From Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams writing for the Harvard Business School:
“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.” — Admiral James Stockdale.
In August, while most developed nations’ rates of COVID-19 infections are falling, the rate in the United States continues to rise. States that had reopened or begun to, such as California and Texas, have reversed course, and the European Union did not list the United States as one of the 15 “safe countries” whose citizens may enter freely. Meanwhile, many leaders are reporting that their teams—or they themselves—have crashed into a wall of demotivation and despair.
The Stockdale Paradox, made famous in Jim Collins’s bestselling book From Good to Great, and the related discipline of survival psychology shine a light on the present moment and contains wisdom for how leaders can manage the unrolling crisis.
“AS CEOS IN THIS CRISIS, WE HAVE NO OPTION BUT TO BECOME THE WARTIME CEO, HOWEVER ILL-EQUIPPED OR PREPARED WE ARE.”
To review the origins of this project, we asked 600 global CEOs across a variety of industries what concerns were keeping them awake at night. Their topics ranged widely, but a handful of overarching mental tasks emerged: Comprehend complex, rapidly changing circumstances accurately, and respond to those circumstances keeping both immediate and long-term goals in mind.
One respondent summed up the challenge in a particularly apt way: “Shifting existing organizational structures from ‘peacetime’ value creation to ‘wartime/survival’ in a very short period of time … As CEOs in this crisis, we have no option but to become the wartime CEO, however ill-equipped or prepared we are.”
This is where Admiral Stockdale comes in.
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