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FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

Find quick answers to some of the most common questions we receive at Leading with Honor. Please click on the + icon to expand the question and reveal the answer. Questions are divided into categories below.

 

Accountability

What should I do if I have a peer that is gossiping or talking negatively about another teammate?

Don’t join them—either kindly explain on the spot that it’s not appropriate, or excuse yourself and leave the conversation. Then ask to meet with them in private and graciously explain that what they are doing is not kind and makes others feel uncomfortable. Moreover it undermines team unity. Suggest that if they have a problem with someone they should sit down with them and discuss it. If you are the leader of the team, get your facts and meet with the person and cover these same areas—and be sure to firmly let the person know that gossip is unacceptable.

 

 

 

My teammate shows up late for meetings or doesn’t deliver on promises. What should I do?

Consider recruiting another teammate to go with you to meet with the person and ask them, “What’s up?” Not everyone is at the same level of maturity, or professionalism, and sometimes people may be going through a rough time personally. Help the individual identify the problem and a plan to solve it.

If you are the leader and see this, you can move into it in a similar fashion, keeping in mind that ultimately you have a responsibility to help the individual get better as well as a responsibility to the team to discipline those who are not accountable. This is where you walk the tightrope and where you earn your spurs as a leader. For more on teams holding peers accountable, I recommend The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni.

 

 

What do you do when you get new people on your team and they don’t fit in?

This is a good time to proactively apply the Golden Rule—accept them the way you would want to be accepted—openly and respectfully. Take the initiative to get to know them and help them get to know others on the team. Building understanding is the way to build acceptance and trust, and trust is the glue that binds teams together.

Remember, differences tend to divide, but diversity is essential for healthy teams. Embrace the other person’s strengths and talents and tolerate their struggles. Like you, they are not perfect. Welcome them and make it work.

 

 

 

My boss is hesitant to hold people accountable and we have folks on the team that don’t carry their weight. What can I do?

Your manager probably lacks courage to deal with the issues. How can you encourage him or her? By approaching your manager in a respectful way, you may be able to help them see the impact of the problem as well as how to address it. Your manager might be relieved to have someone help them come up with a firm and respectful way to deal with the person.

This situation highlights why relationship capital and professional respect are so important. Looking back I can now see that in the POW camps I had much more influence over my leaders than I ever realized. They listened to my suggestions and often acted on them. That’s what we now call “leading up” and it’s very important. As a leader I unashamedly allow my team to influence me. They often see things I don’t and I’ve learned to listen to them and let them help me lead better.

 

 

 

My boss doesn’t support my desire to establish accountability with my team. What do I do?

This situation is somewhat similar to the question above and like so many manager/employee issues—much hinges on the trust that comes from (1) relationship capital and (2) proven professional competence. If you have those two advantages you can present your case. You can also make it easier for him or her to support you by sharing some of the benefits to accountability described in chapter 3 of Engage with Honor.

Also, point out that the accountability we are talking about is very friendly and not punitive. It’s really about helping people succeed and when they don’t, helping them understand why. Sometimes it will mean they have to find a different work situation where they can be successful. If someone is not succeeding why would you not want to help them find a place where they can do well?

I’ve heard many people say that looking back getting fired was the best thing that had happened to them. It forced them to find their niche where they could really be successful. This would be a good time to refer to the graphic in chapter 3, showing that courageous accountability is a four-way winner.

 

 

 

 

My boss has his own, negative micro-managing version of accountability. How can I change it to a positive one?

Recognize that this style is likely anchored in fear or old habits based on what he learned from his boss in his formative years. As in the previous question, the best way to help your manager is through your relationship capital and your professional performance.

Skeptical leaders are logical and with a proven track record, you can build trust and increase your leverage. Ask him to take a risk on you to give you some latitude to operate more freely. Then execute and exceed his expectation. Through solid performance and good communications it’s likely that you can build a trusted relationship that will result in more empowerment, though you may have to ask for it.

 

 

 

We have had an old style “nice” culture for a long time and as we start implementing accountability for higher standards folks are balking and doing a lot of whining. How can we handle this?

I’ve seen this firsthand in several companies so I know what you are talking about. First, you have to almost expect this since no one likes change—and especially when they feel it tightening down on their old ways and habits. It’s hard, and some people are just not able to make the change. I believe in giving people choices.

