I met Sam last Wednesday morning for coffee. He couldn’t have looked more different from the man I’d met just a couple of years before.

He was smiling. He looked younger and more fit.  He was clearly enjoying our conversation, bringing me up to speed on his latest adventures. He seemed happy.

At the time I first met him, Sam owned a small business that employed over 100 people. It all began in his garage (for real!).  From there, he systematically built the business over the next 20 years. And, by all the usual standards, Sam’s a successful guy.

Yet, Sam was frustrated and stuck. “Why don’t they just listen to me?” he voiced with exasperation. He was speaking about his leadership team. There was a real disconnect with his team and it was taking a toll on everyone.

He really didn’t get it. Sam couldn’t understand why they were not responding in the way he’d anticipated – by just following his direction.  He’d been to Vietnam. They had listened to him there; here they did not. There, people had trusted him with their lives. What could he be doing so wrong that people in a Chicago resisted him?

After we took a closer look, it became more apparent why these leaders weren’t just following  Sam:

  • He didn’t ask them for input, he barked orders (they’d not been drafted to the front lines)
  • He didn’t stop to listen to their respective concerns (he had all the answers)
  • He didn’t slow down to see if his own requests were reasonable (they often weren’t)
  • He focused all his energies on them, their responses to him, and their work, since he didn’t have much of a life outside his 24/7 work pace (micromanagement at its best)
  • He didn’t show them his heart—yes, his heart – the reason he was in business in the first place

It became clear that coaching with Sam would be a bit longer engagement. We had work to do; first steps first.

We began with the subject of this article (more on this others in subsequent pieces) and focused on Sam’s first step: To pause.

Sam agreed that when he was in conversation with any member of his staff that he would pause before speaking.

He would pause to listen to what they were saying and clarify by asking questions.

He’d pause and ask those in the group who had not shared their opinions what they were thinking.

He’d pause to ask his team if they had a solution to the problem before directing them to act.

Sam was living with the outdated belief that leadership is about directing people to take action – quickly and with minimal discussion. This model had given him excellent results in the military and later when his first started his business. However, his team had contributions to make that didn’t involve the intensity of combat.

That’s where we began – a pause. A small step, perhaps, yet critical for everyone  really wanting to make a difference.

Sam quickly began to see his leadership and influence grow. Trust was built. His staff were engaged (more on Sam later).

For now, where will you begin to experiment with the power of a pause?