Leadership

Coronavirus, leadership, and The Stockdale Paradox

On March 12,2020 my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with breakfast at a local pancake house and a matinee showing of the movie, Birds of Prey, complete with buttered popcorn and Icee.

We knew about Coronavirus, of course, but the virus was still mostly somewhere else, not here. After all, there were only a few cases in San Antonio.

But we wondered if that would change.

It did.

Schools were on Spring Break that week and we soon learned the break would be extended another week. We wondered if the situation could get as bad for us as it was in Italy at the time. (For more on this, read How COVID-19 went from global to personal.)

I never imagined it could be as bad here as it was there, where the enitre country was shut down in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus and the death rates climbed every day.

Of course, it did spread here.

San Antonio shut down and only essential businesses were open. People stayed home. Schools closed and switched to online learning.

Everything stopped. For me, that meant no hugging the family, not even kids and grandkids, no more group workouts, going out to dinner, bunco, book club. Nothing in person, only virtual.

Still, I was sure it would all be over by June.

Okay! Let’s open back up!

I felt relieved when the orders were lifted and businesses opened back up at 25% capacity several weeks later in Mid-May.

Perfect! Right in time for Memorial Day, Graduations, Summer, Father’s Day, and Independence Day. 

Of course, the virus was still around, but I was like most people who just wanted to get back to normal.

A headline summed up the general feeling pretty well, “Coronavirus is not over, but people are over Coronavirus.” 

As a result of that “being over it” attitude, case numbers spiked sharply. Now, COVID cases are filling hospitals.

It makes me wonder: When will things get back to normal?

June came and went and things only got worse. Now, we’re in July and things aren’t looking so good.  

August? Probably not. September maybe?

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nierenberg said the other day, The virus is not going away. The best we can do is learn how to live with it. Wear a mask, keep your social distance, wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home. (I’ve paraphrased his message from my memory.)

Okay, fine. If that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.

I guess.

This is what I don’t understand.

If staying at least 6-feet away from people, staying home, wearing a mask when I go out, and washing my hands constantly can help my family and me stay safe, why don’t I want to do it? I mean, I do it, but I hate every minute of it.

I realized I need a mindset shift to help me better cope with this whole quarantine-COVID situation. Even though I accept the reality of it all, I can’t quite accept that this is our “new normal.” I’m resisting accepting that possibility because I want it all to go away in the worst way.

A few days ago, I told my husband about my internal struggle. He listened and said, Tell me more about that struggle.

I explained, When I think about it, it’s like, I wish it were different. I mean, this sucks. Are we going to have to wear masks at Thanksgiving and Christmas? I want us to be past this.

He said, What you’ve just described is The Stockdale Paradox. That’s covered in the book, Good to Great.

He recently read it as a recommended book about leadership. So…what does my bad attitude about quarantine-COVID have to do with leadership?

Attitude and leadership

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses something called The Stockdale Paradox.

“The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again.” 

Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. New York, NY, Harper Collins Business, 2001.

When the author met Stockdale, he asked how he had dealt with his circumstances when he “did not know the end of the story?” (That is, whether he would survive and make it home)

Stockdale’s response:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. 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.”

Stockdale said, “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.”

Coronavirus and the Stockdale Paradox

1. Have faith that you will prevail in the end. 

Believe that we’ll get through this. The virus will eventually be contained. It may be a long time from now and things may be different by the time that happens, but we will get through this. 

2. Have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the current reality, whatever they might be. 

I would not have thought of my mindset as discipline, but it’s basically having the kind of attitude that says, Well, this is where I am. This is what’s happening. And this is what I can do about it. And then doing that thing. 

Brutal reality

So what is the reality of our current situation? In Texas, where I live, the reality is that more people are getting sick every day and there’s no end in sight. 

Stockdale says “faith that you will prevail” is not to be confused with being optimistic. He says the “optimists” in the POW camp are the ones that didn’t make it.

“They were the ones who said, ‘We’ll 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.”

That’s me!

I always thought it was good to be optimistic, but according to the Stockdale Paradox, having faith that you can get through even the most difficult circumstances is not the same as optimism, where a person avoids or denies reality, kind of like they wish things were different and hope it all goes away. (Exactly like I was doing!) 

Leadership is personal

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t takes an in-depth look at why some companies make it through difficulties and other don’t.