If they can perform to reasonable standards and not complain, then they can stay—with the understanding that they will have to adapt to the changes in technology and processes that may come. If they want promotions and incentive pay raises, they must pick up the pace. Realistically, it takes about ten years to completely change the culture in an old line company, especially where they have been a protected monopoly like a utility company.

 

 

 

 

What is my civic duty regarding accountability with public servants/government?

Get involved; actively communicate with your representatives in government. Let them know what you think. Most important, be sure to vote. I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t vote—that’s not good—elections have consequences for everyone.

We have a free Leading with Honor Voter Evaluation Guide that can help.

 

 

 

 

How can accountability principles that you use for training be adapted into my personal life (family, wife, and children)?

Very much the same as described in the previous chapters and in this one. Human nature is the same. The one thing about home life is that we don’t always have the power we think we do and therefore have to lead more by influence and example. That’s a good thing I think.

It’s just hard for some people who lead by “command” at work (people jump when they speak) to make the adjustment at home—where things need to be more collaborative. Of course the collaborative approach generally works best for developing the next generation, both at home and work.

 

 

 

How can I get my children to be more responsible and accountable?

Give them responsibilities and challenges and allow them the opportunity to succeed or fail. Help them learn resilience by being independent and bouncing back from failures. I don’t think you can go wrong by following the Courageous Accountability Model, outlined in Engage with Honor. You may have to scale it down a bit, but the same principles apply.

 

 

 

 

How can I raise my children to be honorable when the culture seems to be going the opposite direction?

Walk the talk and share with them how hard it is to be honorable. And also share the blessings it brings.

Download a copy of the Honor Code and discuss each of the seven principles. Explain why they are important and how you personally have struggled with them. Maybe take one week and discuss one per night after dinner.

 

 

 

 

 

Biographical

YOU SPENT MORE THAN FIVE YEARS IN CAPTIVITY. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT LEADERSHIP?

Because we had a lot of time to reflect and think about things, I really got to know myself. What are your strengths; what are your struggles; what are you afraid of? Because ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. Are you living to be authentic?

I learned to be positive and expect a good outcome, even in difficult circumstances. Communication is really big. We really had to work hard to communicate, because the enemy tried to keep us from communicating. Another big one is bouncing back. We got knocked down and tortured, and what we learned was resilience.

Also honor, which really is about doing what’s right. Our leadership there was so extraordinary, because those guys led when there was no real reward other than honor and doing the right thing.

How did the 14 lessons help you after your POW experience?

I always think it’s good to walk the walk, and practice before your preach. So for me, I’ve been trying to live these 14 lessons mentioned in Leading with Honor my entire life and career. I’m not perfect, but I’m always working towards that goal because I know that they work.

I was a POW in Vietnam for five and a half years, and then I took three months of leave. So by the time I got back on active duty and went through training for three months to get re-qualified, it had been six years since I had been in an operational unit in a real job. And then six months after I returned to the U.S., I got promoted two years behind my peers to the classification of Major. So now instead of being six years behind my peers, I’m eight year behind them. Now, I had to compete in those circumstances; I’m eight years behind in flying time, operational experience, leadership, and more.

These principles really helped me. The experience and principles had matured me enough to do the right thing and catch up with my peers (and later stay ahead of them). I had to work very hard, but the principles helped tremendously to have a very successful Air Force career. And, they’ve helped ever since that time. I know they work.

Watch the video clip

 

 

Describe your career after your POW experience.

After coming home from being a prisoner of war, I decided to stay in the Air Force. I had considered other options, but decided that I wanted to stay in flying. So, I re-qualified, I was an instructor pilot, flight commander, section commander, flying squadron commander, and then I got into leadership development and higher education for military officers and officer candidates. That’s where I got really deep into leadership as a study versus just a leader.

When I retired from the Air Force, I’d also done some work in assessments and understood their development and use in career development. So, I went to work with a non-profit, faith-based organization to develop a career assessment program for them. We did that, and developed one for middle school, high school, and adults. It’s still in use worldwide.

Then more and more, I was doing leadership consulting for people that knew my past work history and expertise. Since that seemed to be a good fit, a business partner and I started a leadership consulting company in 1998 in Atlanta. I’ve been doing leadership and executive coaching since that time.

Watch the video clip

 

 

Describe your career before your POW experience.

