Do You Think You are Ready to Lead Effectively in the Digital Age? You Need to Pause.
by Tim Tobin

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Do you want to lead effectively? Some would say you must take on more, be more accessible and deliver more results. Results certainly matter. But how you get results matters as well.


In this fast-paced, result-oriented world we have created, there is a premium on speed, volume and access. Living in the digital age allows us to access more information, and we are more accessible than ever before. That has its advantages and we should appreciate them – even celebrate them.


We certainly have created an environment. The recent blog by Marten Mickos eloquently recognized that we may be moving toward the mechanization of society. We have created a complex system and the tools to operate the system. He further recognized, and I agree with, the importance of safeguarding our humanity.


Some might say leaders are set up for success because we have developed the tools to help deliver on this new imperative. We have the ability to accomplish more in less time, and we have the ability to connect more broadly via technology. True, and potentially even positive in some regards. Under the old paradigm of leading effectively, doing more and doing it faster would be considered good.


But what are the risks associated with continuously running our personal engine at this pace?


I suggest that we have overlooked one of the most critical components of the new digital age – the leader. I am not referring to a vague, general notion of leader, rather the very specific mind and body and their related functions. A leaders’ mind and body are perhaps the most complex system operating in the digital age. Unfortunately, these are receiving little attention. This can produce unanticipated consequences to leading in the digital age.


For many leaders, we have lost sight of equilibrium, control, focus, and overall well-being, so we are approaching a personal energy crisis – which significantly impacts our ability to lead effectively. With an ever-increasing pace and volume, it is difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Studies show that more and more people are feeling increased levels of stress, and that stress contributes to health concerns, making it difficult to lead effectively.


I have worked closely with hundreds of leaders who have expressed that they are astounded by the pace and volume of work. They use words like stressed, burnt out, and overwhelmed. These feelings are rooted physiologically. When operating at a continuously fast pace, the brain releases adrenaline and cortisol in order to prepare for the ensuing stress.  Studies show that chronic stress leads to atrophy of the pre-frontal cortex – where higher order thinking takes place – and reduction of goal directed decision making. This hardly sounds positive for leading effectively. Worse yet, it leads to heart disease, premature aging, and other reduced health concerns. Leading in the digital age could be literally be harmful to our health.


To address this, we must fundamentally and proactively change our behaviors and create new habits if we are to sustain our effectiveness as leaders. So then, let me rephrase the original question. Do you want to lead effectively in the digital age?


If so, you need to pause. Right now, I want you to stop for two minutes. Sit upright and comfortable in your chair. Close your eyes. Relax. Breathe deeply and slowly for exactly two minutes. Do this three times throughout your day.


At the end of the two minutes, you will feel calmer. Something physiological happens when we pause, relax and breath. Your brain releases dopamine and serotonin which reduces depression and anxiety, fights stress, helps regulate emotions, enhances energy, improves sleep and contributes to greater overall well-being. So who doesn’t have two minutes a few times per day to pause?


There is more to mindfulness than this simple breathing exercise. Other more sophisticated practices include yoga and meditation, and I encourage you to investigate them. Additionally, knowing your purpose and having a personal mission statement can help guide you and be motivational to others as well. Mindfulness is a process of finding the source of strength, clarity and calm within. It facilitates higher levels of awareness and enhances our ability to discover what is most important and meaningful. It creates balance, allows us to deal with pressures, and enhances judgment. It is ultimately about creating habits and routines that allow you to be at your best. Those habits may include shutting down more often to be better prepared to take on more.


To lead effectively in the digital age, taking a more holistic and humanistic approach is the new paradigm to leading effectively. You must have intent around your well-being. You must seek to balance your sympathetic nervous system – where fight or flight occurs – and parasympathetic nervous system – where higher order thinking occurs. You must pay attention to your mental, physical, relational and spiritual self. You must be a more mindful leader.


Of course, work still needs to be accomplished. As a more mindful leader, you will be better prepared to lead more effectively. For those of you who thrive on a fast pace, just remember – you don’t need to change everything. Small improvements can make a big difference for you and those you lead.


About the author:

Tim Tobin is a leadership expert and the author of “Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate.” You can follow him on twitter @tobinleadership or visit his website:

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