What it boils down to is leadership. A strong leader has the “discipline to confront the most brutal facts” of their reality. Ignoring or wishing away brutal facts doesn’t change them. Neither does irrational optimism when you’re in a storm.

As much as I want to be optimistic in relation to Coronavirus, I now understand the difference between being optimistic and facing the facts of the current situation. 

This isn’t about politics or predicting the future or hoping for the best. It’s about dealing with the undesired reality of the current situation. And it’s about taking the couragous path of leadership, even if it’s only for my own attitude.

Although you never know how your actions and thoughts can affect the people around you.

Mindset changes everything even if it changes nothing

My attitude now? Wanting and wishing things were different doesn’t make them different. I have to deal with COVID-19’s brutal reality.

I’ll focus on what I can control (wash hands, wear mask, social distance, etc.) and not worry about what’s out of my control (what other people do).

And keep the faith that we will prevail and thrive in the end.

It’s strange, but I feel better prepared to live with quarantine-COVID now.

How are you handling the current situation? What struggles have you faced and what are your thoughts about The Stockdale Paradox and leadership? Feel free to leave your notes in the comments below.

small acts of kindness

Words and actions reflect your “personal policy”

A recent encounter with a stranger at a Tuesday Morning store in my neighborhood reminded me of how important it is to be mindful of how our words and actions can affect others.

We’re still practicing social distancing where I live, but retail stores are opening up again and I couldn’t wait to stop by one of my favorite stores.

A woman wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, sunglasses, and a light blue face mask that covered her nose and mouth, waited by the door.

“Are they open?” I asked.

She checked her watch. “They open at 10, I think. We got about 10-minutes,” she said through her mask.

Talking amongst ourselves

That’s how I came to be standing on the sidewalk in the shadow of the building on a hazy Friday morning. A few minutes later another woman walked up, she had a black mask pulled down over her chin. 

Standing a safe distance from each other, we got to talking about the current situation–COVID, quarantine, social distancing–and how happy we were that stores were opening again. 

The woman in the straw hat said she had just gotten laid off from her job but had not had any success filing for unemployment. “I’m 68 years old,” she said, “but I still want to work. The president of my company said they planned to recall part of the workforce, but said if you’re over 65…you should just stay home.” 

Even though her former employer’s leadership may not have explicitly said or meant it, the message she heard, loud and clear, was:

  • You, over-65-year-old people, are the problem.
  • We don’t want you back.
  • Go home and stay there.
  • It would be better for everyone if you just disappear. 

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

It would be easy to explain the company policy away and say, “I’m sure that’s not what they meant.” Maybe even assume she was being oversensitive.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

But what struck me is how policy—public, corporate, even personal—sends messages beyond words. It’s through our actions, how we live and treat others, that speaks volumes about what we value. 

What I learned about her in our short conversation that morning was that this woman is active in her church, sings in the choir and has lots of church friends. The quarantine has cut her off from all that. She lives alone and is ready to get back to life and get back to a job she loved.

But now they don’t seem to want her back because she’s over 65 and they seem to think people over 65 should stay out of sight out of mind. 

That impromptu, casual, social-distanced, sidewalk conversation left an impression on me. 

That company president’s words made this woman feel unvalued and irrelevant. He probably didn’t intend to leave that impression, but that was her takeaway.

I felt really bad for her. She loved her job and didn’t want to leave it and now she felt a real sense of loss at yet another thing being taken away from her.

The virus hasn’t changed our need for community and relevance and value. If this whole thing has taught us anything it’s that we need human connection and community.

And especially now, when people are more physically isolated, people need to know that they matter.

You and I may not be able to do a lot to help the current situation, but small acts of kindness can go a long way at this time of social distancing.

Here are a few small things we can do to build connection and community during this time of isolation.

Words matter. Choose them well.

It’s hard to be mindful of the power of our words even in the best of circumstances, but it may be even more important now, especially when it comes to interacting with strangers. It may not seem like a big deal to say “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk, but they’re not robots. Acknowledge them.

Phone a friend.

It happens to me all the time. I have a friend who’s been on my mind and I really want to call them, but every time I think about it, it’s too late, I’m busy, or it’s not the perfect time. When I finally stop putting it off and just make the call already, I’m always glad I did.

