Core Values and Professional Integrity
Lt. Col. Daniel McDowell
Core Values: What they are?
An individual’s core values should be an accurate reflection of who the individual is and
what this individual is about. Core values should be the very foundation that the
individual is built on. They are what drives the individual when all else seems to have
faltered. They are what the person is at his/her most basic and honest level.
In the words of author, speaker, consultant, Charles “Bill” Carpenter, “Core values are
governing principles that help you make sound, consistent decisions. You should
carefully identify costs versus benefits, as your core values can not be compromised.
When you start compromising any of your core values you will find it becomes easier to
disregard all of your values system.”
Author Kevin John says, “Having a clear understanding of your personal values is critical
to your success. Without this knowledge you won’t know what really matters to you,
what motivates you and why you are doing what you are doing. You’ll be in conflict with
what you really want and your life will be unfulfilling and stressful.
If you want to be successful you need to make sure your personal values and your goals
in life are aligned. If they aren’t you will struggle to find motivation and sustain the
enthusiasm and energy you need to travel the road to success!”
What they aren’t
Core values are NOT something you wear like a coat. They are not put on when publicly
shown and taken off in private. They are not put on for political purposes, only to be
taken off again when that political point is over. Core values are…the person. If they are
put on and taken off at will then they are false, and that individual’s integrity is
If you doubt the previous statement, then ask yourself the following question: If
everything I do for money or perceived power were to suddenly have no monetary value
or income, what would I still be about? If you answered honestly, you would see that
your core values are all that would remain.
Take a look at what the U.S. Air Force Core Values statement says. It states quite clearly,
"Our Core Values, Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do, set the
common standard for conduct across the Air Force. These values inspire the trust which
provides the unbreakable bond that unifies the force. We must practice them ourselves
and expect no less from those with whom we serve."
(The underline in the sentence above was included for emphasis in this article only)
Core Value Parts
Core values are made of a number of parts to make them whole. Each of the parts
contributes to the total package of core values yet no single part necessarily carries more
value than another. They should be valued equally in the make up of a person’s Core
Values. This author sees them as, 1. Responsibility, 2. Accountability, 3. Initiative, 4.
Honesty, 5. Courage, 6. Justice, 7. Selfrespect and Humility, 8. Generosity/Service .
• Responsibility: recognizing your duties and properly executing them.
• Accountability: recognizing and accepting responsibility for your actions and
words. Not shifting the blame to others.
• Initiative: being alert and aware of your surroundings and situation and taking
proper action when needed and appropriate to do so without being told to do it.
• Honesty: Being as good as your word. Telling the truth. Demonstrating integrity.
• Courage: moral and physical courage to do the right things even at significant
• Justice: being willing to always be fair and consistent in issuing awards as well as
• Self-respect and Humility: respect and appreciate your personal skills and gifts,
but never being personally boastful or prideful in word or action.
• Generosity/Service: demonstrating a personal level of generosity that when given
does not expect or ask for a return and being always willing to serve for the
betterment of many and not just for personal gain.
Personal Core Values are not necessarily the same as Business Core Values, event though
founded on many of the same guiding principles. An example of business/organizational
Core values is taken from: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/core-
values.html : Operating philosophies or principles that guide an organization's internal
conduct as well as its relationship with the external world. Core values are usually
summarized in the mission statement or in the statement of core values.
In the succinct words of Professor Emeritus Malham M. Wakin, Brig Gen. USAF (Ret.),
U.S. Air Force Academy, “Professional integrity derives its substance from the
fundamental goals or mission of the profession.” The following are excerpts from his
treatise on Integrity titled “Professional Integrity” published in Airpower Journal -
We need an ordered society; we want to be treated fairly; we seek justice. We train
our judges and our lawyers in law schools supported by the community because of
the important value that we place on justice. Similarly, we know how crucial
education is to our society so we provide for the training of teachers; we know how
important security is to our nation-state so we provide military academies and
military training for the members of the military profession.
No member of the professions (doctors, lawyers, teachers…etc) can escape these ties
to the community since they constitute the very reason for the existence of the
professions. Thus, professional integrity begins with this necessary responsibility to
serve the fundamental need of the community. Notice that the community makes
possible the opportunity for one to become qualified in a given profession and
usually allows the professionals the authority themselves to set the standards of
competence and conduct of its members.
Members of the public professions are thus educated and supported by the society
because of the critical services the professions provide. In the case of teachers in
public institutions and in the case of the military profession, practitioners are
supported from the public coffers during their entire careers. Clearly, some of the
role specific obligations are based on this relationship and on the authority to act on
behalf of the entire society which is literally bestowed on these professionals. With
the authority to act goes the public trust and violations of that trust are serious
breaches of professional integrity.
Professional integrity derives its substance from the fundamental goals or mission of
If our preprofessional preparation does not inculcate the habits of professional
integrity, can we have confidence that those habits will be practiced by these same
individuals when they become licensed professionals?
How are personal integrity and professional integrity related? There are varying
opinions about this. Some people believe that one can live up to high standards of
competence and conduct in one's professional role -- at the hospital, in the school, at
the military base -- but live an entirely different kind of moral life outside the
professional context in one's private life.
What I wish to argue is that since professions exist to serve society's need for
important values (education, health, justice, security, etc.), the means used to
provide those values and services should be morally decent means and the persons
in the professions who provide them should be morally decent persons.
Put in more direct terms, good teachers ought to be good persons, good doctors
ought to be good persons, good lawyers ought to be good persons and good military
professionals ought to be good persons. We want to live in a world where the duties
of a competent professional can be carried out by a good person with a clear and
confident conscience. That means that professional practices must always be
constrained by basic moral principles.
When professions go beyond their essential service function to society and distort
their purpose toward profits, power, or greed then they lose the trust and respect of
their communities -- they stop being professions.