I want to stress the value of maintaining your integrity. Honesty and trust are difficult to restore if you fail to maintain a high standard of integrity. In Washington, D.C., as in most professional environments, your word is the currency of most personal and business relationships. It is far better to admit mistakes than to attempts to cover them up by lying or through deception. If a colleague or subordinate admits a mistake or a failure – if they have the integrity to own up to mistakes – I can have confidence that they can be trusted going forward.
Related to this is the importance of humility. Reagan was famous for line, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” It is true. Work hard, keep focused, be adaptable, and don’t worry about getting credit for the results. People don’t like to associate with those who are more interested in the limelight than results.
Finally, one of my favorite quotes that captures the challenge of a leader is from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince. He wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work; but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Roger Ream is president of the Fund for American Studies. These remarks were given at AFF’s “Lunch with a Leader” in April 2013.
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