In my coaching engagements, and in my everyday conversations outside of work, I notice recently an increased sense that more people are finding the current lockdown more difficult than all of last year. It prompted me to recall the story of Jim Stockdale and the Stockdale Paradox.

Jim Stockdale

Jim Stockdale spent 8 years in a prisoner of war camp, Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam  – dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. Whilst there he endured solitary confinement, torture and malnourishment.  Afterwards, he said “I never doubted not only that I would get out but that I would prevail”

When asked by Jim Collins (author Good to Great)about those that didn’t make it out, Stockdale told him they were the “optimists” – “they were the ones who 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.”

Stockdale suggests –

“confront the brutal facts of the situation whilst holding the faith that you will prevail in the end”

Jim Collins describes this as the Stockdale Paradox in his book, Good to Great. Whilst Stockdale’s story came from a terrible wartime experience, and Jim Collins related the principle to how leaders guide their companies, it struck me as relevant to the challenge that a lot of people in the world are currently facing.

Managing false hope

If you pay any attention to media (I try to avoid it!), you find that it is filled with the latest short term catastrophe which feeds our short term thinking and our desire for a short term resolution to an overall crisis that is longer term in nature. We constantly hear speculation and promises that “this lockdown will end on X date” “vaccination will be complete by Y date”, “the barber will be open on Z date” (now that one is needed!). The dates come and go and are replaced with new later dates and so it goes. It is not surprising how this is frustrating everyone …… especially the optimists!

Back to Normal or Back to Better

like many challenges we have overcome before, we will prevail

The challenge is to manage those dichotomies – acknowledging that we are where we are – the brutal facts of where we are, not fooling ourselves that we will be going back to normal by a certain date, yet holding a belief that, like many challenges we have overcome before, we will prevail. And rather than it being a back to normal – potentially we can make it back to better.

So can we find some ways to prevent beating ourselves down with rolling disappointments that come with each new “lockdown end date” yet lift our heads and look further ahead and build our faith that in the end, we will prevail? In our conversations can we help our clients, our team, our friends or family to look further ahead?

Supporting your people

If you are a people leader at this time, your emotional intelligence skills are likely being challenged, and indeed developed, to keep your team engaged and motivated. You may be of great help to your team if you can help them see that, in the end, they too can prevail. Perhaps in your conversations, you can help them identify the things they want to keep from this experience and how these will be part of their new, and potentially better, future.

Keep the faith.

Keep on building….