Reviving Core Values

Leadership, Organization

Every day I walk up a flight of stairs to my office where I work as NCOIC, Administration Management. On the first set of stairs, there are three steps that have one Air Force core value written on each of them.  Integrity, Service, Excellence. These core values are burned into the memory of every Airman since day one of basic training. They are meant to guide us. They are meant to be lived. They are meant to be a path of being better, doing better and knowing better. Yet, at times, we, members in the Air Force, undervalue and underutilize our core values. 

Values drive the behavior of any organization, not just the military. Values are set so that the people in the organization have a guiding light, a north star to show which direction to go when we’re lost and to remind us that although, people fail, our values cannot. Values will be rock solid. Values will never fail you. Values will always be there when you need them.

An organization that doesn’t have a set of values setting the behavior of the organization will often fail. It would be as if the organization is walking blindly. Our Air Force core values are easy to understand. Opportunities are birthed every day that allow us to perform our core values. Values are not meant to be used sparingly, they are meant to be used at every opportunity that arises. It’s how we create a culture of positive behavior. We can correlate a core value into almost every decision and every action and if we’re dedicated to actually living them, we’ll never be wrong. Though, we can fail as people and as a leader, it doesn’t mean values have failed you, it just means that you’ve failed at what you’re doing.  Ret. Gen Stanley McCrystal once said, “Leaders can let you fail and yet not let you be a failure.”  The same goes for our core values.  Though, you, a person may fail, if your core values are the heart of your actions, you will not be a failure.  It just means you have to try again.

Sure, we hear them, read them and every Airman is given a coin that has them embedded in it, but are we using them to the fullest potential? Even more, are we, as a team and individuals using them at all? Is it even possible to live them constantly every day? I like to think that if we gave a little more effort into living our core values how awesome our leadership would be and how awesome our teams would be. Walking up the steps to my office while reading our core values challenges me to live them. Just like in any busy work culture, it’s easy to overlook our values. I’m guilty of it, I’m sure others are too. Will there be days that you just don’t feel like putting in the effort? Of course, but our core values even address that behavior. 

The Air Force provides a definition for each core value(can be found here), but is that the end all be all to the core values? No. They can mean different things to different people and can be elaborated on.  What do you think they mean?  It’s a question that we, as an entire organization sort of forgot about as we engage in our daily duties and I believe our core values need to be given the attention they deserve. Right? Our culture depends on it.  Lately, it seems we’ve lost sight of our values and that’s okay, we’re human, we forget things, we know life is busy. It’s never too late to revive them and use them to improve our culture. Our core values have unlimited value.

Above all else, values help us be and become better leaders. When we feel our teams slipping in character, judgement and performance, we should always look at our values.  They’ll keep us in line and keep us moving forward.  Values create a work environment fit to thrive and survive.  Here is my personal look at how I apply and see the Air Force core values. I hope over the next few days or weeks you consider writing your perspective on the core values.  Share your perspective with your team, use it as a topic of professional development.  Get to know your Airman’s perspective to see how they view them.

Integrity first –  It’s not just about doing the right thing when no one is watching, it’s also about holding yourself accountable when no one is watching.   This also includes you holding your team members accountable.  It’s about carrying out your responsibilities accurately and effectively as possible. Show humility when you don’t have the answer. It’s okay to be wrong. Own your mistakes.  Be transparent in what you do. Keep true to yourself and be a person others can count on.  Integrity is about how the team is held together.  Make sure there are no kinks in your line that can jeopardize how the team holds on together. 

Service before self There will be days when you wake up and you just don’t feel like it.  We’ve all had those days and we will have more. What we do as Airman is bigger than ourselves.  It’s bigger than our personal desires.  Service before self is simple.  Your duties come first to include the service of leadership.  It’s about taking care of people as well. People are a part of the service so they must be taken care of so they can take care of the mission. Personal desires can always be put be aside to handle an issue/task/challenge at hand. This is not about you, it’s about the team.  When the team wins, you win.

Excellence in all we do –  My middle school coach used to say, “Go hard or go home.”  That was the standard.  Was it possible to give your full 100% every single football practice? No, but it wasn’t just about your physical ability. It was about your mentality, your heart, your attention, your dedication. It was more than running hard or hitting hard. It was the effort, the approach to the game. We must not only do our best, but whatever we do must be done with the results of great effort.  It’s hard to really measure effort, but people can always tell when you are giving less than what you are capable of giving. Whatever we’re working on, the end goal, must reflect excellence. Don’t commit to something unless you can give your absolute full attention and effort it deserves. One of my favorite quotes is from one of my favorite runners Steve Prefontaine. “To give any less than your best is to sacrifice a gift.” There is no time for slacking, half-assing, or procrastination.  If you’re going to do a job, do it right.  In the words of Deadpool, “Maximum effort.”

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