We all face multiple challenges in our work and leadership roles – impossible deadlines, missed budgets, angry customers, politically driven colleagues, remotely cascaded metrics… When we come under stress at times like this we may lash out in anger, walk out on our colleagues, or simply freeze like the proverbial deer in the headlights.
Instead of that fight or flight reaction that we are all familiar with, what if we could pause, reflect, and then manage what we’re experiencing? Giving ourselves a moment to pause at times like this and considering carefully our next move, can be much more productive in our approach to being effective leaders.
In that moment of reflection consider the following:
• In this moment, notice the impact on yourself. What are you doing or not doing? What are you saying or not saying? How are you acting? What effect are your words and actions having?
• What is not being said? What are you thinking and feeling but not expressing? What negative outcomes are you most worried about?
• Consider your values and beliefs. What is most important to you? What belief do you hold about this situation, about yourself, and about others?
• Examine your underlying needs. What is truly at stake for you here – if anything?
Surprisingly and ironically perhaps, in these situations we most often create the outcome we fear. Worried about losing control? When you lashed out at your team, you did just that. Worried about being heard? When you argued defensively, people stopped listening.
In these moments we should pause and ask, “What do I really want for and of myself in this moment?” By noticing when our attention is focused on needs that we want to protect and redirecting it instead toward the experience we want to create, we open up access to a greater range of behaviour.
We understand that it is tough to think before we act and speak but the ability to sometimes delay action is critical for leaders. Without it, we are slaves to our emotions; totally at their whim. The ability to stop, reflect, and take considered action gives us a degree of power and control over the outcome of any given situation.
Again, the takeaway here is simple: avoid doing things or saying things until you’ve taken some time to think about them. Will your action benefit you or others in some way? Are your words worth being heard, or are they empty syllables drowning out other voices of reason? What will the repercussions be? Are you willing to take on the consequences?
By figuring out how to pause and reengage our “thinking” brains (the parts governing executive functions, such as reasoning and problem solving), we can make the shift from a mind-set of threat avoidance (a fear of losing) to one of learning and of getting the most out of the moment.