Coaching Article – Confront Your Leadership Doubts and Fears

The reality is that every human being has doubts and fears. These emotions can override our logic, behavior, and choices, taking us away from our character and commitments. Living and leading with honor is the most critical battle that we face in life, especially in leadership. The solution to this problem is Courage.

That’s why courage is at the core of all the books I’ve written and every speech I’ve made on leadership—and it’s the most common subject in our blogs and coaching videos over the last twelve years. It is also central to the leadership models that our team has developed.

My new coaching clip expands on this idea. Please watch, and then continue reading the blog below –


Ingrained Courage

Courage came into my world primarily as I was going through combat training for deployment to the war in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. It was not just about flying the F-4 Phantom; we also had to go through Survival School – now called SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape). You can see by these words that it was preparation for a very frightening situation.

Lee Ellis hero shot with an F4C Phantom at Danang 366 TFW in 1973


Fighter pilots are confident and typically assume that “it’s not going to happen to me,” but on my 68th combat mission in that war, my aircraft blew up and I parachuted into enemy territory and was captured by the militia immediately. Suddenly, SERE came to the center of my life. Doubts and fears came to the forefront, and I knew I had to grow in courage.

As the youngest and most junior ranking guy in most of my cells, I was blessed to have courageous leaders. I admired them and wanted to be more like them in their resistance and resilience. Life in the POW camps was hard, and we all suffered, but over time we knew it was a blessing—we had all grown in courage and that enabled us to return with honor.


Courage is the Core Challenge

Yes, it was crucial back then, but as a leadership coach, consultant, and trainer for more than 25 years, I can see clearly that courage is the central challenge for every human being— and especially leaders. Maintaining the standards and commitment to character, integrity, and ethics can be challenging for everyone else—especially leaders. They must make tough decisions—hard because deep inside they have doubts and fears.

Leaders also must learn to adapt from their natural wiring/behavior to gain skills that will enable them to achieve both good results and good relationships.


“Courage is the foundation, the anchor, the core, the driving energy that is fundamental to being a good person and especially a good leader.” [Tweet This]


Many people are visual learners and use a picture to help them understand and remember key points. Here is a model and a couple of tools that we have found most helpful over the last 25 years.


  1. The Leadership Attributes Model. You can see below that courage is the driving energy that enables the essential foundations of leadership.


  1. The Honor Code. It has seven articles, and courage is the one at the center of the model. We intentionally moved it there a few years ago because it became so clear that it is required to live out all the other articles. Download a copy.


  1. The Courage Challenge Card. This small coaching card provides a practical model and method for fulfilling the commitment to “Lean into the pain of your doubts and fears to do what you know is right, even when it doesn’t feel natural or safe.” Download a copy.


The Leadership Attributes model mentioned above is shown here and you can download the other two visual models.


The River of Fear

In Gus Lee’s terrific book, Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, he graphically shows a similar concept of how our character, ethics, morals, and values must cross the “River of Fear” to live up to our commitments—with courage being the driving force to get us across.[i] Without it our character will sink.

This month, we’re also providing a free excerpt from my book, Leading with Honor, on this topic. Download it here.

We want to encourage you to pause every day to reflect on the challenges you are facing as you work to lead and live with honor. Use this blog and the coaching video that goes with it to help yourself grow at work and at home. The return on your investment will be high and immortal.

LE [Tweet this Article]

Related Coaching Blogs:

Editor’s note: we’re excited to provide a series of coaching blogs for 2024 that focus on the leadership models that we have developed over the past 25 years. We hope that they’re helpful in your leadership.

[i] Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, The Character Matrix is shown on pages 40-41, 118


Save 30% when you Buy the Two-Book Honor Package!

Purchase these award-winning books from Lee Ellis and FreedomStar Media in one package. Leading with Honor outlines the 14 leadership lessons learned in the POW camps of Vietnam. Then, Engage with Honor applies many of the original leadership lessons into a practical Courageous Accountability Model. (includes 1 – Leading with Honor Hardcover book, 1 – Engage with Honor Softcover book)

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With over 20 years training and coaching leaders, we know that the most effective development comes in community. And our mission has shifted toward leaders developing their people—the most efficient way—growing and taking others with them. The challenge is that many leaders don’t feel qualified to conduct training, and it’s expensive.

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