Back in college, I spent a lot of time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity both locally in Dallas and in other cities during alternative spring breaks. I met some wonderful people while working on houses and I learned a lot from them. Most of my learning revolved around drywall and roof shingles and the proper way to hold a hammer to avoid hitting your thumb! But as with any human interaction, there are always the other lessons you learn from being around people who are different from you in many ways.
I’ll never forget one man that I encountered at a build in Mississippi. Mike was an older man, a retiree who volunteered full time at different Habitat sites to lead eager and inexperienced college students like myself. He was methodical in his work and entirely too slow for us restless youth. He had many lessons he wanted us to learn and regularly exhorted us to, “measure twice, cut once.” I’m quite certain that we did not fully appreciate the lessons Mike shared with us that week.
Last fall, I had the privilege of attending training at the Kansas Leadership Center that focuses on teaching people how to discern the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges. A technical problem is clear and defined and can be easily solved with subject matter experts. An adaptive challenge, on the other hand, requires leadership to learn and change. In one of the discussions, we discussed “the pause” between understanding a problem and deciding a solution and that the value of a leader resides in the length and use of that pause.
As I listened to the facilitator outline the different ways that ‘pause’ can be utilized, I flashed back to Mike and the Habitat build. Measure twice, cut once. Listen twice, act once. The value of the ‘pause’ and how you use it can make a big difference. The pause allows you to gather information. The pause allows you to take a read of the room. The pause allows you to make sure that all the voices are being heard. And the pause allows you to make sure that your measurements are correct and will not result in wasting the resources that you have been given.
Too often as leaders we charge out in front with the expectation that others will follow. That leadership style certainly has its use and is effective in the right situation. But when it isn’t right … it’s very wrong! As a leader, it’s important to know when to use different styles of leadership. Among them should be one that utilizes the power of the pause. Next time you are at a meeting practice taking a deep breath before speaking. Train yourself to scan the room and to read the faces and bodies of those around the table. Are they engaged? Are they being heard? Are you pausing long enough to allow them room to share their ideas and experience? Sometimes the best leadership happens not from the front, but from stepping back and allowing others to rise up.