Pub. Date:
Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability

Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability

by Lee Ellis


View All Available Formats & Editions
Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on February 1, 2022


Honor and accountability are linked together as a formula for great leadership, and a healthy mindset of accountability can inspire every team and organization to achieve a higher level of performance. The key is engaging with courage, commitment, and caring concern as opposed to motivation by fear, intimidation, and self-preservation. 

From his early experiences as an Air Force jet fighter pilot and POW in the prison camps of Vietnam to an award-winning author, presenter, and leadership consultant, Lee Ellis shares his concerns about the lack of accountability in our culture and how you can apply a positive, proven accountability model to get better results as a leader.

Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability​ will unify your team so that you can focus on celebration rather than confrontation by sharing – 

• Why a lack of accountability leads to confusion and chaos.
• Gripping personal leadership experiences from the Vietnam POW camps.
• A proven model for creating a positive accountability culture.
• Tips and practical tools to apply what you’ve learned.

2017 Award Winner! 11th Annual Indie Excellence Book Awards

Engage with Honor Book: Winner – Leadership Category
Engage with Honor Book: Finalist – Cover Design Non-Fiction

2017 Award Winner! Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award

Engage with Honor Book: First Place – Business/Sales/Economics Category

2017 Award Finalist! International Book Awards

Engage with Honor Book: Finalist – Business: Management & Leadership Category

2016 Award Finalist! Best Book Awards

Engage with Honor Book: Finalist – Business: Management & Leadership Category
Engage with Honor Book: Finalist – Best Cover Design: Non-Fiction

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781733632225
Publisher: FreedomStar Media
Publication date: 02/01/2022
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Lee Ellis is Founder and President of Leading with Honor® LLC and FreedomStar Media®. He is an award-winning author, leadership consultant, and expert presenter in the areas of leadership, teambuilding, and human performance. His past clients include Fortune 500 senior executives and C-Level leaders in telecommunications, healthcare, military, and other business sectors. Some of his media appearances include interviews on networks such as CNN, CBS This Morning, C-SPAN, ABC World News, Fox News Channel, plus hundreds of engagements in various industry sectors throughout the world.  

Early in his career, Lee served as an Air Force fighter pilot flying fifty-three combat missions over North Vietnam. In 1967, he was shot down and held as a POW for more than five years in Hanoi and surrounding camps. For his wartime service, he was awarded two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with Valor device, the Purple Heart, and POW Medal. Lee resumed his Air Force career, serving in leadership roles of increasing responsibility including command of a flying squadron and leadership development organizations before retiring as a colonel. Lee has a BA in History and a MS in Counseling and Human Development. He is a graduate of the Armed 

Forces Staff College and the Air War College. He has authored or co-authored four books on leadership and career development. His last book, Leading with Honor®: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton received multiple awards since its release including Winner in the 2012 International Book Awards in the Business and Management Category, and selection on the 2013 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Reading List.  

Lee and his wife Mary reside in the Atlanta GA area and have four grown children and six grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt

Engage with Honor

Building A Culture of Courageous Accountability

By Lee Ellis, Anne Alexander

FreedomStar Media

Copyright © 2016 Lee Ellis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9838793-7-4


Critical Failures in Honor

"To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice."

~ Confucius

THE F-4 PHANTOM was powerful, supersonic and highly reliable. But when ours was hit over enemy territory, it folded like a wounded duck on opening day. Fortunately, the ejection system worked perfectly. Unfortunately, it launched me from the protected womb of the cockpit into my worst personal and professional nightmare — a nylon letdown into the hands of the gunners below. We were some sixty miles into enemy territory — there was no way to evade. I was captured immediately, as was my partner whom I would not see again for ten days.

Hands tied, blindfolded and with a rope around my neck, I was pulled along like a reluctant hound, as we wound our way through bamboo hamlets toward the nearest "truck park" on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Externally I had remained calm, the result of my training and default discipline. But as the shock wore off and the reality of my situation sank in, I fought an internal battle with fear. On one hand, their militia displayed a degree of order and control, which calmed me. On the other hand, I was an American pilot taken prisoner in an area we had been bombing for more than two years.

