Securing Your True Leadership Self

In this article, let’s focus on the core of our identity, which is more than your vocation or hobbies represented in the outer circles below—it’s the inner self that truly defines who you are:

 Outward Confidence is Not Inner Confidence

As a 24-year old kid, I thought my identity was very clear. In the outer layers above, I was a combat fighter pilot, quite proficient in that environment and outwardly overflowing with confidence. But shortly after shoot-down and capture, the dark and scary path of a Vietnam POW aroused my core fears and doubts.

There were times I felt unworthy to wear the mantle of a warrior. The spotlight of terror exposed my insecurities. It was going to be a battle, not just for survival, but for my core self and the honor of my profession that I cherished.

As you read the rest of this article, also watch the Leading with Honor Coaching clip for month:

The problem of the unhealthy self

For more than twenty years after my military career ended, my life has focused on leader development. The most common issues that undermines leaders are driven by the doubts and insecurities of the core self. It’s a universal issue we all face. Only perfect love will cast out all fear and we don’t get that in this life.

Reflecting on the reality of this barrier to healthy performance, our team has begun working on a new model that shows a continuum with fear on one side and inner confidence on the other. For now, we are calling these two extremes insecure self and secure self. Let’s unpack some of what is likely happening and what the antidotes might be.

Take a look and see if this sheds some light on how doubt and fear undermine healthy behaviors and what the solutions might be –  

Your insights on it would be most helpful, so please feel free to analyze, criticize and share your thoughts. With your help, I believe we can come up with something meaningful in the field of leadership and for each of us individually.

This type of insecure self is internal rather than external. Regardless of whether or not there are any obvious, direct outside threats; regardless, these powerful feelings are grounded in self-doubt and self-protection (issues from our early years) that hold us back in two very important ways.

This month we’ll focus on self-doubt and next month on its companion, self-protection, that includes behaviors like image management and manipulation.

Recognize the shackles of self-doubt 

Self-doubt holds us back from growing as individuals and leaders. Generally, I see that people are more than they perceive they are.

In the same way that physical shackles limit a prisoner, self-doubt is keeping leaders from stepping out into their full potential. [Tweet This]

When they don’t come through it impacts not only them, but everyone around them.

If you’ve ever done any writing or speaking, you know this feeling. The familiar fears and accompanying lies come rolling out to confront your core self –

  • Am I worthy?
  • How will others see it?
  • Can I come through?
  • You can’t do it; you don’t have what it takes; you’ll look stupid, etc.

Though I’ve coached other authors and speakers on this very thing, ironically these doubts hit me again recently while working on a new book about leadership behavior! The battle was on again. But as an experienced soldier in this conflict, I knew how to break free.

Break Free

Find the courage to confront the lies of self-doubt that are keeping you in bondage. Reflect on your past successes, the affirmation of others, and the power of your passion and dreams—see the real truth and believe in yourself. Then courageously and confidently move forward and do the work to do your duty—keeping your commitments to yourself and others.

When I began work on the 2012 book, Leading with Honor, I called my POW teammate Capt. Ken Fisher (the senior officer in my POW prison cell and now retired colonel), and asked him, “What was the real Lee Ellis like?” His reply was short, but it said a lot – “When you were captured, you were not yet comfortable in your own skin. When you came home, you were.”  Of course, being comfortable with yourself does not mean that you are fully free.

The model above is a continuum, one that works like  a sliding scale. It’s easy for even the most secure to discover a nick in their armor and slide back to insecurity.  The battle against our self-doubts never goes away completely.

Become an encouraging leader

As you become more secure in your core identity, you’re in a healthier position to help others grow, which is part of the stewardship responsibility of leaders. [Tweet This]

How can you help others grow in their feelings of self-worth and confidence? Keep in mind that when we’re comfortable in our own skin, we can be givers. When we’re not, we tend to be takers.

Capt. Fisher was a “giver” to me. More than once, he reminded me of who I was and expressed his confidence that I would come through and succeed. He told me of his own fears and then showed me how he confronted them by believing in himself and courageously battling to keep his commitments to his self and his country.

In that crucible of leadership in the POW camps, we learned that sometimes the suffering we fear most, becomes the agent of our healing. If we have the courage to lean into the pain of our doubts and fears to do what we believe we can and should do, then we move the needle—the self grows more secure and more capable to do the hard things that come our way.

Please let us hear your thoughts on the model and your insights on the role of doubts and fears in sabotaging the healthy self.  


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Conquering Self-Doubt in a Crisis

In the Vietnam POW camps, Lee and his comrades had to battle tremendous fear and self-doubt to emerge and return home with honor. What were the leadership lessons that kept them focused on the end goal? Leading with Honor – Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton reveals the principles that guided them. Bulk savings packages available for your team.

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