Part 1 – Higher Loyalty

The central theme of the book is, unsurprisingly, that ‘higher loyalty’ Jim refers to.  What is that loyalty? It is a loyalty to be true to something greater than yourself. It is a way of living in which you hold yourself to a standard, a system of values; perhaps based on religion, education, tradition, or other frame of reference.  The loyalty is to be true to your values, and good values must be something greater than yourself.

I believe having some external value system is very important for leaders, it helps center them and keep them moored to reality.

Why is your value system so important?

Every person has a value system.  Yet not all value systems are equal. Value systems vary from person to person, some are rigid, some are soft, some are grounded in millenia of practice, others have no history to them, no track record of adding ‘value’ to the beholder’s life.

Your value system is so critical because it shapes the course of your life.  If you have a value system that doesn’t ‘value’ others correctly, you are destined to a life of emptiness.  Every aspect of your value system can be thought of as being on a sliding scale, a spectrum if you will, with the position of the weight being connected to trade-offs and consequences.  Those consequences don’t have to be negative, but they can be, and because of how we internalize and process life’s events its very plausible, that you can experience a negative effect and not really realize it for what it is.

Allow me to illustrate.

Have you ever read the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes? (Not to be confused with the Emperor’s New Groove, also a good story but not completely applicable) In the story a vain ruler, the emperor, is so self-deceived, that he believes his weavers when they tell him that “they are using a fine fabric invisible to anyone who is either unfit for his position or “unusually stupid”.” In this parable the emperor is so blinded by himself he cannot see his own nakedness, and more than that his ministers, out of fear, play-along and pretend they can see his clothes.  

The conclusion of the story tells us,

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.” – The Emperor’s New Clothes

The inevitable result of such blindness is shame and destruction.

Proverbs says, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:28 NKJV

Have you ever seen a life destroyed by pride? I have, and its tragic.  But do you know what’s more tragic? All the other lives that one person impacts.    Just think how devastating such blindness could be if that person was the leader of a city, state or nation.

Personal moral or ethical failure can happen for a few reasons, but ultimately I think it comes down to having an insufficient value system, or abandoning the one you have. This is part of why I think Comey’s work is so timely.  It seems like at least monthly, if not more often, we hear stories of leaders, be it in business, faith, entertainment, education, or government that have been caught up in what can only be described as ‘destruction’ as a consequence of their bad choices. For such a never-ending stream of highly publicized failures to come to our attention it makes me question how many more failures are happening right now, but are currently concealed? How many more tragedies of hubris and dark leadership are primed to occur, merely waiting for the spark of circumstance to trigger them?

What is the solution?

If you read Jim’s book you will come to the conclusion that value systems are built over a lifetime.  We can take steps to re-inforce that system, or weaken it. An analogy Jim uses in his book is the ‘reservoir of trust’. He uses it to illustrate that public servants must maintain a reservoir of trust for society to function well and for people to trust their government.  Maintaining the reservoir is so vitally important because when trust breaks down, people stop trying to keep the system working and the system heads towards decay.

As individuals, as leaders, it is crucial that we work to build and maintain our value systems. We must keep the reservoir full.  We shouldn’t make excuses for compromising our values or weakening them. Rather we should critically examine our beliefs and values.  We should find those ‘hidden blind spots’ and shed light on them. In doing so we strengthen the walls of the dam and fill the reservoir. In doing so, we better ourselves.

I don’t speak about this process from a purely analytical perspective; I understand that life is messy and doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and you can’t just ‘sit down and strengthen your values’. Life will give us plenty of opportunities to strengthen our values, most of them are small opportunities.  Opportunities to tell the truth or get away with an easy or convenient lie.

If I had to estimate, I would say weekly, if not daily, we have opportunities to reinforce or degrade our values.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. – Proverbs 4:23 NIV

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