Permission to Pause

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“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ~ Leo Tolstoy


One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the permission to pause.

To lift our heads from the work that occupies our waking moments.

To give our minds a rest from the endless internal dialogue .

A moment to see, to breathe, to be, to rest.

Easier said than done you say?

You must give yourself permission.

An act of self-care.

Self-love.

The world will not end while you’re gone.

The pending requests can wait,

A little while longer.

They’ll be just fine.

Break the trance.

Take a moment.

This moment.


Our ego resists the call to pause. It urges us on with fears of missing out or losing momentum.

This can be a particular challenge for leaders who not only feel the pressure to perform from above but the responsibility to come through for those they lead. Add to this the demands of personal and family life, the pull of our internet / social media impulses and fear of falling behind and we are easily trapped.

Before we know it the days and years have passed us by.

Thousands of moments unnoticed.

We might as well walk through life wearing a blindfold.

Oblivious to all the important and beautiful things around us.

Lost in a fog.


Be intentional.

Practice getting up, walking away, stepping outside.

Refresh your mind, your heart, your spirit.

Stop.

And look around.

You may be surprised at what you’ve been missing.

And what you’ve been missing might just be the thing you, and the people you love and serve, need the most.


And on that note, I’m giving myself permission to take an extended pause for travel overseas. A time to rest and clear my mind. I will not be posting to this blog for the next 30 days. I’ll be back at it the week of June 13.  It’s a hard thing for me to do but I know it’s what I need. I am deeply grateful for all who follow and support this work and I look forward to sharing with you again when I return. I believe that my time away will make space for new stories, ideas, and inspiration. I hope to see you then.

The Leicester Story – A Lesson for Leaders in the Age of the A Player

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For those that don’t follow the sport known everywhere else as football, (soccer), an event took place in the last week that defied all logic. Leicester Football Club, (pronounced Lester), won the Premier League Championship in England. This after narrowly escaping relegation to a lower league in the prior season and starting this campaign at 5,000:1 odds to come out on top. Think of it as a Double-A, minor league baseball team sweeping the NY Yankees in a 7-game series.

This wasn’t the playoff miracle or one-hit-wonder we are familiar with here in the states. They accomplished this feat over a 38 game season against teams with far more money and loaded with superstars.  There may be no equivalent accomplishment in the history of  professional sports.

HOW DID THEY DO IT? 

For the answer to that question, I advise you to do your own Google search on the topic or you can start here with this great article from the NY Times. There are many sports writers who have opined on the methods behind the magic.

What I found most intriguing is that the Leicester story challenges some the popular myths still widely believed and followed in organizations today.

Myth #1 – Choose a leader with a stellar resume.

When Claudio Ranieri was hired to manage Leicester City the announcement was met with a collective sigh. After many years with numerous top-flight teams, he had yet to win a championship. This humble, likable and intelligent manager quietly led his team to impossible heights by bringing out the best in his players and choosing a style and strategy under which they could excel.

On the day Leicester secured the championship, (due to a draw in a game later in the week that involved the second place team), Ranieri had flown home to Italy to have lunch with his mom.

Myth #2 – Load the team with “A” players.

The entire team was assembled for about $32M. Less than  some of the big money teams spent on a single, superstar player. The team consisted of players cast off by bigger teams or struggling in the lower leagues of England and other countries. We might call them “B” players. Yet, Ranieri figured out how to harness the collective will and talent of his players while teams composed of much more expensive and well-known stars were left behind.

Myth #3 – Create internal competition.

“It’s unbelievable — you’ve seen the team spirit that we’ve got. It is a scandal how we all are together. We literally are like brothers”. This quote from Jamie Vardy, arguably one of the team’s star players. And another from former defender Matt Elliott, “The players don’t talk about themselves. It’s a collective effort — ‘we’ve got the spirit and the will to win.'” This community of players was committed to winning for each other rather than seeking personal glory.

Myth #4 – Start with a really big goal.

At the start of the season, the goal was to avoid relegation. Hardly a “BHAG”. Then, as the wins began to mount, the focus became to finish higher in the table, to win the next game and then the next. Eyes on the next mile rather than the end of the race. Not until the very late stages of the season did the club begin to imagine or talk about the possibility of winning the championship. They managed their momentum and stayed focused on the task at hand, letting each individual success carry them closer towards the finish line.

Myth #5 – Change your strategy often.

Throughout the season, everyone kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sooner or later the competition would figure out what the Foxes were up to and devise a game plan to shut them down. It never happened. Ranieri, once known as the “Tinkerman” for his propensity towards changing lineups and formations stuck with his 4-4-2, counterattacking strategy throughout the season. He ignored the pundits and popular formulas of the day, stayed focused on the plan, and it paid off.

