April 4, 2020


Jim Collins's "Stockdale Paradox" and supporting policing friends during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dear PERF members,

I’d like to start this week’s PERF Trending by thanking all of you for the work you’re doing to help get your communities through the COVID-19 pandemic. For several weeks, PERF has devoted itself to gathering and disseminating information about the challenges you are facing, and the strategies you are deploying – or creating on the fly – to reduce the harm and save lives. Our Daily COVID-19 Reports and PERF Clips have been recounting many details about the work you are doing.

Police chiefs and sheriffs tell us that one of the biggest challenges is that nobody really knows how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out, how long it will take to recede, and whether it may come back in the fall, assuming it dies down during the summer.

Psychologically, it can be difficult to keep persevering if the situation seems hopeless and you don’t know when it will end. Especially in New York City, every day the news is horrifying and worse than the day before. Our hearts go out to the brave NYPD officers and other first responders, particularly those who must leave the relative safety of their homes to serve the public.

Confronting the brutal reality

The COVID pandemic reminds me of “the Stockdale paradox,” a term coined by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. In that book, Collins had a team of researchers who analyzed the qualities of corporate leaders who have demonstrated success in making their companies rise to the top. Back in 2007, I was interested in writing a report about adapting the principles of Good to Great to the policing profession, and Jim was generous with his time in supporting our efforts.

In his book, Collins invented the term “Stockdale paradox” to describe one of the qualities of great leaders, namely, “retaining faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, while at the same time, confronting the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

Collins explained where the Stockdale paradox came from:

“The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prisoner of war camp during the height of the Vietnam war. Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors.”

Misguided optimism is not helpful.

Impressed by Admiral Stockdale’s strength and leadership, Collins interviewed him for Good to Great. Collins’s key question was, “How did you deal with your situation, when you didn’t know how your story was going to end?”

Stockdale responded, “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.”

Collins thought about that for a while, and then asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”

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

Stockdale then turned to Collins and said, “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.”

It strikes me that this is exactly the situation facing police executives, medical professionals, and others on the front lines of COVID-19. Current estimates are that the virus may kill 100,000 Americans, and perhaps many more. Already there have been more than 50,000 deaths around the world. Those are the brutal facts.

Dealing with crises is nothing new for police executives, but today’s pandemic will test just how resilient we can be. When confronting the terrible realities of today, we know that we will prevail, but recognize that we should not wish for timelines that may only disappoint us.

Please reach out to your friends in policing.

I want to share one other thing that happened this week. I heard from a police chief in a major city who expressed concern about how COVID-19 may be affecting police executives psychologically.

This chief asked to remain anonymous, but he wanted me to encourage all of you, as busy as you are, to take a few minutes every day to call a friend who’s also in the policing profession, just to check in, compare notes, commiserate, maybe vent a little bit, share a funny story, and give each other some support.

“Don’t just preach and teach wellness, DO and BE wellness, especially now!” this chief told me.

I think that’s excellent advice. Confronting the brutal facts may be a little easier if you get some help from your friends.

Let me conclude this issue of Trending with a bit of humor. For those of you who remember the TV show M*A*S*H, take a look at this video. My family are big M*A*S*H fans and thought you would find this funny.

Our PERF weekend Clips are below. Thank you again for the work you are doing, and for sharing your information with PERF.




Weekend Clips

Minneapolis Star Tribune: Deputy Minneapolis police chief brings a detective's quiet tenacity to the job

Back in his days as a homicide detective, Minneapolis Deputy Chief Erick Fors impressed colleagues with his cool, precise approach to solving crimes.

“You’ll see some people come through Homicide over the years, where they just want to have their names on the business cards,” said Lt. Richard Zimmerman, a longtime homicide detective who has run the unit for the past dozen years.

Not Fors: “He cared about victims and victims’ families,” Zimmerman said.

That much, he added, is unchanged about Fors, who has moved steadily up the ladder: from beat cop to interim precinct inspector to head of the 200-member investigative bureau. At the same time, the 22-year department veteran has raised his public profile, most recently by spearheading efforts to clear a backlog of unexamined rape kits, fueling speculation that he could someday lead the department.


Tampa Bay Newspapers: Protégés remember Sid Klein, former Clearwater police chief

Sid Klein, the Clearwater police chief who prepared his department for civilian unrest during the Y2K crisis and was one of the first to institute the philosophy of community policing in the nation, died Thursday, March 19. He was 78.

Klein, who served from 1981 to 2010, also modernized the department’s administrative and communications systems as the world switched from analog to digital equipment.

Most importantly, Klein instilled respect and admiration among his troops, Clearwater’s present police chief told the Beacon.


Philadelphia Inquirer: First female police chief in Atlantic County wants to open doors for other women

While Philadelphia now has its first female police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, a sprawling South Jersey town near Atlantic City has had a woman running its police force for five years.

Galloway Township Police Chief Donna Higbee made history when she became the first female top law enforcement officer in her Atlantic County community in July 2015. She’s still the only woman to lead a police department in the county, and among only a handful in New Jersey’s 565 municipalities.

She wants to change that.


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