“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
After a short, violent air-to-air combat engagement, the good guys wind-up flying back towards their base. Did they shoot down all of the enemy fighters? Are there other enemy fighters lurking behind them still undetected? Rather than turn around immediately and possibly run headlong into an ambush, the flight lead elects to fly away from the enemy while taking a tactical pause to gather more information about enemy numbers and locations and develop a plan. The same concept applies to leadership.
The “Tactical Pause” is a common term in both ground and air combat parlance. When you are unsure of what lies ahead, stop for a moment–look, listen and think. Whether you are leading a column of tanks, a 4-ship of F-15 Eagles or a product improvement team, taking a tactical pause can reap amazing benefits. It is true that leadership involves making decisions and charging ahead, but don’t lead your team into an ambush.
Look – When you are unsure of what is in front of you, take a knee until you get more information. Send out a scout, do market research and look at the data you have. If you do not have all the data you need, keep trying to get a complete picture for a long as you have time to do so.
Listen – As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, listen to those around you. Listen to your employees, listen to your wingmen, listen to the signals coming in from the market or the battle space. Demand others around you be quiet and listen as well…you can’t process what you can’t hear.
Think – Take the information you’ve gathered and spend some of your precious time actually processing it. Look for patterns, hidden clues or diamonds in the rough. A clear path through the obstacle may not always be crystal clear, but at least you can eliminate some of the more treacherous paths. As the famous Chinese tactical philosopher Sun Tzu said, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand”.
As a leader, you will not be afforded sufficient time to look at all the data, listen to all the experts and formulate a perfect plan. However, you can at least make a more informed decision. Follow the advice of Gen George S. Patton, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
Taking a tactical pause gives your team a chance to breathe and think as well. Your team needs a chance to process information, just like you. The more experienced your team is, the shorter the tactical pause can be due to their increased ability to process what they see and hear. Creative ideas often spring from a period of inactivity or alternate activity. It frees the mind to wander and think.
A tactical pause can also help you and your team sort out what is most important in the complex web of stimuli coming at you. The company Tricon Trident Concepts trains U.S. Navy SEALs and other high-performing tactical teams. Tricon states, “A tactical pause is just a really cool way of saying slow the hell down, take a good look at what is in front of you. There can be an overwhelming amount of stimulus in a tactical scenario so how do you sort out the important stuff? …you have to have a filter system that allows you to determine what is most important”. Teach your team to look and listen for the correct information to aid you in decision making.
So the next time you are faced with a critical decision, take a tactical pause; look, listen and think. Come up with a plan. It doesn’t have to be the perfect plan, but it will be better than the one you had five minutes ago. Remember the sage advice from one of the most famous critical thinkers of our time, Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”