We have now navigated over a month of "stormy seas" caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and we still do not know how much longer this will be our new reality. Many employers have laid off or furloughed employees and those that are standing pat may not be able to do so for much longer. So what now? How do you continue to motivate yourself or your team when the deck is stacked against you?
When first confronted with these questions myself, my mind jumped to the Stockdale Paradox. The Stockdale Paradox was named after James Stockdale, a naval officer who had the serious misfortune of being a long term prisoner of war during the Vietnam war. Being the ranking officer, he had the responsibility of maintaining order and faith within the men who were imprisoned with him, a harrowing task to say the least. Jim Collins discusses the experience in his book "Good to Great":
How on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “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.”
Finally, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”
“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused given what he’d said earlier.
“The optimists. Oh, 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. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–-which you can never afford to lose–-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
So how does this help us navigate the present situation? His basic thought was that you need to balance your thoughts on almost contradictory terms. You need to have faith that you will be able to eventually overcome the challenges facing you or your business, but you cannot allow that faith to blind you from the real challenges in front of you. Step one is to let go of the illusion of control and accept the reality as it stands. Step two is to be present. Do not allow your mind to wander to some time in the future when things may be better. It is imperative that you be present and control what you can control each and every day.
This type of thinking applies to everyone from a new hire to a CEO. Be introspective and honestly assess what is within your power to control and then focus your energy in those areas. Not only is this the best way to survive, but also to thrive.
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