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Character: A Moral, Ethical Quality…


I was stunned last month when a White House aide commented that Senator McCain’s opposition to the CIA Director’s nomination didn’t matter because “he is dying anyway”. I was amazed at the attempts to “spin” the story, playing the comment off as a “joke” and that the real travesty was the leak that revealed the comment. I was disappointed that the administration official remained in her position for almost a month, and I’m still not sure if her departure was a result of her comment, or simply a resignation from a stressful job.

If you’re still with me—my emotions had nothing to do with the politics surrounding the event. While I’m concerned about the divisive dialogue that is becoming so prevalent in our country, my political views and opinions are my own and I prefer to keep it that way (you probably do as well). I would have felt the same way if similarly callous comments were made in a Board of Directors meeting, a company staff meeting, a homeowners association session or during idle chat around the water cooler.

Our first blog introduced five attributes typically personified by the leaders I’ve admired over the years—one of which is character (read more at here). The moral and ethical qualities of the leaders within an organization will generally set the tone for everyone else, though it doesn’t guarantee there won’t be some “bad apples” here and there. It is foolish to assume that everyone in an organization will agree on every issue all the time, and in my opinion it’s undesirable to seek that level of consensus. I’ve found that robust dialogue, healthy friction and differing opinions presented in a respectful manner are key to ensuring a full understanding of an issue, which is an essential precursor to making an informed decision. However, there should be no tolerance for debasing comments or a general lack of respect for others, as it tends to shut down the debates and discussion necessary to successfully negotiate the optimum way forward for any issue.

I’ve seen organizations that have been able to “get by” with individuals at varying levels that lack character…I’ve also seen similar organizations fail. Rarely, if ever, have I seen an organization thrive when moral and ethical behavior isn’t part of the overall DNA. I’m fortunate to have spent my formative years in an organization that valued respect for others and recognized the importance of civility when there were areas of disagreement. I can’t imagine the shock that would run across the country (not to mention the irreparable damage to the institution) if our senior military leaders voiced disdain and disrespect for the civilian leadership that have the responsibility and authority to determine the military’s budget and maintain oversight on expenditures. It is simply unfathomable—as well as unwarranted.

The men and women that serve in our nation’s military are made fully aware of the expectation that we will operate as a team, and that the unit cohesion that derives from shared trust and respect is foundational to success on the battlefield. While no organization is perfect, when there are transgressions that indicate a breakdown in those constructs, corrective action, to include disciplinary actions when warranted, typically follow in short order. As a result, you’ll have to pardon my naïve concern at the lack of civility and respect for others that appears to be more commonplace and accepted in our country.

I’m truly thankful that I have the opportunity to be an American…I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m by no means implying we’re on the road to ruin…we’re not. I also know I’m far from perfect and have said things I regret over the years…I’m going to try to do better.



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