Leon F. Ellis, a former POW at the infamous Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War, gave an inspiring keynote address Sunday night at the NACD Boardroom Leadership Conference 2012, which came down to one word: leadership. By drawing parallels to his time at a POW camp, Ellis showed how leadership could bring change to both a country and company.
The country is in need of a rebound, Ellis argued. Confidence in our country’s leaders and our businesses are at an all-time low. Continuing down the same path was not an option. Only leaders with “’mission, values and vision” can turn the public’s confidence around.
The leaders capable of turning the country or a business around would require four things, according to Ellis. A good leader must possess competency, the ability to build a culture, openness or transparency, and finally, the drive to keep innovating. These four elements not only helped his fellow POWs survive but they have also proven to build great organizations.
Ellis then turned his attention on the audience of directors. He explained how directors, as stewards of organizations, have a responsibility to make the “tough, unpopular” decisions. Not only must they make ethical choices, but they must also embolden others to be courageous. Only by showing courage will others be courageous enough to act. This is how great movements and organizations are made, according to Ellis.
Finally, the keynote speaker addressed the upcoming presidential election by saying, “I’m gonna tell you who to vote for.” Ellis said that picking a president is like picking a CEO, you have to find an individual with competence, character and courage.
More NACD Boardroom Leadership Conference 2012 coverage: