Leading with honor—do you have what it takes?
Are you alarmed by the frequency of ethical scandals in recent years? No doubt, you have seen the headlines about Wall Street greed, but ethical problems are just as prevalent on Main Street where bookkeepers, purchasing agents, and business owners violate the trust that others have placed in them. Think of the headlines in recent years: a highly respected coach resigned for covering up NCAA violations by his players; a Congressman resigns for tawdry behavior; a religious leader cheated on his wife, another is accused of using his authority to fleece the flock; teachers changed students’ responses on standardized tests and administrators collaborated in cover-up; a college inflated the average SAT score of their students to improve its image.
What is happening to our society? Does anyone care about honorable leadership? What can you do about it? What have others done that might guide those of us who seek to turn the tide in this onslaught against character-based leadership?
It seems ironic that some of the best examples of leading with honor come from the POW camps of North Vietnam, an environment so life-threatening that one might expect to see frequent examples of self-centered, self-serving leadership. But when life and limb were on the line, these brave leaders chose honor rather than comfort, humiliation rather than cooperation with the enemy. Their courageous service can inspire and show us what is required to lead with honor. Let’s look at some of the lessons they offer to us today.
Know yourself. The POWs leaders were experienced and strong yet they had no choice but to be humble. The enemy used torture and isolation to try to break their will and force them to cooperate in making propaganda. They were vulnerable, stripped to their core; they could not pose or pretend they were something they were not. Fortunately, they were solid—healthy people with a strong character that enabled them to lead with honor through the most unimaginable humiliation.
If you don’t know yourself and have a peace about who you are, your fears and insecurities will take you out. Rather than pursuing your passion and purpose using your unique talents, style, and convictions, you will constantly be comparing yourself to others and trying to guide your life by someone else’s ways and standards. Alternatively, when you know and accept yourself, you can be authentic, leading from your own true north. Objectively knowing your strengths gives you confidence, while awareness of your weaknesses gives you humility.