by John Tate

The link below is to a short but important article which also identifies the MOST important characteristic a person can have: Integrity.

[The article from Wesley Gray, retired Marine and CEO and CIO of Alpha Architect, paraphrased for our purposes. The full article is at

The lessons learned in combat are increasingly applicable on Wall Street. I find that as volatility and instant information become the “new normal,” the tried-and-true lessons of the U.S. Marine Corps become indispensable. I served in the Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008. Deploying to Iraq and living with an Iraqi Army battalion was an unforgettable experience and an extreme privilege. Civilians often say “thank you for your service.” However, the real “thanks” is due to the Corps for providing a humble quant with lifelong lessons in leadership, humility and perseverance.

Below are three key combat lessons that I have found useful.

Follow the model: Stressful situations breed bad decisions. To avoid making bad decisions in combat, Marines train with standard operating procedures. The end game is to ensure Marines avoid “gut-instinct” and focus on tried-and-true processes. Build checklists, identify systems and follow a process religiously. These steps build discipline.

Trust evidence, not Rambo: In combat, Rambo doesn’t exist. While the story of an invincible, bullet-dodging warrior is cool, the reality of following such individuals can be catastrophic. Intelligence, cunning, and training win battles, not wishful machismo. People want to believe in heroes. Ditch Rambo and stick to the data.

Integrity is everything: Warren Buffett said: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” Integrity is critical to the Marine Corps’ central mission. Do your homework, read the fine print and ask tough questions. The right adviser will showcase their operations and welcome your queries. If you don’t get straight answers, find the nearest exit.

The first two lessons revolve around preventing overconfidence. Humans are fundamentally biased and make mistakes. We, as humans, are flawed, but we can overcome our deficiencies through systematic decision making.

Underpinning all of these traits is our third, and most important lesson: Integrity is everything. In the end, whether we are operating in a business environment or a military environment, integrity is the test that separates mission success from mission failure.

To this third lesson, I would add this clarification: reliability is central to integrity.

I have an acquaintance who is careless with statements. It’s not so much that this person is intentionally lying or deceptive; instead, because of careless, unresearched, founed-in-ignorance statements, this person is simply unreliable. Thus, nothing said can be believed.

Do you see my point? It’s not that the person is dishonest; but the result is the same: Nothing this person says can be believed.

That characteristic makes this person’s statements worthless.