Several times when the locals discovered I was passing through, they came after me with a vengeance. I survived only because of the honorable leadership of the Vietnamese sergeant in charge of my detail. He did his duty, protecting me and making sure I was delivered safely to the collection prison farther north, near the provincial town of Vinh.

As we got closer to Hanoi, the anxiety I felt was likely similar to what soldiers have felt throughout the ages as they closed into battle. I had fears, but I would lean in and do my best. My new battle would be to live up to my responsibilities as outlined in the Code of Conduct for prisoners of war. I knew I would be held accountable by others, but first and most importantly, I was accountable to myself. I did not want to fail in keeping my commitments — someday I wanted to return with honor.

On the last leg of this agonizing journey north, I joined up with my aircraft commander and fellow pilot, Capt. Ken Fisher, as well as two other POWs. We were bound and then tied to the side rails of a military truck. As we hit partially repaired bomb craters and mud holes, we repeatedly bounced high in the air and then slammed down on the truck floor for 8-10 hours each night. One of the two new guys was Lt. Col. Minter, who would be our senior officer — at least for a short while.

The four of us who had made that journey north together ended up in a small six and a half foot by seven-foot cell at H?a Lò (the infamous Hanoi Hilton). It soon became clear that our senior ranking officer (SRO) did not share the same values and perspectives on our country's role in the war. Though a gung-ho leader prior to his shoot down, he now freely provided military-related information to the enemy and defended their positions on the war. It was both angering and agonizing to see my leader failing in his duties.

Fortunately, I was not the only one deeply troubled by our senior officer's behavior. While Minter was away at a "quiz" one day, Capt. Fisher, our second ranking officer, shared his concerns about Minter's actions. He asked Lt. Warner (our other cellmate) and me if we would support him if he removed our senior ranking officer (SRO) from command and took over our cell. That was a huge step. In essence we would mutiny, and we had no idea how it would play out. But clearly something needed to be done, so we agreed that it would be the best course of action under the circumstances; we would give Capt. Fisher our full allegiance.

The tension in our cell escalated when Minter returned and Fisher confronted him. Minter seemed a little surprised, but did not become overly hostile, explaining that because this was not a declared war, the Code of Conduct did not apply, and basically, it was every man for himself. Even as a fresh twenty-four-year-old lieutenant, I knew better and could not have imagined anyone responding this way. He was rationalizing to the point of being irrational. Sure, our situation had changed by the nature of our capture, but as military members, our responsibilities and accountability were even more crucial now than before.

Minter's response was beyond disappointing. Listening to him defend his abandonment of duty, I saw firsthand how a leader's character could crumble when faced with a difficult choice to do the right thing to fulfill his duty — especially when the consequences might be painful. It appeared that Minter decided his self-interest mattered more than his professional commitments. Or, to put it another way, he was willing to abandon his honor to better his situation in the moment.

In contrast, Captain Fisher turned out to be the exact opposite kind of leader. He endured torture and suffering to do his duty and remain faithful to our cause. As my SRO for nearly three years, he modeled honor and courage — inspiring me to grow stronger and helping me to become the person I am today.

"In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions."

Viktor E. Frankl, Psychiatrist, WWII Holocaust Survivor, and Author of Man's Search for Meaning


Neglecting one's duty and pursuing selfish choices is part of the human condition; it's been that way since the beginning of time. Consider the example of David, the shepherd boy who slew the giant Goliath and later became king. You probably know the story of this revered leader and historical figure, but it's worth reviewing as we engage the subject of honor and accountability.

From his early youth David was known for his courage and his commitment to honor God. As a young shepherd he killed bears with his bare hands. As an adult, he was the most famous and celebrated warrior in the history of Israel. When Saul died in battle, David became a beloved and successful king.

And then one spring when kings normally go off to war, he stayed home. That's when his downfall began — on a warm day when he looked down from his roof and saw Bathsheba bathing. She happened to be the wife of one of his soldiers. David sent for her and had his way. When she became pregnant, David hatched a simple scheme to conceal his problem and protect Bathsheba from scandal — he would bring Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, back from the war for a few days of R&R with his wife.

But Uriah — being a man of great loyalty to his fellow soldiers — refused to go home to Bathsheba. Instead, he slept at the palace with the servants. David's cover-up ploy was foiled, so his deception intensified. He sent Uriah back to the battle with orders to Joab, his general, to make sure that Uriah was at the front of the attack. Then he was to pull back and let him be killed. It worked. Then David brought Bathsheba to the palace as his wife.

