GCM 91 | Leading With Honor

 

Coming out from a traumatic event fosters many negative memories. However, prisoners of war Lee Ellis used the situation to his advantage and created something good out of it – helping people become great leaders through his experiences while held captive. Today, Rodney Flowers interviews Colonel USAF (Ret) Lee who, besides being a leadership coach, is also the President and Founder of Leadership Freedom® LLC, Award-Winning Author, and Certified Speaking Professional. With his stories from war, he narrates how he learned how to lead himself on a deeper level and how he sees struggles as challenges. He also talks about the fundamentals in looking for the right leader and teaches us how we, too, can become great leaders ourselves. Be inspired with Lee as he presents some details from his book, Leading with Honor, and teaches us how it is to return with honor.

Listen to the podcast here:

Leading With Honor With Lee Ellis

As always, I am excited about this. I am with an American hero, Mr. Lee Ellis. You’re all going to want to read on because the person that I am interviewing is not only a hero, but he’s changing the lives of individuals and corporations through the leadership qualities and principles that he learned while being captive. He was a POW in the Hanoi camps during the Vietnam War. We’re going to talk to him about some principles that can help change your organization and change your life. Early in his career, Lee served as an Air Force fighter pilot flying 53 combat missions over North Vietnam. In 1967, he was shot down and held as a POW for more than five years in Hanoi and surrounding camps.

Lee resumed his Air Force career, serving in leadership roles on increasing responsibility including commanders like flight squadron and leadership development organizations before retiring. He has worked as an award-winning author, leadership coach and speaker in the areas of leadership, team building and human performance. His past clients include Fortune 500 senior executives and C-level leaders in telecommunications, healthcare, military and other business sectors. Lee’s latest book is entitled Leadership Behavior DNA: Discovering Natural Talents and Managing Differences. Welcome, Mr. Lee Ellis.

Thank you, Rodney. I’m delighted to be with you. We met in Washington, DC at the workshop out there and I was impressed with you. When you followed up with me, I thought, “Why is he following up with me? What did I do wrong?”

It’s funny because I was impressed with you and intrigued by not only your story, but what you gained out of the story. I have a story of my own of experiencing some trauma in my life. I wasn’t a POW, but I did feel like I was a prisoner in my own body. I’ve learned and I share that whenever we’re in situations like that, there’s much to gain. I know it’s painful and uncomfortable. If we can find that harvest, if we can harvest the good out of situations like that, there are a lot of lessons that can come out of it. You’ve done that. I know you’ve written a book called Leading with Honor, which told your story. I want to get into that a little bit, but first, tell us a little bit about what happened. How did you end up becoming a Vietnam POW?

I had always wanted to be a pilot from the time I was five years old. When I got to the University of Georgia, back in those days, every freshman and sophomore males at land grant colleges, universities had to take ROTC for two years. I got an Air Force ROTC, which became my major. That was what I liked so much and studied the most. I graduated and went to flight school. Fifty-three weeks later, I had orders to combat training for the Air Force Phantom fighter bomber in a specific direction. It said for the Phantom pipeline, Southeast Asia. That meant as quick as they could get us combat trained. We were headed to war. I went to California and went through combat training and hit the war in late June of 1967. I was 23 years old and a young, competent, cocky young fighter pilot who loved this work. It was somewhat similar to Top Gun-type.

We were well-trained and headed to war. I was on my 53rd combat mission over North Vietnam. I had others a lot more over South Vietnam and Laos, but we had to flop for a year, that was a tour, or 100 combat missions over the North. I was on my 53rd one over the North. It was much more hostile and unwelcoming. We got hit, shot up a lot more. That’s the date my airplane was hit and blew into several pieces and I had to take the nylon letdown ejection and came right down into the arms of the gunners who had been shooting at us. This is your worst professional, personal nightmare, but we were well-trained at least for what to do and how to get out of the airplane and all of that. Once they captured me, I was in shock for a little while, but then gathered myself and remembered who I was, my identity and what I was committed to.

Death is probably one of the biggest challenges in our culture. People are not sure who they are and not willing to stand for who they are. Click To Tweet

That’s something important. I was reading through the book and you have fourteen principles. One of my favorite principles was knowing who you are and having that sense of identity. You’re a captain, a POW. How did identity play a role in and you deal them with this situation?

