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Be Careful Of A Blind Optimism!

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.” –Admiral James Stockdale

This is one of the quotes that “The Veli Neuro-Engineering Effect” is based on. When I deliver my Neuro-Engineering talks, it’s not just about helping people, especially leaders in organizations to lead better. It’s about helping leaders understand brain rules and its thriving environment. It’s a fact that most people who occupy these positions of influence don’t know how the brain works let alone optimizing it and tapping into their teams’ collective genius. This leads to three main undesirable situations in the workplace:

  1. Staff disengagement.
  2. Lack of discretionary effort (employees not going an extra mile)
  3. High staff turnover.

Almost 20 years ago, Jim Collins introduced us to Good To Great in his book by the same name. I first read this book just over ten years ago and it sits on my desk as a resource today. This book came across my mind again during the COVID – 19 Pandemic. It is amazing how things have a way of finding their way back to you at just the right time. In the book, Jim Collins introduces us to the Stockdale Paradox by sharing the story of Admiral James Stockdale. Admiral Stockdale was the highest-ranking United States military officer held captive at the prisoner-of-war camp known as the Hanoi Hilton. For eight years, Admiral Stockdale lived in squalor conditions and was tortured over 20 times. Many other service members were prisoners in the same conditions there and did not make it out. Admiral Stockdale was the exception.

Jim Collins looks at the difference between the Admiral and those who died in captivity and his story. The answer: “the optimists didn’t make it.” This sounds strange at first. I consider myself an optimist. Here is where the paradox comes in. Admiral Stockdale elaborates “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out 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.”

I was struck by how the Stockdale Paradox parallels my thinking during this COVID–19 pandemic. “It will only be a couple of weeks and we will be back to normal.” And a couple of weeks would come and go. I clearly remember that I was supposed to speak at the 2020 Africa CEO Roundtable in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and about two days before my flight to the event, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and this changed the game.  “This event will happen in June 2020, let’s just give it few months.”  And few months would come and go. “We will be out of this and back to normal by summer.” And summer 2020 came and went. And with each coming and going, I found myself disappointed, at times heart broken. See the similarity? I saw optimism as a way to stay positive. How did it become a negative to be positive? Thus the paradox.

The Stockdale Paradox story opened my eyes. Jim Collins goes on to say that the secret to success, to being great, is found in the proper balance of optimism with realism. Survival in difficult times requires a realistic and brutally honest acknowledgement of the difficulties you face, balanced with the optimism that you will not allow those circumstances to defeat you. Plus always holding on to an unwavering commitment to yourself that you will survive. The recognition of this paradox at play in my own COVID-19 situation provided the balance of realism with optimism. It also freed me to focus on some important lessons the pandemic is teaching. The Stockdale Paradox is a game changer.

Optimism is very important, but it must be balanced with a healthy dose of realism. Realism in this instance is accepting that this pandemic is here and cannot be wished away and taking all precautionary measures like sanitizing, using a mask, keeping social distancing, etc. “The Veli Neuro-Engineering Effect” takes this further by helping leaders understand the thriving environmental factors of the brain and how create these environments in order to get the most out of those they lead to avoid the undesirable workplace situations that trigger threat responses and create stress.

Leaders have to learn how to engineer desirable workplace outcomes through neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to modify itself in response to experience. Let’s be honest, a leader can only lead based on their ability to lead themselves. Bob Bhiel said it succinctly, “Dealing with any situation you face without the proper tool is like trying to drive a nail into a hardwood board with your fist!” Now, as a leader, wherever you are right now, are you using your fist to drive a nail into a hardwood board or are you using a proper a tool – an electronic screw driver?

Let “The Veli Neuro-Engineering Effect” touch your soul and help you unleash your leadership brain power!

Veli Ndaba is a Neuro-Conscious Leadership Speaker and Trainer, Neuro-Life & Business Coach, Neuro-Motivational Speaker and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!), Newspaper Columnist and Entrepreneur. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on, or +27 83 304 9773