Jim Collins, best-selling author and renowned management educator, recently headlined a conference for leaders of nonprofit organizations in Delaware. Collins spoke on the ideas introduced in his books, including his bestseller Good to Great

One point in particular struck a chord for me in reference to theological schools and the challenges and uncertain futures they face. The “Stockdale Paradox,” born from a conversation with Admiral Jim Stockdale concerning his prisoner-of-war experience in Vietnam, points to the imperative of a company or nonprofit doing two paradoxical things simultaneously, namely:

Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of difficulties. AND at the same time, Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.

The key for Collins is that as we work toward shaping a vision for the future, it is better to work with the facts rather than with mere dreams. Furthermore, unrealistic dreams can actually prove dangerous for a person or organization.

For theological schools, faith moves a school forward, but facts shape the path upon which faith walks. 

The question that challenges any leader when confronted with the Stockdale Paradox: Can your organization face the brutal facts while maintaining faith that you will prevail regardless of the difficulties?


To read more about the Stockdale Paradox, see Chapter 4, "Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)," from Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't by Jim Collins (Harper Collins, 2001). To learn more about Jim Collins and his work, please visit www.jimcollins.com.