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Q&A with Charles Fred about his new book “The 24-Hour Rule”

The bestselling author discusses how to become a better leader in today's frenetic world

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Q:

Charles, thanks for your time today. Tell us more about your new book, The 24-Hour Rule.

A:

The through line for the book is that we have complete control over one thing, how we respond and react to others, and unfortunately as leaders we rarely use that control. And yet, we often fuss over the things that we have no control over. And that’s unfortunate because you can’t control the weather, you can’t add more time to the day. But if you can control how you react and respond to others and build it into a discipline we call, “pause,” you will see an immediate change in the way you communicate to other people. I really believe that. I watch people—myself for instance. Any day that I come to work and I’m not disciplined, I just cause waste. If we don’t regain control over how we respond and react to others, we spread stress throughout our organizations and do just the opposite of what we think. We constrain our people versus empower them. And then we must attempt to recover, to say sorry and all those things. We see that in real life and real-time every day in the media.

So again, the book’s message is to gain control over what you already have control over, which will have a pretty sizeable impact. And you do that with the self-discipline of pause.

At the end of the day, the message is simple, yet it’s profound.

             

Q:

Let me make sure I understand. The discipline of pause. Are you saying that people should hesitate before taking action?

A:

We actually think the opposite and I want to make sure this is clear. I am an advocate of ambition, hustle, achievement, accomplishment. But I strongly believe that to do those things you have to have the discipline of pause. Pause is a discipline, it’s not a delay. It gives us just that little amount of time we need to deliberate before we act. The last thing I’m asking people to do is to stop, hesitate, waste time. I’m encouraging you to have ambition and saying that the discipline of pause will actually help you get there.  

Q:

Why is it so difficult for people to build a discipline around pause?

A:

Great question. It has to do with our role models as leaders. When we look at the most successful people in business, we see only what the media tells us. We see wealth, innovation, success, all the good and none of the bad, difficult, or real. And these role models are all about working faster and producing more. And so when we see those things as leaders, and these are people we admire, then we try to emulate them, we try to keep up. The unfortunate part is that it’s fake. Our role models have to sleep just as much as we do. They have to eat, they have to get up every morning. They have to do the things the rest of us do. We get caught up in a false set of expectations that is reinforced and seen, and that set of expectations drives us to not slow down, to not think, but to push, push, push.

Q:

Thank you for clarifying. It leads me to another question. Given the title of the book, are you saying people should take 24 hours before acting? 

A:

We needed a moniker, a label, for people to better understand what we were asking. For big decisions, of course, we’re saying that we should take a night and sleep on it. But pause can literally be a couple seconds as long as it gives you mental clarity. Whatever the pause is, we’re asking you to do so in a disciplined way to have mental clarity before you act. In some instances, we know that you can’t take 24 hours and have to act today, but do so in a disciplined way. But where things are potentially organizational changing or could impact large groups of people, you should have a fresh mind and your freshest mind is always in the morning. That’s where we came up with The 24-Hour Rule. We think it all falls under the umbrella of 24 hours—whether it’s five seconds, a deep breath, exercise, or whatever it is. 

           

Q:

Workplace stress is an important part of this book. Why is it so important? 

A:

Our research started with the fact that we saw organizations that were struggling in performance and we didn’t know what was causing it. They had good leadership, lots of talent, people who were ambitious. But when we started pulling back the layers of understanding really what was causing poor performance, we started seeing people paralyzed by stress. They couldn’t think straight. It could’ve been from a lack of sleep due to stress, or it could’ve been a number of different things that were causing it.

It’s important to understand what we mean by “workplace stress.” This isn’t episodic stress where you have to go speak on stage or have to do one or two things. This is the constant barrage of stress in the workplace that never lets you go. It stays with you when you leave, it stays with you when you sleep, and it shows up with you the next day at work. That’s the kind of stress we’re talking about with workplace stress. And that’s unfortunately what’s been caused by the culture of impulsive leaders.

 

Q:

Can you tell us more about your research? It sounds like it’s a crucial part of the book.

A:

Our initial aim was studying organizations that had difficulty growing. They were struggling because they had inconsistent performance. And we’ve now looked at over 4,000 businesses in the dataset. One of the patterns we discovered was the inability for these organizations to manage change, and in particular, the ability of leaders to manage stress. The condition that we look for in our research is a condition called “Endurance and Sustainability.” And you can’t have the condition as an organization if there is a rampant culture of workplace stress. We also know through our research that there is a singular source of workplace stress, and it falls on the shoulders of the leaders. The leaders are responsible, and it was easy for us to uncover that in our research.

Q:

Fascinating. So, this research is the impetus for this book?

A:

We wanted to ensure that we were looking at a pattern, and not just a couple points of data. We wanted to make sure we didn’t blame this on technology either. It’s so easy to say, “it’s technology’s fault,” when we know it isn’t. It’s actually the lack of discipline from leadership. And we wanted to have the research strong enough people would pay attention and wouldn’t see it as just an opinion.

Q:

Do you tell readers how they can become more disciplined about pause?

A:

In the book we provide three steps for building self-discipline around pause. The first is becoming aware. Go find out if there’s stress in the organization and if you’re connected to it in some way. The next is committing to making changes and putting a pause in place. And last is try it for a full week and see what happens. You might be surprised at the results. 

You have to communicate that you need help or that you need help relative to awareness. You have to ask the question, “Am I causing stress?” Part of the first step is to say, “Is the way I’m leading causing stress in your lives?” And hopefully, people can tell you the truth.

Q:

What would be a successful outcome for this book?

 

A:

The concept is simple, yet profound. The most successful outcome is awareness. I’ve always believed that. Change starts with first becoming aware and coming to terms with the fact that as a leader you can influence your organization negatively if you’re not careful. So, the greatest would be awareness. But let me continue. If you’re aware, then another outcome is actual change—you try to find a way to incorporate pause into your daily leadership routine and discipline. And then of course the next outcome is that the people who work for you and with you have less stress in their day. And you apologize a lot less and you also have more time.

             

Q:

This isn’t your first book. You also wrote Breakaway and Beyond Implementation, two bestselling books. Do you have plans to write another book after this one? Perhaps a sequel to The 24-Hour Rule?  

A:

The ­24-Hour Rule is an experiment where we took the seeds of a very important idea and put it into a monograph, or booklet, which we believe is a digestible format. Before writing another book, we want to test the design of this one first. If this proves successful, yes, we will definitely follow up with some other pieces out of our research, which has five conditions and is rife with rich information. 

Q:

Interesting? Why did you design the book this way?

A:

We could’ve written a full book on this topic, but we painstakingly distilled this into a message so people could get read it in a little more than 30 minutes. And we think it might be the future of business writing. We think this is the right message and the right amount of content in the right package.

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