#46 Honor

"Honor is the glue that holds the Army Values together." - FM 6-22

"He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable or dangerous to do so." - Walter Lippmann (A Preface to Morals - 1929)

Of all the Army Values, honor is the least discussed and arguably the most important. In the Army's Leadership manual, the word honor is never really defined, and there are only 4 short paragraphs devoted to its' discussion. And yet the manual calls it the glue that binds all the other values together.

When I was a Drill Sergeant I always enjoyed teaching the Army Values to trainees. I would volunteer to do it when others didn't want to. I believed it to be the most important class we could provide a new Soldier. I used to tell them that at the end of the day, all you really have in the world is your name. That's it. Fenlason, Smith, Jones, Johnson, whatever. The whole of your being is wrapped up in your name. What do you want the world to remember of you? What is your name worth? Your honor is the way you carry yourself in the world and how your actions and words are interpreted by others. Your name is the foundation of your character. At first it is an inheritance given by your parents. Over time, it becomes the legacy of the life you have lived.

For me, my honor more closely resembles Lippmann's quote above. My honor is an ideal of me; what I aspire to be. It is the recognition that I must always strive to be a better person tomorrow than I am today. It is an unattainable goal of the person I hope I can become. It is the embodiment of what it means to be Fenlason. And recognition that the name itself has weight and form and requirements that must adhered to.

Honor also means living up to the expectations and obligations of those around you. Your family, friends, community. It sometimes means walking alone and following your own calling.

In the context of leader development, honor means possessing a deep and abiding understanding of who you are and what you value. Of knowing when and where to draw the line in the sand that says to others, "You may come this far, but one more step and you will not be allowed to proceed any further." It is knowing how far you can bend for compromise before you must resist.

Over the last month or so, I have repeatedly come back to the idea that self-awareness and self-study are essential parts of the leader development process. We must encourage a training model where we continually place people in situations that allow for increased self-actualization and then point out to them the importance of their self-discovery. Namely, that it serves to help define their honor code. The questions we must ask are not only how or why did something succeed or fail, but what did you learn about yourself during the event? How has your self-awareness changed due to this experience? By encouraging this, we are helping leaders arrive at those 'lines in the sand' that define them for their subordinates. These definitions are critically important for the follower. They must know what their leaders value before they can decide whether or not they will follow. And they can only know this if the leader has a clear picture of what those values are and then explains and demonstrates them to their followers. A leader who cannot do this will rapidly lose the faith and trust of his/her subordinates. They must know who you are, what you value and, most importantly, why you feel that way. They must see you act consistently to adhere to them.

Both individuals and organizations work this way. As much as I must understand myself, so too does an organization have to engage in the difficult task of analyzing it's purpose and its' allowable norms of behavior. From time to time, it must examine it's honor code. For example, we live in a free market society. One of the binding beliefs of all Americans is that we each have an inherent right to make money and attain wealth. But, at what cost? Is it ok to steal the pension of a senior citizen? The answer is no. But isn't that what happens when large investment banks do not carefully and wisely invest the retirement money that we give them? Aren't they abusing the faith and trust that we place in them? In this example, the investor is the follower and the banker is the leader. By placing our faith (and our money) in a risky investment plan that could make large profits, but just as equally could cause large losses, it is the value system of the organization that is at stake. Organizations have the same obligation to define themselves for their employees and the public as Fenlason does to his Soldiers. They both must know where the leader stands and what he/she values. We need to consider this.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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