From the time I was 5 years old, I always wanted to be a pilot. So coming out of ROTC at the University of Georgia, I knew that I could get into flight school and made that transition. I was at flight school at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, GA. It was a wonderful experience—it was my dream. I always wanted to fly; it fit me, my personality, my values, and my passion for aviation.

It was during the Vietnam War that I graduated and got my wings in 1966. My first assignment was going to be in southeast Asia in the escalating war in Vietnam. But, I had to go through training in the F4 Phantom first. As quickly as I could get through some flight training and survival training, I landed in the Philippines and on to the war.

We had some great flying out in the deserts of California. We would get up early in the morning, take off at sunrise in a flight of 4, and go across the desert near Death Valley at 520 mph at 500 feet. It was a thrilling experience to be in control of that airplane. I wouldn’t have traded places with anybody else in the world.

Combat was something that I adapted to quickly. I wasn’t afraid—I was doing a job that I felt like I was trained to do. In some ways, it was exciting—we were targets of enemy fire frequently in the heat of battle. My plane was hit several times before the day that I was shot down. So, that was pretty common. We did lose many guys in the battles there, and that was a reality that I knew was always there; but I never thought it would happen to me. I knew that it was a possibility, but I just didn’t think it would happen.

Watch the video clip

 

 

 

Leadership

As a leader, how will these 14 lessons help leaders develop leaders?

As a leader, you’re going to face chaos and difficult decisions. Challenges are going to be right and left. The business world is changing, and competition is coming faster. People look for something that they can hold on to in those times—anchor points. And for me personally, I like to have my checklist. When I’m multi-tasking on all of these different areas, I need to go back to my checklist and make sure that I’m not leaving something out.

These 14 lessons are my checklist. How am I doing? Am I over-communicating? Am I being resilient? Am I staying positive? Am I building cohesive teams? Am I developing my people? I can do quick cross-check to see if I’m hitting all points. I use these principles in this way, and I believe that business leaders can do the same in addition to developing the people under them.

I can’t think of anything better than taking a group of leaders through these chapters together, having discussions about them every week or month, and growing these leaders together. It’s a powerful process and would set a great example. When you do that, though, you have to walk the talk; you have be vulnerable, or you’re going to be seen as a phony. Some people may be afraid of that process, but I believe that most people are up to the challenge by taking their people with them on their personal growth journey.

Describe the leadership lesson about “over-communication”.

You know, there are 14 lessons (14 chapters) in Leading with Honor, and they’re all important. But, the one that probably the most important during the POW experience was communication because it kept us together. Per a quote by Admiral Stockdale, “it was the blood and sinew that kept us together.” We would risk our lives to communicate and stay connected. So, we had to over-communicate and put a lot of energy into it.

That’s a huge lesson as a consultant. I see, in most organizations, where the leadership acknowledges that they need to communicate better. Quite often—without repeating the same message over and over through multiple channels, the word just doesn’t get down to all levels of the organization. When employees don’t have the right picture of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, it makes them hard to execute and align with what the senior leaders are thinking. So, I really push for organizations to over-communicate the message by saying it in multiple ways, multiple times over and over again.

Jack Welch pointed this out in his book, Straight from the Gut. He said, “I had one sermon, and I preached it everywhere I went over and over again. Because that’s what it takes to get the word out.”

Watch the video clip

 

 

Why is leadership development important now?

One of my Marine POW friends had an expression that “pain purifies.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement regarding leadership development. It’s not easy. If leadership development was easy, then everyone would wake up and do it automatically. Leadership development can be challenging because good leaders have to do something different to grow, improve, and succeed. Change is difficult—pain purifies.

I’ll give you an example. To be a better listener, that’s a difficult thing for many of us. It’s one of the most powerful things that a leader can do. To listen, you have be out of control, can’t set the agenda, have to be patient, have to set your ideas aside long enough to hear the other person’s ideas. But to become a better leader, you do have to learn how to become a better listener.

Watch the video clip

 

 

What else should successful leaders be thinking about?

You can’t do this alone. It’s too difficult. You need encouragement. You need people who will say, ‘Well, why would you want to do that?’ I could have a good idea, but I’m too emotionally involved in it. I need someone I can bounce this off of, to fight as a team.

My wife provides that, a couple of my best friends, my professional peers. I have these different relationships that I can call on, and I’m not too proud to call on them. Going back to the healthy part – I think the healthy part of a good leader is to be humble.

