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When leaders should slow down

4 min read


Many leaders are working in fast-paced, globally competitive companies where they may believe the only way to keep up is to move at warp speed. This is understandable but also potentially destructive to relationships with the very stakeholders who are supporting these leaders.

My work with these leaders often entails their desire to develop, expand or improve relationships with their stakeholders. Their pace — how fast they move and react — often comes into consideration as they consider how best to connect on a deeper level and in more significant and meaningful ways with those stakeholders. When these speedy thinkers, talkers and doers learn to slow down to better connect, magic can happen.

Think about it. If you’re always on the run you probably aren’t relating with others. In fact, if you’re not focused on the people right in front of you, you’re not only setting a bad example and spreading stress, but you may also be damaging relationships because those people who are there to help you may assume that you don’t care about them.

Your stakeholders need the kind of support that can only be provided when you slow down enough to create and sustain the relationships that will invite collaboration. Here are some ways that will help you to be more deliberate in sustaining a pace that will help others to keep up with you.

Consider the following tactics:

Reducing or eliminating caffeine. Yes, coffee can have its benefits, but it can also speed you up. Soda, black tea and chocolate when added to an already significant caffeine intake through your morning large coffee can all contribute to a personal pace that nobody can match. In addition, caffeine addiction can spiral into a Catch-22 when it interferes with your sleep patterns. Thus, you wake up exhausted and take in more caffeine to get through the day. Reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake in small steps and over time to avoid the withdrawal effects.

Noticing and minimizing adrenaline rushes. Many leaders can develop “adrenaline addiction,” whereby they are attracted to and sometimes create stressful and fast-paced situations to provide adrenaline rushes. These large self-inflicted doses of adrenaline speed them up and help them get through their days. Double-booking a schedule and continually taking on too many “to-dos” can create an overreliance on adrenaline, which can eventually wear you down and cause significant health problems. Notice your tendency and plan ahead to eliminate situations that create a rush of adrenaline.

Breathing. When you notice that you’re moving too fast, making errors and not connecting with those around you, stop. Take a couple of deep slow breaths that go down into your belly; pay attention to the sensation as the air moves down and slowly moves back out. This only takes a few seconds and the impact can be significant in slowing you down and allowing you to focus on those in front of you.

Matching the pace of those around you. Notice the pace of those you interact with. You don’t have to be the fastest person around in order to be effective. In fact, I would argue that relationships are cemented or broken by a mismatch of fast talkers and doers with those who work at a more measured pace. Slow down and match the pace of those around you.

Exercise. For many leaders, exercise is a great way to dissipate energy, and it’s a healthy alternative to the continual overwhelm of firefighting. Exercise can burn off some of the excess energy that you’re using in less than productive ways at work.

If you look behind you and find that nobody is following, it might be that your pace is just too fast for your stakeholders or organization. What has helped you to slow down?

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.