Marcella de la Torre headshot.

Outside Consultant: As a Leader, How Do I Step Back in Order to Lead Forward?

This “Outside Consultant” column by Marcella de la Torre, EdD, a faculty member in the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Sept. 6, 2021.

As leaders we are constantly asked to do more and juggle complexity while at the same time leading healthy lives. One of my goals this summer was to read the book The Pause Principle by Kevin Cashman.

Cashman teaches us that managers do and leaders step back to do differently. It is imperative that we pause to recharge, gain clarity and foster innovation. If not, we are in a constant state of fatigue, clutter and most likely making wrong decisions. To move from management effectiveness to leadership excellence, he suggests reframing an old acronym, VUCA (originally volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), to create a new one: vision, understanding, clarity and agility. We must make time for pausing consistently and intentionally by: (1) building self-awareness and clarity of purpose, (2) exploring new ideas, (3) risking experimentation, (4) questioning, listening and synthesizing, and (5) challenging the status quo within and around us.

According to Cashman, you can start by envisioning your life at your most optimal state of performance and continue to expand your vision to all the domains in your life including your family, volunteer work, everything that is important to you and ask yourself: What shifts did I make in myself and my life to get there? What new choices did I make to create these possibilities? How did I step back to see myself, others, my vocation and my health in new ways? How did I pause more deeply into myself and others to gain deeper insight and perspective? How did I more deeply listen, be present and connect to myself and others at a new level? How did I step back to collaborate synergistically to create the new and the different?

As we are coming out of a very difficult year with so many events out of our control including a pandemic, it is possibly a perfect time to pause and reset ourselves, our loved ones and our career. Imagine what we could accomplish with longer, more intentional pauses … that is where innovation and new ways of doing are born. In Cashman’s words, “the greater the complexity, the deeper the reflective pause required to convert the complex and ambiguous to the clear and meaningful. Pause helps us move from the transaction to the transformative.”

Marcella de la Torre, EdD, is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.