 

 

What is the most important attribute of a good leader?

I would pick the healthiest person I can find. By healthy I mean a real, authentic self-confidence. Because healthy people are able to listen to other people’s ideas and are not threatened. If they’re healthy about themselves, they can lead other people.

If you spend all your time worrying about your competition, rather than just doing your job really well, that’s not healthy. Fearful people, or people who really deep down feel inferior or insufficient, sooner or later, they’re going to get exposed. They’re going to show bad judgment. And leaders need good judgment.

Know yourself, know who you are and know what you’re committed to, and don’t be afraid to live up to what you’re committed to. If you do that, you’re probably going to do all right.

 

 

 

Describe an important lesson that you learned and still use today.

I think that one of the things that I learned from my POW experience and discipline of those years was setting a goal and daily biting off a chunk. I learned several French words per day, and I would practice them; I learned several Spanish and German words per day, and then I would practice them.

I started working on chin-ups by using a 2×4 piece of wood in the wash house. When I started, I could only do 4 chin-ups; a year and a half later, I could do 30 chin-ups. I was skinny because we didn’t have much food, but there is value in doing something and staying with it.

As a leadership coach, I’m trying to help someone make behavioral change, so I’m hoping that they will see the value of incremental change. I hope that they will say, “If I just keep practicing, I’ll improve. And then one day I’ll wake up and I’ve made a significant improvement in my behaviors in the last 6-12 months; and, now I’m a much better leader.” 

A scenario like this one if the pay off for me to see that clients are able to make those incremental changes in their decision-making and/or behaviors; and, then they see the value in the process.

Watch the Video Clip

 

 

Why do the 14 leadership lessons work?

The important thing is that these lessons were tested and proven in the crucible of the POW camp—the most difficult circumstances of leadership that one can imagine.

Now, today we have some difficult challenges in leadership; I face challenges—all leaders do. But, these lessons have been proven in the most difficult circumstances where the leader had go eyeball to eyeball with the enemy physically, mentally, and emotionally everyday.

So, I know they work. That’s why I’m excited about the message of Leading with Honor. I really believe that it can change people’s lives, change organizations, and change leaders for the better.

Watch the video clip

 

 

Courage is cited by the English author and management specialist, Simon Sinek, as the main requirement for inspired leadership. According to him, to lead is to have the nerve to risk your own neck, to take the first step and, therefore, influence teams. Do you agree with this point of view? Why?

I do agree with Simon Sinek’s statement. From years of experience as a leader and leadership consultant, I’ve seen that the most effective way to get people to develop and grow is for the leader to set the example. Leaders go first, and setting the example requires courage and vulnerability.

Moreover, leading with honor and accountability requires a mindset of humility—a willingness to engage in the struggle to balance ego and confidence with concern and caring for others. Like many attributes of leadership, this tension between confidence and humility seems paradoxical and it’s rarely easy for anyone. Believe me, as a “take-charge” personality and a former fighter pilot, I experience that tension daily. It is my core values and commitment that propel me to courageously engage in that battle.

Growth is always a struggle involving courage because it requires making hard choices to let go of what feels natural, good, and comfortable in order to reach for what we truly want—to live and lead with honor. It’s tough because we have to: (1) guard our character, (2) courageously lean into the pain of our doubts and fears, and (3) steadfastly stay committed to our goals and responsibilities.

It’s a lifelong process and that’s why we have to be resilient warriors—engaged in the ever-present struggle between our ego and humility. Courageously growing with this leadership mentality is not for the faint-hearted.

 

 

In your book Engage with Honor, you highlight values such as character and courage. Please expand on the importance of these principles for modern-day leaders and why having courage is so important.

In my book, Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability, I do share three key attributes that set our POW Camp leaders apart and enabled them to suffer and sacrifice while inspiring the rest of us. They are –

 

  1. Character – They knew right from wrong; they embraced the military Code of Conduct for POWs as the standard. Have you clarified what you stand for? What are your non-negotiables?

 

  1. Courage – They consistently suffered torture and humiliation to do their duty, live up to the Code, and set the example for the rest of us. Do you cave in to your doubts and fears, or do you “lean in” to them to keep your commitments, make tough decisions, and do what’s right?

 

  1. Commitment – They did not waiver. They were beaten down, but they bounced back time and again. They believed in their mission, and they were loyal to our cause. Do you remain faithful to your values, and do you stay the course to achieve your goals?

