Doing what is good, right and proper even at personal cost.
I was about make my Battalion Commander really angry. As a 24-year-old First Lieutenant in a Field Artillery Battalion, I had uncovered a major issue in our training records. Every year, the entire battalion of 300 or more soldiers were required to qualify and show proficiency with our primary personal weapons, the M16 rifle. As the training officer for Alpha Battery, I was responsible for managing our smaller unit’s training records and insuring all Alpha Battery’s soldiers had qualified in the last 12 months. I knew an inspection of our records was on the horizon.
Unfortunately, I discovered the majority of our battery had qualified on the wrong sized targets. The targets which had been used at the last battalion run range were too big – thus it made the targets too easy to hit. When I dug further, I soon realized over 60% of our battalion had qualified on the wrong sized targets. This was unacceptable to me. But, it also meant I now I had to tell our commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, what I discovered.
The voice inside my head told me, “Don’t rock the boat.” I knew the fact I had discovered someone else’s mistake would not only make that individual look bad, but it would also screw up the training schedule for our entire battalion. To add to it, we had few of the larger targets available at battalion headquarters to inspect. If we threw them away, perhaps no one would ever know. After all, the only records of the training failure I uncovered were contained in reports. If I left things alone, our qualifying numbers would look fine and we could qualify on the correct targets before our next 12-month training cycle ended. But, there was one problem. Our battalion would not be ready! While it would be true we would pass inspection, the true purpose of training was to be ready for combat.
I exercised Courage and made an appointment to speak with the Lieutenant Colonel. When we met, he looked at me with steam coming out of his ears. He was sure to let me know, “It was your responsibility to go through the records of your battery, but not the entire battalion!” I explained how I knew we had qualified on the same day as the rest of the battalion. This meant I had realized the entire battalion was in the same boat as Alpha Battery. I assured him I was not digging for dirt on anyone. It was my responsibility to be sure Alpha Battery was trained and competent. But, it was my moral obligation to inform him of an error that impacted the entire battalion. And that was why I felt it was important to meet with him.
He stared at me—none too happy—and asked, “What do you propose we do then, Lieutenant?” My response: “Get everyone requalified ASAP!” He gave me approval and put me in charge of the project. Our training Sergeant found an open range and everyone in the battalion requalified. More importantly, we all knew each one of our soldiers could accurately fire their weapon. We knew we could defend ourselves and the soldiers around us in the event of combat. Two months later, we were glad we had requalified. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. My battalion was deployed as part of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Sometimes we are required to do repetitive or administrative tasks. In many organizations, these reports and metrics become the focus instead of the results the metrics are intended to create. There is often pressure to make sure the metrics look good—today. Meanwhile, we may not be getting much closer to the end goal—the desired result. This pressure can tempt us to take the easier way out. We hear a voice saying, “Just get this done. Worry about the actual results later.” But, this is not Integrity.
Each Habit of Character begins with an individual choice. When our Integrity is challenged, we either take a step closer to being a person of Integrity or further away. In the short run, choosing Integrity rarely make things easier. Requalifying an entire battalion was not easy. It created friction. But, it was worth it. In each and every setting, doing what is good, right and proper even at personal cost means we do the right thing. We never know the extended impact such choices can make. It made a huge difference to my battalion. I hope your choices to exercise Integrity have a lasting impact for you and your organization too.
Dig Deep Questions:
What metrics are you responsible for at work? Are you ever tempted to choose the easier way out?
What does choosing the harder way say about your Integrity?
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