The Story Principle: The Inspiring Language of Leadership

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on June 23, 2021. 

Stories are the language of leadership that can move both heads and hearts to go beyond what people thought was possible.

A personal story. My phone rang at 2:00 am – rarely a good sign. Startled, I wondered who it was and what bad news awaited me. Sitting up in bed, I reached for the phone. Putting it up to my ear, I heard my mother’s shaken voice saying, “There’s been a terrible accident. Your father is unconscious. He’s in intensive care. Kevin, you have to go to the hospital.”

I reacted, “No way. I’m not going.” I’m not proud of my response, but it was honest. It represented the reactive way I felt. I knew that my mother couldn’t handle going either. She and my dad had been separated for some years.

She insisted. “This is your father, Kevin. You have to go.” Grudgingly, I pulled on my clothes and drove to North Memorial Hospital. The entire drive I held onto my resentment, resisting what awaited me. When I walked into intensive care and saw him – bruised, bloody, unconscious, vulnerable, and attached to a web of cords and devices – unexpectedly, I felt something different. Resentment, at least partially, fell away. My mind said, “No,” but my heart was surprisingly saying, “Yes.” In this conflicted state, I moved forward and held his much too cold hand. As I did so, I remembered his familiar smell and our common DNA. While he was not a great father, I understood that he was my father. His story and mine were intertwined.

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The Purpose Principle: Gifts, Grow, Give

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on April 7, 2021. 

Purpose inspires the unmet longing of humans to make a significant difference in the lives of people. Korn Ferry Institute research on consumer products companies indicates just how much purpose actually powers performance. Comparing “average purpose-driven” companies to “highly purpose-driven” consumer companies, we found four times the revenue growth over a three year period.

As leaders we have a responsibility to address this significant question: “Why is it so important that we exist?” With this question, we courageously face who we are and how we are in the world. As the battle rages for the soul of capitalism, we need to pause on a few questions: Will we define business solely in terms of transactional financial levers, designed to accumulate capital, or will we apply our vision to shape business as a more universal lever that serves a higher, more sustainable purpose? Will the top two percent serve the 98 percent, or will the top two percent dominate, control, and be served by the 98 percent? When will we elevate from enterprise success to ecosystem sustainability? What is a new, broader definition of value creation that can endure?

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Quiet Heroes All Around Us

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on April 3, 2020.

I received a very warm note from a colleague late the other night saying, “Tell me, how are you really doing?” Instead of just saying, “I’m fine”, I shared with him the considerable personal and family stress underneath the business stress, like we all are facing now. My openness opened him up. We shared our real stories underneath the business narrative, the real stories we wrestle with daily.

This authentic exchange led to a deeper personal reflection, “You know what really impresses me in these disruptive times? The ‘quiet heroes’ all around us right now, rising up above the heavy stress every day.” As I write “quiet heroes”, tears hit my keyboard. It is something I had never said or written before. Quiet heroes…the heroes all around us, showing up despite all the anxiety, pressures and worry. The healthcare professionals, the retail clerks, the delivery people, our colleagues, our clients…and of course our loved ones. So why the tears? Profound appreciation, love and admiration for all of them. But also a part of me recognizes that their courage may be greater than my own, and that humbles me to my core.

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Resilience Trends At The Top: Fat Cats No More

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on May 10, 2019

Barry Posner, leadership professor at Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business, has observed an emerging trend in keeping with my own observations regarding CEOs today.  We are both hard-pressed to name a single Fortune 500 CEO who is terribly overweight.  Recent research at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) that followed 757 executives over a five-year period identified a similar trend.  Top executives were healthier than the average American.  They drank less alcohol, smoked less, and were much more likely to exercise regularly.  CCL also found that the fitness of an executive influenced the perception of their energy level, self-discipline, and competence.

“Fat Cats” no more, the era of the “Martini Mad Men” is long gone.  Today’s superhuman demands require it.

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Enterprise Leadership: Five Big Resolutions for 2019

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog:  Pause Point on January 15, 2019. 

One of the toughest development challenges is to elevate a critical mass of talent from executive management to true enterprise leadership.  To move key talent from controlling systems, processes and financial performance to courageously create value creating significance, sustainability and purpose across an enterprise is no easy task.  To move senior people from thinking and behaving downwards into a function, a geography, a division or a single team, to thinking, and collaborating and inspiring across all functions, across all geographies, across all divisions, across all teams and across all customer groups is a very complex and critical shift.  Accelerating the development of executive managers into enterprise leaders may be the single most important factor in achieving your strategy and creating a more valuable and sustainable future.

In 2019, as you consider elevating leadership more authentically to the enterprise level, I suggest reflecting on five resolutions to help you to do so…

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Accelerating Change On-Purpose

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted to his Forbes blog, Pause Point on December 28, 2018. 

