Do You Practice Or Preach? Print E-mail
Written by Ray Fairman   

Just how difficult is it for you to follow instructions? By that I mean your own advice.
As leaders, we expect everyone to follow the instructions, orders and advice we give them. However we often have quite a bit of trouble following our own advice, or at least I do. Clik Read More to follow along with my rambling.

USMC side of my challenge coin

My age is beginning to show. I take that as a fact of life and could not care less. This may not be as true physically as it is sociologically, but is true just the same. Things I care about are changing too fast for my liking, but, God has not seen fit to bring me home yet so I guess He wants me to keep on sounding off about various things so here I go again.

When I enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1963 the catch phrases were, “Gung Ho” (working together), “Semper Fi” (always faithful) and for some of the more “Salty” (veteran) Marines An occasional “Chop, Chop” (hurry up) or “Ding Hao” (very good). All of these terms had an actual meaning as you can see as well as holding their traditional significance. Today about all I hear from most Marines is “Ooh-Rah!” I am not really down on that “War Cry”, but as we still say today… “Back in the Old Corps…” It just doesn’t hold the kind of meaning the slogans of yesterday that I remember holding so dear, like “God, Country and Corps” and those I previously mentioned held. Those were battle cries that could be internalized and not just parroted.

I guess that it is also a fact of life that with progress comes change. The only problem I have with change is that sometimes the side affects are more detrimental than the benefits are positive. I have also been around lone enough to know that folks have been known to fix or change things that aren’t broken or obsolete.

I read something recently by a retired Marine who was musing about knowing when it was time to retire. He said, if I may paraphrase, that when the Corps or any organization or agency you work for no longer embraces the standards, values and ethics it did when you first came aboard, the time had come to make that “strategic withdrawal.”

I remember somewhere back in the early 1990’s the Marine Corps put a lot of emphasis on instilling some specific core values in all members of the “Marine Corps Family” both military and civilian. From this effort came the ever familiar “Honor, Courage and Commitment.” I can also remember when my son Ryan went off to The U. S. Military Academy at West Point NY, everywhere I looked I saw references to General Douglas McArthur’s “Duty, Honor And Country Speech.” What bothers me the most nowadays, I think, is that I get the terrible feeling that people don’t really take these values seriously. I am sad to say the ethical foundation of this country is in much more trouble than it’s moral fiber. Are these values, espoused by Marines and Soldiers, just Public Relations marketing tools that are being used as window dressing or are they actually the values we honestly believe in and swear to abide by… for life?

I want to take time to define a few of these values I’m so concerned about before I go much further, so I can use definitions as reference points later to let you “box your own moral compass.” If I can get you to examine your own values and ethical perspectives, maybe a few of you will realize that the old adage that we need to “practice what we preach” is a metaphor for what I learned in ‘Boot Camp” as “Be a do as I do leader and not a do as I say leader.”

Honor guides a person to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior; to never lie cheat or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; respect human dignity; and respect others. These attributes combined with maturity, dedication, trust and dependability obligate leaders at all levels to act responsibly; to be accountable for their actions; to fulfill these obligations; and to hold others accountable for their actions.

Courage is the mental, moral and physical strength ingrained in leaders. It carries them through any type of challenge and helps them overcome their fears whatever they may be. It is their inner strength that enables then to always do what is right; to adhere to the highest standard of personal conduct; and to stand by tough and sometimes unpopular decisions made under the most trying circumstances.

Commitment is the spirit of determination and dedication found in Marines. It leads to the highest order of discipline for individuals and units. It is the ingredient that enables 24-hour a day dedication to Corps and country. It inspires the unrelenting determination to achieve a standard of excellence in every endeavor.

There is no question that historically these values have been, in some form or another, what have made The United States what it is in the eyes of the international community. Americans used to be viewed by the world as a classic example of the honorable, courageous and committed individual. Our country’s core values were the foundation of what being an American was all about and what helped make us different. So, why then do some folks (and this I am sorry to say includes many so called corporate and community leaders) make such a shallow commitment to them? Why don’t we internalize them and ethically apply them without all the situational exceptions? Are these values just a marketing tool with no real intent and purpose other than taking a back seat to expedience? That sure seems like a rhetorical question sometimes.

