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Summary: The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence, and Navigate the Future by Chris L. Johnson


Stopping to smell the roses is a faint dream for most leaders. This is particularly true for hard-pressed, high-level leaders who rush through their days. But, as psychologist Chris L. Johnson warns, “Your future success depends on your ability to pause.”Without periodic breaks, you can burn out. So how should leaders strategically rest and regroup? Johnson draws on neuroscience to explain the amazing “power of pause,”and to show leaders how to pause pragmatically. Her practical wisdom will help leaders maximize their effectiveness and recharge their creativity.


  • Life is not supposed to be frantic and frenzied. Take a pause; take many pauses.
  • Periodic restorative pauses enable mindfulness and help you hear your inner “still, small voice.”
  • To pause properly, learn to control your breathing.
  • “It’s all in your head” sounds derisive, but your mind-set is all-encompassing.
  • Never let go of the “thread” that connects you to the important aspects of your life.
  • Your daily practices define who and what you are.
  • Life unfolds in a series of habits. The best ones are positive behaviors you develop purposefully.
  • Habits you no longer have to think about create new neural pathways.
  • Solidifying new habits and routines isn’t easy. A coach or mentor can help.

Book Summary: The Leadership Pause - Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence, and Navigate the Future


Life is not supposed to be frantic and frenzied. Take a pause; take many pauses.

Modern life – a frantic go-go-go race – is incredibly complex and challenging. Often, it can be hugely dispiriting. The danger always lurks that, sooner or later, you’ll burn out – your plans ruined, your dreams unfulfilled, your potential unrealized. You’ll wonder where your energy went and how to get it back. The secret to surviving life’s constant churn lies in building the habit of taking short, planned, mindful pauses.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)

These essential pauses provide special opportunities to listen to yourself and to the world in novel ways. Leaders, in particular, need both action and reflection to be effective. But, how can leaders become fully present in their lives if they never stop moving and never give themselves time to think? The short answer is, they can’t. And you can’t, either.

Periodic restorative pauses enable mindfulness and help you hear your inner “still, small voice.”

Planned, occasional pauses give you time to achieve self-awareness and regain control of your life. They put you in touch with your inner self, that “still, small voice.” Pauses let you connect with your loved ones and renew your energy.

“The best, most reliable lasting change occurs when we practice over time in low-risk, low-stakes situations. This kind of training in a safe environment gives people the opportunity to try, fail and try again without putting their job, their relationships or their business on the line.”

Periodic pauses encourage mindfulness and enable you to savor all that life offers. Restorative breaks help you stay healthy. Without them, you increase your risk of becoming ill or even facing an earlier death.

To pause properly, learn to control your breathing.

As you develop the important skill of pausing, you’ll learn that – among other things – proper pausing calls for intentional control of your breathing.

To breathe correctly for a deliberate pause: Shut your eyes. Focus on where your breathing occurs – “your nose, mouth, chest or belly.” As you breathe, pay close attention as you inhale and exhale. Take a deep breath and hold it for a three-count. Exhale through your nose.

“Go a day without your watch or iPhone and focus your attention on the ordinary in each day, each hour and each moment.”

Stay intentional and controlled. As you breathe out, pay attention to the exhalation of air from your nose. Be conscious of how your chest and torso move. Repeat this controlled inhalation and exhalation exercise three times. You may find that you feel different when you’re done. Think of the three words that describe your new way of breathing and pausing. Identifying the right words personalizes your approach to controlled, attentive breathing.

When you pay close attention to bodily processes such as breathing, your energy aligns with your focus. Repeating this exercise over and over on a regular schedule resets your nervous system.

Consider how attentive breathing differs from your lifelong habit of conventional breathing. People average 16 breaths a minute, about 23,040 breaths each day. None of these breaths are particularly special.

However, a carefully controlled breathing exercise helps you escape, for a moment, from automatic behavior or “automaticity.” Your new, specialized approach to breathing helps you become fully present as you live each moment.

Controlled breathing exercises let you step away, temporarily, from your conventional thought processes, so you can test new ideas and concepts. Plus, controlled breathing enables you to de-stress. This is not a small feat, though stress isn’t always a negative. In fact, like the instincts of a zebra that dashes away when it suddenly senses the presence of a lion, stress is a survival mechanism. Of course, at times, an over-attenuated biological stress reaction can interfere with your performance, your health and your mindfulness. Taking mindful pauses greatly reduces that toxic stress.

