The Power of the Pause

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The Power of the Pause

Hal gregersen (@HalGregersen) recently tweeted:  “When leading on the edge of uncertainty, as we are in 2021, questions really are the answer. Why? Because preset answers don’t exist in a world of unknowns. In such times, our leadership work must converge on crafting new questions to create new answers”.   #questionsaretheanswer

Marshall Goldsmith recently cited a famous Peter Drucker quote, “While the leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask.”

What’s the common thread?  Both insights require a pause.  

Questions create the pause.

Questions emerge from the pause.

Questions lead to a new direction.

A Story of a Stuck Team

Have you ever been on a team tasked with solving a problem or designing a new solution for a nagging issue?  Do you remember when your team felt stuck, ‘in the mud’, unclear and just tangled up, so not going anywhere?

What was the feeling?  And how did you progress?

I was recently coaching a team under pressure; they had a short period of time in which to create an innovative solution that would hopefully win senior management approval thus funding and go ahead.  You’ve seen this before:  a group of managers clustered around a flipchart, all tossing ideas around, engaging each other on the fine points, once in a while a burst of energy when they feel like they are on to something….  

Yet as I watched, several factors emerged that indicated this team was not going to be successful.  Lots of signs showed that not only would they not design a solution in their time frame, but they were not functioning well as a team.

What had happened?

1) They had landed on an idea that they continued to push, despite running repeatedly into the same wall. They refused to give up to the wall.

2) Several had begun to express reservations and note potential hurdles. Other did not pay attention, while still others shut the naysayers down. 3) A concern about time arose; unfortunately, a sense of quality fell victim to a sense of urgency. In the dysfunctional process, team members began to lose interest and energy, splinter off in side chats, check phones and email, and basically check out.

I finally called for a pause and asked how long they planned to continue bashing into the brick wall until they acknowledged that this idea wasn’t going to work? 

The Power of the Pause

  • What prompted it?   
    • Acknowledgement of the moment.  The team stepped back to recognize what was happening.  What started as generative co-creating had de-generated into mediocrity:  “We need to produce something”.  Simply pausing to acknowledge “the wall”, naming the invisible barrier(s), gave a refresh to the team.
  • What did the pause give space for? 
    • Recognition of feelings -frustration, no fun, low energy, wish to move on, giving up, anxiety, lost interest, not care, failure.  The team could notice their feelings and the impact of their climate on team engagement, extent of progress, and quality of outcomes.  And give a wake up to wanting a shift.
    • A space for re-calibration is available in a pause.  Recalibration equals a new direction.  Even if very close to the former, some renewed purpose or clarity is also found.  Even if changing an orbit by a tiny degree, the trajectory will change.
  • What new questions could you ask to bring more clarity and fun? 
    • What do we really want?
    • What do we wish for?
    • Questions are limitless, infinite, and the most valuable tool in the space of creative uncertainty, that is, now and in future.

While a pause doesn’t provide a solution, it does create open and fertile space where questions can be asked to clear the way forward.  Where does a young seed drop in the jungle?  Not where it must compete with vines and other plants; it seeks open space and nurturing light that will facilitate growth.  

And that’s the power of the pause.

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