Serving with Honor – Chapter 2: Guard your Character

Last month the 115th Fighter Wing had the privilege of hosting Col (ret) Lee Ellis and listening to his motivational discussions of his leadership lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Every month a small article will expand on some of his leadership principles found in each chapter of his book. I have the honor of discussing Chapter 2: “Guard Your Character”. In this chapter, Col Ellis describes his initial capture and his first thoughts and reactions to becoming a prisoner of war. Two things really stuck out in this chapter for me: “Walking your talk” and surrounding yourself with a small group who can help in your daily decisions.

To summarize Col (ret) Ellis, “Good Character is a purposeful decision”. He challenges us to “Walk your talk” meaning are our actions indicative of the character we talk about at work and at home? If you are a parent, I know this happens every single day during the course of raising a child. At my house, I find myself telling my kids exactly the behavior I want them to model: Eat healthy, get enough sleep, work out to make your body strong, get your work done early so you can play afterwards. I wish I was 100% in “Walking my talk”, but I know that’s not true. Every day I am faced with decisions that are contrary to “my talk”, and every day I aim to model the behaviors I expect of my kids.

The second part of this chapter that really hit home for me was surrounding myself with a small group who help guide my decisions. This happens every day at work. When I first joined the 115th Fighter Wing, my job was the Program Manager for the Fighter Enhancement Program. I essentially was in charge of operational and personal security for the flying operations. The security component of the Air Force views the world in black and white. We either were in compliance or we had a security issue. During my tenure, I had many opportunities to walk in the “gray” areas of my job. I could make the difficult decision (which usually entailed more work and more accountability) or I could make an easier decision that was less “black or white” and more “gray”. I relied on a small group of NCOs who always guided our office to make the best decision…usually not the easiest. I called them my moral compass because I could go to them with a difficult situation and I knew their advice would guide us to the correct path. Chapter two reinforces to me that ethical leadership is not a single step you make once. It is a continual process that takes conscious attention and is not a solo endeavor!

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