Death is probably one of the biggest challenges in our culture. People are not sure who they are and not willing to stand for who they are. I think I’ve been well-trained at home, in school, my community growing up, then through the military. To a large degree, I knew who I was. I was an American warrior. That’s what I wanted to be. That’s what I was. I knew what that identity was going to require. The mission that I was fighting, the war that I was fighting was going to change drastically, but I was still fighting a war for my country. I had to serve with honor and follow the code of conduct for people who’ve been captured or in warfare and be faithful to your country.

I knew that it was going to be a battle. That’s why it’s important to know yourself. Someone else who was in my situation, they didn’t know their identity. I did run into one person up there because he flipped. He became friendly to the enemy and helped them. That was such a disappointment. It came down to identity. He did not know who it was. It turned out he grew up an orphan and he was always going for things that may be fun for him or people would admire him for. It wasn’t necessarily a warrior, it wasn’t necessarily him.

GCM 91 | Leading With Honor

Leading With Honor: Leaders must connect with people’s hearts and realize that everybody is fighting a battle.

 

When you’re talking about knowing yourself, it’s much more than surface level. It’s not just knowing your name and knowing where you come from. You’re talking about standing for something. You’re 22 years old, you’re a young person. I can imagine a young person in culture with social media and all those types of things, it can be difficult. What do you say about knowing yourself on a deeper level about this leadership principle? What do you mean by that?

I had done some career counseling for young people for several years when I first retired. What I discovered was that you need to know your natural talents, which are your DNA. That’s what this latest book is about there. Say I am wired to take control and take charge and to be adventurous. A lot of things would go well with being a fighter pilot. My wife is the opposite of me in natural talent. She can edit a book and catch every grammar mistake and every misplaced comma and colon and everything. I don’t do that well. My talents, I was in the right place by passion. What are you passionate about? My skills, I was in the right place. I had the right skills. By values, being in the military was a good match for me. Those areas were important. I think deeper than that even this thing of, do you believe in yourself? Are you secure or insecure?

Everything comes down and leadership in life is to how secure are you? Can you be vulnerable? Can you be honest about what you believe and who you are? Do you believe in yourself enough to stand there and say, “This is who I am and what I stand for?” The problem we have in this country is many politicians want to say one thing to this crowd, “I’m this,” and the next day they turn to this crowd over here and say, “I’m this.” They’re afraid to be who they are and stand for what they believe in and let the chips fall. The confidence to be able to do that is important for every human being. A big part of my leadership consulting and training now is getting leaders to affirm their people and help young people to believe in themselves.

Let’s go back to the POW camps. How were you able to survive in such harsh conditions? You weren’t in this alone. There were other comrades with you in this situation. How were you able to survive with these different personalities and all the dynamics?

That is a difficult thing in normal life, but when you are locked up together and you’ve got a common enemy staring at you down, coming after you, it’s easier to be a band of brothers in that situation and put up with a lot of stuff from your teammates. The first thing that enabled me to do that, to stand against the enemy, was I had these brothers there that had common goals, common worldviews, and common commitments to fight and stand together to deliver by the code of conduct. A whole culture was built around return with honor and living by the code of conduct. That bound us together. That also helped us to live together. I lived with three other guys in a cell.

It was 6.5×7 feet for my first nine months. Six-and-a-half feet, that’s about six inches wider than my arm span and seven feet is a foot wider. It’s small, like a small bathroom in a gas station. You do what you have to do to survive. There was no point in getting in big arguments and stuff like that. You learn to let things go and let people beat themselves. There are times when we ask somebody to behave a little bit differently because it was too irritating, but they’d recognize their problem and comply. One time, I lived for twenty months in a cell that was 1,800 square feet of open space, a concrete slab in the middle and there were 52 guys in there. Can you imagine a 1,800-square-foot house with no walls with 52 guys, seven days a week?

Having a community is key to becoming a healthy and successful person. Click To Tweet

I don’t want to imagine that. That sounds horrible.

We knew about 24/7 a long time before anybody ever used that term.

What did you learn from that? Being around that many people with a common goal, I’m sure there were conflicts at times, but you came out of it and you returned with honor. What was the lesson from that?

