The Leader Pause

I recently had an unexpected encounter with one of the audience members in a large group setting where I was speaking. I was not able to read her name tag, and I didn’t hear her (due to my hearing loss) when I asked for her name. As a result, I mispronounced her name. I quickly apologized and went on with my hypothetical question to her, which concluded with “what would you think?” Her response caught me off guard as she ignored my actual question and sarcastically said, “I’d think you don’t know my name.” I thought she was making a joke, but then I realized that she was actually upset. Clearly, my mispronunciation of her name had made an impact on her, and she was directing that impact back at me.

Honestly, I was angered by her response – mainly due to the fact that the reason I had gotten her name wrong was that I legitimately couldn’t hear her due to my hearing issues, which I had told her. I was angry because I felt like she was attacking me because I couldn’t hear her, and my hearing loss bothers me. In short, I was triggered by her response, and I wanted to fire something back at her. Instead, and in the moment (literally just an instant), I processed all of the foregoing information, including my anger, the triggering, and the core of the triggering (my self-consciousness about my hearing loss). Instead of firing back at her, I was able to calmly continue with her and get back on track with my questions and the program

You might be thinking that I merely resisted the urge to fire back at her due to the circumstances, but you’d be wrong. The truth is that I processed everything in the moment and, in doing so, my anger was gone. I fully understood what had triggered me, and I was able to communicate with her without the anger, without sarcasm and without even subtly firing back. Why? It was all because of the leader pause.

Over the past few months, I’ve discovered the power and impact of the leader pause, a tool which leaders must develop and hone in order to be their most effective at communicating, building relationships and fostering trust. The leader pause is the momentary pause where a leader does all the things that make leaders most impactful:

  • Thinks about and is conscious of his or her intended impact and potential unintended impact
  • Catches herself or himself getting triggered
  • Processes his or her emotions and energy in order to communicate without the energy that impedes good communication
  • Processes what she or he has just heard from someone else or in a meeting before responding
  • Makes time to listen to, hear and really see his or her team members even in the midst of a full schedule and pressing priorities
  • Remains present in any interaction

Many leaders know what to do (or what not to do), but they get caught up in the fast pace of business, communication and human interactions, so they forget to do what they already know. In many cases this is some form of a reaction versus a thoughtful action, and the shift to thoughtful action is all about the leader pause.

Think about it: all the times and situations, whether personally or professionally, where you would have done something differently (or not done something that you did do) if you’d only been able to pause for a moment. When your team member comes to you with a question, but you’re focused on something else and you dismiss them. When your partner wants to share something with you, but you’re focused on work and you aren’t present for them. When your children ask you to play with them, and you quickly tell them that you’re too busy right now. In some cases, your choices might not change, but they will still be more conscious and thoughtful when you can find and practice the leader pause.

The leader pause is much like what high-performing athletes talk about when they say that  everything seems to slow down despite the rapid pace of the game. When an athlete is in the zone, they’re processing massive amounts of information and choices in an instant and making good decisions. In other words, the game is speeding up but they’re slowing down in the midst of the speed of the game. That is the essence of the leader pause.

Your ability to find and practice the leader pause will somewhat depend on experience (practice, practice, practice), but there are a few elements that you can use to hone and improve your leader pause:

  • First, look for the leader pause. When you look for it, you’re more likely to find it and practice it.
  • Second, breathe. You heard me – breathe. When you consciously take a breath, you create space for the pause.
  • Third, commit to the pause. The more intentional you are about the importance of the pause, the more likely you are to find it and make space for it.
  • Fourth, use this simple question to create space for the pause – ask yourself “Am I present?” When you ask this question, you automatically get present and the pause exists in your presence.
  • Finally, regularly review and assess your communication and relational interactions (even after the fact) to learn more about yourself and your reactions. It may be after the fact now, but the better you understand yourself, the better you’ll be able to navigate future interactions and situations using the pause.

This shift to the leader pause may be difficult, but it’s a simple concept. It’s up to you whether you care enough about your leadership and the people that your leadership impacts to commit to embracing and honing your leader pause.

If you’re wondering about the why behind the leader pause, it’s simple – better relationships, deeper trust, more influence and impact, and more effective communication. Not bad for just a pause – The Leader Pause.

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