Leading with Honor

Available in hardcover, softcover, eBook, or audio book formats. To purchase or review a chapter sample, visit our Store or your favorite book retailer such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble.


From the Book’s Foreword:

“In Leading with Honor, Lee draws from the POW experience, including some of his own personal story, to illustrate the crucial impact of leadership on the success of any organization. He highlights lessons and principles that can be applied to every leadership situation.”

      – Senator John McCain, United States Senate


Publishers Weekly calls Leading With Honor “moving” and “inspiring.”

Foreword Reviews says it is “provocative…an exceptionally well-constructed and well-written book.”

Business Book Summaries described it as “a gripping personal narrative” whose lessons will help leaders at all levels.

2015 Leadership 500 Excellence Award Winner – Leadership Freedom LLC

2013 Air Force Chief of Staff Reading List RecipientRead More

2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards 

FINALIST – Business and Economics Category

2012 International Book Awards

WINNER – Business/Management Category | FINALIST – Non-Fiction Book Cover

2012 Indie Excellence Book Awards

WINNER – Leadership Category | WINNER – Non-Fiction Book Cover


Leading with Honor

Make Every Step Count in Your Leadership Journey

(Hardcover ISBN# 978-0-983879305, Softcover ISBN# 978-0-9838793-2-9)

How did American military leaders in the brutal POW camps of North Vietnam inspire their followers for six, seven, and even eight years to remain committed to the mission, resist a cruel enemy, and return home with honor? What leadership principles engendered such extreme devotion, perseverance, and teamwork?

In this powerful and practical book, Lee Ellis, a former Air Force pilot, candidly talks about his five and a half years of captivity and the 14 key leadership principles behind this amazing story.

As a successful executive coach and corporate consultant, he helps leaders of Fortune 500 companies, healthcare executives, small business owners, and entrepreneurs utilize these same pressure-tested principles to increase their personal and organizational success.

In Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, you will learn:

– Courageous lessons from POW leaders facing torture in the crucible of captivity.

– How successful teams are applying these same lessons and principles.

– How to implement these lessons using the Coaching sessions provided in each chapter.

This book is ideal for individual or group study as a personal development, coaching, human resource development, or executive training resource.


Coaching Questions

Included in the book are Coaching sections to apply the lesson that you’ve learned in each chapter. These digital handouts can help readers further implement the lessons taught in the book. They are free to use for individual or group development. Please make as many copies as needed.

Chapter 1Know Yourself

Chapter 2Guard Your Character

Chapter 3Stay Positive

Chapter 4Confront Your Doubts and Fears

Chapter 5Fight to Win

Chapter 6Bounce Back and Be Resilient

Chapter 7Clarify and Build Your Culture

Chapter 8Over-Communicate the Message

Chapter 9Develop Your People

Chapter 10Balance Mission and People

Chapter 11Build Cohesive Teams

Chapter 12Exploit Creativity

Chapter 13Treasure Your Trials and Celebrate Your Successes

Chapter 14Free the Captives

Download a copy of the Military Code of Conduct that Lee mentions in his book. It comprised the core values that he and his comrades followed to unify, resist, survive, and return home with honor. We’ve also created our own Honor Code that you can also download.

Coaching Clips

This section provides a few short coaching clips from a past speaking engagement on Leading with Honor topics.

What Others Are Saying

Trade Reviews

“Rarely can a leadership book—usually stark and cold in tone, written with business school savvy—be called moving, but former Air Force pilot and leadership consultant Ellis culls lessons from his experiences as a POW in the infamous Hoa Loa Prison (the “Hanoi Hilton”) in North Vietnam and juxtaposes them with suggested strategies.  Though many of the leadership lessons are interpersonal, dominant among them is the idea of self-reflection and showing leadership as a quality of character. Much more than a leadership text, Ellis offers an inspiring story that will engage readers.”

       – Publisher’s Weekly (Read the full review)

“Ellis carefully weaves the story of himself and his fellow POWs throughout the book while relating their experiences directly to leadership lessons. He has a rare ability to cast a positive light on what he and his colleagues endured, turning it into fodder for an exceptionally well-constructed and well-written book. The reader is sure to learn about leadership from an entirely new perspective.”

