“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties,
and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current
reality, whatever they may be.”

– Jim Collins
Management Researcher, Consultant, and
Author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

Admiral James Bond Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp during the Vietnam War. His jet was shot down in 1965, and after parachuting into a small village, he was taken as a prisoner of war. He was tortured over 20 times during his nearly eight-year confinement. Despite the uncertainty as to whether he would survive to ever see his family again, he endured.

Not only did he survive, but Admiral Stockdale was resolute in opposing his captors to the fullest extent (at one point, he even beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor so that he could not be taped for propaganda purposes). He also led the other POWs in resisting torture and set up an elaborate communications system amongst the camp prisoners. What is amazing and applicable to our current crisis is the stoic resoluteness of Stockdale (influenced by his study of Epictetus, a Greek stoic philosopher, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, which details the stoic precepts used by the Roman emperor to manage his various responsibilities) that was essential to his survival and leadership.

In the process of writing Good to Great, management researcher and consultant Jim Collins interviewed Admiral Stockdale and adapted his insights for business. Collins’s focus was not just on extracting leadership lessons, but more specifically on understanding how Stockdale was able to remain steadfast in the face of such an ordeal with no certainty that he would survive. Stockdale’s response (quoted from Good to Great) was:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. 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.”

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