There are two things. One is you have to have personal goals that you’re striving for and growing. We always wanted to grow. We were a competitive bunch. We were learning foreign languages, memorizing poems. We found a piece of broken brick tile, those orange-colored brick tiles you saw in Spain and everywhere. There were some of them and we got a piece that was broken and that was hard chalk. We’d go over here on the concrete slab floor and do math problems. A guy from the Naval Academy taught me differential calculus on the floor using a brick tile. We were memorizing poems and languages and learning a lot of other stuff and staying physically active. We did walk a lot around that room. That one thing is taking care of yourself.

The other big part was living in the community. The research has shown that all people who live alone die a lot faster. They go to the hospital more often and they die off faster. Being in a community is critical for good emotional, mental health. Having somebody you could talk to, somebody who could encourage you. Somebody was up when you were down and somebody that when you were up and somebody, that you could encourage them and say, “We’re going to go home someday. We’ve got to get ready.” The community was important and that’s true in life. Is this something that you also recommend? The question is, how do you recommend this particular lesson to companies and organizations or inspiring leaders?

We talk a lot about collaboration. We talk about connecting with the heart. We talked about connecting. We talk about connecting based on personality, with differences to learn, to respect and appreciate people who are different from you so that you can connect with them. Also, we encourage people, especially leaders, to connect with people’s hearts, but also in that process to learn to connect with everybody’s heart. Realize everybody is fighting a battle in this life. Everybody’s got ups and downs, everybody’s got problems and everybody’s busy. When you can speak into somebody’s life and say, “I appreciate you and what you’ve done for our team. It means a lot to all of us.” That’s a powerful thing because every one of us wants to be valued and important.

When we do that and help each other, we inspire and energize with positive energy. We help people see that they are making a difference. That is powerful. This whole idea of community is essential. If you want to be a healthy person, a successful person in life, have a community. I have 3, 4 or 5 guys that are business guys like me that think a lot me in many ways, but they also know that they can hold me accountable and disagree with me and push back. I’ll go to them a lot of times. If I have a tough situation that I’m emotionally involved in and I’m afraid I won’t be able to be objective about it, I’ll do the dumb thing and I’ll say, “If you were in this situation, what would you do?” I may follow what they were doing, I may not, but at least I’ve had somebody else’s input, which is helpful.

What role does spirituality play?

It’s huge. I was fortunate to grow up in a strong Christian home. I’d read the Bible a lot growing up. I studied the Bible. I prayed a lot. I prayed with my family the night before I left to go to war. I knew there were a lot of people back home in my hometown praying for me. Here’s who I am. The bottom line of that was I believe that God had a purpose for me and I was still alive. Like Ronald Reagan said when the bullet missed his heart about 0.25 inch when he got shot and tried to assassinate him, “I guess God’s got something else for me to do here.” I believe that. I was in pre-recs as a teenager and a college kid and I wasn’t driving at any of them. I’ve been in a couple of airplanes, but the engine quit and got it restarted and several different situations in life and I’d always come through almost without a scratch. I thought, “God’s got something for me to do here. I better suck it up and stay in the game and be ready to do what he got somebody to do.” Here I am. I am 76 and he’s still got me doing it.

It's human nature to find a way out. Click To Tweet

As I think about that and accepting the realness of your situation, most people would have become broken in that situation. I think about the people that are dealing with situations in their everyday lives. For some people, those are a backbreaking type of things. They’re broken spiritually and they feel like they can’t move on. What would you say to someone who’s dealing with a situation like that? How do they gain inspiration in those types of moments?

I’m on the back end of that now. I’m not back on the front end. In the front end, it was scary and I’m living one day at a time. I will say that after 30 days it was easier than two days. After 30 months, it was easier than 2 or 3 months. It became our lives. Here’s the thing, one of my Marine buddies in the POW camp, he was like, “Pain, purifies.” Nobody wants to be in pain. In a way, there was a lot of truth in that. The Apostle Paul talked about this in the Bible. He talked about counting all joy when you encounter trials and tribulations. In a moment, you don’t want to count your whole joy. You’re looking for a way out. I’ll put it this way. At our 40th reunion of freedom of coming home in 1973, this was in 2013, and we’re at our reunion. We were sitting around in the hospitality suite, which is a huge breakfast, a whole banquet room. We’re sitting around a table about eight of us. One of the guys said, “I never volunteer to be a POW, but it wouldn’t change a thing.” Everybody at that table agreed. Everybody at that table had been a POW for more than 5.5 years. We all agreed we wouldn’t change a thing in our lives.

