They Aren’t Following You Because You Are TOO Positive

Posted: July 9, 2009 in Leadership

What?!?!?  Just saying that seems whack.  But it’s true.  I see leaders do it all the time.  They try to put a smile on every situation and circumstance…even when the situation is clearly terrible. They spin everything for the positive even if it is clearly negative.  They avoid at all costs reporting the sad facts even if they are apparent to everyone.  And every failure or defeat is communicated as a spiritual “victory,” if at the very least “the Lord is opening up other opportunities.”

There are several reasons why leaders do this:

  • An attempt to preserve morale
  • Trying to cease a contagious spirit of discouragement/and or fear
  • Pride that doesn’t want to expose and admit an area of weakness or failure
  • Some truly see the world with such rose-tinted lenses that sunshine, puppies, and apple pie have obfuscated their vision from seeing the negative reality of anything!

Before long, you lose credibility.  People no longer believe you.  Everything you say is suspect and a counter-voice of reason and reality is sought after.  Soon, people are no longer following your lead.  Not because they don’t like you, they don’t appreciate you, they don’t love you – but because you are so Pollyanna in mind and perspective that the honest reality of the church’s situation (or business, or organization) can’t be clearly negotiated by you!  You are in fact – TOO positive; TOO optimistic.

This is what I like about Admiral Jim Stockdale.  He was the highest ranking United States military officer serving as a POW in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” He was tortured over 20 times in his eight year imprisonment from 1965 – 1973.  While a POW he set up systems of communication with his fellow POW’s that allowed them to communicate with each other; he instituted rules of torture knowing no one could resist torture indefinitely so enacted a system that allowed a prisoner after x amount of minutes to offer a set amount of information.  Along the way, he discovered the key to survival is through a paradox (that now bears his name).

The Stockdale Pardox: 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 might be.

When asked who didn’t usually make it as a POW, Stockdale said those who said, “We’re going to be out of here by Christmas.”  Christmas would come and pass.  Then they would say, “We’re going to be out of here by Easter.”  Easter would come and pass.  Those who were naively optimistic didn’t survive.  They died because they were too positive, too optimistic…not in the idea of prevailing, but in their inability to confront the brutal facts of their reality as prisoners of war.  Stockdale, on the other hand, hung on to what could not be denied…in the end, we will prevail regardless of the difficulty.  And at the same time, he knew the brutal facts of what it meant to be a prisoner of war and he confronted those brutal facts –  head on.

It is a difficult things for leaders (and churches, organizations, and businesses) to do – but it is important to confront the brutal facts, whatever they are.  Name them.  Speak them out loud.  Share the statistics.  Don’t hide the truth.  This is where we are…really.  AND AT THE SAME TIME be confident that in spite of the brutal facts – in the end, because of the power available to us in Christ Jesus – we will prevail!

  1. alex says:

    “we will prevail regardless of the difficulty.” Thanks, I needed that.

  2. Sky says:

    Thanks Sam – Good Stuff! Reading it just gave me a new outlook on my day that had gotten off to a bad start.

  3. The Bishop says:

    Very good post. Stockdale was a true American hero. Great man of great courage and character.

  4. […] carry on reading. AKPC_IDS += "640,"; (No Ratings Yet)  Loading … Posted in Leadership | Tagged […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s