       – ForeWord Reviews (Read the full review) | 2012 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist (Business and Economics category)


Media Reviews

“If you want just another management book, Leading With Honor isn’t it. Ellis is a storyteller whether or not he intends to be. The management advice is solid but because so much of the management lessons are drawn from Lee’s experience as a POW the historical record commands your attention. For that reason alone, I want this book on my bookshelf.”

        – T. Scott Gross, Contributor, Prosper Now Blog @

“Leading with Honor combines a gripping personal narrative with analysis of the events described [during his POW experience] and lessons that can be applied by leaders in a variety of organizations.”

        – Business Book Summaries

Leading with Honor uses a pile driver to tell its story, making many points that today’s leaders can employ. If you read only one book this year, make it this one. You owe it to yourself and to those who so nobly served and will not be forgotten.”

Air and Space Journal

Leading with Honor is required reading for anyone who wants to understand a little more about the art of leading. [It] is one of the best in the category of management and leadership [and should be] required for all regardless whether or not they occupy a position requiring these skills.”

         – Fábio Jardelino, Blog de Jamildo – Brazil

“The book actually made me feel somewhat inadequate when it comes to leadership. It just goes to show that you’re never too old to learn a lot of things. Anyone who is in a leadership position, I don’t care how you have been doing it, you need to read this book.”

        – Jerry Newberry, VFW Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Radio Host on “The National Defense”

“Leading with Honor is a unique and outstanding book that seeks to pass on ‘leadership’ lessons from the ‘crucible of captivity.’ In truth, it is much more than that: it teaches lessons that are applicable to all of life. Ellis relates his experiences in a gripping, realistic way that is engaging without overwhelming the reader with the terror that was the life of daily torture. As a primer on leadership and reference on life, it’s an easy read, well worth the time, and highly recommended.”


Business/Corporate Community

“It isn’t often that you have a chance to read authentic leadership examples from real life.  That is what Lee Ellis has provided through “Leading with Honor”.  Lee gives us an inside glimpse at what makes true leaders great – selfless servanthood based on integrity and discipline.  These real life heroes passed the test of true character – as these leadership lessons happened under the most difficult circumstances.  This is a book you just can’t put down once you open the cover.  Inside will well up a sense of pride in our country and those who serve as Lee takes us into the details of true leaders who bled red, white and blue!”

Arlin Sorenson, CEO of Heartland Technology Solutions, Leader of Heartland Technology Groups

“Leading with Honor brings forth the characteristics of leadership like no other. No matter how successful one may become, there are always internal questions about leadership. Lee’s book not only strengthens my beliefs about leadership, it lifts my vision even higher through the examples of leaders under extreme circumstances. To me leadership under these extremes illustrates the epitome of ‘great leadership.'”

        – Thomas (Tom) Crawford, CEO of Crawford Corporate Coaching; Chairman of the National Organization, CEONetweavers; past President and CEO at Prudential of America, Crawford & Company, and Southern Heritage Insurance Company  

“As I read Leading with Honor, I thought,’Imagine if ALL the leaders of our country—from the President, to the members of Congress, to our state government leaders were elected based upon their commitment to the standards and leadership qualities that Lee describes as hallmarks and guideposts for leading with honor’.  How quickly the United States could re-assert its reputation not only as the envy of the world as a leading industrial nation, but as the brightest beacon of light and hope and honor on the planet.”

Bob Littell, Chief NetWeaver,

“The book captures the true essence of successful leadership principles in a precise, succinct manner as translated from the actions of the brave heroes at the Hanoi Hilton. We as civilian executives need to return to these basic principles of honorable servant leadership more so than ever given these turbulent times and a pervasive me-first short term thinking attitude that dominates our business and political cultures.”

      – Darryl W. Jackson, Managing Director, KMJ Partners LLC, Fortune 500 Senior Executive and Big 4 Partner

“Leading with Honor is an introspective read offering character and leadership parallels from prisoner of war (POW) camps to today’s challenging business environment. Lee does a thought provoking, masterful job sharing his personal experiences in captivity and integrating those into principles for leadership success. This book is a must read, authored by a unique individual who continues to give back to those he so courageously served and protected – the leaders of today and tomorrow.”

Ed Day, President and CEO, Mississippi Power Company

“True leadership is that which surfaces when one is tested in the most severe of arenas. The leadership lessons Lee Ellis imparts in this compelling work come from just such an arena. Those lessons do much to inform all of us who lead in these challenging times.”

