Hard Stops Aren’t Just Red Lights

No one likes when the light at the intersection turns from green to yellow. It sends adrenaline coursing through veins. In a split second, several questions race through the mind: “Do I gun it and go through? Do I slam on my breaks? Is it clear ahead? Are cops around? Is this the intersection with the traffic camera?”

The anticipation of a hard stop doesn’t make everyone panic, but if your anxiety level doesn’t spike some, you need your heart checked. There’s something about expected, and unexpected, delays that triggers fight-or-flight mode instantly. In the realm of leadership, these moments can seem like a waste of time. On the other hand, what might happen if you rolled into your next hard stop in a new way?

Try transforming hard stops into strategic pauses.

Hard stops come in all forms. Yes, a red light is one, but there are plenty more: stock market shifts, finally taking a day off, holidays cycling back around, team leader resignations, doctor's calls without leaving a voicemail, your spouse moves out, another round of layoffs, your back calls it quits. The question isn’t “if” you’ll hit a hard stop; the question is “how will you respond when you’re stopped in your tracks?”

You have the opportunity to transform every hard stop into a strategic pause. Here are five future-shaping questions to get you started.

What do my internal RPMs reveal when I hit a hard stop?

Many leaders have one gear – GO. It can be scary to hit a hard stop and suddenly become in tune with your own pulse. I was actually with a leader the other day who snoozed the reminder on his smartwatch when it told him to breathe! Connecting with what’s going on inside isn’t easy in this fast-paced world; so the next time a hard stop tries to get your attention, let it.

If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a strategic pause, you’ll undoubtedly get frustrated by how fast your mind and heart races. Slow your breathing down and ask, “What am I concerned about today? Have I been treating people the way I want to be treated? What can I do differently after returning from this strategic pause?” With practice, your breathing and thoughts will slow down more quickly and you’ll be more attuned to what’s going on inside over time.

How can I best leverage this unexpected lull?

Not every season is as full or fast-paced as the next. Instead of looking back at the holidays or summer break wondering where the time went, plan ahead. Use the “down time” to rest, reconnect with people, or revisit a hobby you enjoy. Unexpected lulls are also prime opportunities for you and your team to engage in leadership development.

Where else do I need to slow down in my world?

Rather than sitting at a red light with your foot hovering over the gas pedal, consider where else you need to slow down in life. Did you scarf down a power bar for breakfast again? Do your kids keep asking if you’ll be home for supper? Are you constantly barking at staff for barging in for help? Your world may be complex, but it’s not so big that you can’t assess what needs your attention. Welcome hard stops as invitations to inventory how you’re really doing, so you can make positive adjustments.

Who am I speeding by that deserves to be served?

Most people are familiar with the story of The Good Samaritan. And most people get the point: instead of ignoring people in need, love them even if you don’t like them. When you’re going a mile a minute, it’s hard to see who needs help. But when you hit a hard stop, you have the chance to look around and choose to serve someone. This might mean rolling up your sleeves to change a tire, loading a minivan with groceries as a parent corrals kids in a parking lot, or having lunch with a colleague who’s obviously had a hard day, week, or year.

How can this strategic pause prepare me for my next hard stop?

Just because you started raging at one red light doesn’t mean you have to do the same at the next one down the road. Seasons of employment transition are one of the most obvious hard stops that can help or hinder your future. (Trust me, it’s worth it to end well, especially when it’s on a low note.) However, if you’re willing, you can transform your current and next hard stop – however big or small – into a strategic pause that helps you and those around you in powerful ways. Stay curious. Start asking yourself the five future-shaping questions above whenever you roll into a hard stop.

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.