The Stockdale Paradox - wisdom for leaders in uncertain times - Deepstash
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The Stockdale Paradox - wisdom for leaders in uncertain times

The Stockdale Paradox - wisdom for leaders in uncertain times

The Stockdale Paradox was made famous in Jim Collins's From Good to Great.  It gives wisdom for how leaders can manage an unrolling crisis.

As CEOS in crisis, a central concern that keeps them awake is understanding complex and rapidly changing circumstances accurately and responding to them by keeping the short and long-term goals in mind.


88 reads


The Stockdale Paradox: have faith but confront reality

Prisoners in Vietnam who were optimists didn't survive. They were saying 'We're going to be out by Christmas", "We're going to be out by Thanksgiving", and when it didn't happen, they eventually died of a broken heart.

The paradox is this: "You must never confu...


48 reads

James Stockdale -- a prisoner of war

James Stockdale -- a prisoner of war

Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven-and-a-half years. His memoir describes grim details that are hard to bear. However, Stockdale's later life was happy.

When asking how he survived when he did not know the end of the story, Stockdale answered: “I n...


64 reads

What long-term survival looks like

What long-term survival looks like

There is no point where things will ease up. Success in a long-term survival situation means getting up with determination and fighting every day while not being entrapped by the previous day's failures.

The role of faith: Having a value system, a sense of identity, and a p...


38 reads

Commitment to a high-level goal

It is helpful to keep in mind that the crisis will affect individuals drastically. Each team member is likely to be in a different reaction phase to the crisis.

A leader's most important job in a crisis is to articulate the overarching purpose and connect each day's...


37 reads

Know which data points matter

Ask regularly at meetings: "What is something that doesn't fit in, that doesn't make sense?"

It isn't easy to know what data points matter during rapidly changing circumstances. Individuals can become hyperfocused on tasks without paying attention to the environmen...


35 reads

How survival works

How survival works

All disasters have common phases: Pre-impact, impact, and recoil.

  • In short-term disasters, the three phases are followed by rescue and post-traumatic adjustment.
  • In long-term disasters, there i...


58 reads

Create ways to help your team articulate threatening thoughts and feelings

  • Use "as if" exercises, roleplay and assigned mental exercises to help the group articulate thoughts and feelings that may be too scary to acknowledge. Use these tools often.
  • Use mental contrasting, a sequenced visualisation exercise: A perso...


39 reads

Create goals

Create goals

You may pin your hope on some other event or date when the crisis will come to an end, but the possiblity remains that you don't know how long the crisis will last.

During a crisis, accept what you cannot change and make the best of what is in your power. You can't change anything if you do...


41 reads




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