Article & Video – The Top Competitive Edge that Leaders Should Possess

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Freedom isn’t free, is it? Whether it’s enjoying our national freedom and independence or the freedom to discover your true self, it takes work and sacrifice. This month, we celebrate the privilege of being citizens of this country. Of course, it isn’t perfect, but when you travel the world and look behind the curtains, you quickly realize that the personal freedoms, property rights, and governmental system we have are unparalleled in providing freedom and the opportunity to be all we can be.

The other freedom that I mentioned is even more important for many—the freedom to know yourself. After many years of coaching and training thousands of people, we know that it’s a significant issue. We can all benefit from gaining the self-awareness to see ourselves objectively.

Overcoming the Barriers

There are several mental barriers to overcome –

  • We’ve been told by others who we should be, or who they mistakenly think we are.
  • We’re in shackles because of the lies we believe about ourselves, and often these lies stem from pain and trauma from the past.
  • We have blind spots—either assuming we are something that we’re not, or assuming we’re not something that we are.
  • We operate without knowledge (ignorance), and we just don’t know ourselves objectively.

There may be other challenges, but there is another elephant in the room that we can’t ignore if we want freedom: if I get to know myself, I’ll have to face the challenge that I’m not perfect and that seems too threatening or too difficult to admit.

Guess what? We all know that already—join the crowd! None of us is perfect. So, on this Independence Day of celebration, give yourself freedom to accept yourself as a work in progress.

The True Competitive Advantage

“Knowing yourself is the bonafide competitive advantage for all leaders.” [Tweet This]

Here are five leadership tips that I use to walk in self-awareness and freedom –


  1. Look around and take stock. Do you have peers, friends and family who see you as a good human being? If so, accept yourself as being valued and appreciated just the way you are.
  2. Recognize that no one is perfect; we all have gaps and struggles. Decide that it’s much more important to know yourself objectively than to pretend. Set aside your fears and be willing to be vulnerable.
  3. Get feedback (management information). Ask others around you for feedback and insight. A couple of questions may be “Would you do me the favor of sharing your observations of me?” and “What are three of my strengths and three of my struggles or ways that I get in my own way?”
  4. Use an objective measurement tool. Online assessments like Leadership Behavior DNA can help you discover your Strengths (talents) and Struggles.
  5. Make a commitment to be a lifelong learner and continue to grow.


Fighting for Freedom on Both Sides of the World

In July 1969, Apollo 11 escaped earth’s gravity and landed on the moon. At very same time that folks back home were celebrating, there had been an escape at one of the POW camps and we were going through a horrific round of systematic torture in all the camps.

We did not learn about this historical achievement of our country until much later. What we also didn’t know in the summer of 1969 was that our families were engaged in a battle too. The National League of POW/MIA Families was leading a public relations crusade to expose the North Vietnamese Communist for their inhumane treatment of POWs. Like our ignorance of the moon landing, the families were unaware of the enormous impact they were having in Hanoi.

That fall, when Ho Chi Minh died and the new leadership took over, they stopped the torture and quit calling us “creeminals.”  In retrospect, we were convinced that this dramatic change was due to the courageous campaign of the families. They brought a change in the policy of the US Government—to go public and put the heat on our captors—and a change in the Communist policy—to let up and ease off on the POWs. That’s a story of amazing leadership that is only now being told.

My Personal Fight for Freedom

As life settled in more toward a live-and-let-live routine, we realized that for the most part the daily battle with our enemy was over; but we now faced a new challenge. Hate and bitterness toward our enemy had been a source of energy to fight the POW battle. If we went home now, we would still be in shackles. We knew that we could not live healthy lives in true freedom if we walked out of the “Hanoi Hilton” still in a prison of bitterness.

We began to shift our battle efforts toward the future—we had to get mentally and physically ready to go home. Over the next three years, we slowly let go of the anger and sadness as well as whatever guilt and shame we had acquired from not being as tough as we thought we should be. Our leaders made it clear: we had done our best, and we had fought the battle to remain true to our identity as American fighting men. We had lived up to our mission and “motto”, “Return with Honor.”  Thus, we would accept that we were not perfect, but we were good enough and at release, for the most part, we walked out free.

Now 46 years later, we agree, we would never volunteer to be a POW, but we would not change a thing. That time in prison gave us time to face our demons and old lies and break free from the baggage of our early lives and the POW experience. We were free to be okay with ourselves and that is a great gift.

Few people will be POWs, but we all can find a way to gain freedom to be ourselves. Why not make that part of your journey as you celebrate the 4th of July and the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing? Consider the tips above as a launch pad and shoot for the stars.  

Please share your story of breaking free to be yourself.


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* For more on the story of the wives and families, see the new books League of Wives and also “Tap Code” due out in November 2019.

Related Resource: 

Leadership Self-Awareness on Steroids

Leading with HonorWe’ve combined the two most effective leadership development resources into one package to help leaders understand their results and relationship balance.

A primary theme in Lee’s award-winning book, Leading with Honor, is to “know yourself”. And then the Leadership Behavior DNA online assessment provides a leader with their personalized score and performance recommendations for achieving better leadership balance. Purchase both at a discounted rate when you buy them together.

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