Integrity First: Living the Honor Code
Sometimes the toughest job of a Top Gun leader is disciplining your employees when they mess up. Will you stand up and take action?
- By Waldo Waldman
- Jul 03, 2007
INTEGRITY First. It’s core value #1 of the
U.S. Air Force—embraced by our leadership,
taught in our training programs,
and a symbol of the commitment and
character of the men and women serving
I learned a valuable lesson about the
true meaning of integrity only after
serving several years in the Air Force. It
wasn’t on a combat mission flying an F-16.
It was during a training sortie I flew as a
brand-new instructor pilot, and I learned it
It was a rare occasion for an instructor
pilot to get to fly solo, but this was my lucky
day and I was going to make the most of it.
I had finished my maneuvers in the military
operating area (MOA) and was performing
my last touch and go’s in the pattern before
landing. Feeling really fired up, I pushed
the throttles to full power, gained airspeed,
and decided to see how many G’s I could
“pull” in the pattern. The structural G-limit
on the rugged and reliable Cessna T-37B
twin engine jet trainer was 6.67 G’s, and I
was about to see how close I could come to
hitting the limit. You see, I was doing what
we call in the Air Force “hot doggin’ it.” In
other words, I was asking for trouble.
I accelerated to 225 knots, banked it
into 90 degrees, and pulled. 5.7 G’s. One
more time, 6.4 G’s . . . again . . . 6.8 G’s! I
looked down and did a double take.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “I just over-
G’d the jet!” My first instinct was to reach
over and punch off the G-meter (zero out
the meter, sort of like setting an odometer
back to zero). After all, I had seen other,
more experienced pilots do it before, and,
besides, the T-37 was tough as nails. What
was .127 G’s going to do to the jet?
I was faced with a difficult choice: zero
out the G-meter and act like nothing had
happened, or immediately land this damaged
jet, admit my mistake, and accept the
consequences. I cringed as I pondered
what my fellow wingmen would think of
me. And then I thought to myself, what if
my twin brother were to fly that jet
tomorrow and the wing fell off? My choice
became instantly clear.
My commander wasn’t pleased, to say
the least. My actions were irresponsible
and showed a lack of discipline. Not only
was I severely reprimanded; I was
grounded from flying for two weeks and
had to present a briefing to the squadron
on the maintenance procedure to inspect
the jet for structural damage. The cost of
this inspection was $25K of our taxpayers’
hard-earned money, and the plane (a critical
training resource for our squadron)
would also be grounded for two weeks.
Fortunately, the inspection revealed no
damage to the aircraft. Nonetheless, I had
cost my fellow wingmen valuable training.
Actions Have Consequences
Have you ever been in a situation where
your integrity was tested? Have you ever
been given a choice where admitting (or
not admitting) a mistake would affect your
reputation, the safety of others, and even your career? There are several lessons that
can be drawn from my experience:
¦ Your integrity (or lack thereof)
affects everyone. For me, failure to turn
myself in and admit my mistake could
have caused a major accident or a potential
loss of life. For you, it can be a safety
accident, a lost customer, and also a lost
life. Your actions have reach outside of
¦ Integrity should not be a choice. It
should be instinctual, and we should
always strive to do the right thing, no
matter what the cost. And it doesn’t start
and end at work: Integrity should be
honored 24 hours a day. Your wingmen
are watching you.
¦ Rank has its responsibilities, as well
as its privileges. As an officer in the Air
Force, I had (and still have) a responsibility
to comply with the flying regulations
and standards of my squadron. It’s
called being a professional. As an
employee with your company, you, too,
must be responsible to comply with its
regulations and standards of behavior.
When leading your wingmen on the
factory floor, at a hospital, or in the office,
you can’t afford to breach your integrity,
and you also can’t make exceptions for
others. The costs are too high and can be
measured in injuries, worker’s compensation
claims, lost man-hours, and your reputation.
OSHA regulations, safety/patient
care procedures, and operating instructions
exist for a reason: They keep people safe,
prevent accidents, and help save money for
your company by reducing operating costs.
Will you make mistakes on the job? Of
course. Will you also bear witness to others
making mistakes? Absolutely. But will you
have the courage to confront them and
hold them accountable, or will you be more
concerned with being “a nice guy” who
doesn’t ruffle feathers? Sometimes the
toughest job of a Top Gun Leader is disciplining
your employees when they mess
up. Will you stand up and take action? If
you don’t, then who will?
The way you can help to create an
environment where your wingmen will
live and work with integrity and admit
their mistakes is when you honor your
integrity and have the courage to admit
your mistakes. This is the foundation of
creating a culture of courage. Integrity is
contagious, and it has to start from the top
down. Moreover, when you shift the focus
off yourself and, instead, focus on your
mission and how your actions affect your
co-workers and customers, you become a
more trusting wingman.
Courage builds character. It is the
foundation of integrity. It gives you the
thrust to make the correct choice and do
what is right, despite the consequences.
What’s more, you will be able to sleep
better at night.
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.