The Power of the Pause Button

The Power of Pause

Leaders need to be passionately obsessed with communication. It’s one of the keys to successful leadership. Over time I’ve become convinced that leaders have to learn the power of the pause button. What’s the pause button, you ask? It’s an internal button we all possess, and it gives us the time we need to think before we speak.

Think back to a time when your mouth got you in trouble. Maybe it was your quick wit or sharp temper. Perhaps someone said something hurtful to you, and your immediate response was one of retaliation. We’ve all been there, but some of us go there more than others. Ask yourself honestly: How would my leadership improve if I pushed my pause button more often?

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us want to live a life with no regrets. Choosing our words more carefully will go a long way in helping us to avoid saying words we wish we could take back. After all, isn’t pushing your pause button far less painful than removing your foot from your mouth?

Take some time today to reflect on your strategies for thinking before you speak. What “pause button” strategies work for you? We all know in our heads that we need to think before we speak, but sometimes the words are out of our mouths, and we desperately want to put them back in.

When do you need your pause button most?

Leadership is all about relationships, and we most need to push the pause button when we know that our words may damage the relationship. This is a reality for all leaders, at work, in our communities, and in the privacy of our own homes. Relationships matter. We depend on people, and people depend on us. Thus, we have to remain passionately obsessed with effective communication.

Over the last few months, I’ve discussed this topic with a number of leaders, and the conversations have been fascinating. One of the most interesting responses made me think about how long we may need to press pause:

At times we push pause for a matter of seconds, collect our thoughts, and are ready to respond, rather than react. But sometimes that process lasts minutes, hours, even days, particularly when the stakes are high.

Think about a recent conflict you had at work or at home. Did you press your pause button so that you could make sure you chose your words intentionally and thoughtfully? Or did you react without choosing your words carefully, saying things you later wished you could take back?

Let’s be honest…we’re not always successful in pushing the pause button when we need to, right? Hindsight is 20/20, and we can all look back on moments when we sincerely wish we would’ve kept our mouth shut!

So what do we do when in those moments? As leaders, what do we expect of ourselves? How do we handle these situations at work and at home?

“Humility is the Cornerstone of Leadership”

A vitally important characteristic for a leader is the ability to say “I’m sorry.” We need to be able to take a step back, assess the situation, and admit when we’re wrong and/or when we’ve behaved in a way that doesn’t align with the leadership we aspire to practice.

John Miller contends that, “Humility is the cornerstone of leadership.” I couldn’t agree more. My question for myself today is this: How will I practice humility today?

Consistently, I heard the pain in the voices of the men and women who recounted times when they didn’t push pause. There was often regret. Yet, there was also learning. Will we always succeed in pushing our pause button at the right times? Of course not. We are human, and we will make mistakes. We will, again and again (maybe even today), say things to the people in our lives that we wish we wouldn’t have said. As I’ve shared before, every leader is on a journey to learn how to lead.

What sets us apart as leaders? We recognize and acknowledge our mistakes, and we genuinely try to learn from them. We think deeply about how we want to lead, and we continue to strive to be the leaders we are called to be.

Seneca shared these words of wisdom, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” I will take that idea a step further: As long as you live, keep learning how to lead.

Keep learning when you want (and need) to press pause, and continue learning from all of the communication interactions you have, both the successes and the failures.

Communication and leadership go hand and hand, but not always easily. Understanding the power of the pause button is simple and knowing that I should think before I speak makes sense, but actually recognizing that I have a pause button and when I need to use it, presents a greater challenge. But you can do it, especially when you focus on relationships and really think about the impact of your words on the people who matter most to you.

Related Content

The Value of Learning

Opportunities to learn and grow surround us every day. How can your organization commit to becoming a “learning organization”?

Learn More

Creating Leaders to the Power of Good

In order to achieve positive social impact it’s vital for community leaders to learn and grow from one another.

Learn More

Learning and Leadership

A powerful suite of leadership courses designed to build the capacity and connectedness of nonprofit and philanthropic leaders.

Learn More



Stay connected with monthly e-newsletters. Get first notice of community events, read the latest blog posts and find out who’s doing what in the social sector.