Later, the prophet Nathan confronted David in an amazing exchange that brought repentance. David was forgiven, but the consequences of his actions were disastrous. The child died and David's family was plagued with dysfunction — including incest, rape, murder, rebellion, and the death of his son, Absalom. David lost the trust and confidence of his people, and his life and leadership were never the same.

David had been "a man after God's own heart," yet he had acted as though he could take what he wanted without consequences. When he feared his deeds would be exposed, he used his power to cover up, protect his image, and avoid the negative consequences. But accountability eventually came.

Isn't it amazing how this story parallels so much of what we see today? It's common to hear about a leader who commits a crime — or some ethical violation — and then weaves an intricate cover-up. And when that begins to unravel, we hear outright denials, and then the blame game escalates — along with more excuses, justifications, and rationalizations. Typically, the whistle-blowers are demonized. And sometimes the guilty try to destroy the reputation of their accusers, or use their power to bury them figuratively — and sometimes literally. These are the high profile ones (like David) we hear so much about, but we all carry this same mutated gene that drives our egos to try to take whatever we want, without really considering what's ultimately at stake. When honor fails, we all lose; when honor fails and there is a lack of accountability, the loss undermines the culture and the structure of the organization.


In recent years, key players in the auto industry have stumbled, failing to do the honorable thing. At least three automakers have dominated the news by their persistent denial of alleged problems in some of their vehicles.

In these cases, they disavowed any culpability for years until they were confronted with evidence by state and federal authorities. Only then did they finally come clean — at least the leaders did — but the aftermath affected millions of their shareholders, employees, and customers.


Our citizens are dismayed by the performance of our government and its agencies. Politics aside, let's look at the evidence. Only 17 percent of the country has a favorable impression of Congress, yet no one seems to be able to hold them accountable. Regardless of which party is in power, the national debt grows at an ever-increasing rate to the point that the curve looks like a hockey stick.

The EPA has been under fire for their inability to deal with dis-honorable behavior. In one case it was a top-level employee accused of viewing porn several hours a day while at work. Even though investigators found 7,000 pornographic files on his computer and even caught him watching porn, he remained on the payroll. In another situation, leaders involved in ongoing sexual harassment — for more than ten years — were allowed to retire with full pensions. They were not held accountable.

The most persistent failure from a government agency (at least according to the news) seems to be the VA (Veterans Administration). Over the past several years, repeatedly there has been a new horror story of mismanagement, deception, duplicity and most troubling of all — a lack of accountability.

There are similar stories from the alphabet soup of agencies that spend our hard-earned money. Consider the following examples:

» GSA (General Services Administration) indulged in Las Vegas at our expense.

» IRS has been under fire for unethical practices.

» GAO (Government Accounting Office) has investigated CMS (Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services), which is a part of the Dept. of HHS (Health and Human Services). They've found significant problems with oversight of monies provided by CMS to the states for the implementation of state health care exchanges. Basically, millions of dollars are not accounted for by the state or the federal government. Did it just disappear? No one seems to know. Where is the honor? Where is the accountability?

» The DOE (Department of Energy) blew $500 million on Solyndra, a company on the verge of going broke — as well as millions more in other "green" energy companies that went under. The Washington Post did extensive research and reporting on the "Solyndra Scandal" and concluded that government documents showed that "Obama's green-technology program was infused with politics at every level."

The question that seems to have normal working people scratching their heads is, "Can anybody in the government be fired for ethical and performance failures?" Actually, there's been a sick joke going around for quite a while now — "A civil service employee is much more likely to die of a heart attack at work than to be fired." Sad, but probably true. Where is the accountability? Where is the honor?

As you would expect, the DOD (Department of Defense) seems to have done a better job of firing people for ethical violations than the other departments. Still, it is concerning that a spate of dis-honorable and illegal behaviors by generals and admirals is undermining the "good order and discipline" of the armed services. For example: an admiral fired for gambling with fake poker chips, generals and admirals disciplined for sexual harassment, assault, alcohol abuse, and improper use of government assets for personal benefit. And then there is General Petraeus. One can only conclude that success and power skewed his ethical compass, and the honor of one of our true heroes was shattered. What happened to his honor code?


