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The value of the pause

By DJ Mitsch, MCC  March 18, 2013

Executives derive many benefits from working with a professional coach and one of the most valuable, yet subtle benefit is forcing them to pause and reflect on their business and themselves.

Coaching by its nature is a reflective exercise, but executives often find it difficult to separate themselves from the noise in their busy lives.

Our coaching colleague Janet Crawford (PCC) likes to refer to the old “The Jetsons” cartoon where George Jetson is out of control on his treadmill screaming at his wife, “Jane, Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

That is how many executives live from day to day. So, how do you get someone to appreciate the value of the pause?

Crawford offers other observations on the value the pause:

  • Having had the privilege of coaching leaders for more than 10 years, I am often asked and often ponder, what do great leaders do that good leaders don’t? My conclusion is they value the power of the pause. Yes, they master the pause as great musicians do, knowing the pause between the notes is where the art and mastery resides; where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.
  • When having intense conversations, they pause, take a few deep breaths and listen with their whole self to hear fully the spoken and the unspoken. They pause to synthesize the information and respond with a question rather than offering their comments and opinions. They let the silence of the pause speak for they know that creates the space for the shifts to occur and the solutions to emerge.
  • They pause to unplug from the continuous stream of information so that they can settle into the present, assimilate the information they have and consciously think through the implications of the possible decisions to arrive at the best one.
  • They pause to tune into their inner wisdom. They employ a variety of techniques for doing so: mindfulness, prayer, breath, meditation to name a few. They cultivate a heightened and deepened sense of awareness that enhances their presence, their knowledge, their performance and their connection to others.
  • They pause to connect to their people. They make eye contact when walking the halls, and pause to ask “how are you?” and wait to hear your answer. They pause to care.
  • They pause to play and not with technology. They do so for the sake of fun, whether is solo or social, spectator or interactive. It relaxes and rejuvenates them and sparks creativity which leads to innovation.”

I used to look at smokers, who took a time out for a cigarette, with envy before I realized the very act of smoking was an act of stopping long enough to breathe deeply – in and out – something non-smokers rarely take time to do. I even coached an executive once to notice that breathing was the thing that drove her to smoke and she quit easily by just doing breathing exercises.

Leaders often judge their level of productivity by how fast they are thinking and acting. They wear their long hours like a badge of courage for friends and family. Yet when we interview their direct reports to obtain feedback to support a coaching engagement, we find that the harder they drive themselves, the less effective they are at communicating, prioritizing, or being accessible to others.

Coaching helps create opportunities for leaders to pause, breathe and draw on all the gifts and talents required to accelerate performance and achieve extraordinary results.

So, what differentiates a good leader from a great leader?

It sometimes starts with a simple pause.

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