Breathe and pause without an agenda. Keep it simple. “Tuning into your breath” will heighten your awareness of your body’s energy.

“It’s all in your head” sounds derisive, but your mind-set is all-encompassing.

How do you deal with pressure and stress?Your mind-set – the way you think and feel – offers the answer. Your mind-set is your basic “frame of reference” encompassing yourself and the people and situations around you. Your mind-set is your window on the world. It includes your ideas, viewpoints and expectations.

“Good brains and out-of-the-box talent merely serve as a starting point.”

You want your mind-set to be an asset, not a burden, so don’t succumb to a fixed mind-set. This is an encumbered, confined point of view that never changes or admits new ideas. Be alert if you find yourself practicing rigid thinking and responses; try to open up your mind-set.

Cultivate a growth mind-set that is free and open to new cognitive vistas. A growth mind-set enables you to embrace new situations with curiosity and minimal fear. When you develop a growth mind-set, you become better able to welcome new challenges and to allow yourself to grow. Pausing can help you develop this crucial, expansive world view.

Never let go of the “thread” that connects you to the important aspects of your life.

Your individual “thread” or purpose weaves through every important aspect of your life. Periodic, quiet reflection will help you identify your thread and get more in touch with it.

“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change…You don’t ever let go of the thread.” (poet William Stafford)

Your purpose, whatever it may be, is the meaning of your life. It knits together everything that is essential to you. Avoid actions or people that deflect you from your purpose. When you recognize your purpose, nurture it, protect it and allow yourself to feel passionate about it.

Your daily practices define who and what you are.

Your daily practices, the things you do each day as a person and as a leader, shape who you are. Improving the daily practices that feed your success begins with making an ongoing commitment to planned deliberate pauses. If you end up practicing pauses inadvertently, not consciously, you’re moving in the wrong direction.

“Pausing interrupts our automatic – read: blasé – patterns of thinking.”

Deliberately focusing on the goal of developing more positive patterns makes sense, but it isn’t always easy. Today’s super-busy world requires you to try to maximize every minute. Temporarily pausing amid the hectic roar of activity won’t come naturally. That makes deliberate practice essential – even if it impinges on the “edge of your comfort zone” – if you’re going to move to more advanced cognitive levels.

Pauses enable you to adjust your daily life and to introduce new behaviors that will help you become more well-rounded, relaxed, empathetic and effective. Practicing regular pauses will add meaning and substance to your life.

Life unfolds in a series of habits. The best ones are positive behaviors you develop purposefully.

Every life has a higher purpose, and pausing helps you move toward yours. Pausing to consider what you’re doing can be the gateway to a far more productive way to live, far better than being trapped in a cycle of always reacting without planning or thinking. On a personal level, people often are at the mercy of their habits, so it’s important to develop habits that sustain you, not destructive bad habits that pull you down. Consciously inculcating proper habits is essential.

“If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. (psychologist K. Anders Ericsson) ”

Positive habits – such as purposeful pauses, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and healthful eating – grow from positive routines. Once you make good habits automatic, you don’t have to worry about maintaining them. They take over and run productively in the background, reducing your cognitive burden and helping you focus on your creative endeavors and other positive pursuits.

Habits you no longer have to think about create new “neural pathways.”

Firmly establishing good habits and routines hardwires them into your physiognomy. They create new neural pathways, integral parts of your nervous system. Think of this as “body-based intelligence.”

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. (Aristotle).”

Building new habits by working “through your body” isn’t a matter of willpower; it takes deliberate effort. Habits are hard to break and, without a targeted effort, people tend to default to their least mindful routines. In addition to eliminating bad habits, free your mind of clichéd thinking, empty platitudes and untrue, supposedly universal truths, such as the belief that leaders must have the answers to everything.Other false beliefs you are ready to set aside include the idea that emotions have no role in decision-making, that the number of hours you work is the best measurement of your productivity, and that you can predict and control reality.

Solidifying new habits and routines isn’t easy. A coach or mentor can help.

Creating new neural pathways doesn’t happen by itself. You need a coach or mentor to show you the way and provide helpful guidance and feedback. Establish partnerships with other people who want to introduce meaningful pauses into their routine to enhance their leadership presence.

