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Integrity Within Technical Leadership

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) by RDFollendoreIII

Technology brings forward more catastrophic and critical issues than can be resolved by the way in which leaders have been traditionally selected.  The rapidity of change has always been the most sensitive factor to natural selection.  To reduce the risks that humanity faces requires that we find better, more intelligent ways to find and promote those leaders who can make the best decision for the right reasons. This is a critical essay of America's technical leadership and the issues that revolve around the philosophy of selecting and promoting new leaders with respect to the issue of integrity.  


July 28, 2003

The integrity of United States technical leadership rests deeply within the beating heart of the concept of our national security.  Moreover, with our modern world, without our leadership and their sacred promise that America is being lead toward a better future no one can have any real hope that our future can be secure.  Technology has made us that powerful a force to be reckoned with.  This is the reason why our national management infrastructure, which also oversees our technical security is so important to our country and should be to all citizens everywhere.  These are not just our leaders, they are the guardians of humanity's most precious trust.  Their trust must not be treated as a commodity, as part of a clique, nor as political payment or debt or favor.  The individuals who accept the technical leadership roll within America must be willing to judge themselves fairly as well as be rightfully judged. 

Our trusted individuals need not always be the most educated, experienced, knowledgeable or creative.  The issue is not necessarily a matter of innate intelligence.  To do a good enough job it is not even necessary that they are the most intelligent among us.  When we begin to look at what it takes to make quality technical leaders, few attributes are universal.  However, there is one factor that stands out.  The single most critical factor that must exist, above all others, is that of integrity.  

It is unfortunate that our current system within which actors vie for the privilege of technical leadership operate does not appreciate this.  The political tradeoffs between integrity and opportunity that exist to gain rapid personal and political influence within organizations reduces the chances that those with a truly great sense of integrity will be able to rise to the surface.  The catastrophic failures that we are seeing take place around us begins with the promotion systems we use to manage the impact and implementation of technologies.  The failures begin within the ethics of false promises that 'playing ball' one more time, taking one more shortcut, allowing one more exception, just one more time, will gain the good will that is necessary to be selected for a role that will make the real difference.  The failures begin with idea that ethical integrity is something that can and must be centralized, that somehow the leaders chosen to be at the top of organizations are different.  By the time that leaders reach the top of their organizational roles they are jaded by the system within which they have derived their substance.  They are too often unable to perceive subtle differences in right and wrong because the perception of their careers have been corrupted by choices.

The single most striking failure within our technical management is that the goal of making a difference always seems to be a rainbow at the end of the distant tunnel.  No where is this better seen than within the area of national security.  The acceptance of greater trust within technical security management positions is a competitive race that is considered normal.  Within security bureaucracies the normality of that race for superiority are the competitive factors of the status quo.  Anyone who chooses not to compete as the leader and simply do the right thing becomes suspect. The ethos of leadership as a game is bound within who and what we are.  Within the competitive environment of technical leadership, it is normal to undermine others and exaggerate oneself at the expense of others. This has meant that within the domain of security, where should have been the best, there are often aggregated some of the worst and most disingenuous of leaders.     

The current predilection by our technical management processes to select self efficacious leadership over those with conscientious integrity induces great risks to our national security.  There is a particular recent case that exemplifies this.  The United States Government Privacy Assessment Model, upon which the integrity of Federal agencies are expected to depend, appears to have been drafted by a person who was academically unqualified for the position. The allegation is that the leader in question purchased a Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate from a diploma mill in order to be on the 'fast track.' If true then there is more than something wrong with the individual, there is something very wrong with our system of choosing technical leaders.  There is not only reason to believe that this individual's work is suspect, there is a distinct possibility that the work of the organization promoting this person into increasingly higher positions of trust was dangerously flawed.  

But solving the leadership problems we face are not as easy as assuring integrity through academic accreditation.  The legitimacy of education is not the same thing as personal integrity.  If our system of technical leadership accepts the premise that advanced degrees from legitimate universities automatically legitimatize work of a senior leaders, then there is equal cause to believe that the integrity of the system selecting leaders is suspect.  The legitimately documented university educated does not imply wisdom, experience, knowledge or creativity.  

The academic world are not necessarily endowed with an over abundance of integrity.  Most of the foolish technical leaders in positions of power hold legitimate Masters and Doctorates.  Unfortunately the certified legitimacy of university degrees can simply mean that individuals are willing to endure a decade of mindless coursework and take the direction of their professors and advisors without question. In other words, those who easily achieve their degrees are the very ones who are docile and play ball as they seek the opportunities at the end of the rainbow.  Unfortunately, the halls of legitimate universities around the world are ripe with this kind of mentality.    

Unfortunately for us all, within our modern world, integrity has become something that individuals must pay for.  Those who choose integrity over promotion often do so because of the way that they see their selves, their duty and their obligations.  Those technical leaders who choose to see everything in terms of bargaining tools have the luxury of explaining their role in universe in terms of basic economics. They see integrity as a form of rigidity; as something that gets in the way of their ability to warp the world as they see fit.

 In this sense, technical integrity becomes a moral sticking point. It is a conscience expectation of values based on the philosophy that while all things are possible, there remain basic fundamental moral and philosophical boundaries that must guide us.  It is the idea that working together means the expectations that we individually must live by must at times counter the democracy of economics.  Integrity is not an impediment to successful growth unless we choose to twist its meaning.  The same problems that exist within the concept of rigidity also exist with respect to liquidity.  Systems that can not hold their form are just as prone to failure as those which can not adopt to change.  Therefore at the heart of technical integrity in management is the sense of balance that are often mistaken for misplaced personal pride and dignity.

If within the technical world that we live in we are to have any hope of achieving something greater than global conflict, then we must find systematic ways to promote those who demonstrate the practicality of personal integrity over those who use the advantages of disingenuous and self serving philosophy of universal economics to gain power.  The process begins in our churches, our homes, our educational systems, our working organizations and within the bastions of our state and federal government agencies.  Hope for technical progress that will solve tomorrows problems is a grassroots process whereby people of integrity communicate with each other about the issues of questioning and doing the right thing.  It is about maintaining networks that support the moral, economic, social and political need for integrity.  Our success as a nation will be about our institutions giving due recognition to integrity in the face of adversity at all levels of technical leadership.   




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