In the interest of stimulating your thoughts on the subject, I want to discuss certain aspects of some of these values to use in an attempt to get you started on “Boxing that compass of yours.” I have often been accused of being too idealistic but I think these values can be followed exactly as stated without applying all of today’s situational exceptions. It is hard for me to accept that American’s shouldn’t and can’t be held to a higher standard than we currently exhibit; after all, we already proved we Americans can accomplish many things some folks considered impossible in just over 230 years, so why not when it comes to living up to our original core values. I think we can do it for life if we try. Let me use the following excerpts from each of the values as defined above to try to incite your interest and involvement:

lets look at…hold others accountable for their actions.

we’ll examine the part about…Moral Courage being moral strength, the will to heed the inner voice of conscience, the will to do what is right regardless of the conduct or approval of others.

we’ll go over the idea of … It inspiring the unrelenting determination of a person to achieve the highest standard of excellence in every endeavor they accept.

Use these extracts as your guide as you apply them to answer some of the following questions I am going to pose below.

As a Marine, I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies so help me God. As a Law Enforcement Officer I took another oath in front of God. In each of these examples, I was not alone; many other Americans have made similar vows in their occupations and other such instances such as in court or on an employment or tax or expense record.

Well, here then is my dilemma. If the same person, who took that oath before God or even man, now has reneged on any of their vows such as in marriage, or terms or duties required of their employment, which are taken before God or man, why or how can he or she be trusted to abide by their word in any circumstance? It seems we do not consider vows/commitments to another important or can an individual’s personal dalliance just be an “acceptable exception” and if so why?

How can cops arrest people that drink and drive then go out and drink and drive themselves or those who have been married 3, 4 and even 5 times understand what the meaning of commitment is? Corporate America has of late been characterized by its plethora of “Do as I say and Not as I do “ leadership icons. If we have people in leadership positions that fall into this category, what kind of role modeling can we expect them to display? Are they good examples of a people that understand the value of commitment? Commitment means sacrifice; sacrifice that comes in many forms, but not the sacrifice of others for personal gain or political expediency. Should we tolerate this kind of behavior? Is this value only expected to be selectively implemented within an organization’s framework, and then selectively ignored on a personal level? If so, how do we determine what the exceptions are and how and when to demonstrate a sense of commitment? Can anyone be expected to trust someone that has a selective sense of commitment under a life and death situation or any other critical situation? Is expecting a person to be loyal and trustworthy too old fashion? …too difficult? …too romantic? I know I have touched a sore subject for some, but an oath or vow before God must be the viewed the same by all mankind…It is a commitment! Not an option!

Moral Courage, I hope you have been taught, is frequently more difficult than physical courage. This one reason that it is such a principle component in the foundation of character; it is the ability to stick up for what you feel is right, regardless of the conduct, opinion of others or the anticipated consequences. There are too many cases where I have seen individuals attempting to demonstrate this characteristic become victims of compromise when others have applied pressure and/or made them out to be radicals, rogues or troublemakers, especially when the complaint is against a person possessing authority or influence. Is the fear of losing their position worth sacrificing their own personal integrity? To some people that is apparently exactly the case. It seems that finding leaders willing to display moral courage and adhering to their own principles is getting to be more and more difficult in our society; those people that tenaciously adhere to this value are usually left to fend for themselves without the support or commitment from others, many times they are left adrift by their superiors who fear for their own status more than they care for the welfare of their subordinates. This, my friend, is a fatal flaw in the character of any leader. I have a problem with those who stand on the sidelines and just watch even though they know what is happening is wrong. This toleration seems to be the norm in today’s society and it makes it more and more difficult for people with good value systems to work in many organizational environments. In the eyes of many, leaders are the epitome of the highest standards and values. Therefore, some people are going to shy away from certain occupations or as I prefer to call them, professions because they may expect them to adhere to elevated values or high standards or suffer consequences. The lack of the ethical application of moral values has become more and more acceptable in many areas of society. Ethics, which I like to think of as the irreversible mechanical application of a person’s morality or their knowledge of right and wrong, have all but disappeared from civilian society and I am sorry to say has invaded the more critical arenas of the military and government service. There are just too many incidents where individuals demonstrating moral courage, abiding by or demonstrating a sense of commitment to values and principles have become victims that eventually are penalized or denied opportunities.

What’s the alternative for those who desire to stay true to their core values and try to remain ethical? Should we let them go with the flow or expect them to become the preverbal salmon swimming against the current who suffers the consequences for being different? Must we allow exceptions to this critical value to survive? One would think that what is right is right and having a sense of commitment to values and principles shouldn’t mean having to deal with a surplus of exceptions used by other individuals with less than honorable intentions and a desire to survive at any price. Should anyone have to set aside their values and principles in the interest of discretion or should everyone remain steadfast when it comes to applying them no matter what and with no exceptions. Is the possession and application of Moral Courage something to be held on to for life? Is this another of those ideals of mine that is …too idealistic? Is it …too hard?

