Jim Collins in his book: “Good to Great – Why some companies make the leap and others don’t” observed that organizations, and people, that survive adversity and moved from good to great embrace a somewhat paradoxical mindset. They labeled this mindset, the Stockdale Paradox and described it thus:
“You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time…You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” In any situation, baseless and careless optimism and bravado kills; but negativity and fear does worse than that. Self delusion in an crisis is insanity. Speed matters, especially when you do not have scant resources. Do not bury your head in the sand because you are not an ostrich and should never behave like one. Face the brutal realities of your life and situation and yet keep the hope that you will one day prevail.
Life is a marathon; and never a short dash or sprint. This that we are going through will go away, but not just yet and perhaps not so fast. Some temporary measures will be in place for a long time. Somethings that we knew would never be the same again. It is too long night, do not doze off yet or think normal is coming soon. It is not.
When you are wrestling with a gorilla you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. You do not announce your lunch plans early because you do not stop when you are tired, neither do you hope that the gorilla will tire out that fast and lose interest. When wrestling with a gorilla you only stop when the gorilla stops, and even then you remain vigilant. Until the gorilla is tired, it is game one. Such is any match against adversity. Brutal facts are brutal. They expose what you thought was hidden and reveal what you thought would never come out. Gorillas by their nature speak a different language, care little for protocol and do not announce their coming.
For any leader any crisis you face is a message that something that used to work will no longer work and it is time to wake up and change, #changefast. A crisis is a wake up call and alert message. Hear the message, and its not time for petty fights, or looking for marbles. Please do not press, “snooze!” The gorilla does not negotiate or feel any pity. A crisis should never be wasted by continuing on myopic pattens and playbooks. Stop gambling with time and face the brutal realities of your situation. Things do not work themselves out, you have to face reality and do the things that take you out of your holes. If
The Stockade Paradox is named after admiral Jim Stockade (1923 – 2005), a United States military officer who was captured and held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. Stockade was tortured and asked to reveal information by his captors, but he did not bulk. He faced the possibility of death and the hope of ever being a free man again and seeing his family were grim and sad. He was marooned. He had to hope against hope, while facing his grim realities.
Your situation may be bad, really bad and you may feel that you have very few options. Whatever your situation, face it and work through the realities and draw backs. Whatever the music, dare to dance. You may not have intelligent answers, but be willing to face the brutal facts and realities of the moment. This is not a moment for superstition. It is not how bad the situation is that matters but how squarely you face it. Your attitude and mindset in any situation determines your destiny. Whatever happens, like Stockdale, do not lose hope and faith or close your tired eyes the realities that you know. Thinking short-term, short-measures, short play leaves you vulnerable and weak. This is a big marathon, pace yourself for survival and the long drive ahead, during and beyond the mess.
Stockdale was tortured more than twenty times by his captors, and could have easily dispaired and lost the will to live and fight on. Yet, he never lost faith or threw away hope while starring at his hopeless situation. Never ever give up or lose hope. Keep the fight and keep perspective and you will live. Jim Stockdale in conversation with Jim Collins, said: “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” Never doubt that you will prevail and turn your tests of today into a testimony. Live long enough to tell your story and write your memoires. You cannot let all your suffering go to waste.
While Stockdale had faith in the unknowable, he had to face the known and knowable. He noted that it was always the most optimistic of his fellow prisoners who failed to make it out of the Vietnam dungeons alive. Short-term hope that ignores current reality kills its gullible hosts. Should these challenges last long, gear yourself to outlast them. Past experience is too shallow a pond to have practised your diving lessons into reality.
Stockdale saw adversity with different eyes and a made-up-mind. He accepted the reality of his situation and its dangers. He knew he was facing possible death, but he was not dead yet. He refused to be in denial or to bury his head in the sand. He stepped up to the challenge and did everything he could to lift morale, remain steadfast under pressure and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners. As best he could communicate with this fellow prisoners messages of fortitude. He developed a milestone system that helped them deal with torture. When you look into darkness, do not despair because the day is coming. If it delays, wait for it with prayerful but open eyes.
In Stockdale’s experience it is when optimists who were in denial were eventually forced to face reality, that the face of reality became too ugly and painful and they could not handle it. Keep faith alive, but face the brutal facts. Stop banking on easy and quick changes. Prepare to run the journey and to outlast your adversities. Determine that you will have the last laugh, but for now it is no laughing matter, it is game on.
Admitting difficulty is not a sign of weakness. Success is moving from failure, to difficulty, via adversity and still not losing your enthusiasm, faith and passion. Never doubt that you are destined for greatness, regardless of the present difficulties. Do not throw away hope and start counting down to death. Keep hope alive. Retain the faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the treachery of the current difficulties. No winter lasts forever and no storm is perennial. Keep faith and hope alive. Do not give up so easily. Faith that does not ignore facts is your asset in night times.
It is when things are hardest that you must not run away. Embrace the Stockade Paradox and you will live long. Keep faith alive, but face your brutal realities, whatever they may be. Face your giants and wrestle on. There is a gorilla knocking. What will you do now?
Committed to your greatness.