Brutal Facts + Unwavering Faith

A toilet in my house malfunctioned over the weekend. With the help of a few tutorials, I dismantled the intake valve–eventually returning it to functioning order. 

On one of my many trips in and out of the bathroom, a family member asked if we needed to call a plumber. I scoffed at the notion. I was going to fix the toilet all by myself. (Yes, sometimes I act like a stubborn 4-year-old exerting my independence.)

Later that night, I took my dog for a hike. I listened to a podcast interview with Jim Collins. Jim did not disappoint. He dropped value bomb after value bomb and reminded me of the Stockdale Paradox. Jim describes the paradox this way:

The Stockdale Paradox is a concept, along with its companion concept Confront the Brutal Facts, developed in the book Good to Great. Productive change begins when you confront the brutal facts. Every good-to-great company embraced what we came to call the “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.

My toilet repair was the Stockdale Paradox at work. 

I had to confront the brutal facts:

  • The toilet was not working correctly. 
  • I didn’t know everything I needed to know, so I had to consult tutorials.
  • I sometimes needed to switch tools and tactics to get it fixed.

But no matter what, I had unwavering faith that I could and would prevail.

Most leaders naturally lean one way or the other. They are better at maintaining unwavering faith, or they are better at confronting the brutal facts. 

And even though I am far from an optimist, my stubbornness and inquisitiveness have me lean towards unwavering faith. I will figure out a way.

The shadow side is that sometimes I don’t know when to “call a plumber,” metaphorically speaking. 

So as I move into the second half of my leadership journey, I want to maintain my unwavering faith, but I need to get better at confronting the brutal facts. And when I do confront the brutal facts, I need to get better at not coming off as harsh and judgmental. (Man, developing as a leader sure is a long journey. . .)

So here’s a challenge for you. The next time you assemble your team, ask each member to identify which way they lean. Then discern together which way your team leans as a group.

Understanding how you operate is a key to getting better. And according to Jim Collins, leading in the Stockdale Paradox is one of the keys to going from good to great.


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is the Director of Content and Product Strategy for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

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