The last item I want to throw out there was extracted from my definition of Honor. It is the part about holding others accountable for their actions. Unfortunately throughout our society the application of this value generally depends on whose feet we try and hold to the fire, doesn’t it? I was taught that we are all created equal, but let’s face it; there are a lot of folks out there that feel they are more equal then others. They operate on the “Rank Has It’s Privileges” philosophy (RHIP) rather than the one I was taught 40 years ago. The philosophy I was taught was referred to as “RHIR” (Rank Has It’s Responsibilities). Again, maybe I’m being too idealistic to think this critical value can still be applied fairly and evenly to all. I honestly feel we need to embrace it as a part of one of our most vital core values. It is imperative that we need to make sure it is always fairly, evenly and justly applied to EVERYONE, with NO EXCEPTIONS! This may be easier to do in the military or a paramilitary or governmental environment than in the broad-spectrum civilian sector, but that should not restrict it’s implementation in that setting as that community has also been battering it about frequently and quite recently I might add. Sometimes rank does has some privileges but there are too many situations where some folks have just plain beaten the system and gotten away with things that others have been punished to the letter of the law for doing. Are these acceptable exceptions examples of good leadership? When it comes to personal accountability and holding other individuals accountable, it seems to be getting increasingly more difficult. It often appears that power, influence and money have become the key factors in allowing many people to do whatever they want regardless of values or the law and experience minimal consequences. What are we to do with our higher ethical standards and elevated sense of values when dealing with situations like these? Compromise them? Are they too hard? Remember if you do then tolerance leads to acceptance and that leads to redefining the standard.

Maybe all our values exist merely to act as “floating” guidelines watered down with exceptions. Maybe they are just some idealistic “goals” we would like to try to achieve or maybe they really are nothing more than just a public relations tool, empty phases and meaningless clichés.

My problem is that I served in the Marines and I know what being a Marine is all about; I also dedicated my life to Christ many years ago and these values are what I am, what I stand for, who I am as a person and why I have accepted many of the missions I have undertaken. Yes, I will admit it is very hard to always live by these principles but the Marines told me along time ago that they would not promise me a rose garden, Christ did promise me one but it wasn’t going to be in this world, which I consider “Boot Camp” for Heaven. I believe these values can be applied in everything we do, but it will take a high degree of sacrifice and, a willingness to remain a beacon of what you stand for by not seeking or condoning any exceptions or searching for an easy way out. To do anything less, would only make our values nothing more than meaningless and empty phases.

I have never heard a Marine respond a battle cry like “Semper Me”, and as I pointed out at the beginning I have not forgotten the true meaning of “Semper Fi” or what being a Marine is all about. I will always do my utmost to remain true to the values of HONOR, COURAGE and COMMITMENT, as a Marine and as a Christian. Values that long before the Marine Corps decided to emphasize them to me, helped make me the person I hope I am today. I should not tolerate or foster the misuse of them by those who fail to abide by them. This is what makes real leaders different. They display genuine and honest understanding of these values, require strict adherence to them by all members of their organization; they realize that these values are the foundation of our character as leaders and they do not allow them to be compromised with exceptions.

For those of you civilians who have never experienced the worlds of law enforcement and or the military, this may seem like an unbelievable challenge. It may well be, but the only way we are going to survive as a viable society is with our values intact. We need to embody these values individually and collectively in all that we do, how we do it and NOT tolerate those that fail to adhere to them. In a society that appears to have lost the meaning of ethics at every level, we need to be the beacons and guardians of these values for our brothers and sisters. Someday I believe others will respond to our example and set their sights on a higher sense of values. When they do, they need to know that these values really matter and they really are for life with NO EXCEPTIONS.

Any change they make needs to be a change for life or these values become once again, nothing more the empty phases and meaningless clichés to adorn office walls

Now that we are about to close, I want to challenge you to go back through this “sounding off” and reread it applying your answers to your own family life …career life and your Christian Witness! Watch out for that last one because Christ will be assessing your answers not me.

Now it is your turn to “Sound off!” Let me hear your input. What do you think, …should the internalization of these values be a change for life or do you think I am too idealistic when I think we can be true to these values, our comrades, our families, our God and ourselves?

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