Abbreviating the core values - don't do it!
By Lt. Col. Gaylord Thomas , Air Force Honor Guard commander
/ Published November 07, 2006
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- We all have pet peeves, whether we want to admit it or not - those little somethings we see, hear or experience that really torque our jaws. Sometimes we don't know why these things bother us, we only know that they do.
For a long time I've experienced that annoyance factor when I hear people speak about the Air Force core values and abbreviate them to only three words - integrity, service and excellence. It's only been recently that I've understood why this abbreviation bothers me.
Our core values, completely and unabbreviated, are:
· Integrity first
· Service before self
· Excellence in all we do
When "The Little Blue Book" came out in 1997, I was a flight commander and tasked to study the core values and brief them to my flight members. Oddly enough, they weren't
explained to me from a higher perspective. It was left to me to understand and explain the concepts.
I took the task to heart and later continued to explain them weekly to new recruits in a fair amount of detail as a basic training commander at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, never really stopping my study and introspection of what these values mean, both to the Air Force and to me personally.
My understanding of our core values lies at the root of why their abbreviation, when discussed, perturbs me, because it demonstrates a certain disingenuousness or lack of complete understanding on the part of the speaker. The core values now have been in existence for almost a decade, and I frankly expect a more thorough mastery of them from those in positions to formally speak about them.
Keeping "integrity first" in mind, I do see the simple word integrity as the single most misunderstood and confused word in the whole of our core values. It so often is equated with mere honesty, an annoyance in and of itself for me. It is much, much more than honesty, and actually includes honesty as a part of the whole.
Through "integrity first," the most difficult to master of the three, our leaders first should recognize that when they abbreviate the core values in their discussions, it is not the right thing to do because not only are others watching and listening, their abbreviation in discussing them could easily lead to an abbreviated understanding and execution of them.
This also relates to the "service before self" aspect in not leading by example. By taking these shortcuts in the discussions and understanding of these fundamentals, we demonstrate self before service.
It is our duty to speak of the core values properly, without abbreviating them, which falls under the heading of "rule following," right from "The Little Blue Book." In understanding
that the complete core values have a reason for being, the default position must be to discuss them as they are.
Laziness or a lack of understanding are the only reasons I can think of for abbreviating the core values, and this is not a valid reason to do so.
Laziness and a lack of understanding demonstrates a lack of "Excellence in all we do," to me. As the core values continue to be abbreviated, the "excellence" we develop also will be abbreviated, and that is not consistent with the intent of this core value.
The more I hear the core values abbreviated, the more I fear a downward spiral of accomplishments and performance, opposed to the upward spiral we are looking for.
Our core values "tell us the price of admission to the Air Force itself."
By abbreviating them, are we having a clearance sale of some sort by discounting the full meaning? We claim that our core values point to what is "universal and unchanging" in our profession. By abbreviating them, are we asserting that, in fact, something is no longer universal or no longer unchanging?
What does the creeping in of an abbreviated mode of thinking tell us about the ethical climate of the organization? Are we cutting some ethical corners that we shouldn't be? Are we developing that "good enough for government work" mentality we're opposed to?
Does this laziness point to a corroding climate of ethical commitment? Are we breeding a culture of compromise by tolerating a watering down of our core values?
We acknowledge in "The Little Blue Book" that all our education and training can be wiped out by a single supervisor. It certainly bothers me when our leaders have not internalized the core values to the point that their abbreviation is abhorrent to their discussion of them.
As an old Strategic Air Command flier, I also know that shortcuts can lead to failures on many levels. Hearing our core values abbreviated is much more than a pet peeve to me - it's a serious warning flag.