Twenty years ago I held two pieces of paper in my hand. In my right was a conditional offer of employment from a smaller federal law enforcement agency in which I had some interest. In my left was a conditional offer from the FBI in which I had a lot of interest! As I carefully weighed my decision on which offer to accept, I quickly checked off a list of the “pros and cons.” While it was a short internal discussion, one “pro” that made the list was the gravitas underlying the FBI’s motto: Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.

The motto has been around at least since 1935 when FBI Inspector W.H. Drane Lester used those three words to describe the high level of commitment by and expectations of our employees. I find that amazing! From its earliest days, the FBI has said that what sets us apart, what defines us as an organization, and what guides our behavior is our commitment to fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

As I’ve mentioned before, in my opinion one of the most meaningful business (and life-enhancing) books is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. As might be expected from a man of principled character, he has quite a bit to say about integrity. “Personal Integrity generates trust and is the basis of many different kinds of deposits … Lack of integrity can undermine almost any other effort to create high trust accounts … I believe that a life of integrity is the most fundamental source of personal worth.”

Perhaps we can teach people to uphold a duty or an obligation and to be courageous in the face of danger, but I believe it’s more difficult to teach integrity to someone who has not been reared in an environment that places a premium on such a foundational trait. However, I am confident the first step towards instilling such behavior in others is recognizing the importance of integrity in our own lives and demonstrating by example. No matter how many “right” things we do, if we do them without integrity (i.e., incorruptibility, honorableness, and virtue) the outcomes are meaningless. Otherwise, we could foolishly say the ends justify the means.

Fidelity. Bravery. Integrity. These three traits are at the heart of our core values. The three traits that convinced me to join the FBI. Many people gave their professional lives, sometimes sacrificially, to ensure we who followed in their footsteps had a solid foundation upon which to continue our relationship of trust with each other and with the American people. Fidelity, bravery, and integrity are the three principles at the heart of our mission to protect the American people. They are firm, fast, unmovable and unassailable. And regardless of our responsibilities within the organization, they define who we are and who we strive to be as leaders!