Thomas Nelson president Michael Hyatt had a great post recently in which he drew from Jim Collins' outstanding book, Good to Great. Hyatt suggests that when times are tough, great leaders must do two things simultaneously:
1) Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.
2) Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.
Collins refers to this approach as “The Stockdale Paradox” and uses the story of Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war for eight years during the Vietnam War, to make his point.
After his release from prison, a reporter asked Admiral Stockdale, “How in the world did you survive eight years in a prisoner of war camp?”
I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that we would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event in my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.
The reporter then asked, “Who didn't make it out?” Admiral Stockdale replied,
Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. They were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.” And Christmas would come and 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.”
An attribute of great companies and great leaders, suggests Collins, is that they are able to embrace simultaneously the twin truths of their current reality and their ultimate triumph.
As a leader in a local church, I find application of the "Stockdale Principle" to be both intriguing and challenging... as I see churches and their leaders struggle to embrace the twin truths of current reality, and the faith that God is in control.