Whilst UK’s health secretary Matt Hancock said “We have got the cavalry coming” in relation to vaccines for Covid, how should leaders manage in the meantime? How do you keep going when there’s no clear end in sight?
In his bestselling book Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about leaders who endured long-term adversity and how they responded with a powerful psychological duality.
Collins calls it the Stockdale Paradox, after Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranking US officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. Tortured over 20 times from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war with no prisoner's rights, no release date, and no certainty whether he would survive to see his family. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to help increase the number of prisoners who would survive.
When asked who didn’t make it, Stockdale replied:
“Oh, the optimists. 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.”
How can leaders cultivate this dual mindset – an acceptance of the current reality and at the same time an unwavering faith in the end outcome?
Here are three suggestions that may help:
Show belief in the future – but avoid creating false hope
Avoid wishful thinking unsupported by tangible evidence or data, and challenge talk of “when things go back to normal’. Instead, make statements of belief which acknowledge the current reality: “It’s been tough and it could get tougher, but this won’t last forever. If we keep going, we’ll get through this”.
Reconnect with the team's identity and purpose
When the routine of daily life changes so radically, we can easily lose our sense of identity and self. You can keep team members connected to their values, relationships and tasks by actively reinforcing them.
Use icebreakers and team activities to get team members to talk about themselves, their objectives, goals and daily tasks.
Regularly articulate the team’s purpose - and translate it into clear, achievable goals.
Review progress frequently, asking the team: “How can we improve? What did we learn?
All of these activities will remind people who they are, what they’re good at, and what they’re here for; they increase feelings of connectedness and relatedness, and reduce anxiety.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
Encourage optimistic and pessimistic thinking. When planning together, make a habit of asking: “What are we missing here?”, “What else?” and “What if?”. Whilst it’s natural for people to want to shy away from the negative, but surfacing fears as well as hopes will help to build the team’s resilience in the face of the unknown.
If you want to build the confidence and resilience of your team, call us to see how we can help.