Who Am I?

Troy Ahlstrom writes…

Integrity – the foundation for credible leadership.

We, as Hospitalists and leaders in our groups, have the opportunity to make things better, or worse, for those around us.  I’ve seen both.  So have you.  To make things better, we’ve got to know who we are, what we seek to bring about, and how to carry out our plans to fruition.  Today, I’m going to focus on the question of “who we are” and what that embodies.

In the Air Force, line officers must successfully complete Officer Candidate School to gain their commission.  Meanwhile, medical corps officers go through a similar process termed Health Professions Officer Indoctrination, a telling reference to the openness of doctors to change.  My class learned eight values of Officership.  I found them useful, but I sure can’t remember them all.  Thankfully, the USAF later honed their Core Values down to three all encompassing values: Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do.  They realize we cannot forcefully install wisdom into each officer.  However, given willing and capable personnel, we can distill wisdom into structure for training and reproof providing the who, what, and how for our military’s closely held beliefs.  And credible leadership requires a strong foundation – Integrity.

Integrity: Possession of firm principles, completeness, wholeness.

The USAF includes a number of moral traits that help to make up integrity:  courage, honesty, responsibility, accountability, justice, openness, self-respect, and humility.  I typically think in terms of honesty and responsibility which then allows us to make difficult, or courageous, choices.  But Integrity references wholeness and completeness.  It is the person with high moral character who is none-the-less humble about his strengths and cognizant of his weaknesses, open to exchange of ideas, and yet willing to chart the best possible course and respectfully defend his beliefs after fully considering all of the options.  A person of integrity is not driven by pride or ego, doesn’t seek revenge, and will not tolerate selfish ambition.  This person is whole.  This person is a positive force.  There is no internal division.

What about other structures looking at the essentials values of excellent leadership.  They’re, not surprisingly, strikingly similar.  Stephen M. R. Covey discusses integrity as the root of credibility in The Speed of Trust.  He has only three defining characteristics however: congruence, humility, and courage.

Wholeness is aptly termed congruence, or possessing internal consistency.  Looking at ourselves, are we congruent?  Do we follow our inner moral compass?  Do we “Walk the Talk?”  This is the completeness of thinking, knowing, believing, rechecking, reconstructing, sacrificing, and ultimately losing the pull of self, ego, and pride for the sake of a higher call upon ourselves and our place and responsibility in society.  There is no inner division, but rather a wholeness of being that seeks the truth.

Humility is described by Jim Collins in Good to Great as a universal characteristic of highly effective leadership:

We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one.  Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars.  Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.  They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.

Finally, there is the courage necessary to act in this fashion.  And this is no small thing.  For this is where your integrity will be questioned by others.  When you stand up for right, invariably someone will label it as wrong.  I struggle with this continually, but I am getting over it.  My integrity isn’t being questioned, it’s being tested.  I will continue to re-evaluate and reconstruct, change, and grow into a person of more solid stuff than I am made of now.  That’s what I am called to do.  This refining process requires courage.  We confront our own weaknesses and imperfections.  The violent encounter consumes the inward impurities to forge a stronger person of more use and value to our colleagues, families, and country.

I had dinner with a friend this past week.  He’s lived longer than I have and made some mistakes that he doesn’t want me to make.  He imparts those things to me with a measure of humility, in the strictest confidence, knowing that I am listening carefully and desire to see positive changes in myself.  This is the heart of the matter.  We confront the humiliation of failure with the courage to try again.  It is the openness to needed change while being responsible to participate and accountable in the process.  This is a strong foundation for leadership and growth.  This is integrity.

Next time, I’ll discuss the answer to the second question, “What do I seek to bring about?”

1 Comment

  1. jairyhunter on November 5, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Very well-written and great article. Without knowing what your next points will be, I would suggest that leaders need to have/earn credibility (as physicians as a demographic are a skeptical bunch). Also in some sense, leaders must have a “winning” personality–whatever that entails….I’ve found the need to be a politician, mentor, example, disciplinarian, and scape-goat, depending on the situation. Sometimes all in the same day. I agree there needs to be an element of humility, but I also feel that one must be able to apply and exhibit strength when the occasion arises.

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