Myth #6 – Spend to win.

In the Premier League, there is no salary cap. For years, the massive wealth that has come into the league has enabled the handful of teams with deep pockets to more or less dominate the various competitions including the league championship. When in doubt go acquire more expensive players, hire an expensive manager and buy a championship. While it can’t be argued this model has worked more often than it has not, it is refreshing to be reminded that there are some things money can’t buy.

Myth #7 – Success is complicated.

In an era of superstar CEO’s, big money and power brokers, the Leicester story gives us another perspective. A sense of the possibility found in simple values that don’t seem to get much press these days. The renewed hope that a committed, well led and reasonably talented team that is willing to work hard for each other toward a common goal can still come out on top, even when the odds aren’t in their favor.

Final thought:

Consider the possibility that you already have all the talent, resources and potential you need to do something really amazing.

The Naked Truth – Leadership and Self Deception

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Ever had one of those dreams where you’re out in public wearing only your undergarments, (or worse nothing at all)? I have.

Bizarre settings are always involved like my high school lunch room which is for some reason now occupied by coworkers spanning my last three jobs.

The worst part about these dreams for me is that I can’t figure out how I got there in the first place or why I forgot to put clothes on. I’m just there. The other weird thing is that usually no one else seems to notice.

I’m sure there is some meaning to these dreams. A friend once told me that it could mean I was dealing with a fear of failure or being exposed. I think maybe I’m just harboring resentment about the bad cafeteria food.

There’s a popular Hans Christian Andersen story that most of us know well titled, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. If you are unfamiliar with the story here’s a quick synopsis. A couple of highly regarded tailors come to town. Tell the king they can make him a new suit for the big parade that is unlike any other. Only those who are truly worthy can see the amazing cloth the tailors plan to use. Ego kicks in. King signs up for the new suit. Even though he realizes he can’t see the cloth he’s publicly committed to the project so he stays the course.

No one else can see the special cloth the tailors are supposedly using but they won’t admit it because that would mean embarrassing themselves, (and the king). Everyone goes along with the charade. Parade ensues. King marches proudly down Main Street. The townspeople pretend not to notice. Finally, a small child yells out, “Hey! Why is the king in his skivvies!?” The illusion is broken but the parade must go on.

The modern-day version of this story occurs far too often in organizations around the world. Someone convinces the leader that a pet project will be great for the company and therefore great for his or  her reputation. Leader pushes the project to the front of the resource pool.  Team members see  flaws in the project but fear being labeled as incompetent or negative and so choose not to speak up. The project fails to produce the desired results but the team pretends not to notice.

Finally, even if someone in the organization does point out the fact that something isn’t quite right, the information is quickly abandoned. Too much has been invested to stop now. It’s a matter of pride. In fact, sometimes a pet project will be dutifully supported in production for years even though behind the scenes it becomes a running joke. The parade must go on.

Sound familiar? The reality is that we are all susceptible to self-deception and isolation. Even when we think we are being sincere and acting in the best interest of the organization we may, in fact, be wearing our metaphorical birthday suits. Only no one will tell us because they don’t want to burst our bubble.

Three ways to avoid the “naked truth”:

  1. Consider the source – Is the project tailored for your ego or for the best interests of the organization? Who stands to gain from your support? Will the project stand on its own merits? Don’t surround yourself with “yes” people or cave into pressure from the “experts”. Make sure there is really is some cloth going into that suit.
  2. Impose your own barriers – Intentionally put yourself in a position where you can’t dictate decisions or priorities without some level of open deliberation. You may have to make the final call or act quickly in an emergency but that should be the exception, not the norm.  Make sure you engage key people in the organization to provide candid feedback. Don’t make it easy for people to pretend they see a suit that isn’t there.
  3. Keep some Kryptonite handy – Make sure there is at least one person in the organization that you can trust to speak the truth to you no matter how passionate you may be about a project or idea. Invite them to be honest with you and commit to doing the same for them. Encourage them to critique your plans, your communications and your point of view. Make sure they are willing to be an “unreasonable friend”, be prepared to listen and, if necessary, cancel the parade.

An isolated leader is dangerous to themselves and the people they lead. We’ve all seen painful examples of  the damage that can be unleashed by an unchallenged ego.

I like to imagine that these leaders didn’t start out that way, they gradually allowed their personal accountability to slip away until they were naked in the middle of Main Street. A few basic precautions can help you avoid the isolation trap. Maybe there is a leader you know and care about who needs an intervention before the parade.

Do them a favor. Tell them there is no suit and this isn’t a dream.

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