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Balance Optimism with Reality

Here's a question for you. "How do you maintain a positive, can-do spirit in your organization without ignoring uncomfortable facts - like profits are down, lay-offs are imminent and that long-awaited sales trip to Hawaii is toast?"

How you strike that balance is critical. It separates the good from the great. Literally. Just read Jim30456313 Collins' Good to Great. Remember the term "Stockdale Paradox" that Collins and his team of researchers coined to explain a trait that separated the great companies from the rest? Admiral Jim Stockdale, survivor of the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam explained the phenomenon this way:

The optimists...were the ones who said, "We're going to 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. This is a very important lesson. 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.

Stockdale's example teaches that it's not the presence or absence of challenging times and circumstances that define our characters and our leadership strengths. We all experience trials. What's important is how we see those inevitable difficulties and if we are able to balance them the faith that we'll endure.

Being able to paint a clear and powerful picture for ourselves, our teams, or our whole organizations of our eventual success - that we shall prevail - is one important part of that picture. The other part is being in touch with reality, in sync with the markets and the people and the culture and the emerging trends AND not being afraid to talk openly and honestly about the way all of those things are coming together. Wicking up reality and talking about it. I think of it as keeping the hopeful "future" state alive alongside the objective (and sometimes frightening) "current" state. We shall prevail, but only by grappling openly with what is, not by denying what is.

I like the way that Jim Lobaito of The Performance Group talks about this same balance in his most recent issue of Sales Quick Coach: "Detach yourself from the specific outcome, but have total faith that ultimately your goal will be achieved....Understand that there are an indefinite number of possibilities between point A (today's reality) and point B (tomorrow's goals). If one opportunity does not materialize, another will."

It's a delicate balancing act but important for all of us, in leading others and in living our own personal lives.


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For further insight into what distinguishes survivors from victims in times of crisis, I recommend this book:

Laurence Gonzalez, Deep Survival

Gonzalez' focus is wilderness survival, but he applies his findings to other, more everyday, kinds of "wildernesses."

Peter--thanks for the recommended resource on this topic. Shirley

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