Doing the right thing when others are looking

  • Published
  • By Maj. Christopher Lacek
  • 22nd Security Forces Commander
Doing the right thing when no one is looking is a commonly accepted definition of integrity. But what if we turn this around - how many times have you felt pressured in front of your peers or subordinates to do the right thing when everyone is looking?

It's easy enough to wear your uniform correctly when you know you have an inspection coming up or to push yourself physically when you're at a mandated physical training session, but how easy is it to tell everyone they need to come into work over the weekend to make up additional training or enforce unpopular rules?

How easy is it to make a decision that you know is the right thing to do, but may not benefit the masses? Do you lack integrity if you let someone else make that call?

Too often our leaders - both young and old - want to be "the cool guy," the person who thinks the best thing for their troops is to be their friend, give only positive feedback and make sure their subordinates are always happy.

The argument for this style of leadership is that if troops are happy, they'll do anything willingly.

The problem is that these types of leaders often lose sight of the big picture and suddenly their troops' priorities are more important than the mission's priorities and orders become "Well, I know this is what Major So-and-So wants and we have to do it, but I think it's a lousy idea and it's not my fault we have to take your day off."

When this happens, at what point will those troops question everything their leader does? Will they do "just enough" to stay out of trouble?

Taking care of your troops doesn't just mean giving them time off or shielding them from outside influence. It means correcting mistakes, evaluating performance honestly so actual improvements can be made, and making sure they have everything they need so that they can effectively accomplish the mission.

For example, is it better to take care of your troops by giving everyone "firewall" fives on their enlisted performance reviews, or to evaluate fairly and set realistic goals so that Airmen feel as though they earned their rating?

Leadership isn't a popularity contest, and I think if you look back on your past supervisors you'll find people who you may not have initially agreed with, but over a period of time you recognized that they accomplished great things.

Leaders at all levels are paid to make the tough calls to get the mission done, and owning a decision - even something they may not necessarily agree with - is part of their responsibilities.

You can still be a true servant-leader and stay honest at the same time as long as you know you're doing the right thing to get the mission done at the end of the day.

The next time you're in front of a group of peers and subordinates and you have to enforce something that you know will be unpopular, will you try to distance yourself from that decision or will you do the right thing when everyone is looking?