capable of acting on conviction. A person of integrity can control impulses. Components of integrity include the following moral traits:

COURAGE: A person of integrity possesses moral courage and does what is right even if the personal cost is high.

HONESTY: It is the hallmark of the military professional; our word must be our bond. We don't pencil-whip training reports, we don't cover up technical data violations, we don't falsify documents and we don't write misleading operational readiness messages. The bottom line is: we don't lie, and we can't justify any deception.

RESPONSIBILITY: No person of integrity is irresponsible; a person of true integrity acknowledges her duties and acts accordingly.

ACCOUNTABILITY: No person of integrity tries to shift the blame to others or take credit for the work of others. "The buck stops here" says it best. If it's your mistake, own it and learn from it.

JUSTICE: A person of integrity practices justice. Those who do similar things must get similar rewards or similar punishments.

OPENESS: Professionals of integrity encourage a free flow of information within the organization. They seek feedback from all directions to ensure they are fulfilling key responsibilities, and they are never afraid to allow anyone at any time to examine how they do business.

SELF-RESPECT: To have integrity is also to respect oneself as a professional and a human being. A person of integrity does not behave in ways that would bring discredit upon himself or the organization to which he belongs.

HUMILITY: A person of integrity grasps and is sobered by the awesome task of defending the Constitution of the United States of America.

The second core value -- Service Before Self: An Airman's professional duties always take precedence over personal desires. Service before self tells us that. At the very least, it includes the following behaviors:

RULE FOLLOWING: To serve is to do one's duty, and our duties are most commonly expressed through rules. While it may be the case that professionals are expected to exercise judgment in the performance of their duties, good professionals understand that rules have a reason for being, and the default position must be to follow those rules unless there is a clear, operational reason for refusing to do so.

RESPECT FOR OTHERS: Service before self tells us also that a good leader places the Airmen ahead of her personal comfort. We must always act in the certain knowledge that all persons possess a fundamental worth as human beings.

DISCIPLINE AND SELF-CONTROL: Professionals cannot indulge themselves in self-pity, discouragement, anger, frustration or defeatism. They have a fundamental moral obligation to the persons they lead to strike a tone of confidence and forward-looking optimism. More specifically, they are expected to exercise control in the following areas:

ANGER: Military professionals, especially commanders at all echelons, are expected to refrain from displays of anger that would bring discredit upon themselves or the Air Force.

RELIGIOUS TOLERATION: Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates.

The third core value -- Excellence In All We Do: Every American Airman strives for continual improvement in self and service. Excellence in all we do directs us to develop a sustained passion for continuous improvement and innovation that will propel the Air Force into a long-term, upward spiral of accomplishment and performance.

PRODUCT/SERVICE EXCELLENCE: We must focus on providing services and generating products that fully respond to customer wants and anticipate customer needs, and we must do so within the boundaries established by the tax-paying public.

PERSONAL EXCELLENCE: Military professionals must seek out and complete professional military education, stay in physical and mental shape and continue to refresh their general educational backgrounds.

COMMUNITY EXCELLENCE: Community excellence is achieved when the members of an organization can work together to successfully reach a common goal in an atmosphere that is free from fear and that preserves individual self-worth.

MUTUAL RESPECT: Genuine respect involves viewing another person as an individual of fundamental worth. Obviously, this means that a person is never judged on the basis of his possession of an attribute that places him in some racial, ethnic, economic or gender-based category.

BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT: Working hand in glove with mutual respect is that attitude that says all coworkers are innocent until proven guilty. Before rushing to judgment about a person or her behavior, it is important to have the whole story.

RESOURCES EXCELLENCE: Excellence in all we do also demands that we aggressively implement policies to ensure the best possible cradle-to-grave management of resources.

EXCELLENCE OF INTERNAL OPERATIONS: This form of excellence pertains to the way we do business internal to the Air Force from the unit level to Air Force Headquarters. It involves respect on the unit level and a total commitment to maximizing the Air Force team effort.

EXCELLENCE OF EXTERNAL OPERATIONS: This form of excellence pertains to the way in which we treat the world around us as we conduct our operations. In peacetime, for example, we must be sensitive to the rules governing environmental pollution, and in wartime we are required to obey the laws of war.

Remember, you are a leader; you have the power to influence, lead, guide, direct and mentor regardless of the rank and position you hold. Are you honoring our core values in your leadership?