Importance of taking time to pause

Kevin Cashman, Senior Partner, CEO and Executive Development at Korn/Ferry International, talks about his new book, "The Pause Principle," and addresses what he calls the epidemic among executives of incessant busyness.

I just caught up with Kevin Cashman, Senior Partner, CEO and Executive Development at Korn/Ferry International, by phone, as he was in week four of a six-week global work trip traveling through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Ireland. Even in a schedule as hectic as his, he waxed poetic about the importance of taking time to pause. Kevin’s new book, "The Pause Principle," addresses what he calls the epidemic among executives of incessant busyness in the working arena today.

[P. Bailey] Kevin, what prompted you to write The Pause Principle?

[K. Cashman] Well, while it only took me a year to write the book, the concept came to me about ten years ago as I started noticing patterns in business which actually supported taking pauses. On the personal level, leaders would often step back before making big decisions. Leadership teams would go on off-site retreats to better devote time to strategic planning sessions. Even life-science laboratories when built away from headquarters, seem to allow more focus, deeper reflection, more collaborations, and ultimately more innovation. Over the years, it became clearer to me the crushing need people seemed to have to find the quiet voice within themselves before confronting major leadership decisions.

[P. Bailey] I can see where taking time sounds like a wonderful retreat from the edge of the precipice of our lives…but how does that work for people at various levels of an organization? Isn’t “pausing” a luxury only the higher organizational leaders can afford?

[K. Cashman] Actually no….it seems it is much harder for people in the highest levels to pause, and yet it is arguably most critical that they do. Over the years, I have had the privilege of consulting with notable CEO’s from companies around the world…and it is painfully evident how much this senior level of leadership needs to take a “pause” to gather themselves to do their best work. The greater the complexity, the deeper the reflective pause required to convert the complex and ambiguous to the clear and meaningful. Pause helps us to move from the transactive or hyperactive to the transformative. But, you’re right; people at all levels need to pause. Leaders can set the example. Unfortunately, there is a misperception that leaders are weak if they take time to make decisions. Stepping back for reflection and full consideration is an example of leading from character. Leaders who understand the value-creating impact of pause, know that paradoxically, pause powers performance.

[P. Bailey] Kevin, in your book you outline Three Domains of Growth. In the center of a bulls-eye target you have Grow Self, then the next ring is Grow Others, and then on the outside ring you have Grow Innovative Culture. Can you explain that a bit further?

[K. Cashman] Sure, growth is an inside-out and outside-in process of transformation beginning with inner self-growth and moving to growing others and growing innovative cultures. Most of the change, I have experienced over the years, begins with self-change and most growth begins with self-growth. Our capacity to lead our organizations is directly proportional to our capacity for our own growth first. We have to start there. When we aspire to become the leader we wish to see in our organization, we have a chance to accelerate the development of others, and ultimately the entire culture. “VUCA,” a term coined by the Army War College to describe our turbulent world, stands for “Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous.” I have found that the most effective leaders remind their people of values, purpose and infuse it into the culture at all levels throughout the enterprise. These innovative leaders can actually refocus their leadership teams around a more positive possibility of VUCA: “Vision,

[P. Bailey] Kevin, there are many business books on the shelves today making organizational analogies to everything from cheese and carrots to circuses and Shackleton. Why does The Pause Principle seem to come from deeper roots in truth and human experience?

[K. Cashman] What I was discovering was that this pause phenomenon was not a fad, but an actual principle, like the principles we have found in nature—such as gravity and biological systems governing our lives. Even the Second Law of Thermodynamics recognizes that as activity lessens, order increases. The Pause Principle is similarly based on deeply rooted natural principles, and the power is inherent in us.

[P. Bailey] Kevin, thank you for the pause you have taken to discuss your ideas with us, and for the gift of The Pause Principle to all of us seeking to grow more fully for ourselves, for others and for our organizations.

Peter Bailey, Sr. Vice President, Organization Development: Peter is a senior consultant in the Organization Development practice area at the Prouty Project. Peter is a multi-faceted experiential designer and facilitator who has 25 years of experience in the fields of high-technology, telecom, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and customer service.

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