Why Optimism Might Be Killing Your Business

by Michelle Salater on November 24, 2010

The past month I’ve been studying the book Good to Great by Jim Collins (notice I said studying and not just reading). When I decided to pick up the book, I promised myself I would read each chapter twice, journal my reactions, and do what I could to implement what I learned.

It’s an easy read, yet a thought-provoking one. Studying the key factors that make good companies great required me to take a good, hard look at the state of my company, our systems, our clients, our services, our team’s performance, and our financials.

What I didn’t realize was this book was going to be the demise of the way I currently run my business.

In the chapter “Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith),” Collins shares a story about the Stockdale Paradox. After years of research, Collins and his team came to the conclusion that every good-to-great company accepted the brutal facts of their reality. Yet, they also had faith in their commitment to achieve their goals and objectives despite the brutal facts. This is what the author calls the Stockdale Paradox.

The story comes from Admiral Jim Stockdale, who spent eight long years in the Hanoi Hilton during Vietnam War. Collins spent an afternoon with the Admiral, talking about his captivity, and asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?” The Admiral replied, “The optimists . . . They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go . . . and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

The Admiral summed it up this way: “Never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you cannot afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

This story really struck a chord with me because I operate like that in my own business. I’m the optimist who believes we will prevail by Christmas, yet it never happens.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking inventory of every aspect of my business—including my leadership—and I am confronting the brutal facts about the state and the future of my company. I want to grow a profitable, thriving business that provides me with the lifestyle I desire, pays my team well, and provides clients with increased revenue and peace of mind. And, while I have a growing and profitable business now, this book helped me see that the foundation I have been laying for the past two years is built on sand.

Could my company continue to grow and thrive without applying the principles I learned in this book? Probably. But I am dedicated to growing a great company, being a great leader, and serving clients to the best of my ability. And I don’t want it to take 40 years. I am committed to start now—today—to get clear on what we can be the best at and what we need to do to succeed, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to stay focused on our goals.

Those of you reading this who are tired of the struggle and frustrated because your business doesn’t operate the way you want it to, or who feel pulled in a million directions, then I highly suggest reading Good to Great.

Imagine if you could take your company to the epitome of greatness. Would you take that chance? If so, I strongly suggest reading Good to Great.

**Disclaimer: The hyperlinks for Good to Great in the above blog post are our Barnes & Noble affiliate links.

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