How to Endure the Unendurable

April 17, 2020

By Ken DeWitt

on April 16, 2020

Goals, Leadership, People, Vision

Stockdale Paradox

*To help our readers navigate their businesses and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are re-posting this relevant blog post from November 3, 2015

In my 30-plus years as an entrepreneur, I’ve faced some pretty tough situations in business. We all have. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to counsel someone facing what seemed like an impossible crisis.

Like the time one of my clients lost millions of dollars in one year and had several none-too-happy bankers considering calling their loans. Or the client who realized that a long-time partnership was not going to work out and they were faced with a messy business divorce. Or the client who was betrayed by a trusted employee who departed with a significant customer, instantly putting the future of the business and his family’s financial security in jeopardy.

But as difficult as these crises were, none of them can compare to the impossible situations faced by military heroes who have endured enemy captivity as a prisoner of war. So, with the help of Jim Collins, I’ve taken a lesson from our brave veterans on how to endure the unendurable.

The Stockdale Paradox

Collins, in his acclaimed book, Good to Great, tells of what he learned when he had the opportunity to spend some time with James Stockdale, who survived eight years as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam. Stockdale was often tortured and kept in solitary confinement. He used what has come to be known as “The Stockdale Paradox” to help himself and innumerable fellow POWs survive.

What’s the paradox? It’s the ability to be objective in combining realism with optimism. According to Dr. Dennis Charney, Dean of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, this paradox combined with critical social support, creates a resilience that carries you through the challenge. It’s the ability to say, “I’m in big trouble… but I will prevail,” says Charney.

You Can Train Yourself to Be Resilient

There’s no way I can do justice to this material in a short blog post, so I’ll let you read this excerpt from Collins’ chapter on Stockdale to learn the ultimate fates of the POWs who were merely optimistic versus those able to embrace the paradox.

Also, do yourself a favor and please watch this five-minute video in which Dr. Charney explains that you can actually use the Stockdale Paradox to train yourself to be more resilient.

Make use of these resources, and the next time you face the unendurable, you’ll be better prepared to endure it.

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