The Courage to Question

BooksGrowingonTreeGood business coaches know that uncomfortable conversations are the harbinger of professional growth; the greater the squirm factor, the larger the developmental opportunity. My all-time favourite peer coach, Fiona, had a way of zeroing in like nobody else I’ve ever met. We wrote a contract that we called our Coaching Bedrock, in which we promised to doggedly hold each other accountable to achieve our stated goals. This included calling BS anytime our language even vaguely smacked of avoidance or excuses. I did some of my best thinking with Fiona. She passed away almost 5 years ago and I miss her.

So why would two people intentionally set out to challenge each other’s thinking by homing in on the very things we’d rather avoid? It was our way of living the Stockdale Paradox. Jim Collins defines it this way in Good To Great:

You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end AND you must also confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.

The Stockdale Paradox pairs optimistic determination with the courage to proactively search out and face difficult facts. It’s not dissimilar to Andrew S. Grove’s business philosophy described in Only The Paranoid Survive, written while he was CEO of Intel. Instead of celebrating Intel’s phenomenal success, he insisted his leadership team work on predicting where the next business pressures would show up and then prepare for those possibilities. One of his main points is that only those who try to anticipate change will survive when change happens. He also provides honest insight with this line:

Looking back over my own career, I have never made a tough change, whether it involved resource shifts or personnel moves, that I haven’t wished I had made a year or so earlier.

What should you question right now?


6 Replies to “The Courage to Question”

  1. Unquestionably believe that which you stated.
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  2. “You must confront your most brutal reality” is probably the sigular most powerful statement I have come across in quite some time. Not so easy to do however, denial and being frozen into inaction by panic are excellent reasons that I struggle with this. Any tips on making yourself face up to it?


    1. Hi Karen,

      I hear you. An unexamined fear is easier to push into the back of our minds to ignore. The only thing is, they have a way of popping back into our consciousness at the most unwelcome moments – and as you mentioned, that can be paralyzing.

      Try writing down just one single situation on a piece of paper. Next write down all your possible actions. Remember that doing nothing about the situation is a choice, so write that down, too. Now think about how each of those action choices may influence the outcome. This should give you at least a small sense of control.


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