Taking your leadership from panicked to purposeful


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December 7, 2012

Kevin Cashman is a leadership consultant who has coached thousands of senior executives for the past 25 years. Cashman is the author of five leadership books, including “ The Pause Principle: Step Back to Lead Forward .” He spoke with spoke with Tom Fox, who is a guest contributor to the Washington Post with the Federal Coach blog and is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.

So, explain the Pause Principle. Why is it important for federal managers?

When we’re confronted by sudden changes and limited resources, we often get hyperactive. We tend to go faster and faster and do more and more. But what’s needed to approach complexities is restraint. Are we stepping back enough? We should spend 15 to 20 percent of the time reflecting. The Pause Principle is looking at your challenges through reflection and synthesizing a path forward. In my book, I focus on three critical growth areas: personal leadership, generativity and fostering cultures of innovation.

What do you mean by generativity?

At its core, generativity is the impulse of a leader to equip people in order for them to exceed the leader. It’s the same kind of impulse a parent has toward a child: He or she wants to see their kids go beyond them and is encouraged by the possibility. Fostering generativity involves pausing to coach, mentor and advise employees to help them take ownership of their commitment and practice.

How do the most effective leaders coach and grow their teams?

Leadership is so much about motivation and inspiration. In my book I tell a story about Vince Lombardi. Everyone thinks of Lombardi as an iconic, win-at-all-costs tough coach. I worked with a couple of his players about 10 or 15 years after they won the Super Bowl. They told me that Lombardi was really tough and driven, but they also never felt so loved by anybody in their whole lives, outside their families. He had earned the right to push them because he was totally behind them and they knew it.  

As a leader, you can spend so much time caring for the team that you forget about yourself. Why is it important for leaders to pay attention to themselves as well?

One of the real differences between good and great leaders is a level of self-awareness. If we’re not ahead of the curve in terms of our self-awareness, other people around us see our strengths and our vulnerabilities more clearly than we do. As a result, we lose credibility. Leaders who have self-awareness have tremendous followership and authenticity. You can control, you can dominate and you can abuse to get people to do stuff, but you don’t have sustainability without deep self-awareness balanced by deep caring.

Many mid-career feds will be thrust into leadership positions as the result of retirements. What advice would you give them?

Realize that you must be the change you wish to see. As we emerge as leaders, usually we learn that where we put our time and energy now carries a message to others about what we believe is important to the entire organization. Emerging leaders must relish interpersonal challenges. If you believe change is a drag and dealing with people problems is a burden, this is not good place to be. You have to enjoy it, thrive in it and engage it with all the messiness and ambiguity. If it demoralizes you, maybe you should go back to being an individual contributor.

Also, emerging federal leaders should pause on the question: Why did they enter public service in the first place? Where did those impulses come from? What were their motivations? They must reconnect those core motivations to reenergize and re-inspire themselves to make a bigger difference in the more elevated, mature role that they’re in now.

Who are your leadership role models?

One is President Clinton for his energy and charisma and his ability to work both sides of the aisle. He’s not perfect, but he is purposeful. I think the main lesson from his example is if you desire to change the world, do it even through all the difficulties and various career roles. The other is Nelson Mandela. To me, he embodies the principle of being the change you wish to see. He maintained his dignity through horrific situations. He embodies the tenets of grace under fire and living your values. That combination of vision, compassion and grace is pretty amazing.

Read more:

Great leadership books in 2012

Talking leadership with the Kennedy Space Center’s director

Managing the Presidential Management Fellows

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