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Administrative Issues Journal

Abstract

Recent discussions of leadership paradoxes have suggested that managers who can hold seemingly opposed, yet interrelated perspectives, are more adaptive and effective. One such paradox that has received relatively little attention is the “Stockdale Paradox,” named after Admiral James Stockdale, an American naval officer who was held captive for seven and one-half years during the Vietnam War and survived imprisonment in large part because he held beliefs of optimism about the future, while simultaneously acknowledging the current reality of the desperate situation in which he found himself. This contradictory tension enabled him and his followers to emerge from their situation not just unbroken, but stronger. Such paradoxical thinking has been empirically supported by mental contrasting research demonstrating the effectiveness of visualizing a positive future yet recognizing the reality of the current situation. This apparent dichotomy provides an important lesson for leaders who must remain optimistic, yet face the reality of their present condition, and is symbolic of an overarching, general tension leaders face in addressing “the now and the next.”

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