In Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, he tells the story of James Stockdale, a US Navy commander who was taken prisoner during the Vietnam war. He withstood 7 years of imprisonment including repeated torture and shackled solitary confinement for 2 years.
He told the story of those who made it and those who didn’t in the P.O.W. camps. Those who didn’t make it were setting false deadlines, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter, and when those times came and went, they would get depressed and wither away.
According to him, survival boiled down to having the confidence that you were going to get out while simultaneously knowing that it was going to take a long time. That is the Stockdale Paradox. You couldn’t have unbridled optimism alone. You needed the combination of optimism mixed with an equal dose of stark realism.
Now when you think about the long term strategy or goals for your organization, are you both optimistic and ready for the long haul? Or have you set overly aggressive, arbitrary timelines on when you are going to achieve your targets?
Yes, positive thinking and your belief that you can achieve whatever you set your mind to is key, but it isn’t enough. Don’t succumb to competitive pressures or that of your board or over-ambitious staff. Set the course, yes, but know that you will be for as long as it takes to achieve success…and that most likely will take a little longer than you think.