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An Ice Storm That Gives a Gift

So here I am tucked away in my home like the rest of the south watching the ice blanket thicken on my driveway – listening to the prickling dance of freezing rain hitting the window.

This is cozy and enjoyable.

After the fiasco of the last ice storm that shut down the city stranding us in mid motion across the region. Everyone collectively erred on the safe side yesterday. Many corporate offices and businesses closed 24 hours before this latest storm made its anticipated arrival.

So I fired up my laptop yesterday to catch up on emails and touch base with a number of my executive coaching clients in Atlanta. That is when I found it – I am talking about the leadership gift that was dropped on our front doors by our gracious and tenacious Mother Nature. And what a gift this was!

Each email revealed my clients enjoying the unwrapping of this wonderful gift through their comments,

“Catching up on work that has just been sitting there, feels good, finally …”

“Getting some much needed thinking time in on a few change initiatives”

“Decided not to take the trip so home and getting good work done that I can finally move along…”

…and then toward 5 PM …

“Getting ready to take a walk with my wife to a local restaurant…”

“Happy we are home safe and so is everyone on my team.”

I was smiling joyfully through the day as we bounced back and forth between emails and texts to see everyone’s reaction to the gift … it was an unexpected pause button – a wonderfully big pause button and we loved it – all of us.

Coaching Brings the Pause Button

I launched my executive coaching practice in 2008 so essentially I never ran this practice during healthy economic times. Companies weave across various states of distress due to a frail economy along with astronomically low employee engagement that has firmly settled into the national workforce. In the U.S, only 28% of workers are actively engaged according to Gallup polls.

Systemically knowledge workers are in a state of always on and always going but less and less going toward more meaningful work.

The knowledge part of the worker has little wing span and the worker part grows more tedious and tactical. Many future leaders are encouraged culturally to operate in a semi individual contributor mode and are less empowered to make decisions and drive results with sufficient autonomy or complete trust from top leadership. Many teams are stuck in the perpetual wheel that everything has to be done yesterday. They are so pinned into absurdly high meeting schedules that the basic ingredients for getting anything good done – like thinking, rich reflection, problem solving, and then taking time to build the highly impactful work artifacts – are left to be handled after hours and weekends – or not at all.

For some organizations there is more safety in talking about it than getting at it – courageous conversations require courageous action. Mustering courage to fight the right battles at work well, to take an uncomfortable position, and to take risk – requires a leader master productive reflection to connect with her primary principles and purpose.

Through my last five years coaching rising leaders into executive ranks, I respect that our coaching sessions are the pause button and many have had very little time or even sense of how to pause for themselves meaningfully. This can come at a price on professional and personal fronts.

The Power of the Pause

A pause button is strategic because it pulls us all far enough away from the weeds to see – “Wait a minute, I could come at this differently. Or maybe… I don’t even need to be worried about that little thing there. What if I delegated this thoughtfully? I could help my direct really grow in amazing ways…”

pause buttonThe pause button gives us the space to reposition our leadership.

The pause button helps us reclaim our place that was lost from the deficit of quality thinking time we suffer from – so that when we press into the go button we are far more purposeful. We need our pause button to lead the bigger game and for some reason – many leaders don’t know they can, by choice, access this precious place of pause or they underestimate how badly they need it. This is why my coaching sessions right off (literally) the foot hills of an orienteering leadership adventure are filled with my clients’ tears as they are deeply shifted. For the first time in their intense pace, they found the glory and deep value of the pause button.

What the Pause Button Gives Back

So back to the gift of the pause button now sitting firmly iced up on your front steps. Here is what you get when you honor it and enjoy its transformative payback:

Time to Think: Nurturing your mentality capacity is a skill and discipline. Your own mental capacity needs space – specifically a quiet environment, no interruptions, and sufficient enough time to harness the right perspective. Here you decide what is important and what is not, what you can control and what you can’t. No matter how hard the world pulls on you never obliterate your thinking time altogether. You will burn out and your chances of failure while working ridiculously hard sky rocket.

Time to Empty: Interestingly, another critical factor to our mental capacity is our ability to stop thinking. The movement of mediation and mindfulness has breached into corporate offices to help employees shut down mentality and intentionally clear the rack in our head upstairs. At Google, the most popular class is taught by Meng Tan called “Search Inside Yourself”, a mindfulness at work training course. Two weeks ago I gave a keynote to a group of 30 information technology leaders and asked them to experiment with just one minute of mindfulness and silence. This small exercise provided the most cited comments at the end. Mindfulness is a powerful way to get to the pause button.

Time to Create: A recent engagement research piece cited that work stress was heavily impacted by three things, lack of autonomy, influence, and meaning. When coaching high potential clients in states of extreme stress, I see a common theme emerge. I call it the drift. In almost all cases my clients drifted away from meaningful intimacy to their work – almost like an artist who hasn’t been able to paint. We need creative one on one time with parts of our job that provide us ways to express ourselves through that activity. We need empowerment (sourced from ourselves and others) to put that work out there and shepard it through a journey. And then we need learning reflection time to refine and move forward. We need to have some say in how our coolest work stiches together with others but not in endless meetings or circular conversations where we know it won’t happen.

Time to Ground: A technical definition of a grounding wire from Wikipedia says the ground “is idealized as an infinite source or sink for charge, which can absorb and unlimited amount of current without changing its potential.”

You have incredible potential but are you grounded to your center with such a sound self-perspective that it stabilizes you when you’re challenged to your very core?

That very question helped me to innovate work in my coaching practice. I designed specific experiential coaching sessions specifically to help leaders find their center.

The center is the most grounded and stable part of who you are. Once you have this defined, published and understood – your center leads – not circumstances. This is a fundamental shift and centered leadership is demanded more than ever in what is called an age of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, chaos, and ambiguity.) Helping my clients understand they have a pause button and how to use it is crucial in this centering work. We need time to simply find our ground wire and remember that our identity is not contained in the smallness of our performance reviews, our job, or even our present career… our identity is large, vast, and wonderful. Ironically, when we leave our dependency on validation from external sources behind to depend on leading from our center – we can actually give back to the demands we once viewed as oppressive obligations in ways never imagined.

It’s Yours – Use It

So tomorrow sadly the temperature will rise and so will your meeting requests and emails in the inbox and so will the commute… and the old things you say to yourself about feeling pressured to get so many things done. Remember what you were given today – remember that you plucked off your front frozen and ice clad stoop a gorgeous pause button. It is yours now and you don’t need an ice storm to use it.