"You know nothing about me. I was lost long before the [Berlin] Wall fell. I was once destined to become a man much like yourself: true-hearted; determined; full of purpose, but … character is easier kept than recovered. We cannot control the things that life does to us. They are done before you know it, and once they are done, they make you do other things. At last, everything comes between you … and the man you wanted to be."

- Wilhelm Wexler (traitor played by actor Armin Mueller-Stahl) to Louis Salinger (Interpol Agent played by Clive Owen) in the movie The International.

"The question to ask yourself about the place you work is not 'What am I getting here' but 'Who am I becoming here?'"

- Jim Rohn, business philospher

Many of us spend so much time with our heads down, working hard to create a career, doing "stuff," that we forget who we are trying to become. Maybe it's my advancing (or advanced) years, but I now spend infinitely more time than I used to, pondering the alternative answers to big questions:

• What kind of man am I? What kind do I want to be?

• Am I advancing toward being or becoming that guy? If so, how? If not, why not and what am I prepared to do about it?

• Do I create excuses for my actions resulting in compromising my aspirations rather than adjusting my behavior?

• Am I developing wisdom, or am I doing the same things over and over again expecting different results?

• Am I satisfied merely following the example of others, or do I want to be the example for others?

More and more, my cadre of clients includes executives who, in addition to wanting help taking effective leadership actions, want support determining and then becoming the people they want to become. I have a great job, and I grow in diverse, immeasurable ways because of my clients!

Effective organizations also frequently ask themselves big questions. In addition to traditional "mission-oriented" questions (i.e., "Who are our customers?"), those include:

• "Who are each of our constituent groups, and what are our obligations to them?"

• "In the day-to-day conduct of our business, how do/should we treat each other?"

• "How can we make certain that our behavior mirrors our statements?"

Two examples of organizations that do a great job of walking their talk are the Navy SEALs and Johnson & Johnson.

Here's the SEAL Creed:

United States Navy SEALs

In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation's call. A common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America's finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man.

My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day.

My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.

I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men. Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.

We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.

I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.

We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. My training is never complete.

We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend.

Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail.

The creed was not written until 2005, after 43 years of history. By then, the attributes and actions had been sufficiently and consistently demonstrated. The resulting "philosophy," therefore, is exemplified in action; it's not an abstract, philosophical aspiration. The proof is in the pudding; not a single dead comrade has been left on the battlefield – not one – EVER!

Robert Wood Johnson crafted J&J's credo just before the company became publicly traded in the 1940s. Periodically the chairman still conducts "credo challenge meetings" across the company to discuss and debate the credo's ongoing relevance, and whether it is actively demonstrated or just a pretentious philosophical abstraction. The result of those meetings has always been firmer commitment and a better, more common understanding.

Here it is:

We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices. Customers' orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. Our suppliers and distributors must have an opportunity to make a fair profit.

We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate, and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family responsibilities. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical.

We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must be good citizens – support good works and charities and bear our fair share of taxes. We must encourage civic improvements and better health and education. We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.

Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed and mistakes paid for. New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided and new products launched. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times. When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.

The most explicit, overt demonstration any company has ever made of their espoused values happened in 1982. Tylenol®, a product of McNeil Labs, a J&J company, enjoyed significant success in the aspirin-free, pain reliever market. Things were cruising along nicely. Then, someone tampered with a bottle of Tylenol® and people began dying.

What would most companies do? What would your company do?

Here's what then Chairman Jim Burke did: He pulled the product. All of it. Everywhere. No attorneys. No risk managers. No corporate flacks. No cost/benefit analysis.

When did he take action? Immediately! How did he decide? He read the credo and prayed. What a concept!

Shortly thereafter, Tylenol® doubled its sales volume and J&J cemented its reputation as one of the most ethical and virtuous companies in the world, which is a reputation that it still enjoys. When you speak to its executives, you get no sense of an obsession with share price; it's viewed as an outcome of doing the right things. (If you paid close attention to the credo, you noticed where shareholders appeared among their priorities). If you're a long-term J&J shareholder, however, you are a happy camper!

Effective companies and effective people subject themselves to rigorous self-examination. They are explicit in their aspirations and rigorous in their accountability. They create formal processes to scrutinize their behavior in light of who they say they want to be.

Here are the basics of what I call my Governing Beliefs, crafted over a long period of time.

I believe that personal growth is my primary, lifelong mission.

I believe in taking responsibility for my actions and accountability for my results. I own my life.

I believe that your rights end where my nose begins.

I believe strongly in self-management and course correction. Wisdom is not an automatic by-product of experience. Here's the formula: Wisdom = experience x reflection x relentless honesty x accountability (accepting consequences with no blame, no finger-pointing, no excuses, no whining, no escape hatch) x behavioral change. Each of these elements is necessary, but alone each is insufficient; it takes them all.

Our natural tendency, which is one that we must reject, is to associate with people who affirm who we already are, rather than those who inspire us to reach higher and do better. I believe that in order to grow, we must surround ourselves with the kind of people we WANT to be, not those who mirror our own character defects! Also, we must discard naysayers, doomsdayers and dream-slayers. If we want to grow, they have to go!

I believe in "acceptance" (giving in to reality). I do not believe in "resignation" (giving up on possibility).

I believe in independence and interdependence; I do not believe in dependence.

I believe in under-commitment and over-delivery, not the other way around, and that character is both forged and revealed by commitments we make and keep.

I believe that I am entitled to nothing. I must earn everything.

I believe in relentlessly searching for the truth. An absolute requirement for success is our ability and resolve to differentiate from among "our truth," "others' truth," and "the truth."

I believe in the priority of creating a meaningful life, and that each person must define "meaning" for him or her self.

I believe in the virtues of integrity, honesty, courage and valor, accountability for my actions, perseverance and (especially) loyalty.

I believe that without discipline, aspiration is hallucination.

I believe that it's never too late to find happiness and that it's worth a high price. One of life's biggest challenges (maybe the biggest) is figuring out which bridges to cross and which ones to burn in an effort to accomplish that, without doing too much damage to ourselves or others along the way.

I believe that the formula that many people employ to justify (to themselves) the manner in which they conduct their lives is this: Doing the wrong thing + a good excuse or rationalization = doing the right thing.

Conversely, I believe that when we feel discomfort from dissonance, we must use it to change rather than rationalize our behavior! Discomfort should instigate action and growth, not provoke inertia or excuses. Personal responsibility must always trump comfort, convenience or pleasure.

I have failed myself, many times, when measured against my own beliefs. Instead of making excuses, the question I regularly ask myself is this: "When I fail, do I commit to DO better and to BE better?"

These beliefs are not prescriptive; they're mine and they're personal. The point is, if one of my goals is to become a better person, I need something explicit against which to compare my actions, so I read these daily. I must confess that I'm frequently disappointed but always moved to try harder.

Don't settle for being less than the person you are capable of being. Wade in; document your beliefs, your values. Challenge yourself to be better and do better. It'll change your life.

Copyright 2013 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit http://www.randgolletz.com