 

If you’re growing in these three C’s, you’ll be leading by example—showing others what an honorable leader looks like. You don’t have to be perfect, but you can be authentically vulnerable and transparent, honestly admitting your mistakes and correcting back to course. This leadership philosophy attracts and inspires followers everywhere—not just in POW camps.

 

 

In recent interviews, you highlighted the importance of self-awareness and the capacity to overcome obstacles as a basis for personal development. Please explain why.

True self-awareness requires an honest, personal evaluation of one’s natural strengths and struggles. What are my natural gifts and abilities, and what are my areas where I need help from others?

Then to go even deeper in self-awareness, we must also evaluate the problem of human nature—the potential for good and evil are both in our DNA. Sitting in the shivering cells of the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn concluded that the line separating good and evil runs not through states or political parties, but through the heart of every human being. Another famous prisoner, Victor Frankl, Viennese psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and author of the classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, gave us very clear advice on how to handle this issue saying, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

To make the choice between good and evil takes courage. Evil is deceptive and can be very appealing to shallow, short-sighted desires. Doing good and making the right choice often means choosing the hard road to oppose the temptations of pride, fear, laziness, and negativity. But the honor that comes from doing one’s duty, or serving others in need, is a long-term view that is only possible through the combination of  honor and its guardian companion accountability, required for good self-governance and healthy leadership. This is the key to overcoming obstacles and growing as an honorable leader.

 

 

 

What are some things that you see in natural leaders? What intangibles in a person make you say, “He or she has it.”

Regardless of what your personality is, you can be a great leader. It will look different for everyone.  I can show you CEOs who are both introverts and extroverts. I can show you people who are more controlling and take charge as well as some who aren’t, but both can be successful. You take a healthy person who has courage and they can flex a little bit easier.  Can an introvert go out and socialize all day long, no, but they can learn to do it enough to be successful. Can an extroverted person learn to focus and get the mission done? Yes, absolutely.

There are some natural leadership traits that fit certain jobs better, but I think the main thing is you have to be authentic and believe in yourself. You also have to have humility. If you have a solid combination of these things, I believe you will be a great leader. There are situations that require different skills, but in general I would say that you can be a good leader with any personality as long as you have the courage to do what needs to be done.

 

 

 

 

POW Story

When did you have to lean into the pain during your POW captivity?

In Leading with Honor, I talk a lot about leaning into the pain. Quite often, we know the right thing to do in a given situation, but it seems difficult; we’re afraid to do it, it seems unnatural. And, I experienced that as a prisoner of war. For me, the experience was so valuable because I learned how to lean into the pain. You can’t always do what feels good and natural and easy. You can’t always take the easy way out; many times, the difficult choices are the right ones.

That happened for me when I was being interrogated, and they wanted me to fill out a biography of my life experience, my military experience, and background information. And, I refused to do it. When you refuse to do what they wanted, they took offense to that and felt like they had to punish me and torture me to provide the information. Obviously, that was a very difficult time. The hardest part was that eventually I couldn’t handle the torture anymore, so I agreed to give them a little something. But, I was still mentally in the fight. We were advised to take torture to resist, but at some point you’ll have to give in because you won’t be able to resist anymore. But, you don’t want to become a bowl of jelly in their hands either. So, you stop short of losing your ability to stay in the fight.

But even then, knowing that I had put up the good fight and done my best, I still felt like a traitor. I’m laying on the floor in this filthy room in handcuffs and leg irons, and I feel like the weakest, worst soldier and military aviator that’s ever worn the uniform. I feel like I’ve let my country down, my teammates down, myself down—my own values. But later because of the support network and the covert communications that we had in the prison, they encouraged me and identified with my struggle, and encouraged me to bounce back and be resilient. That was important to know that they stood beside me, they understood, they’d been through the same thing, and it was going to be okay. I wasn’t going to be court-martialed when I came home.

But, I learned a lot from those experiences. To do the right thing, you sometimes have to press in to your zone of discomfort and stick by your values and commitments.

Watch the video clip

 

 

How important was your Christian faith during your POW experience?

From the moment that I was parachuting to the ground after being shot down, I placed my continued trust in God for my life. Our Military Code of Conduct that we all memorized says, “I will trust in my God…”. There were also many opportunities during my POW experience where I could’ve been killed, but I believe that God protected me during those moments.

