Foundation for integrity takes purpose, mentors, GRIT

Chief Master Sgt. William M. McGovern
USAFE Command paralegal manager

“Our achievements are shaped by the terrain of our lives and the
strength of the foundations we set. In building the life we’ve
imagined, we must be true to our beliefs, dare to be ethical, and
strive to be honorable. Integrity is the highest ground to which we can

I first heard these words at my chief’s recognition ceremony. As I
reflect on them, still today, I realize how meaningful they are and how
important it is to define integrity.

When defining integrity, image is sometimes substituted in its place.
Image is how others see us. A person may focus on impressing others
through work ethic, mannerisms, or attitude. Integrity, though,
involves much more than image. Integrity evolves from a foundation
built upon years of experience. We all know that “Integrity First” is
the initial Air Force Core Value. But how do we build the foundation
for it? Unfortunately, there is no one answer that applies to all. But
I can share with you what I have seen as the most important elements of
a solid foundation: purpose, mentorship and “GRIT.”

Purpose is a personal, long-term affirmation of what we want to be. It
is not a short-lived direction in life; rather it is a lifelong
mission, requiring time and preparation. One way to develop purpose is
to find a guiding principle as an anchor, such as a line from a poem,
song, inspirational quote or scripture verse. Whatever the anchor, it
should set a resounding tone about who we feel we are. I suggest
putting it in writing. This provides clarity and forces us to think
about how to set goals to achieve our purpose.

Mentors are key in developing the foundation for integrity. We must,
however, distinguish mentors from role models. While role models are
important in our lives, mentors serve a much deeper aim. Role models
are people we respect as worthy examples and are essential for creating
a positive atmosphere in our official and personal life.

Mentors are teachers of life experiences and have several things in
common. They help shorten our learning curve. They model exemplary
behavior. They earn our deep respect by practicing what they preach and
teaching us at a personal level, fostering admiration and emulation.

One important thing to remember is that mentorship is not a one-way
street. Becoming a mentor is just as important as being mentored. We
must be willing to share of ourselves and be committed to guiding
others just as we have been guided.

The third element in our foundation is GRIT. It defines integrity more clearly than just, “doing the right thing.”

Grit, “a firmness of mind and unyielding courage” that leads to…
Respect, “a high or special regard by others” that fosters…
Influence, which produces “an effect without force” based on…
Truth, “that which agrees with final reality.”

The question each of us should ask is: “How do I measure up to this standard?”

Integrity should not just be a catch phrase we use; rather, it should
be viewed as a responsibility of leadership. Through purpose,
mentorship and GRIT, we can aspire to that high ground of integrity.