Although it may be true that we can’t “step into the same river twice,” as Heraclitis said, once we step in, we are part of that river’s flow.  Since birth, we have been swept up in a raging, constantly changing never-ending flow of experience.  Sometimes we love the flow of life, sometimes we hate it and resist it.  But because the flow of the river is constant, we have no choice in the matter.  We have to change.  It is part of the price of admission to life.  Every moment our cells are changing; our thoughts are changing; our emotions are changing; our relationships, our marketplace, our finances.  Change is endless and relentless.

We have no choice in the matter except for one aspect—accelerating our growth through change by adapting and learning.  Most leadership research illustrates that as we go up the executive ladder, we need to become increasingly comfortable with uncertainty and sudden change.  As leaders, we have to have the “integrative ability” to weave together and make sense of apparently disjoined pieces, crafting novel and innovative solutions.  At the same time, we need to have the self-confidence to make decisions on the spot, even in the absence of compelling, complete data.  The qualities needed at the top—courage, openness, authentic listening, adaptability—also indicate that leaders need to be comfortable with and able to embrace the “grayness” that comes from multiple points of view coming at us at once.  In other words, we have to master our adaptability mentally, emotionally, strategically, and interpersonally.

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Pathways to Becoming the CEO: Chief Engagement Officer

By Kevin Cashman, originally posted on his Forbes blog, Pause Point on September 14, 2018. 

In our work with CEOs and senior leaders, there is one enduring tenant: Engage or die! A 2016 Korn Ferry research study found that the most highly engaged organization achieved 4.5 times greater revenue growth than the lowest engaged firms do. The world belongs to the most engaged. Human energy fuels drive and human engagement harnesses that drive.

But how can you and your team elevate engagement to a higher level? We suggest a few key pathways …

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8 Behaviors That Distinguish Effective Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship may be the purest form of leadership.  If leadership adds value by going beyond what is, then entrepreneurs express this tendency at the most essential level.  What makes an entrepreneur an effective one?  And what do these most effective entrepreneurs have to teach corporate leaders?

While we work with mainly corporate CEOs and senior leaders for the world’s largest companies, I have a soft spot and admiration for these enterprising, risk-stimulated types.  Granted, I was an entrepreneur for 25 years, so my bias and appreciation for business creators is no accident.

A massive growth in entrepreneurship is taking place across the U.S. with more than 500,000 becoming business owners every month, according to Vishal Agarwal.  Vishal should know, as a venture capitalist he is constantly interacting and advising young founders on the challenges of startup leadership.  In addition, Vishal was a former GE executive who can see the distinction between entrepreneurial and corporate leadership.

Vishal Agarwal is the bestselling author of Give to Get: A Senior Leader’s Guide to Navigating Corporate Life, and has studied the dynamics of why some startups succeed and others fail.  Interestingly, he sees the most successful entrepreneurs as “servant leaders,” those who serve the enterprise vs. self-serve.  He has discerned several key principles that distinguish successful startup leaders.

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Seven Ways To Spot A Bully

By Kevin Cashman; originally posted on his Forbes blog, Pause Point on July 10, 2018. 

Bullies have always been around.  From schoolyard brutes to world leaders, they are unfortunately a fact of life.  However, there is an increasing amount of research available to detect and deal with these dominant, self-focused types.  In his new book, Negotiating with a Bully:  Take Charge and Turn the Tables on People Trying to Push You Around, Greg Williams provides some thoughtful counsel on understanding and dealing with this aggressive, anti-social breed.  Here are seven things we need to pay attention to in order to spot a bully …

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Five Coaching Practices to Accelerate The Growth Of Others

By Kevin Cashman, originally posted to his Forbes blog, Pause Point on January 29, 2018. 

All traditions throughout the ages have had exceptional coaches.  We may have called them advisors, sages, elders, wisdom-keepers, teachers, mentors, shamans, gurus, or masters.  No matter what their titles, we have always turned to them to help us look at our lives and behaviors from deeper and broader vantage points.  These coaches helped their “coachees” – seekers, disciples, students, apprentices – see the world with fresh eyes, transcend what they thought was possible, and glimpse their fullest potential.

We know from our global research that most people rate “coaching and developing others” among the top three most important leadership competencies, according to 360° assessments.  However, despite the rated importance of this critical competency, it actually scores as the lowest practiced competency around the world.  No other leadership competency has such as wide gap between importance and practice.  We agree that coaching and development are critical to transformative leadership.  However, there is just one major problem:  we don’t practice it!  Why?  Leaders often tell us that they do not have enough time; they do not know a precise, proven process; and/or they feel it will slow down their immediate performance.  Regardless of the reasons, learning a pragmatic, straightforward methodology to coach and develop yourself and others is extremely critical to high-performing leadership.

For coaching to have a lasting, transformative impact, three interrelated foundations need to be constructed:  Building Awareness, Building Commitment, and Building Practice.  If all three are present and operating, breakthroughs will occur, and growth will be sustained.  If any one of the three is absent, the results will dissipate over time.  You may learn the best techniques and disciplines to practice, but if you lack commitment, you won’t continue your efforts.  Similarly, all the enthusiasm and commitment in the world won’t get you far if you don’t adhere to the right practices.  And without awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, how will you know what to commit to or what you need to do?

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