How do you feel about challenge and struggle, Mr. Ellis?

I close all of my presentations and keynotes with three lines from the Return of the King, which is part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy movie. You can see the trailer and it says, “There’s no freedom without sacrifice. There is no victory without loss. There is no glory without suffering.” If you’re going to be a great Olympic swimmer, you’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to suffer, you’ve got to get in that pool and go back and forth. If you’re going to be a great pianist, you’ve got to sit down at that piano and play for hours and hours. Nobody wants to suffer, but once you get into it and come out the other side, you know that it made you a better person.

If I can pile into that, I feel that’s part of the process here. You can’t avoid it. Especially if you’re striving for greatness, it is the game-changer. Without it, you cannot experience greatness. You can’t experience success because if you don’t pay the price, it’s almost like you can’t expect to get something if you haven’t put anything in. That suffering and discomfort, that’s what you have to put in to get something on the other side.

The suffering helps you know who you are. It gets you in touch with your identity. For me, I found out I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. I’ve been a tough football player. I didn’t have any problem going head-on with a running back. I was a quarterback, so I played both ways. Either way, I loved it. Going face-to-face with a communist interrogator who’s going to torture you, that’s a different fear. All this stuff gets peeled away. You see who you are. You see where you need to grow when you’re suffering. You get stronger and stronger and that helps your confidence to be who you are supposed to be.

That perspective changed the game in life. We’re all going to go through challenges and trauma. I wouldn’t wish a spinal cord injury or become a POW on anyone, but whenever the challenge shows up, I view it as at least my perspective based on my life experiences. It’s an opportunity. It’s game time. I can see where my weaknesses are and then I know what I need to work on and I can capitalize on where I’m strong, but I might not have that opportunity to see that level of clarity without having that challenge. That challenge is a gift. It’s an opportunity for me to grow. To me, that’s when the lights come on. It’s game time because now it’s time for you to go to a whole other level.

There’s a great quote in my Engage with Honor book, the 2016 book that Commander Stockdale, who was a 7.5-year POW, received the Medal of Honor after we came home for his courage in the POW camp. He quoted it a lot and so I used it in my book. Solzhenitsyn, who was in The Gulag Archipelago, the Russian prison camps for political prisoners for many years. He got upset with some of his cellmates and people in the camp on both sides and everything and he was miserable being a prisoner. Finally, one day he started to see through the suffering and see what it was doing, what it could do for him and what it began to do for him. In the end, he said, “Bless you, prison.” He saw that through that he was going to become the person he was supposed to be and grow out of his childish stuff.

GCM 91 | Leading With Honor

Leading With Honor: Suffering helps you know who you are.

 

Many times, in your book and even in this interview, you’ve mentioned returning with honor. What do you mean by that?

It was about standing for what we believed and what we had committed to doing our best to do that. That was what was on it. Would we win every victory? No. One of the guys said we came home with our honor dented, scratched, rusted here and there, but still intact. I think that was it. We battle for not to give in, not to agree with them, not to always be willing to suffer, to live up to our commitments and our character and to do that at all costs as long as we could. They could make you do something and they wouldn’t let you die. Eventually, you’re going to give them something. Everybody’s going to give them something.

I was tortured to fill in a three-page biography and I’d already given them name, rank, service number and date of birth and they came back and wanted a three-page biography. The big four, name, rank, service number, we’re supposed to give them. Beyond that though, I eventually gave in and said, “I’ll fill it out.” When I did, the only thing that was true on that three-page biography was my father’s first and last name. I was hoping to write a letter someday. Everything else was a lie. We learned it sometime that they could make us do something, but we want to give them what they wanted. We still stay in the battle.

That was a sense of purpose. When I read the book and I listen to this, it makes me feel that there are two things. There’s the perspective of the challenge. There’s something in it for me to gain. There’s this fuel and this is high-octane. That’s purpose. That purpose sounds like it became the driving force, returning with honor. Are we going to get through this? Now I have the purpose of doing what it is because when I return, I want to retire with honors. Is that your view?

