“Engage with Honor” Takes Leadership Lessons from Unlikely Experience


“Engage With Honor” is about the power of leadership under the most stressful situations. Written by a fighter pilot and 5-year Vietnam POW, this book delves into how leaders can avoid the slippery slope of bad morals by developing “courageous accountability” in themselves and their business.

Engage With Honor Book Review

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Could your leadership survive a crisis? If your company depended on one critical decision and only you could make it, would that decision be based on the bottom line or principle? These are questions that Lee Ellis, former Vietnam war fighter pilot and a five-year survivor of a prison war camp, struggled with on a daily basis. In his position, he grappled with and saw leadership at its best and its worst. That experience gave him a perspective that few people have survived to pass on.

What is Engage With Honor About?

Like Extreme Ownership, another book reviewed on Small Business Trends, Engage With Honor is about applying leadership lessons learned from the war, although from a slightly different perspective. Instead of focusing on what a leader does, this book focuses on who a leader is.

Ellis focuses on the need for a leader to consistently maintain his or her values as a daily practice to avoid going into a downward spiral of dishonor. Consistent practice of values by leaders is critical, because, as Ellis points out, anyone is capable of dishonorable behavior under the right conditions. Engage With Honor highlights several cases where this happens: Enron, government agencies like the EPA and IRS, the military, education and healthcare. The book sites cases of dishonor which were more than just sensational headlines on the late night news. They had real serious implications, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

As a POW in Vietnam, Ellis came to the conclusion that good leadership is a consistent re-dedication to values no matter the circumstances. Some of his fellow co-prisoners abandoned the Military Code of Conduct under the crisis of being captured. Others like Vice Admiral Stockdale clung to the Military Code of Conduct even under the reality of torture and solitary confinement. Ellis argues that Vice Admiral Stockdale was able to maintain his beliefs because he was clear on his values and communicated those values in his own actions and words whether he was alone or with a group of prisoners. That tenacity to the “right thing to do no matter what” as a leader is what leaders need to say, do, and re-dedicate themselves to every day if they are leaders who make a difference.

Author Ellis is not only a former Air Force fighter pilot, flight commander and POW, but a recipient of numerous military awards including the Purple Heart and Legion of Meritand and is now a leadership consultant.

What Was Best About Engage With Honor?

Engage With Honor is a great leadership book because it strips leadership down to its barest essentials while also telling the haunting (and very real) tale of the author’s life in a Vietnam POW camp. The book doesn’t go into extreme detail, but Ellis provides enough substance to show readers that this was a truly hostile environment that could not break the spirit of someone dedicated to their values. Using the simple metaphor of this harrowing tale, Ellis demonstrates his model of leadership with clarity and simplicity.

What Could Have Been Done Differently

The focus of Engage With Honor is on fostering what Ellis calls “courageous accountability.” It points out the problems when people don’t engage in this kind of behavior (lying, cheating, stealing, etc.), but it doesn’t get bogged down into ethical dilemmas like whistleblowing. The book’s focus is on the principles that leaders (or really anyone) can follow, not the particular steps they should take

Why Read Engage With Honor?

If you are a business leader who was inspired by a book like “Extreme Ownership,” you will probably enjoy the insight and perspective of  Engage With Honor. It provides a different perspective, however. “Extreme Ownership” focuses on what leaders should do. “Engage with Honor” focuses on who they are.

In addition, if you are looking to develop or refresh your company’s leadership and ethics development, this book provides excellent and straightforward advice on what you might want to include in the program.

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Charles Franklin Charles Franklin is a Book Reviewer for Small Business Trends. He has a background as a professional reviewer, and is also a content provider and customer relations professional.