John R. Lough, EdD, Manager, Professional Development Programs, The BB&T Banking School, BB&T University

“Powerful and compelling, Lee Ellis does a masterful job of translating his experiences in captivity into thoughtful and thought-provoking leadership lessons applicable in all walks of life.”

       – Susan A. McLaughlin, President & CEO, VickPark Associates, LLC

“Imagine yourself in the most hostile environment possible, experiencing constant deprivation and even torture for not just a day, but for years.  How is it that certain people in times of such crises never waver or falter, but instead exhibit remarkable endurance and faithfulness in accomplishing one’s mission?  The answer is leadership that respects, dignifies, and serves others; leadership that stirs souls, heals hearts, touches lives.  In these pages, Lee Ellis shares extraordinary stories of courage, resiliency, honor, and humility from which we can learn about such transformative leadership and apply these insights to today’s workplace.”

Michael Montelongo, SVP & Chief Administrative Officer, On-site Service Solutions, Sodexo North America

“In  Leading with Honor, Lee Ellis shows us that the principles of leadership he experienced during some of the most difficult situations as a POW are applicable to leaders everywhere. Lee’s candid narrative is compelling, giving us an appreciation for the importance of leading with honor and courage, even in the face of the most difficult adversity.”

Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, Author of Obstacles Welcome: Turn Adversity into Advantage in Business and Life

“Col Lee Ellis is an excellent executive coach, a great presenter, but more than that, a true American Hero. He has paid the price to be heard, and does so in a very powerful, yet humble way. His book should be required reading for everyone. It was an honor and privilege to have him present his memorable message of ‘Leading with Honor’ at our recent event.”

      – Steven S. Hall, CFP®, Senior Partner, Retirement Planning Services

Military Community

“In Leading with Honor, Lee uses gripping stories from the POW camps to engage the reader and teach invaluable principles of leadership. I highly recommend this book for developing leaders at all levels in any organization, military or civilian.”

William R. Looney III, General USAF (Ret)

“I first met Lee Ellis in a North Vietnamese Prison. Leaders emerged of course, and Lee was among them.  He seemed to understand, better than most, what was required to maintain harmony and cohesion in that naturally tense environment.  Now Lee has written a book that captures many of the principles that made that complex prison organization work.  Anyone seeking a better understanding of how to lead and manage others, in any kind of organization, will profit from this book.”

       – General Charles G. Boyd, USAF (Ret), Former President and CEO, Business Executives for National Security (BENS) 2002-2009; Center for the National Interest, Starr Distinguished Fellow for National Security, Director at BENS, DRS Technologies, and I-Q-Tell; Board of Visitors, Air University, USAF

“A wonderful book!  Leadership advice obtained and forged from the burning fire of captivity and adversity at the Hanoi Hilton. This book offers great wisdom and advice about leadership.  The wisdom was earned with suffering, sadness and pain. I am pleased to recommend this book to you.”

COL Jim Coy (Ret), Author, The Eagles Series books – Prisoners of Hope – A Gathering of Eagles

“Lee Elis has captured the essence of what leaders do and the guiding principals they use that places them ahead of the pack. He skillfully uses his experience as a five and half year POW during the Vietnam War. He tells what it takes to build an underground civilization with its laws, rules for survival, and a covert communication system. The leaders stepped forward and led 500 fellow POWS home with honor.”

RADM R. Byron Fuller, USN (Ret)

“As a former POW, Lee’s book is a truly outstanding explanation of what we witnessed, describing great examples, naming names and incidents that had such a spectacular effect on our morale and survival. I thank Lee from the bottom of my heart for doing such a great job in analyzing and conveying the message of what moral and effective leadership is all about. I will use this book as a standard from now on in relating to everyone I know the leadership lessons learned in North Vietnam!”

Guy D. Gruters, USAF POW 12/1967 to 3/1973

“It’s a brilliant piece of work – one that I feel sure will be valuable to many for years to come.  Let’s hope that it will fall into the hands of some of our current political leaders.”

– Col Jay Jayroe, USAF (Ret), Vietnam POW 1967-1973

“WOW! Col Lee Ellis has given us a true gift – real solutions to today’s leadership issues against a backdrop of real human survival in Prisoner of War status. This wonderful book is a must read for all who aspire to any leadership job! An absolute ‘page turner’ and tribute to our warriors of a by-gone era, with lessons for today.”

