Wake-up Pauses: The most important Leadership Habit

Recently I was asked to choose one piece of advice for leaders. Given the complexity of the role, leadership coaching is meant to offer customized support. A good coach meets a leader where they are and keeps a focus on areas where their appetite and interest are strong.

Challenged to choose just one thing, I land on self-awareness. It’s not enough to admit to your strengths and weaknesses. I’m talking about awareness in the moment – your ability to stay awake and operate consciously all day. Awake leaders hold themselves accountable for current impact, and they use real life as a learning lab. Awake leaders are authentic, agile and trust-worthy – even as they are imperfect human beings.

The habit of Wake-Up Pauses is my best piece of advice. You take a reflective pause before and after every encounter. Beforehand, I call the pause a “pinch-me pause”.  Afterward, I call it an “ah-ha pause”.

“Pinch Me Pause”:  Many leaders have learned to plan their communication approach based on their audience. Such empathy and flexibility give them greater influence and lay a foundation for better decisions.

In addition to taking multiple perspectives, take a moment to “pinch yourself” awake. Be honest with yourself and figure out your position and your interests. Ask yourself, “What are my best intentions for this encounter?” Not just in terms of outcome, but in terms of impact. Decide how you will consciously show up, and what knee-jerk reactions you want to avoid. Use breathing to ground yourself in your body and take a moment to align your thinking with your gut and your heart. Especially let go of any lingering negative effects of your day so far.

“Ah-ha Pause”:  Less common is the habit of reflecting right after each encounter. Some leaders have learned to journal, but many are swamped with commitments that make it hard to find the time. The moment of the post-encounter pause is imperative to waking up. It’s a time when you compare your intentions to your actions. Ask yourself: “Did I show up the way as I wanted to? What did I do that I feel good about, and what might I like another shot at? What have I learned from this experience? What kind of leader am I becoming?” This practical and concrete self-observation, happening in the moment, helps you to learn and grow. It feeds into your next meetings “pinch-me pause.”

Busy leaders practice these reflective pauses in the few minutes before and after each encounter. You may not have the time to sit in a quiet corner and journal. Still, taking a pause to “pinch me” and to “ah ha” is a habitual way of living your leadership awake.

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