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.

Keep hope alive

Keep hope alive. We’ll get through this.

It’s easy to feel discouraged about the future sometimes, maybe feel a little down about things, especially at this time when the world’s been turned upside down. 

This COVID-19 pandemic is global, yes. But it’s also very personal. We’re each affected in our own, unique way.

Kind of what it would look like to look at Earth from space with a zoom lens and then zooming in closer, to the continent where you live, them closer to your state and town, then closer still, until you’re looking at you, your home, your family, your life.

It’s all different now than it was two months ago.

Then it all changed

It was a Thursday afternoon, March 12, and “social distancing” was just becoming a thing in San Antonio. My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by going out to breakfast and then to the movies. We noted how regular, reflexive actions, like signing a receipt, made us stop and think about the risk of “cross contamination.”

That was a little more than 6-weeks ago.

I miss going to the movies, miss meeting with family and friends. Miss holding my grandbaby.

Before this whole Quarantine thing hit us, I was so happy to be able to take care of her at least 2 days a week while her mom and dad worked.

But I, like many grandparents all over the world, have resorted to video chats. I haven’t seen her in person in weeks.

A few days ago I was moving toys and blankets from “her room” and felt overcome with sadness because I miss her so terribly. Miss holding her and talking to her.

She’s growing so fast and getting so big. I wondered, Will she remember me? What am I missing by not being able to spend time with her?

To ward off feeling discouraged and sad about the situation, I had to remind myself of a few things:

  • This is temporary.
  • We’ll get through this.
  • I can’t hold her, but I’m grateful she’s healthy and growing incredibly fast. 

Keep hope alive

If you zoom in into my quarantine life, you’ll see it’s somewhat unremarkable. Everything’s okay. I’m fortunate to have what I need.

I know not everyone does.

And I start to wonder about things:

  • Will life ever be the way it was before?
  • How will the world be different?
  • Will I have to be different in the way I live and interact with people?
  • Are we going to be okay?

I don’t know if anyone knows the answers to those big, important questions.

But I do believe we must not lose hope, that we must do our best to do what we can and know that we will get through this.

History reveals resilience

I remind myself that generations before me must have had similar concerns, people I’ve known in my lifetime who have lived through precarious, uncertain, and scary times. 

My grandmother’s generation, and even my mom’s generation. 

They got through their challenges. With great difficulty sometimes. 

My mom was born in 1937. She lived through WWII. She was a kid, but she remembers her dad going off to war. She graduated from high school in the 1950’s, the “Happy Days.” Then the not so happy days of The Cold War and Sputnik, the Civil Rights Movement, The Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King assassinations, The Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Surely my mom’s generation must have thought, “What is the world coming to?”

But my mom came from tough stock.

Her mother, my grandmother, born in 1918 lived through the Great Depression and WWII, watched as her husband (my grandfather) shipped off to serve in the US Navy in the Pacific. I can’t imagine the uncertainty she must have felt, but she did what she had to do to support her family.

From her home near downtown San Antonio, she caught a bus that took her out to work at Camp Bullis Military Training Camp, which at the time was way outside the San Antonio city limits.

That couldn’t have been easy for her. Her husband was away at war and she had small children at home. She must have had days when she struggled to stay hopeful about the future.

Reflecting on those troubled times and knowing they survived and thrived afterward helps me stay hopeful.

They got through it. We’ll get through this too. 

It’s okay to not feel okay sometimes

I saw a headline the other day meant for kids from their school counselors that said: It’s okay not to feel okay.

I think that’s true for all of us. We may have moments when we feel discouraged or doubtful, but we also have to believe we’ll get through this.

Here are some things you can try to help nurture that resilience and belief. (In the category of “Doing what I can”)

Keep your filter on

You may find you’re in much better spirits when you limit your news intake. There’s a lot of bad, sad, and discouraging news out there.

Especially when you feel a little low but still want to know of important updates, pick 1 or 2 trusted news sources and check them once or twice a day.

Practice gratitude

Gratitude works wonders as a mindset shifter. Whatever your struggles and hardships, think of at least 1 or 2 things for which you’re grateful.

Pray or meditate

Many people I know practice a daily devotional that helps their spiritual and mental health.

Even taking a few minutes of focused breathing can help clear the mind.

Listen to music

Music can work wonders to lighten your mood. Find something you can sing along to. For me it’s music from the 70’s. (So weird how I know lyrics to songs I haven’t heard in years.)

Keep things in perspective

Remembering generations before us and how they got through tough times doesn’t change the reality of our current situation, but it can give perspective.

Aside from my mom and grandmother, who I mentioned earlier, here are a couple more stories along those lines.

This story about this Centenarian Survivor Of 1918 Flu Pandemic, Coronavirus Is Just Another ‘Problem’

And Queen Elizabeth’s Coronavirus Speech on April 5th. I found her words reassuring and inspiring even though I’m not British : )

Whatever your particular circumstances are at the moment, I hope you stay well and hopeful about the future.

We will get through this.

For more related to this topic, read Tips to Shake Off the Blues here on the blog.

How are you managing through these days of social distancing and self-isolation? Have any strategies for staying positive you’d like to share? Please post in the comments!