leadership mindfulness

A simple tool that may just save you

Why this conversation is important:

At no time in the last two decades of supporting leaders and teams to become high performing and healthy (i.e. an enabling culture), have I found more people working harder, for longer and under more pressure to be all things to all people. I predict that we will soon reach a threshold of ‘enough is enough‘ but that may be the subject of another piece.

It is in this context that many people in organisations have a feeling of overwhelm. Indeed, when I spend time 1-on-1 with senior people in the privacy of a meeting room, it can sometimes be frightening the levels of stress and – in many cases – pain, they are coping with. While it is convenient to separate people in to their ‘work self’ and their ‘non-work self’, this isn’t helpful. The person who sits in front of me in a coaching session for example shows up brimming with fears, concerns, worries, hopes, desires, and aspirations.

The challenges and demands on those who are tasked with exercising leadership are high.

There is no doubt that leadership is hard – and if anyone makes a claim to the contrary, I would question whether they are actually leading or just polishing the china for the next person. The challenges and demands on those who are tasked with exercising leadership are high. Managers need to on their game to contribute in a meaningful way to the goals of the organisation. We must move beyond the paradigm of surviving to one of thriving. I have previously written about the Anatomy of a High Performer which may offer you some further guidance.

leadership skills

What you can do about it

In working with 1,000’s of leaders in the context described above, I decided to create a deceptively simple tool which can deliver powerful results when applied.

I call it the PAUSE tool.

The PAUSE tool can be used anywhere at anytime. You don’t need any special equipment or training to reap the benefits. And the best part of all, no-one around you will even know you’re using it. It is meant to be simple to remember and simple to do. My hope is that it becomes a key part of your life – particularly in a work context.

Pause tool diagram

A Quick Overview of the five steps

Pause – the first step is being able to ‘catch’ yourself in action or re-action. Momentarily stop or at least pause. If you’re in a meeting or with other people, you can just check in with yourself in your head (no need to actually stop everything!). The trick is to have enough awareness that NOW is a good time to use PAUSE.

Assess – ask questions like:

  • Why am I feeling this way?’
  • How real is it?
  • Why have I created this? (this is not to blame yourself, but just to ask what part you are playing!)
  • How can I take the high road or play the bigger person?
  • To what extent am I making this bigger than it actually is?

Unplug – this step involves creating some space between you and the reaction or feeling – and if possible from the activity itself. Take some time – even just a few seconds – to unplug.

Settle – notice what you’re feeling in your body, notice your posture, and finally, notice your breathing. If you’re like many people, you ‘chest’ breath. As we breathe in, we should see the stomach rise slightly and as we breathe out, both the chest and the stomach fall. If you look at young children, this is what you usually see. Breathe in a slower, slightly deeper and more mindful way for a few seconds or longer if required (read more here).

Engage – re-engage fully in whatever you were doing. Do it with presence (be here and nowhere else), intentionality (focussed, clear, goal-orientated) and with confidence that you will be resourceful and strong.

women in leadership

Here are five situations where you might use it:

  1. Feeling stressed in general – use it when you are feeling stressed, frayed or generally out off-centre for some reason. For example, I sometimes find myself sitting in heavy traffic getting annoyed and frustrated – the PAUSE tool teaches me that I’m creating this feeling entirely in my head!
  2. Important task/activity – when you are about to do something that is creating a lot of anxiety – for example an important presentation or a courageous conversation.
  3. You’re being ‘activated’ with unhelpful consequences – we all have buttons or triggers that cause a fight, flight or freeze reaction. It might be in a meeting when you’re being over talked by your dictatorial boss or a problematic staff member is causing you grief and you feel your heart starting to beat harder in your chest.
  4. You want to engage in clear thinking – there is lots of evidence to suggest that when our brainwave activity is in Beta, it is almost impossible to think clearly and creatively. Use the PAUSE tool to lower your hyperactive state to a more resourceful state.
  5. You want to be at your best – don’t wait to feel stressed or anxious before using the PAUSE tool. Use it like an elite athlete would – you feel okay but want to feel amazing.

Make the PAUSE tool a regular habit and I can promise that you’ll notice a positive difference. Feel free to share this tool freely with your work colleagues and friends. The more people who use this technique the better.

I would love to hear where and how you use the technique, so please feel free to share your stories here or send me a personal message.

Phillip Ralph is the managing director of The Leadership Sphere and is an author, speaker, mentor, facilitator and coach. He can be contacted on 1300 100 857. He has a background in physical education, health promotion, leadership development and developing high performing teams and organisations. Learn more here.

A simple tool that may just save you