The Pause That Refreshes

by: Doug Michaelides

“Here’s to another week!” I said to my friend as we clinked our glasses.

I was prepared to provide some bar room counseling again that evening.  My friend had recently joined a company as COO and was in the middle of implementing some significant changes to help the business grow.  It was a big job.  Last week after my toast he’d taken a healthy slug of his drink and grumbled, “Yeah, another week.  One step forward and two steps back.”

But this week, I noted, he was looking more chipper.

Chewing on an olive he gestured with a swizzle stick and said to me, ”Doug, I got taught an important lesson today.”

“I was leaving the building this evening, rushing as usual because I was late. I was gritting my teeth getting ready for the darkness and cold outside.  My head was swirling with all the things I hadn’t been able to get done this week.  I was tired, and really ready for this drink”, he held up his martini glass and smiled.  “To be honest, I was feeling a little frustrated at how slowly we seem to be progressing with the changes I’m trying to make.“

“One of our best managers was leaving at the same time.  She’s really good with her staff and a pleasure to work with.  We’d promoted her as part of the organization changes.  I nodded to her as I pulled on my gloves and said, ‘Calling it a day?’

“She sighed, ‘Yes, it’s been another long one.’

“Now I may not be the softest cushion on the couch, but I know when someone wants to talk, so I said, ‘Come on.  Let’s walk to our cars together’.  On the way, she told me about a couple of her projects.  Then she turned to me and said, ‘Enough about that.  How are you doing?’

“It caught me by surprise.  Nobody ever asks the boss how he’s doing!  It really touched me.  Of course that’s why she’s such a great manager.  Anyway, because I wasn’t prepared I actually spoke a little more candidly than I probably should have.

“’Well, I’m tired too.  We’ve all been working hard.  And I’m a little frustrated’ (my God, I was complaining to her!).  ‘I have this wonderful vision of how great our company can be.  We’ve made all these changes and I’m in such a hurry to make it happened.  But we seem to be moving so slowly.  I have this enormous sense of opportunity and urgency but we don’t seem to be getting there fast enough.’  I kinda regretted saying all that.  It was a lot to lay on a manager who’d just had a long week herself.  But she thought carefully about what I’d said.  Then she stopped and turned to me.

“’It’s not even December,’ she said.  ‘We’ve been at this for less than two months.  I know you’re in a hurry and we really need you to be looking ahead and pushing us.  But stop for a second and look back.  Think about how far we’ve come; the changes to the organization, the better focus on our customers, the new managers in their new roles, how people are adopting the new processes, how we’re starting to see more initiative and creativity . . .’

“She was absolutely right!  When I looked back, I felt pretty darn good about things.  My mood started to change.

“So that’s the lesson I learned.  To be a good agent of change, you need a clear vision of where you’re headed.  And you have to be relentless in pushing for progress.  But to sustain the pace, to help people feel good about what you’re all trying to achieve together, you need to stop and look back every once in awhile. It’s very motivating to celebrate how far you’ve come together.”

“Don’t they call that ‘stopping to smell the roses’?” I asked.

“More like ‘the pause that refreshes’!” he grinned as he took another drink and raised his glass into the air.

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