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Business Insight: To lead, don't be afraid to pause

Published October 12, 2012 6:20 pm

Stepping out of the fray often better than always driving harder, author advises.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Kevin Cashman, a business coach and author of "The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward," says economic and personal crashes can be tied to addiction for constant action.

Why is it important to step back?

In our 24/7 globally connected culture with a deluge of information and so much coming at us at once, the loss of pause potential is epidemic. If leaders do not step back to stop momentum, gain perspective, to transcend the immediacies of life and to accelerate their leadership, we will continue to crash economically, personally and collectively. Pause is the antidote to our addiction to action and the catalyst for moving from transactive busyness to an intentional process of stepping back for deliberate consideration, then leading forward with greater clarity, momentum and impact. We need to step back for learning and growth, growth of others and growth of innovative cultures.

What is fast thinking and slow thinking?

This is from Daniel Kahneman's book, "Thinking: Fast and Slow," in which he synthesizes a huge body of his research. He has discerned that we have two systems of thinking —System 1, which is fast, intuitive, an over-confident generator of ideas; System 2 is slow, even a little lazy, but more analytical and logical. We need to engage System 2 to synthesize information more often in our decision-making processes.

Give examples of slowly growing oneself.

Self-awareness is the key to personal and leadership growth, so pausing to understand beliefs, values and purpose, and making sure that our behaviors are aligned, is essential for authenticity. You can do this with a coach, a mentor or on your own, but it's a conscious process, a continuous loop of inside-out and outside-in feedback that is based on the courage to ask hard questions and listen openly to yourself and others. This process is crucial to leadership effectiveness. Scientific studies on meditation and the brain have shown that practitioners have increased brain functioning, focus, energy and improved health. Meditation, which is really paying attention, is a powerful pause practice for transcendence that can help us deal with complexity with inner calm and greater focus. In our uncertain, volatile world, the capacity to step out of the fray to synthesize complex issues before rendering decisions or responding is critical. Meditation can help us be more creative and innovative. Research shows that we experience the gamma spikes that accompany "Aha!" moments during meditation. It doesn't have to be in a formal sitting practice. When do you get your best ideas? Research shows that they arise when we least expect, when we take a break: in the shower; driving a car or riding the bus; going for a walk or a run, even daydreaming.

Explain pause principles.

In our experience, innovative leaders and everyone in the organization are clear about vision, mission and values. Trust and mutual respect permeate the culture. Leaders encourage speaking up, having difficult conversations and expressing new ideas. The culture is open, collaborative and engaged in purposeful, meaningful work that compels people to serve and push boundaries. Imbued in the culture is a boldness and a drive that is tempered by pausing to think and question. There is urgency in innovation. That's why it's important that leaders at all levels stay grounded in mission and values, and are accountable but feel free to experiment. These seven pause practices show up in innovative cultures — 1) Be On-Purpose 2) Question and Listen; 3) Risk Experimentation; 4) Reflect and Synthesize; 5) Consider inside-out and outside-in dynamics; 6) Foster Generativity, or Help Others Surpass You; 7) Authenticity. Kevin Cashman, author, business coach