Virtual coffee meetings with Metis Ireland

Part three: Leadership in turbulent times


We recently held the latest of our Virtual Coffee sessions for business leaders here at Metis Ireland. Every fortnight on a Friday you can contribute or just watch while you have your coffee, all you have to do is contact us at and we will send you the link to join in.
In case you missed the last one and to make sure as many people as possible get to share the insights, we’ve decided to make them available in a series of short blogs, so this time we’ll hear from Dr. James Ring, former CEO of the Limerick Chamber and now CEO of Ingenium.
James is best described as a ‘critical and independent thinker’ and here, he shares his thoughts on the importance of leadership and the requirements of leaders in times such as these.

The Stockdale Paradox

If you haven’t heard of him, the quite superbly named James Bond Stockdale was a Vice Admiral in the US Navy, Ross Perot’s running mate in the 1992 presidential election and a Vietnam veteran, specifically a prisoner of war.
The paradox that bears his name was coined by Jim Collins in his book ‘Good to Great’ and it recounts Stockdale’s experience in the prisoner of war camps. Among his fellow inmates he saw optimists and pessimists. They approached their situation in different ways, but as time wore on, the ranks of both camps thinned out – the optimists because things didn’t pick up as they expected, the pessimists because they’d already made their situation overwhelming.
What Stockdale noticed was that the realists were the real survivors. Optimism is a good thing, but it needs to be tied to the reality of a situation. Much like the current crisis, the prisoners of war didn’t know how long their situation would last, when it would change or what that change would look like. The survivors were the people who could ground themselves by accepting ‘what is’ and working within that.

All in the same boat?

It’s one of the many clichés of the pandemic, but it’s true, although not in the sense it’s normally used. Remember that nobody knows how this is going to go. There are plenty of economists who are happy to tell us what’s going to happen next. But the last recession showed that they don’t have all the answers and cannot really predict the future. Economics is an evolving art, not a definitive science, so don’t get too caught up in the doom and gloom or the overly positive hype. Right now, we need to accept where we are – it’ll be over one day, but for now we need to concentrate on what it means for us, our organisations and our people.
Our people are our greatest asset. Leading them is a privilege and a responsibility and there are certain things we need to understand, particularly in a time like this, to make sure we not only lead well, but lead with vision and compassion too. For one thing, we know people are resistant to change. Even when they challenge themselves with a new language, a marathon or a bungee jump, they’re doing it on their terms. Change on someone else’s terms is difficult and frightening. What we’re seeing now is ‘Unmerciful change’; to use another recent buzzword, it’s ‘unprecedented’ and we need to be mindful of that in the way that we deal with it.

Leading in the face of resistance

Not only will we see resistance to change, but as leaders some of that resistance will be directed at us. It’s not our fault and we didn’t ask for this to happen. But people are anxious and worried and that will mean we find ourselves on the receiving end of it, particularly where we have to make difficult decisions that affect them.
It’s an unfortunate fact that the situation we’re all in right now means that companies are having to let people go. We’ve seen all kinds of responses and reinventions, as crisis can also be a time of huge innovation – some businesses have been changing their entire model to survive, but still, people will lose their jobs and it may be for us to give them that news.
Throughout that, we need to be respectful and honest. It’s not the time to sugar coat things and it’s certainly not the time to string people along. As leaders we need to do what’s right, not what’s popular (sadly they’re rarely the same thing), but we must also remember that people look to us for clarity, direction and answers. We’ll find ourselves making decisions that affect lives. However hard that may be for us, we have to remain compassionate and understanding at all times.

Stick to your plan

It’s something we often tell investors – the importance of setting out a plan and then sticking it to it, even where things are hard. It’s the same principle for leaders – it’s on us to have that vision and it’s also on us to stick to it and see it through. But it’s not for us to hammer it home like a battering ram. To say it again, people are our greatest asset and we need to be mindful of them all times. We must share and explain the vision, to answer questions and to correct misunderstandings before they take hold.
When all of this is over, we’ll still see periods of change because change is constant. Hopefully we won’t see anything that causes quite as much upheaval as we’ve seen in the last couple of months, but leadership is sometimes more literal than we care to remember.
We’re leading our people through unfamiliar territory all the time – that’s how we break new ground. To do that we need to be able to envisage that future, even when it’s obscured, and to take our people with us, whenever we can; not kicking and screaming, but informed and on board.
If you want to know more you can contact James on his mobile 0867708219 or via email at, any time day or night.


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All content provided in these blog posts is intended for information purposes only and should not be interpreted as financial advice. You should always engage the services of a fully qualified financial adviser before entering any financial contract. Metis Ireland Financial Planning Ltd t/a Metis Ireland will not be held responsible for any actions taken as a result of reading these blog posts.