Semper Fidelis is a latin phrase that roughly translates to “always faithful”. It is also the Marine Corps motto. When I was 19 and going through bootcamp, I would always ask “faithful to what?” I always received “Corps and country” as the response. Like all mottos that survive for 100 years, it is necessarily vague and open for a lot of interpretation.
Over the years, I have decided that “faithful” applies to a core set of ideals. Consistency, transparency, respect, and mentoring are the foundation of my “always faithful”. People classify leaders as irresponsible if they can easily identify a scenario where you have betrayed any of those four ideals. Arguably, this is the human nature behind the “shame-ification” of the internet: one thoughtless joke on twitter classifies a person as worthless in every aspect of life. Consistency is that important in our new “social” society.
Shakespeare wrote “to thine own self be true,” and this is the core of being faithful. I start by identifying what I believe and how I want to be perceived. I must understand the consequences I am selecting and own them in good times and bad. I put those decisions on display so that others can see and interpret them, especially the ownership and repercussions. Transparency in decisions and owning the consequences are aspects I want in leaders, and I must demonstrate the behaviors I want.
Being purely true to “thine own self” is problematic. Focusing internally creates an island of isolation. Islands don’t work well on teams, and they make for horrible leaders. Overcoming the island problem requires respecting that others are also trying to find and be true to themselves. Just as I have different experience at 35 than I did at 19, others are learning through their own experience. I nurture my respect for others through mentoring and trying to learn from their experience. I freely share what I have learned from my experiences. Helping others find their own definition of “always faithful”.
I don’t think faithfulness to organizations, projects, or people exists anymore. I view the “Corps and country” answer from boot camp to be naive. Other people, no matter what their role or their previous success are still learning. They all suffer from the same cognitive biases that plague all people and leaders. Ideals are less prone to human basis, and as demonstrated with a phrase like “Semper Fidelis”, they can evolve as the situation changes.
Find what you want to be remembered as, and always be faithful to those ideals.