The Stockdale Paradox provides a powerful framework for leading through an extended pandemic born out of Stockdale’s multi-year prisoner of war experience. The heart of it is “Unwavering faith that you can and will prevail with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the current reality.”

Marco’s Pizza’s president, Tony Libardi and his team are doing just this, achieving historic record-breaking sales, piloting new innovations, signing 89 new store commitments, and opening their 1,000th store through the heart of the pandemic. Their recipe for success includes empathy, values, celebrating wins, inspiration and future focus. Libardi took me through his thinking. The recipe and quotes are his.

Confront the most brutal facts of the current reality

Empathy takes precedence

“Leaders who empathize with their people and put their team first are the ones who succeed.” Listening, learning and caring “fosters camaraderie rooted in trust, collaboration and service – all of which become key to successfully navigating through hardship.”

Marco’s has stepped-up communications with franchisees and field leaders and conducted Townhall sessions to better understand and address the needs of all stores and their employees. By prioritizing empathy and gaining perspective, Marco’s leaders are now able to make better decisions more quickly than ever before.

While empathy is always central to exceptional leadership, Leo Flanagan of the Center for Resilience argues that focus, pragmatic optimism and empathy are the three most important contributors to the ability to thrive amidst adversity (along with fact-based decision making, agility, balanced goal-setting, engaging in a higher purpose, self-control, grit, and self-reflection.)

Let Core Values Guide Your Business Decisions

“I truly believe the best leaders use culture to drive unprecedented results. Throughout the pandemic, we relied heavily on our core values and cultural beliefs (People First, Business and Community Health) to guide our decision making.”

Marco’s early and consistent requirement that all employees wear masks and perform daily health checks directly flowed from those values.

As you sink through the mud of pandemic-related uncertainty, shared values must be the bedrock to inspire accountability and serve as a reality check for coming together to get through the pandemic and prevail.

Find the Good

“Wins – big and small – are cause for celebration. By calling attention to these wins, you are creating an opportunity to inspire your team to achieve even greater success.”

While the pandemic posed significant challenges, Marco’s remained committed to opening new stores and celebrated their 1000th store milestone not only with the hard-working immigrant entrepreneurs behind that particular store, but with the entire franchise system and its loyal customers.

Stress is cumulative. Enhancing everyone’s resilience is an essential leadership responsibility. One way to boost morale and work-ethic is celebrating successes – no matter how big or small.

Unwavering faith that you can and will prevail

Being Inspirational Becomes a Requirement

“It is easy to become discouraged in the face of uncertainty, but as a leader it is your responsibility to rise above the circumstances and direct your team toward a positive vision.”

Marco’s leadership has succeeded in getting its people to think beyond ‘survival mode.’ Marco’s people have been donating to their communities, hosting birthday party parades for families, innovating with PPE, volunteering to trial virtual kitchens and other innovations.

Inspiration unleashes motivation. A pragmatically optimistic mindset is what team members need from their leaders – especially in the face of uncertainty. Give people something to look forward to and help them understand how the work they do each day makes a difference.

Assemble a Permanent Task Force for the Future

Stockdale talks about “unwavering faith” – not blind faith. Agility is essential. Libardi said “Our leadership team meets daily to discuss trends and adjustments we need to make to stay ahead of changes in consumer behavior and government orders.”

They’re doing this by exploring a new store model, collaborating with manufacturers for robotic kitchens with co-bots, testing virtual kitchen concepts, third-party delivery, automated contact-free delivery, and curbside service.

The pandemic has forced leaders to innovate. Doing this with a future focused task force communicates the value of preparing for the future, and acting on it sooner together.

Giving Libardi the last word: “Leaders must have the courage to stop doing what used to work and move into unchartered territory. Brands that are able to stay ahead and revolutionize their industry will be the ones to emerge stronger than before.”

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #668) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.