Lee Ellis on Character


Col. Ellis shares about his book, Leading with Honor, and the importance of leading with character and courage.

Talk about how one’s character plays into one’s leadership style.

“Character is the foundation because if people do not trust you, they do not want to follow you. Therefore, you are going to have to use your power and authority to influence people to follow you. They really don’t want to follow you but may be driven solely by the need for a paycheck. Their heart won’t be in it in the same way it would be if trust was part of the equation. When people don’t trust their leader, it becomes every person for himself. Natural survival instincts take over. That’s why it is so foundational. You cannot have cohesion, if you don’t have trust. Second is courage; without courage you really can’t have good character. You may be honest but if you won’t stand up for what is right, you’re lacking character.”

“I close my presentations that way, with the trailer from the Lord of the Rings, and it says, “Without sacrifice There is no freedom, without sacrifice; there is no victory without loss, and there is no glory without suffering.” I would add the one more, “there is no honor without courage”. What I say to that is, if you want to be a person of character, you must have courage and the way you exercise courage is to lean into the pain of your fear to do the right thing. Lean into the pain of your fear because it will feel unnatural, it will be scary, you’ll have doubts, and you’ll be afraid of what’s going to happen. That’s why you want a good team around you. I don’t think you can have good character over the long haul without a team around you.”

What did you hope to accomplish in your book Leading with Honor? And what was the moment you realized you needed and wanted to share these leadership principles with an audience?

“I wanted to tell the story of the great, incredible and courageous POW leaders. First off, I thought they deserved to be honored and second, it was going to be instructive for readers, it had been instructive for me for those 5 ½ years I was there. Third, to provide a leadership book that was story based, because I think stories are emotionally powerful, and readers are much more likely to remember and can more easily apply them. Fourth, I wanted to relate to today’s work environment, so I included case studies in each chapter supplied by my own clients. The purpose was to illustrate ways those lessons are applied in today’s work place.”

“I felt it was the right time to write the book. I’d never written a book about my POW experiences before, because I never wanted the attention of being a POW to drive people’s perceptions of me, I just want to be good at what I do and let the chips fall where they may.”

Who are some leaders you admire and why?

I admire a lot of leaders. Some of the leaders I admire the most are my clients, because they have the courage to want to grow and strive to become even better leaders. To their credit, they also want to take their teams with them. To me that is somebody who is really truly self-assured and confident. I look for the good in people, and of course, I also notice the bad. I try to filter the latter out because I don’t want to be focused on it, and instead am learning to concentrate solely on the good. For that reason, I have a hard time singling out a person. There are no perfect leaders; they are all flawed. The ones I admire most are those who display strong character, get results and take care of their people.”

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