Bridge of Spies

I just finished seeing the movie, “Bridge of Spies.” It is based on the true story of a Cold War prisoner exchange negotiated by James Donovan, an American non-government lawyer originally brought in as a defense lawyer for the Soviet spy, who became part of the exchange.

As portrayed in this screenplay, Jim Donovan had a core value of integrity. Many organizations, and individuals, claim to hold integrity as a core value. In the business book, “The Advantage” Patrick Lencioni identifies four kinds of values:

  • Aspirational are those values we want to have;
  • Accidental are values that we have, but not by conscious choice and they rarely help us;
  • Permission-to-play values are those that are minimal requirements and everyone should have them;
  • Core values lie at the heart of the person or organization, they do not change over time, and they have differentiating qualities.

In order for a person or a company to hold integrity as a core value, it must meet those requirements. Jim Donovan was willing to sacrifice his reputation, job, personal safety and family in order to mediate the exchange in a way that he believed was of the highest integrity. His integrity was evident in all of his professional and personal relationships (A nice memoir is given in Time Magazine by his daughter, Mary Ellen Fuller.), and it was Donovan’s competitive advantage in the negotiations. He did not fall for any tricks, and he stayed the course regardless of the pressure from all three sides, as it turns out. His conviction outsmarted both the USSR and GDR and allowed him to succeed in-spite of the US government pressure to stand for less.

Even though most organizations might hold integrity or safety or people as a core value, what does it really mean? If these types of values are at the heart, can we claim that our organization is more committed to these values than 99% of of the companies in our industry? If not, these are probably permission-to-play values-not core values. Are these values totally unwavering regardless of the circumstances–the economic climate or customer demands? What are we or our organization willing to sacrifice in order to really hold our core values?

Jonathan Shaver