       – Lt Gen William Lord, USAF

“Successful leadership involves both fundamental principles and their practical application.  In Leading With Honor, Lee Ellis identifies bedrock principles of leadership which, like tempered steel, were forged in the crucible of a North Vietnamese Prisoner of War camp.  He then clearly and artfully applies them to contemporary leadership situations in an eminently practical and engaging manner.  In short, there are thousands of leadership books and leadership ‘experts,’ but few can hope to approach the authenticity which Lee Ellis brings to Leading With Honor.  Highly recommended for leaders of all ages and experience levels!”

     – Hon. John Scott Redd, Vice Admiral, U. S. Navy (Ret), First Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Founding Commander of the U. S. Fifth Fleet

“A great read on integrity, character, and leadership. Those of us that shared the crucible of the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ learned much about ourselves, but more importantly, what God, country, and freedom really means. Lee captures the essence of what it takes to provide strong leadership, as well as followership, in some of the most difficult conditions ever faced by our military men.”

R. E. “Gene” Smith, Past President and Chairman of the Board, Air Force Association, Pow 25 Oct 67- 14 Mar 73

Healthcare Community

“Lee has captured many powerful lessons through his many years of experience in this gripping read. He has used those lessons with us as our team has evolved over the past several years. His leadership and facilitation have helped us to grow as leaders individually as well as become a strong team.”

Carol Burrell, President and CEO, Northeast Georgia Health Systems

“Your ability to share your personal experiences in Vietnam’s POW camps and weave them into leadership lessons is quite powerful, and your knowledge of Rex’s healthcare culture helped you hone in on the issues that we are challenged with in today’s environment. In particular, your wisdom on culture and communication reverberate with our team, and I look forward to relying on your wisdom as we continue our healthcare journey.”

       – Bernadette Spong, Chief Financial Officer, Rex UNC Health Care

Non-Profit Community

“I have admired Lee Ellis for years. Lee has done a superb job of drawing from the deep well of his unforgettable experiences as a POW to bring us a refreshing cup of wisdom for life and leading.  Our culture desperately needs to hear his inspiring story, and even more so these fourteen lessons on leading with honor.  I wholeheartedly recommend it!”

Howard Dayton, Founder, Compass—Finances God’s way

“Lee’s remarkable journey and ability to take what would for most be considered a dark time, and turn it into an opportunity to teach leadership is a genuine gift.  Transforming prison life experiences to leadership learning surpasses others attempt to write on leadership.”

Bob Pedersen, Chief Visionary & Storyteller, Goodwill NCW

“I am personally inspired and challenged by the stories and leadership lessons in Col. Ellis’ book, Leading with Honor. I’ve also given a copy to all of my national directors, and I’m recommending Leading with Honor to other leaders.”

      – Debra Minotti, President, Operation Exodus USA

“Lee’s painful and humorous stories touch deeply, reminding us of the sacrifices that POW leaders made to serve our nation with honor.  From those dry bones, he brings life and light through case studies and stories from today’s workplace, showing us how authentic leaders in every generation lean into the pain to do the right thing.”

Laurie Beth Jones, Author, Jesus CEO and Jesus Life Coach

Academic Community

“In the crowded world of books on leadership, Lee Ellis’s unique contribution, Leading with Honor, rises well above the standard fare on this topic. His book is so authentic in that he has personally experienced most of the lessons he promotes. In short, he’s “been there, done that” in terms of “knowing himself” and “knowing others.” The book strongly provides keen insights on the subject and he persuasively integrates leadership with such vital values concepts such as conscience, trust, principles and honor — topics too often lost today. This book far exceeds anything I’ve seen and it’s story telling style woven into strong, practical wisdom makes it hard to put down. I enthusiastically commend Leading with Honor to leaders seeking to synchronize their personal styles with the challenges of managing diverse people and tasks.”

Archie B. Carroll, Director, Nonprofit Management & Community Service Program and Professor of Management Emeritus, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

Leading with Honor will be a treasured read for many young people at Troy University where Lee Ellis received His Master’s degree and where many outstanding young men and women are now developing their ability to be character-based leaders. Lee has used his POW experiences to teach important lessons of leadership in a meaningful, memorable, mighty way to aspiring young leaders—and to old ones like me.”

      – John A. Kline, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Leadership Development, Troy University

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