Lee Ellis

With spring here, we think of new growth that will come as nature revives itself for another growing season. With this in mind, it’s a good time to pause to think about greening and growing your next crop of leaders.

When speaking about my POW experience and the lessons learned there, a common question from the audience is how we chose our leaders in that situation. That’s a great question because the burden of leading in that cauldron was often painful, always unpredictable, and not a position that most people would want.

Fortunately we didn’t have to compete or debate about who would take command; in remote situations like this, it’s clear military policy that the senior person based on rank and date of promotion takes charge.

In normal conditions, the military is constantly training and grooming every person for higher leadership responsibilities. The heavy turnover from reassignment, separations and mandatory retirement makes succession planning a vital part of normal military planning and operations.

But many civilian organizations don’t see a pressing need, and many don’t have a system in place for developing and evaluating leaders. Do you have a vision for developing leaders? Do you see the need? Are you willing to invest time and energy in the process?

 

Have a vision

Developing leaders does take time and money, but it also has great short-term benefits:

  • Having a built-in system for instilling the values and leadership principles that are important to you.
  • Building relationships in classes to enhance functional collaboration and break down silos.
  • Gaining better-trained leaders at every level.
  • Creating higher morale and better retention among top performers.

Long-term benefits are even more strategic because research shows that hiring from within is the way to go especially at higher levels. Developing your own pool of leaders from which to choose managers, directors and executives reduces your risks in a number of ways.

Granted, there are times when you may need to bring in an outsider to stir the pot or tap into a resource you don’t have on board. But when you do, the risks go up.

 

Avoid a bad hire

Hiring is one of the most difficult challenges leaders face. If you search the Web, you’ll see that the estimates for the cost of a bad hire run from 30 percent of the individual’s salary to three times the annual salary.

In some cases, it could be much more when you consider the energy lost to the executive teams and the opportunity loss of not having the right person on board.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to work with some great organizations. The best ones usually put considerable effort and resources into developing their next generation of leaders at every level from first line supervisor to the executive level.

What about your organization? Do you have a focus on growing your leaders? What programs and processes do you have in place to make this happen?

 

Lee Ellis
president

Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company.

Lee consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.”

www.leadingwithhonor.com

This can be a time of mixed emotions. I know because I greeted six consecutive New Year’s sitting in North Vietnam prisoner of war camps. Fear was the foremost emotion in those first three years, and the others were somewhat daunting, too.  Yet, we always kept hope that the new year would bring an honorable end to the war. In spite of the difficult conditions, our leaders stayed positive and inspired us to bounce back as they did so often. They also taught us to resist the enemy and survive so that someday we could return with honor.

Dealing with paradoxes

One of the difficult challenges for leaders is paradox — the fine balance between being:

  • humble and strong.
  • decisive and willing to listen to the ideas of others.
  • confident and vulnerable.
  • tough and compassionate.
  • detached and sensitive.

A healthy paradox to start the new year is facing the future with both hope and realism. In his best-selling book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins addressed the process that kept the Vietnam POWs going year after year, and he named it after his friend and one of our senior leaders, Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. Collins insightfully categorized the importance of this dynamic tension as the “Stockdale Paradox:”  

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

So as you look forward to 2014, are you naturally optimistic and seeing the positive potential of what can happen this year?

If so, then you may need to sit down with some friends and teammates who are more realistic to help you confront the brutal realities of your situations. If you do not have them, you need a strategy and a plan in place to address the tough days ahead.     

Find the half-full glass

On the other hand, if all you can see is barbed wire and hard times ahead, then you probably need to begin the new year with a time of thanksgiving to count your blessings and recalibrate your attitude.

Determine where you can get a foothold of hope and optimism to inspire yourself and others. Optimism generates positive emotions related to faith, belief, conviction and confidence, and it’s from these emotions that we gain the inspiration to persist when things look bleak and hold on until we can ultimately prevail.

Yes, diligence and dedication are important, but never forget that inspiration is the source of power. Stockdale was right — “faith that we would prevail” is the essential principle of successful business leadership. It enabled us to resist and survive as POWs and return with honor.

This same thinking enables poor men to become rich, sick people to become well, last place teams to become first and each of us to reach our potential as human beings and business leaders. It’s more than positive feelings — it’s the choice of belief.

Most New Year’s resolutions never last as long as 90 days, but given the impact your attitude and behaviors can have on the year 2014, why not commit to lead with honor by following the Stockdale Paradox? Deal with the brutal realities of your situation, and choose a positive belief of great hope and expectations that you will prevail.

