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What the Petraeus Affair Teaches Us About Career Success


Last Friday, the November 12 issue of Newsweek showed up in our mail.

It was called “The Heroes Issue.”  One of the featured stories was “General Petraeus’ 12 Rules of Leadership.”  I thought to myself, “I’ll have to read that article as it might give me some blogging ideas.”

Later that evening, I was watching the news.  They had a breaking story – David Petraeus had stepped down as head of the CIA.  In his resignation letter sent to CIA employees he said, “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”

Suddenly, his 12 rules of leadership (and some of them are great life and career success advice) became irrelevant.

The affair and his resignation was the story.  Ironically, the 12 Rules article in Newsweek was written by Paula Broadwell, the woman who is his biographer and with whom he allegedly had the affair.  Sadly, another illustrious career was destroyed by a lack of integrity.

I’m not rehashing General Petraeus’ problems here to pass judgment.  But this sad situation is illustrative of some important career advice.  Tweet 62 in my book Success Tweets: 140 Bits of Common Sense Career Success Advice, All in 140 Characters or Less says, “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but built on integrity.  Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”

According to Wikipedia, “Integrity is consistency of actions, values, methods, measures and principles.”  Integrity and consistency are intertwined.  People who are consistent in their actions are seen as people with a high degree of integrity.

Oprah says, “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”  This is true.  If you practice situational ethics – doing the right thing only when you’re in the public eye — you aren’t really a person of high integrity, you’re just pretending to be one.

Besides, it’s hard to act one way in public, and another in private.

So to be safe, follow Oprah’s advice.  Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do – not because you’ll get credit, or avoid getting into trouble.

John Maxwell is a well-known business author.  One of his books sends the same message.  It’s called, There’s No Such Thing As Business Ethics: There’s Only One Rule for Making Decisions.  According to John, that rule is the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In other words, do the right thing all of the time.

Polonius gave similar advice to Hamlet.  “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the day the night, thou canst be false to no man.”  Roy Blackman, my father in law, passed away a few years ago.  This quote was his epitaph.  It was on the program handed out at his funeral.  Roy embodied it in how he lived his life.  It was the only piece of advice he gave his grandson, Matt, as he went off to college.

There’s a practical side to this too.  Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  In other words, if you’re always a person of high integrity, it’s easy to be a person of high integrity.  There are no complicating factors – like remembering what you did or said in a given situation.

Oprah, John Maxwell, Shakespeare and Mark Twain are all in agreement on one common sense piece of career advice.

If you want to become known as a person of high integrity, act as a person of high integrity all the time – not just when it suits you, or when someone might notice.

Here’s a story to illustrate this point.  Cathy, my wife, was a flight attendant for 36 years.  Seniority is very important in the airline industry.  It governs how you bid for trips, positions on the airplane and vacations – almost anything important to a flight attendant’s quality of work life.

A few years before she retired, Cathy’s airline made a big push into the international market.  International flights were plum assignments; they went to people with high seniority.  However, the airline realized that it would be smart to have some flight attendants who spoke the language of the country to which they were flying on these international flights.

Cathy worked for a US airline.  Most of the flight attendants spoke English only.  The airline proposed putting two “language speakers” on each international flight.  Many people, including Cathy, were upset with this arrangement as they felt it violated the seniority concept.

Cathy used to fly from the USA to London.  One day I said to her, “This whole language speaker issue doesn’t really affect you.  You fly to London; there are no language speakers on those flights.  Why do you care so much?”  She said, “I believe in the concept of seniority.  It doesn’t matter if I’m affected by language speakers.  It’s the principle of the thing.”  That’s consistency – and integrity — in action.

David Petraeus is a true American hero, but his integrity is now in question.

He has resigned his very important job.  He may be in danger of losing his marriage.  I’m not writing this post to pass judgment on General Petraeus.  I’m writing it to reinforce my point of the importance of acting with integrity at all times.

So take a lesson here.  If you want to create the life and career success you deserve, remember the advice in Tweet 62 in Success Tweets.  Do the right thing – even when no one is looking.  If you like this career advice, you can download a free copy of Success Tweets and its companion piece, Success Tweets Explained  here.

 

Bud Bilanich is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.


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