Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Power of Pause

Last night's Lakers-Suns game was entertaining, a throwback to late-80's/early 90's run-n-gun NBA.  For all there was to watch, it's what LA Lakers coach Phil Jackson didn't do that warranted admiration.  When a Phoenix jumpshot capped a run putting the Suns up 44-34, the camera immediately panned in on Jackson, anticipating reaction.  The "Zen Master's" face remained in place - calm, stoic, leaning forward into steady eyes. He called a time out, presumably so the players could join him in collecting themselves.

Jackson's extreme, steady yin is the mark of a seasoned leader who earned respect and title long ago.  Regardless of rank, effective decision-makers learn to fit a world of thought into a bit of pause.  The doers of the world (anyone who isn't giving orders or sitting on the sidelines) earn their keep by taking action, and can't afford to rest on the heels of experience they don't have.  They do however, learn to improvise as they go.  James Bond and Denzel Washington, for example, built their careers and personas on a cocktail of clever dialogue, pregnant pauses, and purposeful response.  They play along until they are ready to decide. Everyone drinks it up, as proper delivery can make even a reckless decision seem like the right one.
More important than the cool-factor is the method's practicality.  A conversation that comes to a head, but has no clear resolve in sight, can be handled a number of ways.  A short pause followed by  a clever run-around is most effective when it tips it's hat to the issue without committing prematurely.  The best defer to the issue itself until they are ready, effectively controlling the situation by controlling themselves.  Jackson doesn't need the engaging charm of a 007.  Since everything he says or does on the job seems to have weight, his audience already hangs on his every word.