The Sunday Mail
Right now, right there, you are standing at the centre of a pool of possibilities. You have a choice, use it well. Eyes that look are all too common, but eyes that see opportunity are valuable and trained for greatness. It is not what happens to you or around you that matters the most, but the way you think and what you choose to do about it.
Giving up is not an option, then what? Thinking that everything will just change at the tap of a finger is not realistic either. Rouse the lion in you and get back to your hustle. Start by looking at your strategy and making some solid decisions. Where will you play? How will you win? What steps will you take? What will make you different? What is your strategic and economic logic? What capabilities do you need to develop? What will you do on Monday morning?
Decide that you are destined for greatness. It is too early to settle for mediocrity. People do not die by falling into water. They die when they panic and do not swim. No adversity can overwhelm a determined soul. Your spirit is stronger than your situation. You need a game plan if you will win because hope alone is not a strategy. A clear strategy is the starting point of your greatness. You start your path to greatness by visualising your end game. Your strategy is your long term plan that plots your trajectory, navigates through the known and unknown obstacles and ensures that you play to win. You may fall along the way, but just get up, dust yourself and keep moving. Falling is not dying. A knock down is not a knock out. If your ego is bruised, that does not mean you are terminally ill and you will never make it. Keep your eyes on the great goal. Make it your magnificent obsession. Grow your capacity daily with every challenge you face. Strategy is just a decorated word for choosing a clear path to the future and following through on this plan with all you have got. So long as you have half-hearted commitment to your strategy, you do not have a strategy. Strategy is held up by a firm belief and resolve. So long as you do not want to implement your strategy, it is not a strategy. It is perhaps mere paper-work. Plan it and take massive action to make it happen.
When you pick up any map, the map is useless if you do not know where you are. You may not like where you are, but your feelings and emotions do not change where you are. Being in denial about where you are will not change your location either. The first step is to confront reality. To plot any realistic path forward, you have to start by seeing the world as it is, not as you wish it was. In his book, “Leadership is an Art,” Max De Pree says: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.”
The first step to any place worth going is knowing where you are. It is defining reality and being willing to face the brutal facts of that reality. If you do not like where you are, it is up to you to change the situation. Take responsibility, you are not a victim, neither are you marooned. If you failed in the past, do not park forever at that station. Failure is just an opportunity to revise, extend, deepen or broaden your strategy.
Do not despair because of the present challenges that you face. It is when things are hardest that you must think clearest. It is when the night is darkest that you must visualise sunshine. It is when things are slow that you must be obsessed with growth. You cannot shrink your way to greatness. You cannot run away from your problems and hope to profit from them. Every person has problems. If you do not have any problems, you are not human. Period. It is not the problems that you have that matter but the path to the solution that you choose to pursue. There is always a path to greatness: whatever the situation, time or place. Open your eyes and mind. Start with your strategy and plot pathways to your greatness.
If you have lost situational awareness and you do not know where you are, get help. Get a good coach or facilitator to help you. Hire a facilitator that makes you face your brutal realities. Continuing on a path of self-deception without robust and candid conversations leads to self-destruction. Cut out the praise singing and face the brutal realities that you have to work with. There are people that will always cheer you on even if you are lost or sinking.
l read a book, “Good to Great” written by Jim Collins and it changed the way I look at optimism and pessimism. The book was born out of a five year research wherein Collins identified the common factors that separated good companies from those that were in the same circumstances that went on to become great. One of the key observations that Collins identified as instrumental in the move from “good to great” and sustaining more than 15 years of excellence was the “Stockdale Paradox”. This principle is not vanilla optimism. It does not ignore realities, neither does it wallow in wishful thinking. It is something more beautiful, stronger, relevant and an exhortation to a hope with grit.
The Stockdale Paradox is named after a United States military officer, Admiral James Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. Commander Stockdale endured extreme torture more than twenty times by his captors. There was no hope that he would come out alive or that his circumstances would ever change. Yet, he never lost faith that one day he would prevail, despite his despicable circumstances. Speaking about his time as a Prisoner of War, Stockdale told Collins: “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.”
When you pass through the value of adversity, never forget to pick a few precious stones that will be a precious testimony. Whatever tests you are going through, are part of your testimony. Turn your discouragement into encouragement for someone. Do not lose hope because trying times are not the time to stop trying.
Stockdale sadly observed that it was always the most optimistic of his prisonmates who failed to make it out alive. They died of broken hearts and frustration. Stockdale told Collins: “They 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.”
The optimists boiled over and failed to confront their realities with stamina. They thought and behaved like ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand, they hoped that adversities would just go away suddenly and they could not stomach the stubborn realities. Realities punish those who are looking for easy solutions, silver bullets and easy passages to greatness. The Stockdale Mindset is a superior alternative. Stockdale approached adversity and challenge with a different mindset that gave him fortitude and staying power. He accepted the brutal realities of his situation and at the same time he stepped up and did everything he could to lift the morale and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners. He did not see himself as a victim and chose to take control of whatever he could control. He knew that leadership is not just about wearing symbols of rank but it is a spirit and a mindset. It is when the winds are most fierce that you need the steady hand of a capable leader captaining the ship. It is when the pressure is unbearable that a leader leads with calm confidence. It is when things are tough that leaders take charge and choose to be an answer, not just part of the problem.
Stockdale developed a simple but effective milestone system that helped the prisoners to deal with torture. He refused to bow but kept an alert mind and vibrant spirit. Every day was a battle and he never lost faith, despite the adversities he faced.
Collins and his team observed this similar mindset in good-to-great companies. They labelled it the “Stockdale Paradox” with this apt description: “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. And at the same time you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Embrace the Stockdale Paradox. Keep hope alive, see the future but look at the facts. Stretch the plumb line and set out your bold goals. Clarify your strategy. Identify the big and bold moves that you are going to make. Refuse to wait around thinking like a victim. Refuse the park and idle your life away while you are in “waiting mode”. Get into engaged action.
Stretch forth your plans and then start working the plans. Get busy. This is the first part of the Stockdale Paradox. Now do not let all this motivation juice just seep into your head and think that tomorrow everything will be paradise. Embrace also the second part of the Stockdale Paradox and be willing to face the brutal realities whatever they might be. Go through whatever you have to go through but do not lose your stamina. If the night will be long, wear a watch to bed so that you wake up and start working. If the winter will be long, do not die in the winter. If the mountain in your path is refusing to move, keep speaking to it in faith and it shall move. Do whatever you have to do to sustain your momentum and keep moving. Though the pace may be slow, do not stop moving or throw away your dreams. Committed to your greatness.
Milton Kamwendo is a leading international transformational and motivational speaker, author, and executive coach. His life purpose is to inspire and promote greatness. He can be reached at: [email protected] and Twitter: @MiltonKamwendo or WhatsApp at: 0772422634. His website is: www.miltonkamwendo.com