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THE PAUSE PRINCIPLE
Step Back to Lead Forward
By KEVIN CASHMAN
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 Kevin Cashman
All right reserved.
Chapter One INTRODUCING THE PAUSE PRINCIPLE®
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SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I SIGNED BOOKS at BookExpo America at McCormick Place in Chicago. It is a huge event with thousands of people and hundreds of authors. Every half-hour or so, thirty-two authors step out from behind a velvet curtain to sign books at an elevated podium. Attendees line up in long rows and patiently wait to receive their signed copies. While it had a bit too much formality for my taste, it was still a big deal for me.
Lining up behind the curtain with the other thirty-one authors, I noticed that to my right was George Stephanopoulos, chief political correspondent for ABC News, formerly White House communications director and senior advisor for policy and strategy during President Bill Clinton's administration. Although George looked like a teenager, he was unfazed by the event—cool, calm, and collected, which was in complete contrast to my visible enthusiasm. When we took our spots at our elevated podiums, George's line was long. It went on forever, wrapping around the corner beyond our sight. My line of people numbered a paltry seven. At first, I cycled through reactive embarrassment, insecurity, and disbelief. I thought, "Am I in the correct spot?" Then, I paused. Stepping back for a moment, I caught myself and reflected, "How do I best deal with this situation?" This short moment of reflection gave me renewed clarity and purpose. "This isn't about me. It's about those seven people, and I will graciously, generously give them my full attention." Once I made that shift, I had a great time. By connecting deeply, I learned a little about each individual, then I signed each book. It became a wonderful experience.
After a little while, I looked up at my line. A small miracle had happened. I now had a long line of people awaiting my signature. I glanced over at George, and his line had emptied. Apparently his books had not arrived, and he had been dashing off his signature on photos of himself as substitutes without taking much time to talk with people. Evidently, word had gotten out: "You want a photo or a personally signed book from Cashman?" Even George noticed the shift and said, "You must have a great book." I responded, "Sure is. You want a copy?" Feigning importance, I signed one for him. The truth is I felt bad for him. I wouldn't have been very happy if my books hadn't shown up, and clearly his disappointing circumstances helped turn the tide for me and created my surprising book wave. Reflecting on this example and the thousands of other intentional pauses I have had the privilege to witness with clients over the years, it has become clear: Pause powers performance.
How often do we miss these small but significant moments? These key opportunities that can unlock our hearts and minds, open us up, and connect us more deeply with others so that we can create something new and different. All too often, we allow ourselves to be carried away by our busyness. We are too hyperactive, too reactive to even notice the hidden value-creating dynamics waiting just under the surface within us and around us. Tethered to our smartphones, we are too caught up and distracted to take the time necessary to sort through complexity or to locate submerged purpose. In our urgent rush to get "there," we are going everywhere but being nowhere. Far too busy managing with transactive speed, we rarely step back to lead with transformative significance.
Pause to Lead Forward: The Paradoxical Leadership Breakthrough
Too often, we take for granted our simplest yet most profound and transformative human capabilities. Sleep, for instance, is on the surface very simple. We lie down, sleep, and when we wake up, we have renewed energy, vitality, and perspective. Our superficial analysis of sleep says, "Yeah, no big deal. We rest and wake up. So what?" But take a moment to consider how profound sleep really is. Every night we go to sleep fatigued and possibly stressed from the day. Maybe we even have a little tightness or muscle ache somewhere in our body. When we awaken we feel completely rejuvenated. The muscle ache has gone away and the mental stress along with it. We feel energized physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Sleep is an amazing, natural capability for transformation. However, we can abuse this inherent gift with overwork, increased stress, and too much stimulation. Imagine how challenging our lives would be if we lost this ability to rest, heal, and restore. In extreme cases of overtaxation and hyper-fatigue, individuals experience burnout, serious illness requiring hospitalization or even death because the restorative process has been compromised by neglect. The French call this surmenage. Sleep is a natural, transformative process that cannot be ignored if we hope to operate at peak levels of performance.
What sleep is to the mind and body, pause is to leadership and innovation. Pause transforms management into leadership and the status quo into new realities. Pause, the natural capability to step back in order to move forward with greater clarity, momentum, and impact, holds the creative power to reframe and refresh how we see ourselves and our relationships, our challenges, our capacities, our organizations and missions within a larger context. While losing touch with our ability to pause may be less obvious than losing our ability to rest, it can be just as devastating. Pause, like sleep, is a natural transformative process that cannot be ignored if we want to operate at peak levels of performance. In our fast-paced, achieve-more-now culture, the loss of pause potential is epidemic. For many it has been lost, ignored, or completely abandoned; for others it is unfamiliar, an unknown.
