In last month’s post, I talked about leading towards the new normal and how the most effective leaders that I have been coaching all have one eye on dealing with getting through the current situation and the other eye firmly focused on the future. A key question they are contemplating is: How can I create the new normal and proactively design it rather than just wait for it to unfold and potentially be thrust upon me?

Today, I’m further exploring the leadership philosophy of duality and the simultaneous focus on two equally challenging goals. My interest was triggered by a video by Jim Collins in which he relays a concept from his book From Good to Great called the Stockdale Paradox. He describes a conversation he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking U.S. military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Stockdale was tortured many times during his eight-year imprisonment, lived without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again.

During the conversation, Stockdale shared his coping strategy during this period…

“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.”

Jim Collins asked who didn’t make it out of Vietnam and Stockdale replied:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, “We’re going to out of here by Christmas.” And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, “We’re going to get out of here by Easter’. And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Stockdale added:

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be”.

Witnessing this philosophy of duality, Jim Collins describe it as the Stockdale Paradox.

What can you take from the Stockdale Paradox to be most effective at this time as you endure and work your way through a COVID-19 world? How will you keep the faith that you will prevail and be sufficiently disciplined to confront those brutal facts facing you and your organisation in this current reality?

There is probably not a simple or single answer to this question. However, coaching offers you many benefits and resources that take you closer to being able to hold this dual leadership philosophy. In my e-book, Building a Coaching Culture, I make reference to some of the many positive outcomes from using a coaching approach and I’d like to share just a few here which I feel are particularly relevant for establishing the best possible post COVID-19 new normal.

Handling the change

When has change been so rapid and so dramatic? There are decades when not much happens and then there are weeks when decades happen! Research by the International Coaching Federation clearly shows that organisations with a coaching culture manage change more effectively. However, what’s also really significant, is that the extent of change triggered by our current experience is giving rise to some other challenges that coaching can also address, such as: resilience, confidence, dealing with uncertainty and dealing with loss. These are all very important aspects of being able to strike the balance in the philosophy of duality described in the Stockdale Paradox. Coaching offers a safe, supportive space to enable and provoke new thinking and new feeling which boosts resilience, increases confidence and helps people to feel more resourceful in times of uncertainty and loss. Coaching helps people to “find themselves” within the turmoil of the storm that surrounds them, thereby remaining more grounded and stable as they navigate that storm.

Engagement and wellbeing

Coaching is already well known for having a strong positive impact on employee engagement. Why is this? The process of coaching invites the other person to really reflect on what’s important, to pinpoint where and how their own values and beliefs sit within a goal or an objective, to thoroughly explore situations, perspectives, possibilities and options. In a coaching conversation, the person evaluates those options and makes choices and decisions about actions that will not only lead them closer to that goal but to which they by now feel a strong level of connection, commitment and congruence, in other words…engagement.

Another topic referenced in last month’s post, was that of mental health. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has highlighted the psychological effects of large-scale lockdown and, from an economic recovery perspective, this is a risk if your organisation cannot “hit the ground running” and get the wheels of business turning again quickly. Coaching is a fantastic way of mitigating against a significant drop in wellbeing by supporting people in a proactive way to work through how they are feeling about this experience and how they can access personal coping strategies which boost, not only their resilience, but their sense of wellbeing and resourcefulness to make their very best contribution to getting the organisation “back on its feet”.

In the post-COVID-19 workplace, you will need people to be both engaged and well and coaching is a powerful way to help underpin both of these vital qualities.


Given that this is all about creating a new normal, innovation is important! The International Coaching Federation’s definition of coaching states that coaching is “…a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, epitomises one of the most powerful aspects of the process of coaching which is that it provokes new thought. One of the more positive outcomes of this current reality is that, whilst some of the facts are truly brutal, it is forcing us into a space of innovation. This innovation can be nurtured, harnessed and successfully deployed through coaching.

There are many other ways that coaching can support you and your organisation move more effectively into the future post COVID-19. Whether that coaching is delivered by external or internal coaches or whether it is your managers and leaders using great coaching skills with their teams, exploring how you can fully leverage coaching as a critical strategic resource in the design and delivery of your new normal is something you cannot afford to ignore. In this way, you may even create a better normal than the one you had before and, like Admiral Jim Stockdale, perhaps you may turn this challenging experience into the defining event of your life, which, in retrospect, you would not trade.

Tracy Sinclair, MCC

Tracy Sinclair, MCC is co-founder and CEO of Coach Advancement by Tracy Sinclair. She co-authored Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide (2020) and hosts the Coaching in Conversation podcast. In 2020, she founded Coaching with Conscience to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching.

Tracy is dedicated to the development of the coaching profession and the coaching community and has served in both local and global boards and workgroups for the International Coaching Federation. She was awarded an ICF Coaching Impact Award for Distinguished Coach in 2023, named one of the Leading Global Coaches of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards (2019, 2021), and was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award (2021). She is also a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100Coaches and a trained coaching supervisor, mentor coach and ICF assessor.

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