Leadership lessons came fast in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp—it was literally a school of hard knocks. For more than five years, I served as a young lieutenant with senior leaders who demonstrated honorable behavior under the most horrific circumstances. More importantly, I personally experienced the sacrifice that it takes to live and lead with honor and accountability.
This direct relationship between these two virtues is undeniable, but it’s most powerful when we personally apply them as leaders. If you’re looking for strong guidelines in evaluating political candidates in this year’s election cycle, it requires clarity about what honorable behaviors look like. Here’s an Honor Code developed by my team that pinpoints 7 ways that all current and future political candidates should live and lead in our culture:
1. Tell the truth, even when it’s difficult.
2. Treat others with dignity and respect.
3. Keep your word and commitments.
4. Be ethical.
5. Act responsibly; do your duty and be accountable.
6. Be courageous.
7. Live your values.
They may sound simple, but they’re quickly realized as difficult when applying them in everyday life and work. No one is immune when the dark side of human nature emerges with self-serving, rationalizing thoughts and actions like pride, fear, or laziness that look for shortcuts and loopholes. In contrast, accountability provides the guardrails that help us keep our commitments and be who we want to be. It is the faithful “guardian companion” of honor.
The best strategy for evaluating our political leaders is whether they’re willing to live and serve with courageous accountability—that is, choosing the “hard” right decisions over the easy, short term, self-serving ones. By holding our politicians to the standard of character, courage, and commitment, we can indirectly influence our local and national consciousness.
So take steps now to reverse the cultural and political trends in our culture—engage with honor and accountability. It will make any leader a person of great influence on current and future generations.
Lee Ellis is the author of Engage with Honor: Building a Culture of Courageous Accountability.