The Power of the Pause

agility leadership teamwork Apr 15, 2020

Adrenaline Fuelled Leadership

Have you noticed that heroic acts of leadership are more common in adrenaline fuelled environments, where people feel the need to go beyond their physical and cognitive limits to get the job done?

Is it possible to go to such levels? Of course it is in short bursts. We've all gone beyond those limits at times, however there's an inconvenient truth whenever these experiences last for more than just a few moments.

Self awareness disappears all too quickly when the adrenaline is surging through the minds and bodies of leaders, and three downsides emerge despite their belief that agility and adaptability are winning the battle.

Let's briefly explore those three downsides to test whether you, or your colleagues might be at risk.

Beware the Downsides

Downside #1. Productivity. First to fall in the 'surge of adrenaline' is productivity. Naturally there is plenty of frenetic activity but hyped leaders often miss the bigger picture and fail to deliver real outcomes.  Over hyped leaders seek speed over effectiveness and they too often misunderstand the impacts of their decisions.  Over the years I've facilitated many candid lessons learned debriefs with business and sport leaders following crises. A common outcome is applause for the speed of decision making, but not the actual decision(s), because implementation proved  impossible without massive unintended consequences (usually on the 'people side' more so than the 'task side'). Any 'adrenaline dangers' happening around your business?

Downside #2. Relationships. Second to fall are relationships because leaders can look silly (and not very trustworthy) when fuelled by adrenaline. Anyone who has worked with me and our team on cross boundary teamwork will be familiar with the I-CORE model of trust: Integrity, Competence, Openness, Reliability, Equity.  Rarely is loss of trust in leaders about integrity when there is an urgent pressure to act. More often it's about reliability and equity which means people won't be with you to land those planes you've just sent into the air. Are you and your leaders building the I-CORE foundations for trust?

Downside #3 Sustainability. Third is the harsh reality that as much as leaders think they have discovered breakthroughs in their leadership impact and ability to cut through silos, this crisis around COVID-19 has the same 'psychological shape' as other urgent and important issues.  There is a curve of diminishing effectiveness as lack of sleep, exercise and perspective take their toll. Sustainability is key because this is at best going to morph into a recession, and that requires good leadership over the long term. Are you and your team set up for a marathon?

Spin the ACL

Almost 20 years ago I authored High Performance Leadership (John Wiley & Sons), while engaged in a partnership with PwC's Asia Pacific Strategic Change Practice. In the research for the book a secret emerged which revealed a key to the success of the small fast teams found in military, emergency medicine and other high performance environments.

That secret was the fast moving communication cycle (ritual) of alignment, collaboration and learning (ACL). These teams spin that ACL very fast and very effectively to navigate through adaptive challenges.

The 'ACL' gave me a framework that I still use to this day as the foundation for coaching leaders and teams who are seeking high performance in challeging environments. That's why the fifth and final step in our recently released Leading Through Disruption course (free on this platform) is called Spin the ACL.

It means to create a cadence of Alignment - Collaboration - Learning for your team and with any other partnerships. You can learn more about that in our free course which features a video and downloadable workbook to guide you in implementing this with your team.

The Real Secret

The real secret of agile and adaptive teamwork and performance isn't just the ACL, it is the pause to learn before spinning again. That pause is a feature of every high performing team I've every coached.

That's why my strong recommendation to you it to bring the power of the pause to your personal and team rituals and routines.

How? Design your week and day around clear actions with short pauses in between, and use those pauses for three things:

  • Pause to Learn - because in a fast moving environment full of adaptive challenges, it's essential to capture the learning or you'll be way off track before you know it
  • Pause to Refresh - because if there is a plenty of emotion involved in the challenges, then centering yourself is a key mindful practice which reduces the cognitive and emotional load that puts your decision making, and wellbeing at risk
  • Pause to Adapt - because you have captured the lessons learned and you've paused to refresh, so it's time to spin the ACL again by aligning your plans in ways that adapts to the fast changing world

Remember the Power of the Pause

When we forget to pause, we lose perspective and risk being less effective at a time when nothing in business is more important than leaders who align, collaborate and learn at a pace that matches the change in the world.

Take a moment and reflect on the way you are setting up your days and weeks. Are you building in the pauses to learn, refresh and adapt so you are equipped for the marathon that lies ahead?

There is power in the pause. Capture it every day for yourself, your team and your enterprise.

To learn more about how to build the Power of the Pause into the cadence of your team please feel free to enrol in our no obligation course Leading Through Disruption, which features the five key steps to sustaining performance and psychological wellbeing in challenging times.

Graham Winter.