When the hard times come, it’s the leader’s attitude that lifts others to victory. The POW leaders shined the light through dark times, and that’s a lesson for all times.

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For more information, visit www.leadingwithhonor.comHe lives in the Atlanta area.

 

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Looking back, 2013 was a very busy year for most of us — what a blur of activity! Some of my closest friends were worried that I wouldn’t be able to sustain the pace of traveling, speaking, book signing, consulting, coaching and even working on a new book. There were challenging moments, but amazingly my energy and spirits remained high. I attribute this not to a special energy drink but to the infusion of generous encouragement and affirmation that I received from so many people throughout the year. Not only did I receive much more than I gave, but I’ve never felt so free to be myself. This giving from others brought me a new level of freedom and made the difference in my year.

As a former Vietnam POW, you can imagine how meaningful freedom is to me and how sensitive I am about the concept. As a leadership consultant and coach, I see that we all have mindsets from our past that are like shackles holding us  back from being our best self—hence the tagline for my consulting company that says “Freeing Leaders To Lead Higher.” 

“Not only did I receive much more than I gave, but I’ve never felt so free to be myself.” 

Now in reflection, I can see how others freed me to climb higher in 2013. With this fresh perspective, I’m making a commitment to pay it forward in 2014. To do that I’ll need a spirit of giving not just at the holidays, but I’ll need to be a giver every day of the year in three specific areas: personhood, performance, and potential. 

 

1. Give Affirmation 

This is about personhood. We all want to count, to be valued, to know that we are important in this life. In our daily interactions with others, we have a choice to be a giver or a taker; it’s much healthier to give than to be needy taker. My goal is to authentically lift others up and not add to the burdens of self-doubt that we all carry. I’m going to be more intentional about affirming their uniqueness, recognizing their talents, and helping them see how special they are.

 

2. Give Encouragement 

This is about performance. Positive feedback reinforces mental and muscle memory, and it also energizes the recipient. That’s the energy that was propelling this old fighter pilot to light the afterburners and soar rather than fizzle in 2013! I want to encourage others, but sometimes my old habits as an Air Force instructor pilot kick in. Grading every maneuver against perfection was required in that job, but it’s not very helpful in leadership (and most relationships, for that matter). I need to raise my awareness and emotional intelligence to quickly and consistently recognize small successes and good execution. 

“Grading every maneuver against perfection was required in that job [as an Air Force Instructor], but it’s not very helpful in leadership (and most relationships, for that matter).”

 

3. Give Others a Vision for Their Future 

This is about potential. From my early years, I had a few people who saw something in me that I didn’t see. In small and large ways, they communicated that vision to me—subtly calling me out to reach my potential. During the difficult years in the POW cells, those messages echoed through my mind and inspired me onward toward the day when I would finally be free again. For years I’ve made it part of my mission to pay back the bank for this great investment that was made in me by so many. This year, I want to take the risk and double down in expressing my faith in others because I personally know how valuable it can be. 

We all have times when we fight the demons of discouragement and doubt, but focusing on ourselves usually makes us needy.  Instead of being takers, let’s commit to become better givers.  It’s a freeing behavior for the giver and the receiver, and it’s mutually beneficial for both parties.  Will you join me in my effort to free others to live and lead higher in 2014? Share your comments and plans for the new year in this forum. 

 

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company, Lee Ellis, of Atlanta, Ga., consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For more information, visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.

 

Facebook = www.facebook.com/LeonLeeEllis
Twitter = www.twitter.com/LeonLeeEllis
LinkedIn = http://linkd.in/xGPwvf
Pinterest = www.pinterest.com/LeonEeeEllis
WordPress = http://LeonLeeEllis.wordpress.com/
Web = www.LeadingWithHonor.com 

 

Starting a new year can be a time of mixed emotions. I know because I greeted six consecutive New Year’s sitting in North Vietnam prisoner of war camps. Fear was the foremost emotion in those first three years, and the others were somewhat daunting, too.

Yet, we always kept hope that the new year would bring an honorable end to the war. In spite of the difficult conditions, our leaders stayed positive and inspired us to bounce back as they did so often. They also taught us to resist the enemy and survive so that someday we could return with honor.

Dealing with paradoxes

One of the difficult challenges for leaders is paradox — the fine balance between being:

  • humble and strong.
  • decisive and willing to listen to the ideas of others.
  • confident and vulnerable.
  • tough and compassionate.
  • detached and sensitive.

A healthy paradox to start the new year is facing the future with both hope and realism. In his best-selling book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins addressed the process that kept the Vietnam POWs going year after year, and he named it after his friend and one of our senior leaders, Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale. Collins insightfully categorized the importance of this dynamic tension as the “Stockdale Paradox:”  

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

So as you look forward to 2014, are you naturally optimistic and seeing the positive potential of what can happen this year?

