Taking Time to Breathe

Breathing is automatic. Without breathing we cease to be. So if breathing is automatic, what on earth do I mean by this statement: Taking Time to Breathe?

Well, it has to do with leaders and how so often they are in the mode of fast and quick because they are being measured on results. And, generally these measurements are financial, sales, gross margins, return on investment to name just a few. Yet what is the biggest factor that drives results? Engaged employees. These are employees who are in a position to use and develop their strengths and are in an environment that supports their further success.

And leaders are the ones who create this culture of support. Yet if they are running at 80 miles an hour, they don’t have time to provide the necessary support employees need.

I have worked with 100s of executives and this is a common challenge they have, slowing down and taking time for those they lead. The techniques that have been the most successful include building your listening and observing skills.


This is probably the most misunderstood and difficult skill to master. Every one of us has experienced the time when you were talking with someone and yet you only heard the words coming out of your own mouth. The real skill is to actively listen. This requires slowing down, putting other activities on hold, being in a state of calm and not high emotions, listening for what isn’t said, and clearing your mind of personal biases.

The most important step in active listening is to clarify your understanding of what the other person just said. For example, “So Gail, what I thought I heard was that you have too many projects on your plate and the one you need to be relieved of is the development of a new credit policy. And you believe that Jon would be able to finish this project for you.”

When you paraphrase back to the person you have been listening to, you show them that you have been actively listening AND you provide them with an opportunity to refine their message for any subtle misunderstanding.


 This skill requires paying attention and being fully “awake” to nuances and subtle changes in normal behavior from employees. Subtle changes can lead to bigger changes in behavior that may prove to be derailers to a person. Two big areas that should be observed are: interactions with employees AND behavior changes.

Whom an employee interacts with can provide you with information that may be helpful in managing them. How they interact with others can give you hints about their emotional intelligence. How do they react with people they have conflicts with?

Behaviors that have changed can also be important knowledge to a leader. If all of a sudden an outgoing employee becomes quiet, what has triggered this change? Or an employee who normally is punctual to meetings starts coming late, what is the underlying cause of this behavior change?

Leaders who can master their ability to slow down by actively listening and being awake to observe changes to employees are able to gather more data than those leaders who choose not to slow down. And this type of data will help build a workforce of engaged employees who will be your raving fans.


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