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Virtues of Government Service: Number 10 – Integrity

Unimpeachable Integrity

I want you to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that during my term as President, justice will be pursued fairly, fully, and impartially, no matter who is involved. This office is a sacred trust and I am determined to be worthy of that trust…

We must maintain the integrity of the White House, and that integrity must be real, not transparent. There can be no whitewash at the White House.”

President Richard M. Nixon

These are the words of President Richard Nixon in April of 1973. Approximately four months later, he would resign, in disgrace. What did we learn?

Lessons in Integrity from Watergate

What are the lessons from the government debacle known as Watergate? Have we truly learned those lessons? Consider these:

  1. The relationship between money and politics: There is nothing new about this problem except the magnitude and brazenness of recent abuses. The role of government as dispenser of privileges in the form of grants, contracts, licenses, tax exemptions, etc. is now so large that abuse cannot be tolerated.
  2. The misuse of “national security” that occurs when exaggerated deference is given to executive claims of secrecy. “Patriotism,” Dr. Samuel Johnson (English writer) said long ago, “is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”  In our time, governmental personnel have invoked “national security” to conceal misdeeds or provide cover for irresponsible actions.
  3. And finally, this third lesson of Watergate: reassurance. Watergate demonstrated the durability and soundness of our constitutional system in adapting to novel and difficult circumstances.

In 1817, Thomas Jefferson said this:

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

Responsible executive leadership and an embedded culture of integrity are integral to any organization’s success in the 21st century.

A Simple Definition of Integrity

Retired Navy SEAL and author, Jocko Willink, in his TED talk, says, “You do what’s right. You do the right thing for yourself, your family, your company or organization, for your country.” Does “doing the right thing for yourself” imply self-centeredness? Here’s what Frederick Douglass said about that:

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

Frederick Douglass

So personal integrity is the quality of being honest with yourself and others and living a life that is aligned with your moral principles.

Integrity and The Road to Character

Journalist and broadcaster, David Brooks wrote in 2015 his book, The Road to Character.  In it, he discusses two kinds of virtues in the world: the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your CV, the skills that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re what gets talked about at your funeral and they are usually the virtues that exist at the core of your being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful, what kind of relationships you formed over your lifetime.

We live in a culture that encourages us to think about how to be wealthy and successful, but which leaves many of us clueless about how to cultivate a deeper inner life. We know that this deeper life matters, but it becomes subsumed by the day-to-day and the deepest parts of who we are go unexplored and unstructured. The Road to Character connects us once again to an ancient moral tradition, a tradition that asks us to confront our own weaknesses and grow in response, rather than shallowly focus on our good points. It is a focus all of us need to reconnect with now.

Building Personal Integrity

To build integrity, constantly examine your ability to live and act in the spirit of the following ideals:

  1. Honor the trust that your clients, customers and constituents place with you. Perhaps the following doesn’t need to be said, so I’ll say it anyway. Honor your family and the special bond of trust that exists with family members.
  2. Examine your past. Look at the choices you have made before, and observe how much you have or have not lived by your values and ideals. Commit to improving those areas where you have fallen short of your internal values.
  3. Set some new, realistic expectations for yourself.  This will help to boost your self-esteem. Integrity and self-worth go hand in hand. Going against your integrity can damage your sense of self-worth, and having high self-worth will make you feel like you can meet life’s challenges and live with integrity by doing the difficult thing.

The wonderful thing about character and integrity, which are intimately related, is that they are one of the few things in life that no one will ever be able to forcefully take away from you.

Bottom Line:  Money’s All that Really Matters, Right?

Roy T. Bennett is the author of The Light in the Heart. He shares positive thoughts and creative insights that have helped countless people to live successful and fulfilling lives. Here are his…

Top 15 Things Money Can’t Buy

“Time. Happiness. Inner Peace. Integrity. Love. Character. Manners. Health. Respect. Morals. Trust. Patience. Class. Common sense. Dignity.”

Manage these well and your money won’t be an issue you must manage.

Final Words on Integrity – Seek to Improve Self and Organization

We’re good today, but we can be better tomorrow.”

Those who adhere to this belief recognize that while your organization, team or company may be on top today, it will have bigger battles to fight tomorrow. You can’t afford to rest on laurels or past success. This mentality puts the responsibility for improvement squarely on everyone’s shoulders, individually and collectively. This responsibility also assumes continuously raising the bar for achievable goals for the entire team. Something to consider. Something to strive for.

 Rick Pfautz is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Nya Jackson

I really like David Brooks point about the two kinds of virtues: the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. We spend a lot of time focusing on improving the resume virtues, but not as much time on the eulogy virtues which are equally, if not more, important.