You’re exactly right. I’m driven by that now. I was giving a presentation to 300 people, 80% of them were under 30 years old, but had a lot of responsibility. They were instructor pilots for young aviators. I’m talking to them, but I’m also talking to them not only personally but for them in their influence, about their influence. My goal was to influence them to be a person of character, to be a person who takes ownership and to teach their students about taking ownership. That’s the best way to have aviation safety is for everybody to take ownership for their part and for everything that is not being done. Whether it’s their part or not, it’s dangerous and you see it and you better take ownership.

Do you feel that is a deficit in society among leaders and corporation, not taking ownership or lack of ownership?

I do. It’s human nature to find a way out. If you come up short, you always want to blame somebody else. “It’s their fault.” I was telling the story about an aircraft accident that I’ve been when I was a young pilot and my first thought was to blame the crew chief because he was partly responsible. I replayed it back through my head and I said, “I didn’t take full ownership of that. That was my responsibility too.” That’s the first instinct a lot of time. Our egos don’t want to take any pain so we try to blame somebody else. When you own it, it’s about being responsible and taking that ownership and seeing it all the way through to the end and doing your best with it. That’s where we want everybody to be on. I was trying to influence them partially that I’m working on that and I hope you are. I also was trying to get them to set the example and to teach these young people why it’s important that they take ownership. When you’re a pilot, lives are at stake. That machine and all those people in the back are people that are flying with you. You’ve got to own all that.

I want to take it further because I think we talk about life. You’re not in the seat of a fighter or an airplane with lives at stake and all of that. You’re the pilot of your own life. I believe that everyone has a purpose. I believe if you have a purpose. That purpose isn’t just you, it’s for the people around you. It’s for life in general. We all bring something to the table. We have a contribution. Our existence to me proves that we have a contribution because I don’t think it would allow us to be here if we didn’t have something to give. Your purpose is to bring that forward. I use the same analogy as you. You have lives at stake if you’re a fighter pilot, but we have to take on that same ownership with our lives because you’re bringing your purpose forward. Your contribution, it affects other people. We don’t know how it affects them. It could be a life and death situation. We have to take ownership of that purpose to bring that forward regardless. I think that’s our duty to give back to life. What are your thoughts about that?

I totally agree. In fact, I was reading a wonderful book. I was re-reading a little book and they quoted someone from 100 years ago and it said, “Ultimately, it’s what we give back to humanity. It’s our contribution to humanity that is the outmost of our purpose.” Especially you think about being a leader or as a teammate, you’ve got teammates here beside you or you’ve got neighbors or whatever. Now we can’t serve everybody. We have to focus and pull it in sometimes. Sometimes it gets out of control, trying to help too many people. We have to have an understanding of a big part of our life purpose is of their people and helping them discover themselves, help them discover their purpose, and helping them make it through this life in a better way.

The Code of Conduct, it helped you and your comrades unify, resist, survive, return home with honor. What specifically was this Code of Conduct? How significant was it to your survival?

It’s huge because we had to memorize it in ROTC. I think everybody in bootcamp has to memorize it. It came about because in the Korean War, many of these 19, 20-year-old kids have never been away from home. They’re cold. They sat down and died. Many of them did. They quit and died. Many of them were brainwashed, so to speak, if you can be brainwashed. They started agreeing with the other side. They came up with a Code of Conduct and it says you’ll be faithful to your country. If you’re the senior person, you will take command and lead. If you’re not, you’ll follow the senior person. You won’t do anything or make harmful statements to your country and its allies. You’ll resist the enemy and answer only the important questions and avoid giving them further information. It’s the basic six articles, those basic commitments of faithfulness to your teammates, faithfulness to your country.

You’ve taken that a step further now as an author and a leader. You’ve created the article. Could you tell us a bit about the article?

I remembered a few years ago how important the Code of Honor was for the POWs. I said, “Why don’t we come up with an Honor Code?” Because I’m always saying to people, “We have to guard our character.” How do you guard your character? We came up with seven articles, and the first one is telling the truth. You’ve got to tell the truth. Respecting others is another one. Being accountable, being responsible is another one. Be true to your values. That’s another one. Be courageous because you can’t do any of that if you’re not courageous. You have to be committed to standing up to your doubts and fears with the courage to do the right thing. Those seven attributes, we all say, “We did that.” In reality, every day’s a battle. I can remember one day, I was in a workshop one weekend and they said something about keeping your word. I said, “I always keep my word.” I thought, “I’m going to watch myself.” I promise you before 11:00, I was struggling because I had kept my word on. It was something simple. It’s not as easy as you think it is.

