on May 11, 2012
An extraordinary story of courage, endurance, sacrifice, and survival in the face of unspeakable cruelty and deprivation. More importantly, a timely and sorely needed reminder of how seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome when qualities like honor, integrity, character, and sense of duty are valued more than personal gain, focus group surveys, and political expediency. Ought to be required reading in every high school and university and by all who either hold or aspire to public office.
Lee Ellis was imprisoned in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for five and a half years after he ejected from his crippled USAF Phantom jet over Vietnam in 1967. For eighteen months of that long imprisonment, John McCain occupied the cell next door. Like his fellow POW McCain, Lee Ellis has taken what could have been a crippling episode in his life and turned it an an opportunity for reflection, self-awareness and a post-military career of distinction and service to others.
In his new book, "Leading with Honor - Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton," the author digs deep into his soul and his history - both as a prisoner of war and as an executive coach and consultant - to extract lessons that are universally applicable to anyone privileged to lead others. The format is simple and deeply impactful. At the beginning of each chapter, Ellis shares recollections of his time as a prisoner of war, and reflects on leadership lessons he gleaned by examining his own behavior and the behaviors of other brave men with whom he was incarcerated. He then transitions to a section in which he applies that leadership lesson to a "real world" situation - often a business challenge. He cites a variety of examples from the many companies and leaders he has helped in his role as consultant and coach. Finally, he boils down the crucial point of the chapter into what he calls a "Foot Stomper" - a pithy, short paragraph that captures the essence of the leadership principle in question. The result is a compact book on leadership that is both powerful and practical.
The first half of the book deals with helping the reader to lead himself/herself. The second half concentrates on principles of leading others. Chapter 9 - "Develop Your People" - I found to be a particularly inspiring chapter. In his memoir section, the author recounts the extraordinary efforts that his cadre of prisoners undertook to pass their time constructively and to keep morale high under the most trying of circumstances, including physical torture. Within his cell, the prisoners took inventory of the areas of expertise that they possessed, and they created a curriculum whereby prisoners would teach other prisoners.
"Even though Camp Unity had much larger rooms - my cell measured about twenty-five feet by seventy - fifty-five of us were jammed in there like sardines,twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. . . In such close quarters, SRO [Senior Ranking Officer] Clower quickly realized that things could get dicey if we didn't have activities to occupy our time. So he asked Captain Tom Storey (USAF), an experienced educator, to launch a learning program. Tom listed several study options using the concrete slab floor as his blackboard and pieces of broken brick as chalk. The electives included math, calculus, science, history, Spanish, French, electronics, German wines and public speaking.
One track of courses was taught on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and another on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. School was in session three hours in the mornings and two hours in the afternoons. . . Most cells had similar ongoing educational programs, and someone came up with the idea of organizing an officer candidate school for the only three Air Force enlisted men in the Hanoi POW camps. A number of officers developed a rigorous curriculum and volunteered to teach the various components of the course. When the three men returned home, the U.S. Congress approved the program and offered the candidates commissions as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force.
The lack of books or outside resources did not limit our continuous learning in the POW camps. We relied on recall of past education, and where there was a lack of clarity on a subject, we tried to get a consensus of the best minds. . . Our investment in development has paid big dividends in the years since." (Pages 121-123)
Lee Ellis and his fellow prisoners were well ahead of the wave of "Crowd Sourcing" that has become so popular in this century.
The practical application of this chapter leads with the story of US Air Captain "Sully" Sullenberger and his "Miracle on the Hudson" landing of the crippled 737 with no loss of life. The point was that a life-long commitment to self-development, training and development at the hands of others had uniquely prepared Sully for this once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation.
Two different pilots of crippled aircraft - flying worlds and decades apart - each have a great deal to teach us about courage and leadership under duress.
Here is the "Foot Stomper for this chapter: "Authentic leaders engage in continual development. Knowledge alone is not enough; the only way to grow as a leader is to do things differently,and that requires change. Go first, and then take your people with you." (Page 128)
During this time of year when we thing about giving meaningful and thoughtful gifts, this book would be a welcome addition to the library of any leader or aspiring leader.
on July 2, 2012
Leading With Honor is two outstanding books in one. Not only is it an eye opening page-turner about the life of a prisoner of war - it is also full of invaluable life-lessons. It combines the incredible story of a man who spends more than five years in an unimaginable hell and then returns home to use that experience as a guide to live a life with honor.
Lee Ellis was shot down over North Vietnam in November of 1967 and remained a captive until mid-1972. He, along with his fellow POWs, survived conditions that stagger the imagination, but rather than living the rest of his life consumed by bitterness, Ellis decided to use the lessons he learned in the Hanoi Hilton to make himself a better man.
Each chapter in the book begins with a story from the POW camp and then evolves into a life-lesson designed to teach us how to "lead with honor". Life is not always easy and making honorable decisions can be difficult. Ellis and the rest of the POWs learned this the hard way, but they survived thanks to their mantra...when it's time to go home, return with honor.
Whether you are a corporate executive, a politician, a school teacher or a parent, you will find something useful in every single "lesson". I generally find "self-help" books boring, clichéd and formulaic - but this book stands alone. It is simultaneously riveting and inspirational.
on June 5, 2012
I was anxious to read the story of a former POW and how he survived a 5 year ordeal. Surprisingly, I also found a plethora of sound practical applications, in all leadership arenas, of collaborative listening, balance of humanity and profit and most importantly the courage to do the right thing even knowing the consequences may not be the 'pay off' one would desire. This should be required reading in every business ethics course in colleges and universities across the land. Hands down a great view of leadership executed under the worst of conditions.
on May 15, 2012
Today's leaders must possess the skills, knowledge, patience, fortitude and determination to produce the results and reach the goals that mark success. The ultimate test in life is to survive, to keep from being killed by others or dying due to your living conditions. American POWs held captive in North Vietnam were faced with surviving in the harshest of conditions by the most brutal captors ever minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, for weeks, months and for those that did survive for many years. Lee Ellis, a former POW, learned what it takes to overcome adversity, constant setbacks, and the temptation to give up just to survive. He shares the lessons he learned to survive as a POW in his book "Leading with Honor." With this book, the reader is afforded the opportunity to do a self analysis, to question his own strengths and weaknesses and become a better leader. This book is a must read for those that want to be a leader and to those that are leaders now.
on August 3, 2012
"Leading with Honor" is a very impressive book on leadership, and I would highly recommend it for any person working in a supervisory role. The format of the book is one in which the chapter begins with an anecdote from Ellis's days as a POW, and the last few pages of the chapter discuss the leadership methods that can be employed supervisors at present. He also has his so-called "foot-stomper," which is the most important idea that the reader can take away from the chapter.
Overall a solid book on leadership, and it comes highly recommended.
on October 24, 2012
This book is excellent. I had the pleasure of hearing the author speak at a luncheon and I immediately purchased the book. I was not disappointed. The book is very well written. He weaves his experiences as a Vietnam POW with his wonderful insights into leadership skills that are essential in today's world. Whether you are running a large business, a nonprofit organization, or chairing a committee as a volunteer at your church, this book will help make you more effective - AND give you a behind the scenes look at what really happened to our military personnel who were captured in Vietnam. I highly recommend this book!