Kevin Cashman is a Senior Partner, CEO & Board Services, Korn/Ferry International. He is recognized as a pioneer in leadership development and executive development, focusing on optimizing executive, team, and organizational performance. He is the founder of LeaderSource, a premier global leadership and talent consulting practice, as well as the Executive to Leader Institute®, an interdisciplinary approach to leadership development and executive coaching, and Chief Executive Institute®, a comprehensive, integrated, globally delivered leadership ad coaching program for CEOs and CEO successors. Kevin’s best-selling book, Leadershp from the Inside Out, is a business classic, and his new book, The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward, has recently been released. A frequent keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events, Kevin is a senior fellow of the Caux Roundtable, a global consortium of CEOs dedicated to enhancing principle-based leadership internationally. He is also a board member for the Center for Ethical Business Cultures, which fosters leadership in corporations.
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Morris: When and why did you decide to write The Pause Principle?
Cashman: Our world today suffers from an epidemic of “hurry sickness.” Increasingly, we are going everywhere but being nowhere. We are moving faster and faster, but for often without a clear purpose. We trade speed for significance and performance for purpose, but at what costs? Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Busy? The ants are busy.” The question we need to ask is, “Busy for what purpose?” The inspiration for writing The Pause Principle was to bring more authenticity and purpose to our leadership and our lives in order to balance our hyperactive, non-sustainable, busy-ness culture.
Morris: By what process did you formulate The Pause Principle?
Cashman: Paradoxically, pause powers purposeful performance. From observing, assessing, and coaching thousands of senior leaders around the globe for the last 30 years, one critical differentiating characteristic became apparent. Those leaders who stepped back, who practiced intentional reflection, had better self-awareness, better listening and coaching skills, and tended to make better personal, interpersonal, and business breakthroughs. In my work with senior leaders, I noticed that nearly all breakthroughs were preceded by some type of pause-through. An assessment, some feedback, a new strategy, or a boundary-breaking innovation was all born after some type of pause. Pause is the human mechanism for going deep to synthesize and emerging with insight and clarity.
Morris: Why specifically is “pause to lead forward” the “paradoxical leadership breakthrough”?
Cashman: 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 wakeup, 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 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 completely unfamiliar, an unknown.
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 constantly in the face of a global recession with all its 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?
Morris: What do the VUCA forces (i.e. volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) seem to possess even greater now than ever before?
Cashman: 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, 10-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.
Bob Johansen contends that we have “to flip the VUCA forces to terms that create possibilities and re-define VUCA as: Vision; Understanding; Clarity; Agility.”
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.
The VUCA forces are stronger than ever in today’s world of increasing complexity, speed, and demand. 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.
Morris: What is the most significant difference between “fast thinking” and “slow thinking”? When is each most appropriate? Please explain.
Cashman: 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. Leaders, especially, when faced with complexity and ambiguity, need to pause and “slow the picture down” to see multiple options, multiple futures more effectively.
Morris: I was and remain especially interested in what you have to say about asking questions effectively. Which questions seem to possess the greatest power? Please explain.
Cashman: The most powerful questions are the most provocative ones…questions that provoke deep insight and understanding. Provocative questions can “flip the VUCA forces” from volatility to vision, from unpredictability to understanding, from complexity to clarity, and from ambiguity to agility. They are the questions that reveal to us and to others the unseen, the unknown, and the hidden. They are the questions that unlock the door to new possibilities, new learning, and new ways to see ourselves and the world. If you want to leverage the full power of authentic questions, ask ones that will allow you to:
o Challenge yourself to look at solutions from a different point of view.
o Stay in the state of curiosity longer to sort out where others are coming from.
o Ask the extra question to probe deeper into motivations, perspectives, and experiences.
o Ask the “unspeakable” question that needs to surface.
o Challenge the status quo to move the conversation to the next level.
o Build on what is being said and take it one or two steps further.
o Engage with people at a deeper level.
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