What the Stockdale Paradox Tells Us About Crisis Leadership
“I lived on a day-to-day basis. … [M]ost guys thought it was really better for everybody to be an optimist. I wasn’t naturally that way; I knew too much about the politics of Asia when I got shot down. I think there was a lot of damage done by optimists; other writers from other wars share that opinion. The problem is, some people believe what professional optimists are passing out and come unglued when their predictions don’t work out.”
The Stockdale Paradox—have faith, but confront reality—can be seen in slightly different forms in many cultures.
Stockdale himself was a follower of the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, who were noted for their concern with understanding reality correctly and shaping one’s response to it optimally. The maxim of Epictetus, “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens,” has similarities to both Buddhist doctrine and the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer. (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”). Therapy techniques such as radical acceptance similarly emphasize the point of letting go of desires and beliefs about what should be and seeing reality as it is.
In the words of Marsha Linehan, the founder of radical acceptance: “Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t try to change things … You can’t change anything if you don’t accept it, because if you don’t accept it, you’ll try to change something else that you think is reality.”
Research by Leach and others indicates that people who survive disasters are able to regain cognitive function quickly after the event, assess their new environment accurately, and take goal-directed action to survive within it. This is the balance that the Stockdale Paradox facilitates: the realism to let go of intrinsic survival mechanisms and the deep-seated faith to learn the new ones.
the pattern of human response to disasters has been shown to be remarkably consistent across cultures, and for disasters of many different causes, effects, and durations, from earthquakes to shipwrecks to kidnapping.
Advice and exercises for leaders
Begin meetings by having each person introduce themselves by their name, job title, mission, and their immediate tasks
This provides practical information to rescuers, but also has the effect of bringing people back to themselves and helping them begin to focus again.
Angela Duckworth’s concept of grit may be useful here. By grit, Duckworth does not mean endurance for its own sake, but rather commitment to a high-level goal, purpose, or mission—and the ability to assess and revise lower-level goals and tactics as necessary.
One question should be regularly asked at meetings: “What is something that doesn’t fit in, that doesn’t make sense?”
Normalize admitting these mistakes and analyzing them. Discuss weak spots, harm reduction, and damage control—people will sometimes fall when traveling uncertain terrain, so how can they fall without injuring themselves?
Create ways for your team to surface both their deep faith and their real fears.
In mental contrasting, a person:
- Visualizes a goal and its rewards, and then
- Visualizes what obstacles—including their own behavior—stand between them and their goal. (It is important to do it in this order.)
In their paper on the Stockdale Paradox, authors C. W. Von Bergen and Martin S. Bressler point to previous studies that show when people focus on only positive thoughts about the future, “they literally trick their minds into thinking they have already succeeded and, so, do not need actual efforts to attain something perceived as already acquired.
The Long Road Ahead: Thriving Through Fatigue
The Pandemic is not a financial recession: it is a fast-paced economic transformation. We’re transforming our companies into low-touch, high-safety businesses and we’re doing it a light speed.
We’re hyper-engaged digitally, yet highly stressed emotionally.
The most stressed part of the workforce is now young families, working mothers, and single employees working at home – and despite the online yoga classes and bread-baking videos, people are just tired.
Fatigue Management is what wins or loses wars.
- Reduce workload by clarifying goals.
- Create cadence and recovery cycles in the business.
- CEO-level focus is needed
- Take time off to rest, walk, and exercise every day. Stand up and walk around.
- Turn off the TV and stop watching Twitter.
- Take it slow. Don’t carry to heavy a load: you’ll get more done if you pace yourself over time.
- If you’re a manager, help show people what “not to do.” Help people find focus, and don’t waste their time.
- Turn off your Zoom camera and shorten meetings to 15 minutes if you can. Stop every meeting early.
- Tell your team to take a week off. And don’t email while they’re gone. Things will be fine when they come back, and work will resume better than ever.
- Be patient with your colleagues, peers, and yourself. People always want to do the best – right now it may just take a little more time.
- Have some empathy for leadership. They are tired too. Ask them how they’re doing and let them know you care.
Teachers Are Living in a Tinderbox of Stressful Conditions. These Scientific Approaches Can Help.
Other essential elements include meditation, breathwork, yoga, cultivating and maintaining high-quality relationships, and intentional reinforcement of mindsets that promote human connection, such as gratitude, altruism and collective efficacy. What’s real in the mind is real is real in the body, and it is our perceptions—not “objective” reality—that drive our biochemistry. Accordingly, finding a silver lining—even under the most dire of circumstances—instigates a biochemical “upward spiral” which fosters constructive thinking in a demanding moment and, over the long-term, protects health and psychological well-being.
Effects of Mindfulness Training on School Teachers’ Self-Reported Personality Traits As Well As Stress and Burnout Levels
more on burnout in this IMS blog
more on mindfulness in this IMS blog
more on meditation in education in this IMS blog
more on mental health in this IMS blog
Activities That Prime the Brain for Learning
Brain breaks and focused attention practices help students feel relaxed and alert and ready to learn.
FOCUSED ATTENTION PRACTICES
more on mindfulness in this IMS blog
Harper, A. (2019, April 2). Reducing teacher stress may require multiple strategies. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from Education Dive website: https://www.educationdive.com/news/reducing-teacher-stress-may-require-multiple-strategies/551604/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202019-04-02%20K-12%20Education%20Dive%20Newsletter%20%5Bissue:20185%5D&utm_term=Education%20Dive:%20K12
- In the face of mounting testing pressures, rapidly changing reform efforts and student circumstances over which teachers feel little control, more than half of teachers consider their jobs to be highly stressful, which is affecting teacher absenteeism rates, retention and student achievement, according to The Hechinger Report.
- There is a growing trend to address teachers’ mental health through stress-reduction and resiliency-building exercises. These include yoga and programs such as those offered by the Center for Resilience, Breathe for Change and mindfulness training offered through Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education. However, these efforts are mere triage and only offer short-term solutions, some experts say.
- Education leaders can offer longer-term solutions that address root issues by providing mentoring support in schools rather than bringing in outside experts, rolling out new initiatives in a more teacher-centered way, and involving teachers in discussions about what works best for students.
But principals also need to build relationships with teachers themselves to create a sense of trust and more open and honest lines of communication. Good teachers are hard to find and losing them to stress is not a good option. Finding ways to solve the issues that are causing them stress and helping them deal with the inevitable pressures along the way is well worth the effort in the long run.
more on stress