A prominent, hard-charging CEO came into my office one day, fell into a chair, released a deep sigh, and said, "I don't know how to put into words what I am feeling. People around me seem to think that I am doing well. My board is happy. But, I am feeling like I have lost my edge a bit. If I am totally transparent, I am not feeling quite as focused, passionate, energetic, and patient anymore. I even sometimes question why I am working so hard. What is the point?" As we spent time together, it became clear that he had slowly, over time, lost connection with his deeper sense of self, his relationships, and his purpose by overtaxing his drive and underinvesting in pause, reflection, and renewal. In the early stages of his career, he just pushed through situations with more and more force, drawing on his considerable will, intelligence, and experience to get through. Later, as he was rapidly expanding and elevating the scope of his responsibilities, he began to disconnect a bit from relationships, as well as from the generative pleasure of taking time to listen, support, and mentor others. Eventually, he got so caught up in doing and achieving that he rarely, if ever, stepped back to get a fresh perspective or consider a new alternative. He took less vacation, pulled back on his fitness regime, gained 20 pounds, was more short-tempered at home, and had this nagging, just-below-the-surface feeling: "Is this all there is?" Having lost touch with his natural pause potential, he coped by pushing harder with more will and control, unknowingly leaving behind his purpose-driven ability to inspire, restore, and innovate.
Managers assert drive and control to get things done; leaders pause to discover new ways of being and achieving.
The demanding pace for global leaders has never been more challenging. Digitally connected every moment, we are increasingly tied to a 24-hour global clock. We are expected to perform continually in the face of global crises and multifaceted pressures, including downsizing and mergers, and the related stresses and expectations. The list of demands, personal and professional, never ends. This is the "new normal." Could it be that going faster and driving harder are not the answers? Could there be another way to creatively sustain high performance? Could it be that the source of our real value as leaders might come from different thinking and different choices rather than from perpetuation of the incessant pace we are straining to maintain?
Paying Attention to the Wisdom of Experience
I had the privilege of sharing some precious time with a colleague who was terminally ill. Aware of the compression of time, we dove into some authentic conversations about life. At one point, I got the courage to ask him, "Bob, what do you want leaders to never forget?" His wise response was, "Never forget to slow down, connect with people, and do something that is meaningful. Never go so fast that you forget that love and service make life worth living." Slow down? Meaning? Love? Service? As Bob faced his mortality, he had deeper clarity about what brings authentic vitality to living.
David, a seventy-four-year-old chairman of a public company, also shared his life-leadership wisdom: "Early in our careers we use our drive, energy, and ambition to propel us through the ranks. We make things happen. However, as we advance, and if we are self-aware, life begins to teach us new lessons—lessons of humility, reliance on others, and lessons that the whole ... the bigger picture ... is more important than we are. Why? The sheer scale and complexity of responsibilities, as well as the consequences to people are too challenging to go it alone. The earlier we learn to view life from this different perspective, the sooner we can line up with what's most important and figure out how to make our best contribution. If we don't learn these more people-centered, service-driven lessons until later, our path is much harsher. We spend our energies in battles for control, dominance, and the self-focused drive required to win rather than invested in meaningful service. Step back often. Reflect, and become more aware of yourself, your colleagues, and your mission. The earlier you do this in your career the more productive and fulfilling your leadership and your life will be."
Flipping the VUCA Forces
For several years, I had the privilege of being a keynote speaker at one of the Army War College's leadership programs. I was humbled by how much I learned there, particularly about character-driven leadership and a potent perspective of our world called "VUCA." Borrowing this term from the Army War College, Bob Johansen, ten-year forecaster and author of Get There Early and Leaders Make the Future, has characterized the speed- and action-oriented, fast-changing, demanding world we lead in today as a "VUCA world: Volatile; Unpredictable; Complex; Ambiguous." Our addiction to action, our busy-ness, our preoccupation with incessant distractions and pursuit of the ubiquitous "more" in our 24/7, constantly connected, globally caffeinated culture conspire to diminish rather than strengthen our leadership capacities. We challenge ourselves to keep up, even hasten the grueling pace, and, frankly, we rationalize that it comes with the territory. Paradoxically, the job of leaders is to bring clarity to all this chaos. Warren Bennis mentors, "Leaders bring clarity and hope." No easy task in the vortex of VUCA.