Instead of blaming somebody else, look to yourself first and claim ownership. Click To Tweet

What do you think is the greatest challenge in leadership?

There are always three. Firstly, the fundamental is your character, your integrity, being authentic. If you don’t have that, people all quickly start to distrust you and that undermines your leadership quickly. Secondly, you have to accomplish the mission. You have to get results and be focused on doing that. You have to push the organization forward to accomplish its goals. The other thing, simultaneously, and this is where the real challenge for most leaders comes, is they not only have to get the mission done and solve problems, but you have to take care of the people.

Help the people grow, develop, and be energized and for them to know that they’re valued and important and that you notice what they’re doing. That’s a big struggle for a lot of people. Whereas for some people being tough and holding people accountable and stuff. I looked at young people in the eye and I looked around the room and I said, “Here’s what it comes down to, you’ve got to have good character. You’ve got to know when to be tough. You’ve got to set standards, you’ve got to hold people accountable. You’ve got to set boundaries. You’ve got to do that. At the same time, you’ve got to be kind. You’re going to be caring, and you’ve got to give some attention and good words and listen to your people. They’re important. That is hard.

Let’s talk about your latest book. What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been working in the area of human personality behavior for many years from now and I’d written a book in 2003 and it was out of print that was along this line. One of my strategic partners and that has developed the DNA behavior and I helped him with that because I had the background, but we both use these DNA behavior assessments that predict your hard-wiring or show you how you’re wired and what your strengths are, what your struggles are. Not only yours but those of others. We do it in a scientific way. Rational people can say, “That this sounds soft,” but it’s scientifically strong and validated and therefore they can say, “I got it. I can see why he acts that way when I would never act that way in that situation. He’s wired differently.” That then helps him put people in the right place more often and that thing. We wrote this book and unpacked all that and told a lot of stories between my 30 and his 18 years’ experience, almost 50 years of experience in this area and a lot of research too. We’re excited about it. It’s a great book. It may not be for everybody, but if you want to understand yourself and understand others, then you’ll think that’s a good book.

GCM 91 | Leading With Honor

Leading With Honor: Use your best talents as much as you can and not overuse them.

 

That’s exactly what I was going to ask you. Who should read this book?

Anybody who wants to understand themselves and understand others, whether it’s for your family, career planning or leading and managing others, teamwork, hiring or any of those. There are stories in there for every one of those.

You call this book Leadership Behavior DNA. Within the book, you talk about capitalizing on your strengths while managing your struggles. Can you unpack that a little bit for us?

You want to use your best talents as much as you can and not overuse them. If you overuse them, it becomes a struggle. They’ll be on your struggle list. We also have struggles in areas where we’re not good at. Usually, we don’t even enjoy doing it. You take somebody who’s a CPA, they probably generally don’t enjoy being an outside salesperson. That’s not our thing to knock on doors, meet people, and make small talk. Because the CPA wants to sit down and look at all the details and work in their office with their gray shades on and get into all those records, details, and data.

An engineer, they’re a person who’s wired to be a good engineer, usually 80% of the time at least. It’s not going to be a good outside salesman and vice-versa. Understanding that, your challenge is going to help you use them and be more successful and you’ll lead a little bit differently. Also, when you understand your struggles, it helps you get out of your own way. It’s good to be decisive, but if you want to make every decision, you become a control freak and a micromanager and nobody wants to work for you.

How does this relate to the consult? If you look at some of the championship teams, we’ve got to take this to sports for a second. You look at the Golden State Warriors, Draymond Green, the players, and the dream team that they had. You dissect that team. You’ll find that those players, although they had special skills and certain roles, were selected because they were able to perform roles outside of their skills position at an elite level. How does your philosophy with Leadership Behavior DNA play? Should companies now look for skillsets in a specific role and look for the ability for people to lead and perform outside of that particular role? Should we stick to the traditional way of looking at specific skillsets? This is what you do and don’t worry about things that you’re not good at. Focus on what you’re good at and that’s it. What are your thoughts about that?

