The Power of Pausing

Leaders Nursing leaders today find themselves trying to straddle two worlds…..the world of the now and the world of what is ahead with health reform.  There are no clear answers about the right strategies to embrace or initiatives to launch.  Bob Johansen describes today’s environment using the term VUCA, one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  VUCA environments are stressful and the natural reaction is to challenge ourselves to keep up and work at a grueling pace.  But is this always the best approach?  In his book, The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lean Forward, Kevin Cashman suggests that the role of the leader is to bring clarity to chaos.  He recommends that to do this, leaders have to step back and gain a fresh perspective that transcends the immediate swirl of activity.  We have to pause.

Cashman’s suggests that fast thinking is the domain of management transaction, while slow thinking is the leadership domain of strategic, innovative transformation. He believes every leader is on a journey from being a transaction-focused manager to an authentic leader that inspires real change. At the core of this transformation is the ability to pause. But for most, slowing down to drive performance is counter to instinct, especially when they have been rewarded for speed and action. But stepping forward to act, particularly in complex situations, without first stepping back for information, clarity, and connection to what is most important can be disastrous.  Many nurse leaders have stories about reacting to quickly to situations. To relearn these patterns of behavior, Cashman recommends the following 7 pause practices that leaders should adopt:

  1. Be On-Purpose – it is the role of the leader to remain of and remind everyone about what is important.  In the midst of healthcare reform and a movement toward accountable care organizations, the day to day care of patients matters as does the happiness and satisfaction of staff.
  2. Question and Listen– Cashman suggests that questions are the language of pause.  They allow us as leaders to reframe, reconsider and revisit.  Listening is the incubator for growing clarity out of complexity.  Questioning and listening are essential to leadership growth.
  3. Risk Experimentation– although our tendency might be to minimize risk in stressful situations, this is not how growth occurs.  He recommends stepping back from long held beliefs to attempt the new.
  4. Reflect and Synthesize – Cashman observes that with our addiction to speedy decisions, it is easy to become a transactional leader.  Great leaders take the time to incubate ideas and develop more strategic and forward thinking solutions.
  5. Consider Inside-Out and Outside-In Dynamics – to fully think about our leadership, we must not only reflect on what is happening in our environments but also what is happening within us.  Transformation and change usually involves inner work as well as outer work.  Stop to pause and ask your self – what impact is this having on me – are my beliefs being challenged and how can I change.
  6. Foster Generativity – generativity is the energy and enthusiasm we receive by developing others to surpass our own accomplishments.  It is pausing to make sure that you are doing your own succession planning and leaving your leadership legacy.
  7. Be Authentic– Cashman observes that there is no greater force than a truly authentic leader.  We must pause to reflect on how we can be more authentic and create lasting value.

Although this is a book about leadership, there are also many lessons that can also be applied to our lives outside of work.  Many leaders today know that they need to slow down and reduce their stress level because it is unhealthy.  Through our nursing careers, we quickly learn how your life can quickly change in an instant with an accident or illness, but we forget this in our day to day work.  We sometimes are forced to pause because we cannot ignore what has happened to us.  Cashman suggests that there is a better way – we need to integrate the pauses into our life and work.


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