Confront the Brutal Facts – Yet Never Lose Faith

A Tool for Improving Your Team’s Emotional Health

In an earlier blog Decision Making in Times of Crisis we spoke to allowing yourself and fellow coworkers time to process and move through the COVID crisis in your own way.  We emphasized the importance of being flexible and accommodating and, first and foremost, exercise patience and understanding as we navigate through the changed landscape of work and life.

As we emerge from the shock and awe phase of the COVID 19 pandemic, the emotional and psychological challenges employees and, by extension, organizations face are highly significant.  A pervasive sense of uncertainty grips us all and our ongoing lack of control of the situation contributes mightily to the anxiety we are all experiencing.  According to CNN, the Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has seen a sharp increase in calls of more than 300% since February.

Organization leaders recognizing this challenge are looking for ways to support the mental health needs of their workers via telehealth and other digital solutions, including virtual visits with therapists. In a helpful article in Med City News, Elise Reuter explains how  Covid-19 worries are causing companies to seek mental health tools.  While these services are vitally important, we believe other paradigms and approaches are available to leaders to support the emotional needs of their people as they plot a course forward for the entire organization.

Like so many others I am a great admirer of Jim Collins and his historic research on what makes companies great. Recently he was asked by his students and clients if 

there was something specific from his research that might help make sense of the moment.  He responded, “I think first of The Stockdale Paradox.”

The name of this paradox refers to the distilled wisdom of Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp during Hanoi Hilton the Vietnam War.

Click here to view Jim Collins explain the Stockdale Paradox. 

Stockdale Paradox: You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

In our work here at LBL Strategies we have long emphasized the importance of facing the “brutal facts” as a precursor for successful strategy formulation and implementation, and here and now, by extension, improving the emotional health of your team.  In general, we humans have an innate need to understand what could plausibly lie ahead; alternatives to consider giving us the best chance of a positive outcome; and enhanced “faith” in our ability to achieve success.  Absent positive synergy, we become anxious, uncertain, stressed emotionally and, in some cases, unhealthy.

The Stockdale Paradox teaches us (and Jim Collins reminds) the importance of confronting the harsh realities of a situation like what we find ourselves in, i.e.  the pandemic’s human and economic toll.  By doing so we arm ourselves and our team with a robust understanding of facts, feelings, implications, skill gaps and possible solutions.  A careful exploration of this nature will give your team every opportunity to prevail, but also to mitigate the relentless stress and anxiety which threatens the emotional health of us all.


Below is a 3-step process any team can follow to, in short order, “reset its mindset” based on the brutal facts of the organization’s current situation.



In summary, people and organizations are best positioned to weather the crisis largely intact by collectively understanding and staying grounded in the realities of the situation and then working together to identify, agree and, with confidence, act on what must be done to respond in difficult circumstances.  If we can help our team appreciate and internalize The Stockdale Paradox and thoughtfully examine alternative possibilities for the future then we, as leaders, make a significant investment in the health of our people, our organization, and our ecosystem.

If your organization wishes to learn more about the role of scenario planning in the strategic management process, please consider sending a representative or a team to our online strategic management certification program, offered through George Washington University – CEPL.  Learn with colleagues from around the world for 90-minute sessions over ten consecutive weeks.  The next live online cohort is scheduled to begin on June 30, 2020 and will run for ten consecutive weeks. This summer cohort is especially targeted toward public sector leaders, but everyone is welcome to attend.  You can learn more and register at: CLICK HERE.


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Randall Rollinson/President, LBL Strategies

President, LBL Strategies