Johansen contends that we have "to flip the VUCA forces to terms that create possibilities and redefine VUCA as: Vision; Understanding; Clarity; Agility." We agree. But, how do we bring about this transformation? Pause—a step back to lead forward—a transformative, pragmatic, albeit paradoxical principle for sorting through complexity and coming into conscious connection with what is important. Daniel Vasella, M.D., chairman of Novartis, who has been acknowledged as one of the most innovative leaders in the life sciences business in history and navigated the firm as CEO for more than fifteen years to its current status as a $58 billion life sciences powerhouse, shared with me, "Pause gives room to oneself and to others. It allows the digestion of things both conceptual, and emotional. Pause can be a way to sense-making by bringing together a more integrated, complete picture of what is happening in and around us."
For most leaders, at first glance, pausing to elevate performance is incongruous with their leadership DNA, especially for the most productive, highest achievers. Over the past thirty years of coaching CEOs, senior teams, and senior leaders around the globe, I have lost track of the number of times a high-achieving leader turned to me and asked, "Kevin, how can we step up to achieve more?" To their surprise and discomfort, I often recommend stepping back—pausing—but, because it is antithetical to what they have always done, they insist, "We don't need to pause more, we need to do more."
Why would pragmatic, hard-charging, achievement-driven leaders pause in order to accelerate performance and growth? Put simply, that is exactly what is needed to sort through complexity and then drive performance to the next level. If leaders today do not step back to gain fresh perspective and to transcend the immediacies of life, we will continue to crash economically, personally, and collectively. Our downside survival and upside innovation depend on transformative pause. Certainly, we need to do more to meet the demands of high-performance, complex problems, and innovation, but in today's world the doing needs to be new and different.
Creating a New Normal
Pause is a universal principle inherent in living, creative systems. It is part of the order, value, and growth that arises from slowing down and stepping back. In physics, it is the second Law of Thermodynamics: As activity lessens, order increases. The Pause Principle is present in economies, physiologies, ecologies, communities, organizations, and nations. We observe pause on the macro and the micro levels as a principle of life and leadership, a natural part of the continuum that catalyzes growth, innovation, and transformation. Like any valuable resource, yet unrecognized and therefore neglected, we have to explore and discover its pragmatic uses in order to experience its value-creating impact. Additionally, we need to learn to tap into pause, incorporating it in our lives and leadership, and leveraging it as a powerful resource, an innovation in and of itself.
The Pause Principle is the conscious, intentional process of stepping back, within ourselves and outside of ourselves, to lead forward with greater authenticity, purpose, and contribution. This value-creating methodology allows more examination, higher-order logic, rational analysis, more profound questioning, deeper listening, higher-quality presence, broader perspective, greater openness to diverse thinking and input, and ultimately more impactful, influential, and innovative action.
Paradoxically, pause powers purposeful performance.
Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences, and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, has discerned two critical systems that determine the way we think. He counsels us to be careful with our "fast thinking," the overconfident system that is absolutely sure of opinions, impressions, and judgment. This part of our mind generates ideas quickly without much consideration. When we think fast in complex or new situations, we unknowingly limit our options to what we know from the past or habituated patterns. This is dangerous in a VUCA world, which requires more forward-looking agility at every turn. As Kahneman says, "We are normally blind about our own blindness. We're generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments. We exaggerate how knowable the world is.... What psychology and behavioral economics have shown is that people don't think very carefully."
Incorporating pause as a best practice can change that. Ron James, CEO, Center for Ethical Business Cultures, University of St. Thomas, explains:
Our culture is based on speed and decisiveness, and it's tough to pause when you are always "on." Pausing for self-talk about what really matters and incorporating that in our decisions so we act with ethics and integrity is exactly what we need to do. We need to have a set of principles that guides our decisions and behavior. That begins with asking, "What do I stand for? What does the organization stand for?" Although it takes more time up front, pause allows for a richer decision, engages others, and creates a sense of power and early buy-in that impacts execution.
Leaders, especially, when faced with complexity and ambiguity, need to pause and "slow the picture down" to see multiple options, multiple futures more effectively.
Fast thinking is the domain of management transaction, whereas slow thinking is the leadership domain of strategic, innovative transformation.
Excerpted from THE PAUSE PRINCIPLE by KEVIN CASHMAN Copyright © 2012 by Kevin Cashman. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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