If so, then you may need to sit down with some friends and teammates who are more realistic to help you confront the brutal realities of your situations. If you do not have them, you need a strategy and a plan in place to address the tough days ahead.     

Find the half-full glass

On the other hand, if all you can see is barbed wire and hard times ahead, then you probably need to begin the new year with a time of thanksgiving to count your blessings and recalibrate your attitude.

Determine where you can get a foothold of hope and optimism to inspire yourself and others. Optimism generates positive emotions related to faith, belief, conviction and confidence, and it’s from these emotions that we gain the inspiration to persist when things look bleak and hold on until we can ultimately prevail.

Yes, diligence and dedication are important, but never forget that inspiration is the source of power. Stockdale was right — “faith that we would prevail” is the essential principle of successful business leadership. It enabled us to resist and survive as POWs and return with honor.

This same thinking enables poor men to become rich, sick people to become well, last place teams to become first and each of us to reach our potential as human beings and business leaders. It’s more than positive feelings — it’s the choice of belief.

Most New Year’s resolutions never last as long as 90 days, but given the impact your attitude and behaviors can have on the year 2014, why not commit to lead with honor by following the Stockdale Paradox? Deal with the brutal realities of your situation, and choose a positive belief of great hope and expectations that you will prevail.

When the hard times come, it’s the leader’s attitude that lifts others to victory. The POW leaders shined the light through dark times, and that’s a lesson for all times.

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For more information, visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.

 

Facebook = www.facebook.com/LeonLeeEllis
Twitter = www.twitter.com/LeonLeeEllis
LinkedIn = http://linkd.in/xGPwvf
Pinterest = www.pinterest.com/LeonEeeEllis
WordPress = http://LeonLeeEllis.wordpress.com/
Web = www.LeadingWithHonor.com 

 

 

 

 

 

In Patrick Lencioni’s latest book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business,” he points out that the greatest competitive advantage you can have is to be a healthy organization. He’s right.

So what exactly does that look like? Well, let’s take a closer look at the other side of the coin — an unhealthy organization. Here are three strong indicators:

  • A lack of trust leading to poor teamwork and alignment.
  • A lack of clarity about mission, vision and values.
  • A fear of conflict. People are not allowed to say what they really think.

With these symptoms, you can predict a lack of accountability on team goals, resulting in sloppy execution, inadequate results and ultimately, a poor reputation. As a smart business leader, however, you want the best results and a great place to work (they typically go together), so let’s consider the four fundamentals to achieve both goals. 

Build trust

Trust is the hallmark of a cohesive team. Without it, people have doubts, fears and uncertainty, which makes alignment and unity impossible.

Remember that we’re not talking about baseline trust such as, “Do I trust you not to steal my wallet?” Trust in this context means that I understand and accept you because you’re willing to be vulnerable and genuine. There are no hidden agendas.

Clarify and over-communicate 

Leading a business means facing many crucial issues and decisions every day. A good leader has the ability to synthesize large amounts of information into something simple. Too often, leaders assume that their staff see and understand what they do, and this causes problems with execution.

Imagine a quarterback having a complex play in mind, yet he only calls a short version of it in the huddle. If the players don’t have the same mental picture as the quarterback, mistakes will likely happen.

It’s the same in business. Leaders have to continually clarify and over-communicate the message down to the bottom of the organization to make sure the team understands what plays are being called. 

Create a safe environment and encourage debate

In healthy organizations, there’s an absence of fear, and courage is rewarded. Do your people have to walk on eggshells, or do they feel safe with you? Can they disagree with you and have a fair hearing, or do your reactions equate disagreement with disloyalty?

Healthy leaders invite creative conflict prior to making key decisions to get team buy-in and to make sure that other reasonable ideas are evaluated. They’re more interested in being effective than being “right.”

One of the greatest desires of all people is to be understood, so show courage by listening and learning from your people. Your courage, vulnerability and authenticity will be seen as strengths.  

Be courageous 

Leading isn’t easy. Every day you face tough issues, and your people are watching to see if you will walk the talk of your stated values. It takes all your courage and the support of your team and confidants to consistently lead with honor.

Lean into the pain of your fears to do what you know is right, and you will send a message of healthy courage throughout your organization. Remember that positive emotions are contagious and powerful, and leaders go first. ●

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. His latest book about his Vietnam prisoner of war experience is entitled “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For more information, visit www.leadingwithhonor.com.