Leadership Wisdom: Practice the Pause

A confession – I hate conferences. They get jammed into a busy schedule, are often out of town and there never seems to be time to pause and reflect on what I have gained.  

Earlier in my career, my conference experiences taught me to expect long days of (often boring) speakers, obligatory/awkward networking events, walking around in a sea of strangers that I’d never meet again, none of whom had any interest in me, my ideas or my business.

The travel involved always sounded better than it felt. Early morning flights, running through airports. You know what I mean.  And every conference required some form of report-back to justify the investment made ahead of a long list of other business priorities.

Recently when the opportunity arose for my business partners and me to attend a conference called Wisdom 2.0, well, you can imagine my enthusiasm.

 Wisdom 2.0 was different.

It was a mix of teachers, business leaders, consultants, journalists, authors, healers, artists, healthcare professionals and scientists from many different industries and cultures. It showed the convergence of business and mindfulness, of leadership and healing, of journalism and humanity, of art and learning.

Put simply: it was fascinating.

While there were many things that I learned, probably the most compelling takeaway for me was an inquiry: What is wisdom? What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge? What makes someone wise, and not just knowledgeable?

When I think about the many mentors, teachers, guides, coaches and colleagues in my life whom I view as “wise”, what stands out for me is this: wisdom is borne of practice and reflection.

Practice and reflection turns knowledge into wisdom. “Wise” people have put ideas into practice, and then they pause to reflect on the results.

Practice takes an idea from thinking into action. I have a deep respect for people who practice. They put ideas and theories to the test of application.

But practice without stopping to reflect is simply action. It can become habit, automatic and rote. It can become mind-less instead of being mindful.

Reflection requires being with the full impact of implementation. Reflection requires the “pause”. It offers the opportunity for learning and integration. The result is wisdom.

And it’s that “pause” that feels like such a luxury in these days of stretch goals, relentless emails, meetings, phone calls, social media and the numbing barrage of information that we are immersed in daily.

It’s my experience that wisdom is gained through not only a willingness to practice, but also taking the time to pause and reflect.

  • What have we learned here?
  • What have been the consequences of our actions?
  • What new thoughts, feelings, and actions are now available that could not have been seen before?
  • What intelligence do I now have access to: in my mind, in my heart, in my bones?

In this busy world, we are all taught to value knowledge and action. But are we willing to practice and pause? Better said: are we willing to practice the pause?

What we are missing when we don’t?

I wonder what would happen if we more purposefully built time into our day for deliberate practice and the pause. What would it look like to build that into our meetings and our corporate cultures?

I think it’s an idea worth exploring. The world needs our wisdom and our leadership. Since we all can provide leadership, there is a lot of wisdom waiting to be tapped. All it takes is to make room for the practice of the pause.