Here’s an excerpt from Leading with Honor:

“Faith was also a primary source of strength, dignity, and hope. We had faith in each other, in our leaders, in our country, in our families, and especially in God. The old saying that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ was certainly true in the POW camps.

As I mentioned earlier, I knew God loved me unconditionally, and that He had a plan for my life. Although I didn’t have a Bible in the early years, the POW environment seemed to significantly sharpen my memory, and I could recall many of my favorite scripture verses. Romans 8:28—’In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose’—and other passages, like Psalms 1, 23, and 100, gave me an inner strength and a sense of peace that kept me going.”

 

 

So the lessons you picked up came as much from watching others as reflecting on your own experience?

I’m watching different styles of leadership, as a junior-ranking guy, and watching how different people respond in different ways. They say values are more caught than taught – I was just catching certain mindsets about leadership that were very important.

You couldn’t pretend there, for instance. Whatever was there was real. Whatever you said, you were going to be put to the test.

Seeing that, and seeing the sacrifice, I said as a leader I must be willing to do the very best you can, but I also have to be willing to sacrifice and not be afraid.

I’ve always wanted to be a leader. I’ve always wanted to be in charge. In the POW camp, I wasn’t, so I was always thinking. I learned a lot by watching these guys and how they did it. In the Air Force, I was a leader for most of my career after I got back. I had a chance to put some of this stuff to the test, and I found it worked – not because I was the smartest guy in the room, but because I had good leadership and was surrounded by good people.

 

 

You spent more than five years in captivity. What did you learn about leadership?

Because we had a lot of time to reflect and think about things, I really got to know myself. What are your strengths; what are your struggles; what are you afraid of? Because ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. Are you living to be authentic?

I learned to be positive and expect a good outcome, even in difficult circumstances. Communication is really big. We really had to work hard to communicate, because the enemy tried to keep us from communicating. Another big one is bouncing back. We got knocked down and tortured, and what we learned was resilience.

Also honor, which really is about doing what’s right. Our leadership there was so extraordinary, because those guys led when there was no real reward other than honor and doing the right thing.

 

 

How important was family support during your POW experience?

One thing that people don’t often consider is what our families went through during that time. In many ways, they went through a much more difficult experience we did as POWs. As POWs, we know that we were alive and okay, but our families didn’t. My family knew that I was alive when I hit the ground in Vietnam, but they didn’t know whether I was alive or not for a year and a half until they got their first letter from me. And, it took two and half years before I got a letter from my family.

So, they were carrying on at home in our absence. And, they were told to keep quiet, at first, by the government. Finally, families pushed back and opened up, thereby allowing the POW-MIA support to come on strong in the U.S.  That made a huge difference to us, because it did result in better treatment; it did result in a life in the Hanoi Hilton that was more normal. We came home in better condition mentally and physically, in large part, because of the strong support that we had back home as they took up our cause. And for that support we had during those years, I’ll forever be grateful.

Watch the video clip

 

 

How does your Vietnam POW story begin?

My book, Leading with Honor, starts with my shoot-down and capture over enemy territory. I was coming down in my parachute, and there was a lot of shooting being directed up from the ground. I knew that I was probably going to be captured. Sure enough, they captured me immediately. It took two weeks to travel to Hanoi, and that was a pretty exciting experience. The local populace tried to kill me on three occasions, and there were riots. The only reason I was not killed were the orders given to the militia taking to me to Hanoi to deliver soldiers alive and healthy—especially pilots. Vietnam wanted us for bargaining power, so they brought me safely to Hanoi.

I was involved in four bombing attacks by U.S. military forces looking for Vietnamese trucks carrying supplies on the roads there. I managed to survive that experience, so it was definitely an exciting period.

Once I got there, I was put in a room 6.5’x7’ with three other prisoners who had been captured. One was the guy that I was flying with, and then a Marine F4 Phantom crew. So, we stayed in this room for 9 months. We were there 23 hours and 50 minutes every day; the other 10 minutes was to leave the cell to get a meal of soup and bread or rice. Twice a day we were given meals—very thin soup. Six months of pumpkin soup, three months of cabbage soup, three months of turnip green soup. I was glad to be a country boy, because my cell mates from Long Island, New York didn’t adapt quite as well to the meals. It was a more difficult adjustment for them.

