Stability Vs. Consistency

As leaders, we often equate stability with consistency, with not having to deal with radical change. Yet, stability has other leadership meanings.

Lt. Colonel Robbie Risner’s mission one early morning in September 1965 was to attack a North Vietnamese missile plant. While flying at a low altitude toward Tunong Loc, Risner’s plane veered into a death trap. The North Vietnamese were waiting for him with heavy ground fire, and Robinson was forced to eject himself after his plane took several rounds of ammunition. . He became a prisoner of war at Hoa Lo Prison, known as The Hanoi Hilton to American POWS.

The treatment was beyond brutal. Risner spent three years in solitary confinement. But because he was a lieutenant colonel, he was still responsible for maintaining order. So, he developed an improvised messaging technique (the tap code) to endear himself to his fellow prisoners, even though they couldn’t see his face. Away from everyone, Risner sent messages to his fellow inmates, reminding them to never give up, to never succumb to the negative moment, to have faith and to remain hopeful that it would all end one day. 

For seven years, four months and 27 days, Risner was a POW. But never did he lose hope or allow overwhelmingly negative thoughts to creep into his mind. Risner knew that he had a duty to provide purpose to himself and to his fellow soldiers.

“We were lucky to have Risner. With Captain (James) Stockdale, we had wisdom. With Risner, we had spirituality," said Commander Everett Alvarez Jr., the first U.S. pilot held as a Prisoner of War in Southeast Asia. 

It wasn’t a false hope or wishful thinking that Risner provided. He instead gave them the stability of purpose. He was their rock, their spiritual advisor. 

As leaders, we often equate stability with consistency, with staying away from radical change. Yet, stability has other leadership meanings, which Risner demonstrated. By being positive and providing hope, he stabilized his men, allowing them to believe that there would be a future away from the camp no matter how challenging the present was. His stability gave them a positive vision of tomorrow even as they endured the pain of today.   

We often discuss how badly people need stability, how stabilizing those we lead will give them desperately-needed continuity. But stability also consists of reassurance; it involves a constant reminder of the day's task and the future. The words we choose as leaders help stabilize our teams. When we can be positive and paint a realistically optimistic future, we get people to believe. 

And through strong beliefs, the impossible suddenly becomes achievable. Take it from Robbie Risner. 


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