Leadership Library Review — “The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward” by Kevin Cashman (Berrett-Koehler, 2012)

July 2021

All real change begins with self-change; pause is a catalyst of self-change.

– Kevin Cashman

I loved Cashman’s previous leadership handbook, Leadership from the Inside Out, which I previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library and wrote about again a few years later when the author added a new chapter in the revised edition on “Story Mastery.”  I hadn’t read his subsequent publication, The Pause Principle, until I was recently inspired to do so by my friend and colleague Dr. Ruth Zaplin, who supervises some new coaching work with federal employees I’m starting this summer in American University’s Key Executive Leadership Programs.  Note: The Pause Principle strikes me as particularly timely reading for addressing widespread burnout during this quasi-post-pandemic phase of Covid-19 in the U.S.

Pausing, Complexity and Adult Development

At its core, Cashman’s “pause principle” is an inside-out leadership orientation toward navigating complexity in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environments in order to prevent overwhelm.  “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” (p. 26). 

There are “pause points” peppered throughout the book, providing coaching questions, reflection prompts and easy practices designed to offer increasing perspective, awareness and self-actualization.  Considering the emphasis on various forms of mindfulness in the leadership work of (among others) Jennifer Garvey Berger, Robert Kegan, and Joiner & Josephs in Leadership Agility, I believe the consciousness-raising benefit of the pause principle is likely an adult development accelerator.

Indeed, the distinctions Cashman repeatedly draws throughout the three central chapters (on pausing for personal leadership, for growth of others, and for growing cultures of innovation) between the skills of “management effectiveness” and “leadership excellence” strike me as intrinsically developmental.  In my opinion, Cashman’s differentiations between management and leadership capabilities largely track the transformation from the socialized form of mind (at which things we perceive about ourselves come from external perspectives of other people or worldviews or our professional expertise) and the self-authored form of mind, which Berger describes as showing up this way in a recent article: “someone who is strongly guided by a purpose she sets for herself, who takes responsibility for her own actions and emotions and holds you responsible for yours, and who can name and reflect on (as well as edit and redefine) the values that shape her actions” (i.e., she authors her own perspective internally). 

One powerful example from The Pause Principle of how Cashman’s leadership-to-management shift manifests as developmental comes from the chapter on character, authenticity and integrity entitled, “Pause to Grow Personal Leadership.”  The author asserts on page 49 that “[m]anagers create processes and control mechanisms to regulate and enforce ethical behavior” while “leaders embody character to inspire ethical behavior in others.”  The former is a knowledge-based response to outer standards (socialized), whereas the latter is a whole-person expression of internal direction (self-authored). He follows this on page 53 with a chart listing the elements of “leading by coping” versus “leading in character,” which reads much like similar frameworks propounded by subsequent thought leaders whose models also smack of the developmental move from socialized to self-authored.  (Brene Brown’s comprehensive delineation between “armored leadership” and “daring leadership” in Dare to Lead leaps to mind as just one example.)

Beyond Developmental

There is much else that I appreciate about this book, but readers of this blog will not be surprised that one other subject I found especially captivating in The Pause Principle was Cashman’s provocation to an inherently spiritual mode of operating in complexity.  He terms it “transcendent leadership,” which acknowledges the existence of something vaster than ourselves (as evidenced by phenomena such as peak experience, the zone, flow, presencing, or non-doing in meditation: for details, see page 70).  The manager/leader contrast he draws here is this: “Too often, managers are Human Doers using energy and action to spend themselves in the pursuit of goals, whereas leaders aspire to be full Human Beings seeking the renewal of transcendence to re-create themselves and others in pursuit of service-filled purpose.” 

Bottom Line

It is my lay-person’s understanding that the psychology of adult development research shows the ability to wholly inhabit the paradoxical Doing and Being polarity requires at least a self-authored form of mind.  (In Kegan’s theory, there is one more form of mind beyond self-authored, called self-transforming.)  And I hypothesize that Cashman’s characterization of “service-filled purpose” probably requires self-authored sense-making, too.  Therefore, The Pause Principle might be frustrating for some of Cashman’s “manager” readers, but because of the book’s constant integration of thoughtful reflection practices, if the reader seriously works the program I believe it could provide the inspiration, perspective-stretches and scaffolding needed to support the kind of transformational change within leaders for which Cashman paused to write this book.

Recommended Pairings

For more leadership practices that support navigation of VUCA conditions with an explicitly adult development lens, I highly recommend Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnstone. 

If you are looking for cutting-edge perspectives on authentic leadership, based on a fantastic presentation by the author I attended last week I would recommend Daphne Jefferson’s Dropping the Mask: Connecting Leadership to Identity (New Degree, 2020). While geared toward leaders of color, women, and their white male colleagues, Dropping the Mask — which is now on my nightstand — sounds like it offers practical wisdom for everyone.  For other relatively recent books about the intersections between leadership values, authenticity and purpose, I recommend the following (ideally in this order): Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Becoming an Authentic Leader by Bill George, et al. (Wiley, 2015); Leading from Purpose: Clarity and the Confidence to Act When It Matters by Nick Craig (Hachette, 2018); and Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness and Trust by Edgar Schein and Peter Schein (Berrett-Koehler, 2018).

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1 Response to Leadership Library Review — “The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward” by Kevin Cashman (Berrett-Koehler, 2012)

  1. cecilebetit says:

    On the first of the month Susan, I look for your blog, its thoughts and directions. Today’s blog began with a banner! Applications of thoughts and ideas into horizons opening space toward new awareness of familiar and unfamiliar. Lovely stretch, Susan and I don’t know where it is going!

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