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Taking a pause

The recent surge in coronavirus cases has forced many leaders into fast decisions, sometimes to their schools detriment. Four ways to hit pause and give yourself time to think.

5 min read


Taking a pause


One of the most challenging aspects of any leadership journey is the fact that we are often confronted with decisions in which there is no right answer. What regularly keeps us up at night is the decision deliberation, particularly when we are faced with new or changing situations, or questions we have never been faced with before. And at the same time, it is this element of leadership that makes the work as interesting and as enjoyable as it can be. 

What makes the work less fun, however, is when we make decisions without having the opportunity to consider them as fully as we would like. These “decisions on a dime” may ultimately move work in a favorable direction, but they never fully utilize the skills that we, or those we serve, can bring to the table. The recent surge in COVID cases across the United States has prompted me to think about the challenges of making quick decisions, and why, ultimately, taking a pause in the process to think richly and critically about a given decision point is exactly what we need to benefit our communities and constituents. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight four steps we can all take to push a pause in our decisions, as reflection always leads to a more complete perspective.

Force uncommitted time

One of the daily challenges we all face is the code-shifting and role-shifting that often takes place as we hop from one meeting to the next, or one situation to another. We have all muttered to ourselves, or uttered to a colleague, “I never have any time to think!” And ultimately, that is our own fault. By scheduling uncommitted time into our calendars weeks in advance, we can guarantee a number of hours each week where we are forced to not be interrupted. We aren’t doing this in opposition to the needs of others. We have to do this because we can’t meet the needs of others if we aren’t willing to meet our own needs. A few unstructured hours each week can provide us with time to sit and think, finish planning out an idea, or reflect on something that happened or a decision that needs to be made. Ultimately, we are the only people who can enforce giving ourselves the self-time we need. Our leadership piggy bank requires deposits as well as withdrawals; that means we have to give ourselves time from time-to-time.

Surround yourself with methodical planners

The “MPs” referenced aren’t military police, though that would also help in allowing ourselves a time to pause a given process. Rather, these are methodical planners, our colleagues who work best when they can analyze each step in a process and really churn through the positives and pitfalls of a given direction. We all know who these people are. We need to make sure that we have an ample number of MPs on our teams as they will be the ones who will help push us towards taking our time, even when we might be inclined to push through. We also must make sure that we have built a culture of empowerment on our teams so that the MPs (and others) feel they have the voice to share when they see a pause being needed or when they question the speed with which we are approaching a decision.

Put the “Pillow Rule” into practice

I can’t tell you the number of times I have changed my approach to a situation after a good (or sometimes not so good) night’s sleep. Maybe it isn’t the sleep itself, but the fact that by using the “pillow rule” (allowing at least a night before making a big decision or engaging in a difficult conversation), we force time between the situation that has arisen and the ultimate decision that will be made. There are times where we can’t force that barrier into place; sometimes decisions need to be made in the moment. But, ifit  isn’t a fire, and is only a spark, the infusion of time can help us either put it out well, or grow it into something that is controllable and beneficial to all.

Confer with at least two “bookends”

Your “bookends” are members of your team who are often diametrically opposed. Their perspectives and experiences are such that they rarely see eye-to-eye. And as a leader, these are counsels you need on your team at all times. By having a number of these people as trusted resources, when faced with a difficult decision, by consulting with both (knowing that you will likely get varied responses), you can push yourself towards more fully considering a given idea or decision point. 

Decision-making is a key part of what we do, and a key reason we are in our current roles. It is never meant to be easy, and because of the importance of the decision-making process, we always should want to do it right. And that means giving time its due, and pushing ourselves to pause whenever we can.

Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Connect with Fred on his website or on Twitter.


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