“Focus is the superpower of the 21st century.” (Eric Barker, business writer)

Don’t expect this process to go smoothly. For many, embracing mindful pauses and building new pathways means adapting to new ways of thinking. That means you should anticipate that you could make some instructive mistakes and face some of the failures that come with any attempt to forge a new path.

Any time you reorient yourself, you become a beginner. And beginners are sure to stagger around a bit and make false steps here and there. That’s to be expected, and at least you’re stumbling ahead, courageously and straightforwardly, in the right direction.

Stay on the positive path of purposeful pauses – breaks in your routine that will put you ahead in the long run. As you pause and think, ask yourself a few probing questions to achieve insight and growth and to make your journey meaningful.

Consider these questions – and their answers:

  • Do you provide yourself with sufficient space to expand your thinking and to grow mentally and spiritually?
  • Do you go out of your way to relate positively to those around you?
  • Do you regularly monitor your energy levels?
  • Do you always make an effort to be respectful to others, particularly in conversation?
  • Do you often feel exhausted at day’s end? If so, how can you change that feeling?
  • How often do you include a long walk in your daily planner?
  • How will you know when you’re in danger of burnout?
  • Do you routinely give yourself permission to operate at reduced capacities?Most people want to operate at 100% capacity. But sometimes, operating at 15%, or 25%, or 30% capacity can be beneficial.
  • How often do you take a day off t0 decompress, reorient yourself and regroup?
  • Do you get enough sleep – seven hours a night at least five nights a week? If not, how can you re-do your schedule, so you always get the rest you need?
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • How often do you take in the natural world, noticing the blue sky and the trees?
  • Do you regularly ask yourself, “What’s possible?” instead of “What’s practical?”
  • When do you feel most alive? Do you go out of your way to spark feeling energized and lively as much as you can? If not, why not?
  • What can you do to change your daily routine, so you’ll feel fulfilled more often?

About the Author

Chris L. Johnson, the founder of Q4 Consulting, teaches the neurobiology of experiential learning with mindful awareness.


“The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence, and Navigate the Future” by Chris L. Johnson is a compelling and insightful book that offers valuable guidance for leaders looking to enhance their effectiveness and navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape. With a focus on the power of pausing and mindfulness, Johnson provides practical strategies and techniques to sharpen attention, deepen presence, and make more informed decisions.

One of the key strengths of the book is its emphasis on the importance of pausing in leadership. Johnson argues that in our fast-paced and constantly connected world, leaders often overlook the value of taking intentional pauses to reflect, recharge, and realign their focus. By incorporating pauses into their leadership approach, Johnson suggests that leaders can enhance their ability to respond rather than react, make better decisions, and foster a more positive and inclusive work environment.

The book offers a well-structured framework for implementing the leadership pause. Johnson provides a step-by-step process that guides leaders through the various stages of pausing, including recognizing the need to pause, creating the space for reflection, and leveraging the insights gained from the pause. This framework is practical and actionable, allowing leaders to immediately apply the concepts and techniques in their daily leadership practice.

One of the notable aspects of “The Leadership Pause” is the author’s use of real-life examples and anecdotes. Johnson shares stories from his own experiences as a leader and incorporates case studies from various industries to illustrate the transformative power of pausing. These examples bring the concepts to life and help readers understand how the leadership pause can be applied in different contexts.

Johnson’s writing style is engaging and accessible, making the book suitable for leaders at all levels of experience. He avoids jargon and presents ideas in a clear and concise manner, ensuring that readers can easily grasp the key concepts. The book also includes practical exercises and reflection questions at the end of each chapter, encouraging readers to actively engage with the material and apply it to their own leadership journeys.

While “The Leadership Pause” offers valuable insights and practical strategies, some readers may find that the book could benefit from more in-depth exploration of certain topics. Some concepts are briefly touched upon and could have been expanded upon to provide a deeper understanding. However, this does not significantly detract from the overall value of the book.

In conclusion, “The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence, and Navigate the Future” is a thought-provoking and practical guide for leaders seeking to enhance their effectiveness. Chris L. Johnson’s emphasis on the power of pausing and mindfulness offers a fresh perspective on leadership and provides actionable strategies for navigating the complexities of the modern world. By incorporating the principles of the leadership pause into their practice, leaders can cultivate a more mindful and impactful approach to leadership.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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