Think Before You Speak: The Power of the Pause [Guest Post]

Albert Einstein once said, “If I had 60 minutes to solve an important problem, I would spend 55 minutes on defining the problem and five minutes on the solution.” When it’s time to step up and lead, you can build the skills of self-awareness concerning your leadership style and mindset. When you know and understand the impact your leadership has on the situation and the people involved your likelihood of success rises significantly.

Our proposal is simple: Before you engage, you should literally pause and indulge in some structured thinking. This methodology will allow you to set yourself up for a qualitatively different experience. Instead of jumping right in and acting on instinct, reflect and ask yourself:

  • Who am I in this circumstance?
  • What is my role?
  • What outcomes are we seeking?
  • Is there anything I need to do to prepare myself to engage in this conversation powerfully?

This self-questioning can be a lot harder than it sounds. We’ve worked with countless business leaders over the years who say they understand the importance of the pause, but, when we really drill down and examine how well they use it, they actually score very poorly. We stress that it’s crucial that leaders get this step right because, without it, they’ll always be leading from behind. All too often they aren’t able to prepare themselves in the most effective way and they aren’t able to orchestrate productive interactions among colleagues and team members.

One of the reasons leaders find this process so difficult is because they’re dealing with today’s perceived speed of business, with endless to-do lists and the moment-to-moment demands that are placed on people in organizations. So many of us get caught up in that adrenaline rush to go, go, go – do, do, do. When that happens, we walk into meetings with no plan for the desired outcome. Because of the pressure for speed, we enter into conversations without an inquiring mindset that allows for fresh and relevant outcomes.

Despite these pressures, you need to think about the context and the circumstances from the outset. You want to ask yourself where this particular situation needs to conclude. Starting with the end in mind gives you clarity. A little simple preparation allows you to construct the right questions and to adapt to the right attitude in order to encourage an exchange of new ideas, innovation, and creative thinking,

Failure to plan makes you prone to what we call “triggering situations.” When people are triggered, they’re in what we call a “nowhere mindset,” and they can actually sabotage the environment with anger or other emotions. Instead of being ripe for “Possibility thinking,” the environment becomes one of blame, defensiveness, and finger pointing. Obviously, that system is not a winning model; we encourage you to stop and reflect before engaging in any meaningful engagement with colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc.

If you can take a moment to pause purposefully and formulate a plan before engaging in active questions, you augment your chances of being successful. This approach allows you to not only design a strategy to win, but also to recognize and reinforce the mindset you need have in order to foster that collaborative, one-plus-one-equals-three atmosphere.

How often do you take the time to pause and reflect in your daily activity as opposed to keeping your foot pinned to the gas pedal?

This post is an excerpt from chapter 2 of Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win.


Guy Parsons is the Founder and Managing Principal of Value Stream Solutions (VSS).  Allan Milham’s work as a professional leadership and performance coach over the past 16 years has centered on using powerful questions. For Guy, 20+ years of delights and frustrations consulting with firms attempting to make operational and cultural transformations sparked an evolution in his relationship with his professional coach, Allan, and was the inspiration for Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win. Their book has sparked a new mindset and a practical approach to thriving in the competitive and evolving landscape that today’s leaders face.




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