Leading with honor—do you have what it takes?
Few will ever be POWs, but eventually we will all face situations that expose who we really are. Spend time with yourself and go deep. Accept who you are, but realize there is always room for growth; work every day to build yourself strong so you can lead authentically, from the inside out.
Clarify your values and standards and commit to them. The POWs had a uniform code of conduct that everyone knew and was charged with following. It acted like signs along the road giving direction and providing a framework for decisions, choices, and behaviors, helping them stay on the right path even in the most difficult situations.
Unfortunately, most people have only generic assumptions and a superficial understanding about their moral values and ethical commitments. Jeb Magruder, White House advisor who went to jail, said that he had been taught right but somewhere along the way he “lost his ethical compass.” We are all cut from the same cloth as Magruder and without regularly clarifying our commitments, we will drift off course as well.
Confront your doubts and fears. Fears and insecurities take out more leaders than anything else and they generally can be traced back to the first point above—your identity—knowing who you are and being comfortable with yourself. Even the smartest, toughest, and best leaders face insecurities and fears.
The POW leaders were tough warriors but they all struggled with fear. Commander Jim Stockdale endured frequent physical abuse and more than four years in solitary confinement, so naturally, there were fears, but he did his duty and suffered the consequences. Great leaders know that fear is the norm, and they know they must lean into the pain of their fears to do what they know is right. Courage does not mean that you are not afraid, but that you do what is right when it feels scary or unnatural.
Connect with your support team. In your struggle to lead with honor, you are like any other warrior—it’s not good to fight alone. That’s why the enemy tried so hard to isolate the POWs in North Vietnam and why the POWs risked everything to keep the communication lines open. Even the toughest POWs relied on the counsel and encouragement of their teammates. Authentic leaders realize they cannot see every situation objectively. On the tough choices, you will usually need the perspective of someone who is outside the issue to help you evaluate the situation. Build a network of a few key advisors who can help you navigate the treacherous waters ahead.