When you’re looking for leaders, it goes back to what I said. You’ve got to have character, you’ve got to be able to get results and you have to have the ability to relate to people. It can look different from other people, but you have to have the ability to connect with people so that they feel valued and important. If they don’t, then they’re going to leave you and go somewhere else. Especially younger people in this world, they don’t have to have that job. They’ll find somewhere else and move on. I think those three are fundamental. I have clients that are engineers that are great leaders, but one of them is not a real bullying, take-charge person at all. He’s a mild, easy-going guy for the most part, but he builds great teams. People love to work for him and he brings in the best talent around him and he lets his guys go. He gives him a few boundaries and he’ll make the hard decisions when he needs to, but he’s got this great team. There are other leaders that are personality-wise different from him that are more involved, more out front, more, “Follow me, let’s go, let’s do this and that.” That’s successful too.

Every Golden State Warrior, he’s got to be able to shoot and pass and play some degree at defense. I think that’s true of leaders. Some are better than others, but everybody’s able to get results, take care of people, have good character. Then they also have to continue to learn about their profession and grow in whether it’s technology or leading people, dealing with conflict, how to deal with conflict in a good way, all those things. I’m looking for people who are secure in themselves first. If you’re not secure in yourself, you’re going to need to go in your office and shut the door or you’re going to go up and down the hall and bully people. I don’t want to be one of those.

How can people connect with you if they wanted to learn more about you, work with you and maybe hire you to speak? How can they reach out to you?

LeadingWithHonor.com. I have public Facebook, Leon Lee Ellis, or Leading With Honor Facebook. That’s another good one. We have a great LinkedIn connection. We have a free monthly leadership blog and a free monthly video coaching, a six-minute video coaching I do the first week of every month and it’s all free. We have infographics on leadership. I did one on leadership balance. We’re talking about results, relationship, a new one on that, the Honor Code, all that stuff. We have so much free stuff on our website. People have to go and load up because you can download that and talk to your people. Take it and build your own for your team or your company. I’d love for you to copy it and make it your own. I don’t care. It’s not copyrighted. You do whatever you want to do with it and make your big soup.

GCM 91 | Leading With Honor

Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Thank you, Mr. Ellis, for sharing your story with us, which is amazing and all of your leadership recommendations, suggestions, and expertise. This has been wonderful and I appreciate you for who you are and what you’re doing in the world.

Thank you, Rodney, and thank you for being on His purpose and on His mission too. It’s great to be your wingman and in the future, as you move down the road and I’ll be fading in the distance.

I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out of you and learning from you. There’s much meat here, much to take with me and your legacy is going to live on. I appreciate you for turning such a tragic incident into something I and others can benefit from. Thank you for being a hero for America and thank you for doing that as well, because I think that’s committed, so I appreciate that.

I feel the same way about you. God bless you.

I would like to ask you one more question. What is the game-changer mentality message you would like to leave us with?

It’s taking ownership. Ownership is important. Instead of blaming somebody else, look to yourself first and say, “There’s a piece of that I own, I’m going to take care of it,” or “That is my responsibility.” I’m in charge of this airplane. I’m in charge of this little responsibility here. I’m in charge of my life. I’m in charge and I’m the owner of my life. I’m the one who makes the decisions. I need to know who I am and then how can I be true and how can I grow into more of who I want to be? I’m still growing into who I want to be. I’ve taken ownership of that. In work and family, in all your relationships and with yourself, take ownership and be responsible and make it grow and make things get better.

Thank you. That is wonderful. I appreciate that. Take ownership. That’s the lesson here. We have to take ownership of the good and the bad. Sometimes it’s easy to take ownership when things are going well, but when things aren’t going so well, can we have that same level of accountability to ourselves? Ponder on that. That can change your life. That’s the game-changer.

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About Lee Ellis

GCM 91 | Leading With HonorLee Ellis is President and founder of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, and FreedomStar Media®, a publishing company that provides leadership resources and training. A popular media personality and high-profile human performance expert, Lee focuses on organizational integrity, operational effectiveness and personal accountability for enterprise, government and not-for-profit leaders.

His prior experience was as a founding partner and senior vice president of a leadership assessment and human capital management consulting company headquartered in Atlanta, GA. For more than 15 years, he has served as an executive coach and a corporate consultant in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership, human performance development, and succession planning. His approach to maximizing leadership performance has been implemented by Fortune 500 clients, senior executives and C-Level leaders in telecommunications, healthcare, insurance, energy, IT, automotive, military, and not-for-profit sectors.

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