Wednesday, June 1, 2016


     I am indebted to Dean Taylor, MD for inviting me to the Feagin Leadership Program Annual meeting at Duke University. The topic on RESILENCY was one that I often pondered but was seldom able to locate material or experts to learn from. One panel discussion was on Resiliency Lessons Learned in the Military presented by: 

CDR (Ret) James Bailey
MAJ (Ret) Scotty Smiley & Mrs. Tiffany Smiley
MG (Ret) Paul Lefebvre
Commander James (Jim) Williams Bailey told us his story on resiliency in surviving 2063 days in captivity in Hanoi during the Vietnam war (June 28, 1967 thru February 18, 1973). Over the past several years I have read much about the Survivor’s Personality as written by many, but have not had the experience to listen to or speak to anyone forced to endure long periods of POW imprisonment and still coming out alive. No doubt there is a characteristic makeup in Survivors compared to those who are unable to endure (see table below).

      To summarize a six-year period of imprisonment and constant threat of torture would not do justice to the story but that background is needed for perspective.  LTJG James W. Bailey was the “backseater” of an F4B Phantom being flown by CDR William P. "Bill" Lawrence (commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 143 onboard the USS Constellation) as they were flying a mission over Nam Dinh, North Vietnam on 28 June 1967, when their aircraft was hit by enemy fire and the crew was forced to eject. Lawrence and Bailey were captured by the North Vietnamese. Bailey was held prisoner from June 1967 to February 1973. During that time, he and the other prisoners at the “Hanoi Hilton” were continually threatened with torture DAILY with no end in sight. While there were periods during this imprisonment he believed he would be release, each potential release was met with disappointment. Jim Bailey survived this ordeal by maintaining a set of personal rules as follows:
·         Deal with the isolation and hopelessness, because it will overtake you if you cannot manage it.  One day Jim assessed his situation and came to realize “You’re in a bad place” but “self-pity is the most destructive attitude a person can have.”
·         Maintain situational awareness. Be constantly aware of what you are doing and especially what you are saying.
·         Set goals and routines to keep on track. You dont want to sit idle and begin to overthink your situation
·         Keep a sense of humor as it will keep the hope and encourage others..
·         Accept circumstances beyond your control. There is nothing you could have done or can do so get over it and move on.
·         Learn to become stronger after each setback - each period of torture. Learn to Bounce back!
Others such as Leon Ellis (author of Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton– January 7, 2014) revealed similar survival traits and advice such as:
·         Know yourself
·         Guard your character
·         Clarify and build the culture- purpose, value acceptable behavior- courage
·         Confront your doubts and fears
I really appreciate Commander Bailey talking with us… this really hit home with me…. Not that I have had to endure anything even close to that, but have had a few harrowing experiences… These prompted me to look around to see about the survivor’s character.

Laurence Gonzalez and others have written much on the topic of the survivors’ trait and I found it interesting to see a real pattern in those who make it and those who just give in.

So I was hoping to chat with Commander Bailey at some point on:

1.    how have you used these lessons to teach young leaders to practice this?

2.    How do you teach the survivor’s personality – is it teachable? Can you train others to develop this character over time? or is it a situation where you are born with it or without it?

3.    How has this helped in furthering other leadership training you have done professionally or personally?

Hopefully he and I will connect and discuss this.


Survivability: The Survivor’s Personality
Versatile/Tolerate change
Rational but hopeful
Calm: Humble but self-confident
Help others
o Influence
o Meaningful purpose
o Open minded
Survivability: The Survivor’s Personality 71, 133, 136.

No comments:

Post a Comment