We were all trained and committed to what we were doing, and I think that’s important. We were professionals, and we were American fighting men who were to resist the enemy at all costs. We stuck together, we fought our code of conduct; and that’s really the thing that kept us together for those many years along with the great leadership that was there.

Watch the video clip

 

 

During the Vietnam War, after 53 missions in enemy territory, your plane was hit. You managed to parachute to safety but landed in a field of Vietnamese snipers and were captured, subsequently being held prisoner for more than five years. What lessons did you learn from such an adverse situation?

Because we had a lot of time to reflect and think about things in the POW camps, I really got to know myself. What are my strengths and struggles? What are my fears? Am I authentic, or do I hide behind a persona or façade—I wanted to be real, authentic in every situation.

I learned to be positive and expect a good outcome, even in difficult circumstances. Communication is so important. We had to work hard to communicate, because the enemy tried to keep us from communicating. Another important lesson learned is being resilient and bouncing back. We got knocked down and tortured, and what we learned was resilience.

Our senior POW leaders suffered first and most often and the most torture and hardship. They were committed to doing their duty in spite of the heavy costs. They leaned into their doubts and fears to do the right thing and that was a powerful example. We wanted to be like them, so they raised our level of courage and commitment by their example. My goal became to do the right thing regardless of my fears or the risks associated with the situation.

 

When you look at some of the stamina that developed in the camp from you and others who had to endure a lot of hardship, what was your mental outlook that kept you focused and hopeful?

I think some of that is my personality and a lot of if was the leadership around me. I tend to be a positive person and have never been a worrier, which has been a blessing. I did worry some in those early months in not knowing what was going to happen. My initial thought was, if I can make it six months, President Johnson will have to win this war to get re-elected. And he is a politician so he will end the war and we will be home by the summer of 1968 and I will make the Mexico Olympics. Well he tricked me and decided not to run. So we sat there and after six months, I said I could make it one more year. After that I said I could make it two more years and I did, but it was more like three and a half.

You have to keep setting goals where you can mentally and emotionally handle it. Then you set another goal and meet that goal and pretty soon you are walking yourself one day at a time into the future and toward a goal. We also had personal development goals. For instance, I learned differential calculus with a piece of broken red roof tile writing on a concrete floor in the corner of the room. A fellow who majored in math from the Naval Academy taught me differential calculus. Then I memorized Spanish words sitting and walking around the cell and started speaking Spanish every day and when I came home I was pretty fluent in Spanish.

We did those kinds of things to keep us busy. I learned to stay occupied and move toward some goals. We also had these great leaders who really made a difference and they were positive also. Leaders give people hope in difficult situations and they gave us hope and built a culture around the belief that we would someday go back home. We had to do our duty and we were going to have to suffer, but in the end we were going to be victorious and walk out of there and go home. They built the culture and set the example. We had no reason not to believe that we weren’t going to go home at some point.

 

 

 

 

Natural Behavior

In recent interviews, you highlighted the importance of self-awareness and the capacity to overcome obstacles as a basis for personal development. Please explain why.

True self-awareness requires an honest, personal evaluation of one’s natural strengths and struggles. What are my natural gifts and abilities, and what are my areas where I need help from others?

Then to go even deeper in self-awareness, we must also evaluate the problem of human nature—the potential for good and evil are both in our DNA. Sitting in the shivering cells of the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn concluded that the line separating good and evil runs not through states or political parties, but through the heart of every human being. Another famous prisoner, Victor Frankl, Viennese psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and author of the classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, gave us very clear advice on how to handle this issue saying, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

To make the choice between good and evil takes courage. Evil is deceptive and can be very appealing to shallow, short-sighted desires. Doing good and making the right choice often means choosing the hard road to oppose the temptations of pride, fear, laziness, and negativity. But the honor that comes from doing one’s duty, or serving others in need, is a long-term view that is only possible through the combination of  honor and its guardian companion accountability, required for good self-governance and healthy leadership. This is the key to overcoming obstacles and growing as an honorable leader.

 

 

 

 

General Questions

How did FreedomStar Media™ get started?

FreedomStar Media was founded in 2011 to publish its first title, Leading with Honor. It it founded by the parent organization, Leadership Freedom LLC.

The mission of FreedomStar Media is to create exceptional leadership development resources to help individuals and teams grow as leaders with character and confidence.