Have you ever found yourself in an uncomfortable situation? For example, someone asks you to sign and backdate the signature to cover a mistake? Or maybe, you have been asked to keep quiet when asked about a problem?

I found myself in a perplexing situation while attending a highly competitive military course early in my career. The course was an intense three-month course. We had nightly activities as well as individual and group homework.

When I arrived at the course, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I was happy to see a familiar face when I entered the classroom. The other female officer was someone I had served with at a previous assignment.

We reconnected immediately and agreed to form a study group to help each other. At first, it was great. We set up a schedule to meet after dinner to study during the week and Saturday morning if necessary.

During the first month, everything was going well. We would meet and work together to complete the assignments. However, as we moved into more challenging content, I noticed my friend was beginning to struggle in the course.

Of course, I offered to spend more time with her to help, but she refused. Over the next several weeks, she stopped showing up for our study sessions. As the course progressed, her scores dropped significantly, and she was in jeopardy of failing the course.

Our last assignment would determine if my friend passed, so she asked if we could be partners for the presentation. Of course, I agreed because I hoped it would allow my friend to prove herself to our instructors.

Well, you know what happened next. That’s right; I did all of the prep work. After we finished our presentation, one of our instructors asked us to stay after class. As we sat in the room, I knew our instructor would ask me who created the presentation.

I had two choices. I could help my friend by giving her credit for work she didn’t do, or I could admit I did all of the work. As I sat there, I could hear the voice of my leader in my head. He said, “An officer’s word is their bond. Never put yourself in a situation for anyone to question your integrity.”

While I wanted my friend to complete the course, I knew what I had to do. Once your integrity is compromised, it is tough to earn it back.

“Guardrails safeguard you from handing over control of your life to someone or something else.”

– Andy Stanley

While I didn’t realize it as a trainee, my leader was helping me establish a guardrail that would help direct and protect me throughout my career.

As a leader, you will face challenging situations; the question is, how will you respond?

Establishing guardrails will not help with the “right” or “wrong” decision but will help you answer the question, “what is the wise thing to do?”

Have you established guardrails for your career?


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  • I always enjoy and learn from your writing. This topic really struck a chord for me. Even a single breach of personal integrity will have long lasting negative effects on your reputation and more importantly on your self esteem. It’s a big challenge but one worth the cost.

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    About the author

    I'm Kim, your Educational Leadership Guide. I equip educational leaders with research-based and experientially learned educational leadership principles and best practices to promote student success.