What the Vietnam War and the Stockdale Paradox Can Teach Us About How to Face 2022

plant sprout in tilesIt’s 2022 and it feels like 2021 again. We’ve got another COVID wave, more lockdowns, more virtual schooling, more work from home, canceled trips, and a country more polarized than ever. I can sense fatigue and hopelessness from my family and my staff. During these times, I turn once again to a great video from Jim Collins about what he calls The Stockdale Paradox.

Admiral Jim Stockdale was shot down by the Vietnamese during the 1960s and then spent 8 years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He was the highest-ranking military officer at the Hanoi Hilton, which meant he had the full burden of command and responsibility, but he was also repeatedly tortured and could be shot at any moment. Admiral Stockdale’s time at the POW camp was bleak, miserable and seemingly endless.

Jim Collins, the author of several of my favorite business books (Built to Last and Good to Great), got to know Admiral Stockdale at Stanford University many years ago. Professor Collins has written extensively about what he calls The Stockdale Paradox. 

Professor Collins asked Admiral Stockdale HOW he survived his years as a POW. Admiral Stockdale replied that he never wavered in his faith that he would get out and, more importantly, he would turn his time as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton into a defining event of his life, that in retrospect he would NOT trade. Wow. Just wow.

Here’s the crux of The Stockdale Paradox. You need unwavering faith that you can and will prevail against whatever terrible situation you’re in, AND you need to confront the brutal facts of your condition, whatever they may be

What does this mean? For me, it means:

  • Not being naive in thinking that this pandemic will be over soon and life will get back to normal.
  • Not giving in to despair when I’m missing my family, my mom, my co-workers, travel.
  • Rallying my team and reminding them that we can, and will, prevail in the end, over this pandemic.
  • Reminding myself and my team that we will come out stronger as a company and as a community.
  • Not romanticizing the olden days, the “normal” days.
  • Keeping my team and my family focused on what we CAN control: our work, our attitudes, our routines.
  • Finding joy where I can, including walks in the snow, movie night at home, new accounts at work, amazing clients, Zooms with college buddies, and my amazing family.

For those of who are leaders at work and at home, Jim Collins reminds us to become Admiral Stockdale for those who need us to be. We need to have unwavering hope AND we need to help those around us navigate the gloom and despair that surround us.

Here’s the video from Jim Collins. I have watched this video countless times. I watched it at the start of the pandemic, when my team was working nonstop to launch BeSpeake, when the world opened up and then closed again because of Delta, and then again when Omicron wiped out all of my family’s holiday plans. I hope you find comfort and strength in The Stockdale Paradox. We are living in a Stockdale moment and we all need to become Admiral Stockdale.

 

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