Enron was a fast-rising flash in the pan. Arthur Andersen was old, established, and respected. Together, they were tossed into the pile of fallen icons — gone forevermore, because they lost sight of honor. Then in 2008 we learned that many banks and their Wall Street hucksters were selling bundles of loans that looked good on the outside, but on the inside they were rank with risk. The Ponzi scheme worked for a while, but eventually someone was left holding the bag — the American taxpayer. Do you recall TARP? You should. It cost you $475 Billion — that's with a B.


You would think that educators — those responsible for developing our youth — would be above these self-centered, take-care-of-myself behaviors. But not so. The former Chicago Public Schools chief pled guilty to steering "more than $23 million in no-bid contracts from the school system to her previous employers in exchange for kickbacks that would have made her millions of dollars."

In the Atlanta public schools, thirty-five educators and administrators were convicted of racketeering when they conspired to change students' answers on standardized tests in order for the students to get higher scores. The goal was to protect the educators from the consequences of not meeting standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act. The kids were left even further behind as the teachers scrambled to the trough to feed their own needs. Where was the honor? Eventually, there was accountability and the consequences came too.

At a small local high school in North Georgia, thirty-five students were accused of cheating in their online AP US History course — after they were caught sharing answers through their Google accounts. The school superintendent said, "Most students confessed to cheating and know what they did was wrong." Don't you wonder why they did something they knew was wrong? I wonder to what degree they might have been affected by the general loss of honor in our society, and how that might have been expedited by dis-honorable behaviors by high profile leaders and famous performers who seem to get away with a lot — with a wink and a nod.


Honor suffers from Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. The story above about top high school students cheating reminds us that honor issues are not just revealed in folks who are "out there." Character and ethical failures are in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and even in us — if we fail to be "on guard." Reflect with me.

An Illinois cop embezzled funds from youth organizations to pay off his mortgage and to pay for adult websites. Rather than face the music, he committed suicide — making it look like he was a murder victim. In my immediate region, I'm aware of an HR manager in a Christian ministry who embezzled money from the funds set aside for medical payments. Two nearby Chamber of Commerce managers — as well as bookkeepers and employees in several other local county offices — have gone to jail for embezzlement. In every case these were solid citizens from good families.

Last year I was in San Antonio to speak for a client's event. When I checked into the hotel, the headlines of the local paper proclaimed: "Lawyer pleads guilty to bribing state court judge." That was an eye opener, but it didn't stop there. In the first section of the paper I counted stories of twelve different ethical violations. While writing this chapter, the campus pastor at a large local church resigned, confessing years of adultery, leaving a disappointed congregation and more importantly a shattered life for his wife and three children.

In David's time they wanted kings. Today in our country, we have presidents, governors and mayors — but not much else has changed. If we assume that our top public servants' track record of honor is replicated in the culture, we can estimate the magnitude of the problem. In my lifetime I've seen President Nixon resign in the face of impeachment for Watergate and its cover-up. President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice. There have been apparent ethical scandals in several of the other administrationa from both political parties.


Excerpted from Engage with Honor by Lee Ellis, Anne Alexander. Copyright © 2016 Lee Ellis. Excerpted by permission of FreedomStar Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword xiii

Introduction 1

Section 1 The Struggle for Honor 7

Chapter 1 Critical Failures in Honor 11

Chapter 2 Battling for Honor and Accountability 25

Chapter 3 Building a Culture of Accountability 39

Section 2 The Courageous Accountability Model 57

Chapter 4 The Core of Leadership: Character, Culture, Commitment 63

Chapter 5 Clarity Begins with the Leader 77

Chapter 6 Connect: Know Yourself-Know Your People 97

Chapter 7 Connect with the Heart 113

Chapter 8 Develop a Mindset for Collaboration 131

Chapter 9 Collaborate-Learn to Engage 147

Chapter 10 Closeout: Celebrate (or Confront) and Critique 167

Chapter 11 Troubleshooting Accountability-Tips and FAQs 183

Epilogue 193

Foot Stompers 197

Appendices 201

Acknowledgments 217

Index 219

About the Author 233

Customer Reviews