A Memorial Day Reflection

In a recent address to the University of New Hampshire Class of 2015, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Ryan Pitts spoke these words:

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to move forward in the face of it. There is beauty in this definition, because courage can exist in the decisions we make every day. Courage exists in the individual who accepts who they are and openly lives the life they want in the face of rejection. Courage exists in those who challenge their own perceptions in the face of accepting they are not infallible. Be courageous and appreciate courage in others who take action in the face of fear.

On this Memorial Day 2015, as we reflect on the sacrifices of over 1.2 million Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion to our great country, Sergeant Pitts’ words apply equally to the battlefield and the boardroom. Integrity requires courage.

On the battlefield, Americans fight and die for a number of reasons, primarily because of the bond between American service men and women at the buddy, fire team, and squad level. Simply put, they fight and die for each other. Look no further than the Bible and John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. This devotion is grounded in a level of integrity and trust that most Americans will never experience. The American military outperforms all other adversaries because of its ability to exercise initiative. Integrity is the fertile ground of trust and empowerment. A soldier’s word is his or her bond and loyalty in both directions is fundamental. With this level of trust, anything is possible. In combat, planning for operations is centralized, but execution is decentralized to the squad, platoon, and company level. Results are amazing.

In the boardroom, this is not necessarily the case. As we all know too well, in business, politics, religion, and education, integrity is usually not an absolute. Rather, integrity is considered “just a virtue” which is routinely compromised to achieve personal, financial, and operational goals. As a consequence, trust is eroded, rules are ignored, and the fabric of our country is weakened. For better or worse, integrity requires a large dose of courage. Where is the courage of our forefathers and the veterans we honor on Memorial Day?

On Memorial Day 2015, we all can learn from Sergeant Pitts and the great military he represents. When we think of our veterans who laid down their lives in service of our country, we are simultaneously humbled by their enormous sacrifice and encouraged by their steadfast integrity. Consider the motto of the 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One”: “No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great — Duty First!” Rest in peace, American warriors. Thank you for setting the example for the rest of us.