Coaching Blog – How to Win the Battle of Clear Communication

Wow, this summer has flown by, hasn’t it? But you know the saying, “Time flies when you are having fun.” In the POW camps, we modified this to say “Fun flies when you’re doing time” as a humorous point to help morale.

Besides humor and trying to keep a positive attitude, the thing that kept us engaged in our mission to resist the enemy’s exploitation was communication. Our captors were determined to isolate us and prevent us from connecting with each other. There were always guards patrolling the hallways, opening the peep hole to check on us and make sure we were not trying to communicate with others.

My brief coaching clip this month goes deeper on this topic. Please watch, and then continue reading the blog below –


Life-Threatening Risks to Communicate

Out of necessity, my POW brothers and I used all the following to communicate:

  • the Tap Code
  • the hand code
  • talking through a 14-inch brick wall using a blanket as a muffler
  • stolen pencils to write notes on our rough brown toilet paper and then slip them under our neighbors’ doors when the guards were not looking

We took these great risks because we knew that communication was essential to our survival and mission accomplishment. It was important because people were often kept in isolation, or they were just returning from a torture session where they had been broken. The most important thing was to reach out to them and let them know that they were important, and we cared about them.

The essence of our message to them was “We’re proud of you and we’re not leaving to go home without you.”

Communication is a Leader’s Lifeline

Leaders in all situations are typically thinking about how to accomplish the mission, so it’s easy for them to communicate in a rational, objective, and precise way. But at the same time –


“Great leaders learn to communicate with their people by connecting with their hearts and letting them know they are cared about and valuable.” [Tweet This]


This soft, more emotional approach requires the leader to drop down from the upper, head level of logic and facts and adapt to a softer, more heart-connecting level.

Thankfully our normal communications today don’t take place in a communist prison; there is little risk, and we have many opportunities to connect openly with others. On the surface it sounds simple, yet it is still a challenge.

A Mission and People Mindset

Leaders must learn to reflect on how and when to share their messages with a focus on both the mission/results side and the people/relationship side.

It helps to stop and reflect on the following items:

  1. What do I need to communicate – for both mission/results and people/relationships?
  2. To whom do I need to communicate?
  3. When do I communicate?
  4. How do I make sure that I know that people have heard—and understand—the message?

Communication is a key anchor to mission and life success, at work and at home. It’s the only way people can become aligned and integrated in their mission and their relationships. In my book Leading with Honor, I devote an entire chapter titled “Overcommunicate the Message.” Then my follow-up book, Engage with Honor, emphasizes communications in several chapters focused on clarifying, connecting, collaborating, and closing out with celebration or confrontation.

This theme has continued in my newest book, Captured by Love, where it’s very clear that communication was essential for good relationships and long-term marriages in these POW romance stories. So, back to the starting point. We must take time to reflect on our communications.

But there is one more challenge for all leaders, and it’s a big one for mission/results/task focused leaders.

Learn to listen. It is not just about one-way communications–talking or transmitting. You must listen. For most leaders, listening is not easy because it’s not a natural talent/attribute. And many leaders think that since they are the leader, everyone should listen to them; it’s like a one-way street; they don’t have to listen to others. But that’s a huge mistake. First of all, others know lots of things leaders don’t know and second, others may have a different background and different perspective that can be of enormous importance.

Listening also has another extremely important contribution to your leadership–it makes people feel important and valuable when you truly listen to their perspectives. This gives them more confidence and more energy to perform at a higher level.

The Bottom Line

Set aside time to pause and reflect on your communications. Use the four questions above as a starting point, and then consider how you can coach yourself to adapt and listen more. The payoff will be huge when you focus on these two leadership behaviors.

P.S. This has been an amazing year for Vietnam Veterans. It’s the 50th anniversary of the end of the War and the release of the POWs. There have been several reunions, and for me it’s been an opportunity to travel and speak, sharing war stories and leadership lessons from the POW camps. You can see many of these activities in the Media section at

LE [Tweet this Article]


Amazon Bestseller! 20 Top Gun Romance Stories

Captured by Love shares the real love stories of 20 Vietnam War POWs. Some had wives who started a movement that changed American foreign policy. Others came home and had to start over, while five single men met the loves of their lives.

Former POW Lee Ellis and love expert Greg Godek take you on a dramatic journey of faithfulness, passion, excitement, resilience, and practical love lessons from these couples.

New Amazon Bestseller in the Military Families and Survival Biographies & Memoirs

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Read some sample stories

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