Encourage a fellow human.

You may not have many chances to encourage people in the current situation, but don’t be afraid to offer a kind socially distanced gesture of encouragement, like phoning a friend or neighbor, supporting a local eatery, or leaving a positive comment about a service you’re received.

Or go above and beyond to show you care.

One of my family members recently put care packages together for neighbors who live alone. All women. She delivered the packages the day before Mother’s Day with a note saying, We’ve been thinking about you. The gesture surprised them and brought a few to tears of joy.

What a brilliant way to show people they are loved!

The world could use more random acts of kindness right now. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website.

Be mindful of your actions and how they may be perceived.

A friend of mine recently made a run to a grocery store and even though her city leaders strongly encourage people to wear masks, she noticed half the crowd wasn’t. She didn’t feel safe being in that environment.

And when people don’t respect the call for social distancing, it makes me wonder, Do they just not care?

Still, what other people do and say is out of your control. The best each of us can do is to speak and act in ways that reflect our own “personal policy.”

Our individual policies in action

If you’ve ever worked for a company you love, their policies probably made you feel valued, like you mattered. They cared about whether you were there or not.

That’s highly motivating for people. And wouldn’t that be what you want your “personal policy” to reflect?

We can do that every day by acting in a manner that reflects a policy of caring and kindness.

That was true before COVID-19 and will be true when COVID-19 is history. But now it seems even more important to take every opportunity to lift people up even in the small ways you can.

For more about the power of words, read Words Have Power on the blog.

I’d love to hear from you. What are you seeing and feeling as communities open back up?

Boat on the water

We may be in this together, but we are not in the same boat

COVID-19 is a global pandemic that affects us all, so it may be true to say, “We’re all in this together.”

What’s also true is that we each possess unique personalities and particular circumstances which directly impact how we will weather this storm. Individual experiences through this common crisis can be unique.

And even as cities and states begin to reopen, emerging from quarantine life to our “new normal” will be different for each of us. 

A friend of mine shared this “Perspective” about our current Coronavirus/Quearantine situation on Facebook. You may have seen it, but in case you haven’t, I want to share it you. 

Perspective:

WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.

For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.

With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.

Some families of 4 just received $3400 from the stimulus while other families of 4 saw $0.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.

Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.

Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.

So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.

Realize that and be kind.

Unknown author

(Copied from a Facebook post which appeared on my feed from a post published on April 29.)

Different people, different experiences

This perscpective sheds light on the fact that though COVID has affected each of us, our individual experiences may be completely different.

This pandemic has changed every day life for most of us, but it doesn’t change everything. Life goes on.

People still get sick from things other than COVID-19.

Babies are born every day.

Kids continue to grow and must continue to learn even though they can’t go to school.

Family dynamics and struggles go on, sometimes more intensely.

Communicating well with loved ones is still a challenge.

Creators still create.

The very old and very sick still need patient caregivers.

People with anxiety may have more to be anxious about.

And a ton of other scenarios, both wonderful and heartbreaking, happen every day.

We’re still connected in ways we hardly think about. And we need people in our lives.

And my struggle and how I handle it may be very different from your struggle and how you handle yours.

So the least we can do for eachother as we each weather this storm is to be kind and be patient.

If you’d like to donate time and/or money, here are a few links with opportunities and ideas on how you can help:

Want more ideas about how you can help? Do a web search “how to help covid-19” and specify your city.

If you’d like more insight about doing what you can even when it doesn’t feel like much, read What you do matters on the blog.

Feeling trapped

What you can do to help stop Coronavirus spread

I’ve had Coronavirus on the brain for a while. Ever since the news of the virus hitting Northern Italy hard, I scour the news sources, sometimes bleary-eyed for some new bit of informtion.

By now we all know we should:

  • Practice social distancing
  • Not gather in large groups
  • Wash hands with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Cough and sneeze in your elbow or a tissue.

With that in mind, the news is bleak.

But here are a few stories that have stayed with me and are a great reminder about what we’re dealing with.

The first is from Dr. Emily Landon from the University of Chicago Medicine.

Her message hits to the heart of our current situation and the frustrating reality that the best most of us can do is to do nothing.

She says healthcare workers around the world are doing their part to help us through the pandemic. Now, we need to do our part.

