Recently in preparation for a speaking event with a group of Air Force senior leaders, I reviewed two key documents issued in 2020 by the incoming Chief of Staff USAF General C. Q. Brown. I also listened to a podcast interview with him about his approach to leadership, and then I met him at the event where I heard him speak to this group of senior leaders.
In all these communications he came across as a very genuine person with a passion for the principles of leading with honor. He spoke about the importance of culture and ways he wanted to see it shaped. To back this up, he has a reputation for setting the example that he wants to see in all airmen—
“To be trustworthy, do your duty, and have the courage to stand up for what you know is right.” [Tweet This]
At the bottom line, he is looking for a culture of trust and respect.
Though he did not say it specifically, it was implied that we should avoid duplicity. He sets the example through his openness, honesty and vulnerability. What you see is what you get. A great leader doing his best to lead with honor.
By contrast, the culture that we seem to be hearing more and more from in our national media and from many politicians, is focused on controlling the narrative to influence people’s emotions and decisions.
Watch my 6-minute coaching video on this topic to get additional insight –
There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” (Proverbs 11:3 NIV)
- Authentic leaders consistently live in harmony with their values, even when no one is looking.
- Their walk matches their talk.
- They resist the temptation to achieve ends by less than honorable means.
- They are true to others in order to be true to themselves.
This is the foundation for “leading with honor.”
Our nation desperately needs men and women who will lead with honor. They’re needed in our businesses, non-profit organizations, governmental institutions, families, houses of worship, and in every other aspect of our society. Without such leaders, our society will decay, and we will lose our freedom.
We also need men and women who will follow with honor by holding their leaders accountable to high standards. Our nation has made great strides toward tolerance in this country, but in the process I fear we have become far too tolerant of duplicitous leaders. Duplicity is almost an accepted practice in government, in the media, and in other areas of life. We have come to expect our leaders to “spin” their speech to suit the audience.
An Example of Duplicity
This trend first caught my attention a few years ago when a representative for a reputable polling organization said on a national TV news program that a candidate needed to change his views on a key position if he wanted to get elected. It was shocking to hear that statement, because it was clear what the person meant was that a smart politician should jettison his or her established position in order to get more votes. Now it seems even more of an accepted way of doing business for many. Surely this type of moral fluidity is not the path to honor. Rather, it seems logical that this type of deceit, deception, and duplicity leads to the type of dishonor that will destroy our society and our nation.
My experience tells me that if you want to lead with honor, you must become a warrior.
“Honorable leaders must be willing to engage in battles against their fears, their situational temptations to deceive, and their natural instinct to put themselves first and take the easy way out.” [Tweet This]
You must be willing to endure suffering and sacrifice for the sake of higher values.
Twenty-four hundred years ago the Greek historian Thucydides said, “The secret of happiness is freedom. And the secret of freedom is courage.” The passage of time has not diminished the validity of his observation.
During the Vietnam POW experience, I witnessed many courageous leaders who demonstrated unimaginable strength of character in situations of extreme vulnerability. Their determination to do the honorable thing and keep their commitments inspired me to battle my fears and to believe that doing the right thing even when it meant suffering, would help me be the person I wanted to be.
In my two books about the leaders in the Hanoi Hilton POW camp system, Leading with Honor and Engage with Honor, I share many stories about our courageous leaders. They are the type of leaders we need today. I hope the courage and perseverance they exhibited will inspire you to lean into your fears and break free from all hindrances that hold you back, so that you truly can lead with honor.
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