The 24-Hour Rule: The Ultimate Leadership Checklist

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What can business leaders learn from the healthcare industry and commercial aviation? The 24-Hour Rule, a new book by bestselling author Charles Fred, reveals the answer that may surprise many.

If you fly on a commercial airline this summer or undergo invasive surgery, then you will unknowingly participate in a system designed to ensure your safety. For commercial airlines, that system, among other things, comes in the form of a preflight checklist, in which the pilot and copilot run through a series of tasks prior to takeoff. For surgery, the system takes the form of a surgical timeout, in which the care team pauses to confirm everything from the surgical site to procedural instruments. Both systems have ensured dramatic improvements in outcomes, and both center on the simple, yet profound discipline of pause, the focus of bestselling author Charles Fred’s new book, The 24-Hour Rule: Leading in a Frenetic World. And while the discipline of pause continues to save lives in these industries, it remains a missing and much-needed tool among the leadership community. As Fred argues, the need for this discipline may be more crucial for leaders than surgeons or pilots. That’s because leaders work outside a controlled environment, where situations and events are ever-changing and impossible to predict. It’s also because leaders influence tens, hundreds, and in some cases thousands of people in profound, life-altering ways.

To understand the need for the discipline of pause, Fred presents research on the growing trend of workplace stress and leaders’ role in contributing to it. According to Fred, leaders “single-handedly determine the stress levels of their organization.” He also presents research that shows a growing tendency on the part of leaders to drive stress in their organization, and this comes from a new mental model Fred labels, “getting more done in less time.” This mental model encourages leaders to overvalue speed and activity at the expense of results. Leaders see doing more as the pathway to success—sending more emails, completing more tasks, working longer hours, etc.—regardless of the quality of what gets “done.” For employees, this translates into a hectic and chaotic work environment, where outdoing one’s colleagues and keeping up with leadership drive employees to the brink of mental and emotional exhaustion.

Unlike professionals working in aviation or health care, leaders often fail to detect the consequences of their constant inertia. Rarely do employees voice their concerns, from fear of personal and professional ramifications. Rarely do the signs of workplace stress manifest themselves in tangible and immediate consequences. Workplace stress persists over days, weeks, months, or even years, and often requires time before resulting in unplanned turnover, poor financial results, or employee disengagement.

Leaders’ significant influence in their organizations, coupled with the absence of any feedback mechanism, underscores the dire need for those in the leadership community to adopt the discipline of pause. And unlike the exercises used in health care or commercial aviation, Fred doesn’t provide a prescribed method for leaders to pause. In fact, he encourages leaders to find what works best for them in their situation. Whether that means exercising in the morning, meditating, taking a walk, etc., leaders should choose whatever behaviors provide them the mental space and clarity to control how they respond and react to other people, which represents the single greatest source and solution to stress.

Like surgical timeouts or preflight checklists, Fred’s discipline of pause does not mean delaying or procrastinating. It represents a conscious and deliberate activity on the part of leaders for the purpose of influencing others in the most beneficial and effective way possible.

While many professions can benefit from the discipline of pause, none are more consequential than leadership. And with workplace stress on the rise, and technology advancements making communication instantaneous, leaders must begin to build the discipline that will lead their teams into the future.

You can order The 24-Hour Rule by visiting Amazon. Magnusson-Skor offers a special discount and free shipping for purchases of 10 or more books, which is available here.


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