If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Dr. Landon’s March 21 speech or read the transcript at:

Chicago’s Doctor’s Blunt Speech About COVID-19 Hits Home

And this message from Craig Spencer, MD in New York who (via Twitter) implores people to stay home. He says, “You might hear people say it isn’t bad. It is….I survivied Ebola. I fear COVID-19.”

Read the full account at Doctor Gives Harrowing Account of Life on the Frontline for Clinicians Treating COVID-19 in New York

Get the facts

For information about COVID-19, what it is, and how to protect you and your family go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to help this crisis pass any faster except follow your state and local guidelines.

And be patient.

Take advantage of the downtime to:

Exercise.

Even if it’s a walk around the block, a short workout, or a dance party in your living room.

Get stuff done.

Pick up those projects you’ve been putting off. It can be hard to get motivated, but start small and keep at it. Little by little you can do a lot.

Get outside.

It’s a sunny 88 degrees as I write this. Outside in the shade would be good. And even when outdoors, keep your recommended 6-feet social distance.

Waste nothing.

Freeze food before it goes bad. Be creative with your meals.

Meet virtually.

We’ve resorted to live-video, group workouts and virtual coffee meetings using What’s App. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than going it alone.

Donate time and/or money

If you have the time or money, check with your local Red Cross to find your local chapter about how you can help. They may even have ways to volunteer virtually.

As always, a little gratitude goes a long way.

Reach out to others if you need a word of encouragement, a videochat, a roll of toilet paper, an egg…whatever.

Wishing you patience and health through this crisis.

Need some motivation to kick start your new project? Read What are you waiting for? on the blog.

axe throw

Deep thought for the day: Who are you?

My family and I were big fans of The Walking Dead a few years ago. It sparked some interesting discussion around what we would do in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse.

My son and husband went through a bow and arrow phase, then an axe-throwing phase.

It’s for fun and recreation, of course, but we also joked about it being great training for the Zombie Apolalypse.

We’d imagine banding together as a family to fight off zombies in a Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead way, not in a Night of the Living Dead or Walking Dead way. The latter being way too terrifying.

It’s a joke we can run a long way with, for sure.

But we’re not bomb shelter, doomsday preppers kind of people. We don’t have a closet full of canned food or MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).

And although we kid about preparing for the Zombie Apolcalypse, it did raise some interesting discussions about what we would do in the event of an actual catastrophic event. 

COVID-19 pandemic is not the Zombie Apolalypse, but it has disrupted every aspect of our lives.

And it’s got me thinking about human nature and the way we humans act in times of uncertainty. 

The saying goes, We show our true selves in times of crisis. 

So the question is, who are you? (Matt Damon’s character asks the question in the movie Ford vs. Ferrari which I streamed this past weekend so I’ll just borrow it here. Great movie, BTW.)

Am I the type of person who’ll do anything for my family, including buying up all the toilet paper and clearing the shelves of hand sanitizer and masks so I can turn a profit on eBay?

Because I can make a nice profit and my family needs to live too. Supply and demand, baby. You need hand sanitizer, can’t find it, don’t mind spending $10 on something that costs me a dollar? Sold. 

Hey, extreme circumstances, y’know?

These are not normal times, for sure. And what can any of us do about it? We’re just trying to make it through.

Before I judge that guy, I can look at my own actions. Am I acting in a responsible and ethical way?

I’ve been looking for a dozen eggs for a while. Haven’t found any. But the terrible thing is, I have about a half dozen. Why am I looking for something I already have?

The current situation: Mark and I have what we need even though it may not be exactly what we want.

Plus, we’ve ordered plenty of takeout in an attempt to do what little we can to help our local businesses. And so we don’t have to cook.

Those are little things.

Some people are doing big things. Health care workers, public servants and non-profit staff and volunteers who care help people in the community are at the front lines of this thing. They may have to make tough choices that affect lives and livelihoods.

Not me. My job right now is to do what I can, like don’t panic buy, follow social-distancing guidelines, and stay home.

That sounds so much less bad-ass than fighting off zombies, but that’s where we are.

We show our true selves in times of crisis, or said another way, as you pass the days with the current COVID-19 reality, consider the question: Who are you?

Interestingly, this is not the first blogpost in which I reference zombies : ) For another, read Violence in a zombie world