Admiral Jim Stockdale was a prisoner-of-war for eight years in Vietnam. Author Jim Collins interviewed him and asked who did not make it out of the war camp. “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists…They were the ones that said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

While stay-at-home is nowhere close to a concentration camp, I see parallels with the ambiguity of the situation. Those that thought we would be at home only for the initial 10 days or two weeks or believed that COVID would be under control by Easter – they are likely having a harder time with the continued extensions that are now stretching into June.

Stockdale continued with his story to Collins: “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Collins dubbed this the Stockdale Paradox and wrote about it in Good to Great as a central principle that great companies exhibited.

I think that those who are holding up mentally well during this pandemic are those who, whether consciously or unconsciously, have embraced the Stockdale Paradox. They will venture into the world when the time is right to do so but do not have an arbitrary deadline in mind that will come and go to disappoint them. They believe that we will resume social gatherings, eating in restaurants and (heaven help us) hair appointments, but right now are resolved to make the best of how it is. They are taking steps to conserve resources and prepare for a summer like none other, canceling plans instead of making them.

We do need to retain faith that it will be safe to leave our homes AND at the same time we need to confront the reality in which we are living — even though it does not come with a tidy calendar.

Source: Good to Great by Jim Collins, p 85-86.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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