In his classic business book Good to Great, Jim Collins recounts the story of Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest ranking naval officer held as a POW during the Vietnam War. Despite years of torture and deprivation, Stockdale was able to maintain the discipline to confront the facts of his current reality, while at the same time having faith that he would prevail in the end despite his current circumstances. Collins came to describe this mentality as the Stockdale Paradox.
Courageous leaders, like Admiral Stockdale, are able to unequivocally confront the facts of their current reality with objectivity and honesty. Why is this important? Because too many leaders today are afraid to face reality and, as a result, end up convincing themselves that everything is fine when it’s actually not.
When leaders create a false sense of reality in their organization, a few detrimental things happen:
1) Employees lose trust and belief in their leader.
2) Morale and productivity declines.
3) Good people leave.
4) The organization suffers.
Courageous leaders are honest with their people, telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. People respond to and appreciate this level of transparency. On the flip side, they can become cynical and jaded when leaders try to perpetuate a reality that does not exist.
So you might be wondering, “How do I confront my current reality?”
First, be honest with yourself by doing an objective analysis of your current situation. Determine where you are in relation to your purpose, vision, and long-term goals.
Second, in addition to being honest with yourself, you need someone in your life who can tell you the truth without fear of how you might react. You need someone who can hold you accountable.
Finally, realize that your current circumstances do not define your future. All too often we fail to confront reality because we think things will always be like they are now. We are afraid to face it. As a result, nothing changes.
Need some more help with understanding this concept? Below is a video of me speaking on this topic to a group recently: