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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, September 03, 2017 1:00 am

Breakthrough ideas happen when we pause

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Pause ...

You're probably uncomfortable, aren't you?

Busy bee.


Stop and take a breath, or two.

A pause is the “most endangered element of modern work,” said Juliet Funt, CEO of Whitespace At Work, and one of the speakers at this year's Global Leadership Summit.

The two-day conference is broadcast annually in August from a church in South Barrington, Illinois, to hundreds of satellite sites including Fort Wayne, where more than 4,200 registered to attend.

Failing to take a pause – Funt also calls this “white space” – is a recipe for 100 percent exertion and often the reason people can't generate “break-through ideas.”

Great leaders use white space, Funt said. She mentioned former General Electric CEO Jack Welch as one example, saying he spent an hour a day looking out a window, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who was known to spend two weeks a year in a cottage.

White space can be defined by what it is and what it isn't. Let's start with the latter.

White space is not meditation. It is not “mind wandering” when your mind “slips away without permission,” Funt said.

White space has no goal. The mind can play; you can allow your thoughts to follow instinct.

Funt suggested two critical steps to increase the odds that you'll make strategic white space part of your work routine.

First, be conscious of “the thieves,” such as the unceasing alerts that new email has landed in your inbox or other attention-grabbers. Defeat them with crucial questions. Is there anything you can let go? Is “good enough” good enough?

One factor that fuels overload is the constant pursuit of excellence. The speed and inundation of information and feeling a need to always be active are also factors, Funt said. They're all generally good, but can run amok. They “lure us into a pace that can reduce our overall effectiveness,” she said.

Other GLS insight

From best-selling author Marcus Buckingham, founder of a talent development firm that bears his name:

• Leaders have to re-create high-performance teams and integrate the “we” and the “me” needs of work when it comes to purpose, excellence, support and the future. If someone says, for example, “I have great confidence in my company's future” that is a “me” statement. Saying “In my work, I am always challenged to grow” is a “me” statement.

• People don't want feedback, they want attention. Think about social media. People want coaching. They want to get better.

• Checking in with people is leading, it's not something you do in addition to leading. If you have more people than you can check in with weekly, you have too many people.

From psychologist Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit,” and founder of the nonprofit Character Lab that focuses on developing people's character:

• There's a distinction between talent and effort. Talent is nothing if you don't apply yourself.

• Grit is “sustained passion and perseverance for especially long-term goals.” It is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain.

From lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which reaches out to the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned:

• To be an effective leader, you have to get closer to the people you're trying to help. Most people have been taught if there's a “bad part of town,” to stay away.

• Leadership requires that the people we're leading feel we're close to them; we have to be approximate.

From Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of the International Justice Mission that rescues victims of violence, exploitation, slavery and oppression:

• What stands between what people learn and what they do is fear.

• Fear is the destroyer of great dreams. Using Martin Luther King Jr. as an example, he said leadership begins with a dream.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at