If you’ve not yet read Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” you’ve missed one of the best books ever for business lessons and insights you can apply to just about everything you do. Another easy order from half. com or amazon. com. One topic he discusses, when writing about how some companies achieve greatness and endure, and others not, is the Stockdale Paradox, named after his conversations with Admiral Stockdale, a prisoner-of-war from ’65 to ’73 during the Vietnam war. Collins used the results of that conversation to describe the paradox like this, “[the ability to] retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time, Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
Is there anyone for whom, in these challenging economic times, with public dialogue barraged by joblessness, recalls, scandals of various sorts, political fighting and finger-pointing and a general gloom that’s sustained itself for a significant time, who is not tempted to fall victim to that doom and gloom, and lose their way, as company or a leader? Just switch on the news. Any time. Any channel, regardless of your politics. You’ll find plenty of reason to forget the first part of the paradox.
What’s interesting, as Collins further explains from his discussion, is that the great companies followed this line of pragmatism (the combination of hope and faith that you will prevail while simultaneously confronting the facts, the reality in a “brutally” honest way). We could all use a dose of this pragmatism as we face budget challenges, staff reductions and re-organizations and in many instances re-analyzing where our industries should go and what they should become in the future. It doesn’t matter if you’re a non-profit, a worldwide service or product provider or elected leader entrusted with defining a path through the quagmire of challenges.
Next time you find yourself confronting a choice, remember the Stockdale Paradox. It’s a great concept to guide right thinking and right action. Especially if you expect to go from good to great. And to lead others there as well.