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Just Stop. The Incredible Gift You Give Yourself.

March 16, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Kathryn Bingham:

First published at LEADistics.com.

Kathryn one

Photo: (c) 2013 Kathryn Bingham “Vista View” All rights reserved

To truly lead, you need to stop.

And yes, I hear the collective refrains of “are you kidding? We’re already a few days into December—I have deadlines to beat!” Was that you? Then, please, take a moment. Look at the image of the seaside sunset, and let me share a quick story or two.

I know what “busy” looks like. Let’s begin with a few confessions of overachievement. I’m the one who, while serving the community as Executive Director of a nonprofit, returned to university as an adult, tutored classmates in economics and financial accounting and still had time to make a custom apron for my then-fifth-grader’s class trip to Starbucks. I’m also the one who, having transitioned to a demanding corporate job, simultaneously (with spouse) spent almost every other waking hour gutting and remodeling a house and (without spouse) planned and executed my son and daughter-in-law’s dream wedding. Additionally, I completed my first graduate degree (this time tutoring classmates on finance and statistics) while working 70 hours a week—which required weekly travel—and still committed to be in town Thursday nights for my by-then high schooler’s wrestling matches. I could go on, but you get the idea. Any glimpses mirroring your own life and career?

The truth is, we live in a complex world. Our careers often intrude into what used to be exclusively home, family or that now elusive leisure time. We parcel out energy, as well, to causes and community. We invest in growing others through mentoring and coaching. If we allow it, demands of the perpetually pressing would control us and, in turn, influence our state of being, our health, our productivity and our relationships. There is an alternative.

Effective leaders prioritize and harness the power of the pause (read more about this concept here). A pause takes various forms. A “momentary” pause might mark the instant before decisions and actions, when a leader allows all his or her experience and knowledge of the issue, circumstances and people to coalesce into insight regarding potential paths and next steps. At the other end of the spectrum, pausing might involve dedicated time for a systemic evaluation of purpose, mission and values (see posts on mission developmentstrengths assessment and values exercise for examples and resources). Somewhere in between these options lies a third possibility—the pause “opportunity”—making a decision to leverage the serendipity of place and time.

My photo of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean captures a pause of opportunity. I had embarked on a 90-day personal “intention experiment” (see blog post for overview). I straddled life complicated by homes in two cities and the demands of a corporate role, a coaching practice and my doctoral coursework. I’d passed this location off the highway between Los Angeles and San Diego a hundred times, always with another deadline or meeting overshadowing the lure of the vista awaiting me. And then I stopped.

In the moments before, the impact of my daily “mental rehearsal” surfaced. Instead of driving by, I took the off-ramp leading to the viewpoint. As it had many times before in life, the pause made all the difference. The sounds of nearby traffic fell away, replaced by the ebb-flow lull of crashing ocean waves and the intermittent call of seabirds. Although joined by a handful of other travelers who paused their own journeys, voices were hushed and no one intruded into another’s contemplative space. In tandem with the view of the waves and sunset, I saw with acute clarity the vision of my own mission and purpose. Symbolically, I snapped the photo to capture the experience.

To those of you for whom this story is just “woo-woo” enough to move beyond the boundary of your comfort zone, let me assure you: I am also a pragmatic realist. But having an appreciation for facts and data does not preclude acceptance of understanding drawn from what we cannot see. Flashes of perception and intuitive knowing can be just as tangible as our own hard research. We need to leverage the wisdom that comes from the practice of presencing.

The approach of year-end invites even the most driven amongst us to pause and reflect. This isn’t the trite noting of a few “new year’s resolutions” that will be long forgotten by March. Instead, take time to intentionally consider who you are and where you hope your own life and work will take you. If you lack the certainty of a personal mission and a purposeful path, perhaps it’s time for you to stop.

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