Character : The link Between Intentions and Execution
Character : The link Between Intentions and
General Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong, Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Source:
USAFE, July 7, 2005. Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
It is that set of
qualities and traits, based on morals and ethics that guides our actions and
distinguishes us from one another. We typically make assessments of others based
on their words and actions -- this is how reputations are built. In general,
character, whether good or bad, is what we observe in others’ conduct -- it puts
our morals and values into action.
In our daily
interactions at home, on duty and in the community, we are routinely faced with
situations that present ethical dilemmas. Our character is fully displayed when
the decisions we make under tough circumstances mirror our ethics. In our
fast-paced world, we don’t always have the luxury of reflecting on what we would
do or what others might think. It is in those heat-of-the-moment situations that
our character becomes the link between what we intend to do and actually pulling
Many of us can relate to times when we intended to do
something but didn’t. We’ve received a phone call at an inopportune time and
promised to call back but didn’t; or we’ve had a task at work to accomplish that
others depended on and we failed to come through. No one benefits from good
intentions -- good character demands that we follow through on our intentions.
I have actively served my country for the past thirty
plus years for three principle reasons. First, I love
-- it’s the greatest country on the face of the planet.
Second, I love flying -- there’s nothing like flying a jet at 480 knots --
that’s my technical skill. Third, I love leading the wonderful sons and
daughters who serve with me -- it’s a privilege to work with them. That just
happens to be my story -– but we have a nation full of leaders and dedicated
followers -– who have served some cause beyond themselves. Their character has
propelled them to success and satisfaction by guiding their execution of some
task or mission.
While serving side by side with the sons and daughters
who have helped shape our country and the world, I’ve met some interesting
characters along the way. Just like the civilian world, the military has a lot
of good folks and a few bad ones too. The beauty of life is that throughout your
interactions with different types of people you get the chance to learn both
from your own mistakes and from others. I’ve had the opportunity to observe bad
ethical decision making. I’ve also met a lot of people with great intentions who
let their co-workers down because they failed to be decisive. In the profession
of arms, ours is a life and death business. Similar to policemen, firefighters
and many others who serve, the danger we sometimes face doesn’t give us the
luxury to pause at our good intentions when the difference between staying alive
and returning home is having the courage, ethical foundation and character to do
what is right without hesitation. I’ m convinced that whether you wear a
uniform, a suit, or a blue collar like my dad did, we all see good and bad
examples of leadership and character.
In fact, every leader
has to be aware of the importance of character. They have to be strong enough to
take a stand and not change their character to try to match the tide of public
or corporate opinion. Simply put, there are principles of character that a
leader must not allow to sway with time and pressure.
I summarize these
principles in my “PRIDE + Two” formula -- Preparation, Respect,
Integrity, Discipline, Enthusiasm + Morals and Courage.
One character aspect of
good leadership is work ethic -- doing your homework. Sun Tzu, the great
military expert of ancient
stated over two thousand years ago, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you
can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” Leaders must work to fully
understand their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their
followers and competitors -- to have the character to admit weaknesses and
capitalize on strengths. They must also hone the people skills required to
capitalize on those strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, leaders must be
technically proficient in the team’s business. That requires commitment – yours.
They don’t necessarily have to be the expert -- but they need a certain skill
level to be credible. The team captain of a basketball team has to be able to
play basketball. Similarly, the head of a research lab should be a credible
researcher. You have to get ready to execute – your character drives that
preparation for execution.
Good character earns –
even demands – respect. A good leader respects himself, his team, and his
competitors. While not arrogant or boastful, a leader with character must stand
his ground and carry himself with authority. He demands as much of himself as he
does the team. And while he is demanding, he is never demeaning. He understands
what every member of the team brings to the fight. He values their inputs and
creates an environment where all are welcome and comfortable.
There is no grey area
when it comes to integrity -- it’s foundational. It’s simple – no integrity, no
character – no respect and moral authority to execute! A leader cannot succeed
if his people cannot trust him. If he bends the rules and says what is
convenient, he may succeed in the short run but inevitably will come up short in
the end. Good leaders fight to protect their integrity. Once lost, you can never
get it back.
Your character and your
leadership is defined by both personal and professional discipline. A single
lapse of discipline costs not only the leader, but his organization -- people
always watch every move a leader makes. Good leaders do those things we expect
responsible folks to do -- work diligently, stay healthy, balance their
checkbook and take care of their relationships. They also know when they need a
break -- a leader is no good to his team if he’s sick, run-down, or distracted.
Finally, good leaders follow the very rules they make. If they’re not willing to
stick by them, neither will the rest of the team. To get from intentions to
execution requires great discipline -– that discipline defines your character.
A group takes on its
leader’s personality. If the leader is excited about the mission, so is the rest
of the group. Enthusiasm is contagious and is a character builder. You’ll never
meet a dull leader worth his salt. Leadership requires passion and fire -- your
character defines your passion and fire. People have to believe in what they’re
doing. A good leader must convince his team what they’re doing is important.
They do that with energy and passion. If the leader is not passionate about
leading, then he probably ought to find something else to do. Stop here for a
moment -– more than anything else, the way you run your life defines your
character -– it’s the underpinning of trust in you. If you want your people to
execute as intended, they have to trust you – your character has to be above
A leader must know right
from wrong. It may sound simple, but a quick look at recent corporate and
military scandals indicates it’s not. There is a growing acceptance today that
almost any means are justified in the name of success. A leader cannot sacrifice
personal or corporate morality at the altar of success.
This leads us to the
final and most undernourished of our values -- courage. In the end, nothing else
matters if you don’t have the courage to pull the trigger. You must be willing
to step up and execute. All the principles we discussed don’t mean anything
unless you have the courage to act upon them. Your character, your success or
failure, your very ability to lead, will be judged ultimately by your courage.
It will largely determine whether your intentions get executed.
In summary, leaders must
be willing to make the tough decisions without sacrificing their principles.
They must have the courage to act upon these principles despite any immediate
personal or corporate cost -- there is no room for compromise. With character,
you either get it right or you don’t. It’s a tough hill to climb when your
character is tarnished. It’s like a college senior with a 3.4 grade point
average trying to graduate with a 4.0. Even with a lot of time and all perfect
scores, you still won’t achieve a 4.0. Admittedly, no one is perfect, but life
gives us second chances to take those good intentions, apply the character we’ve
developed, bring our courage and execute! Doing the right things for the right
reasons with the right people – that’s only done by men and women who possess
and nourish character in their lives.
-- USAFENS --