How to Set the Pace for Steadier Leadership

I learned to dance Salsa in a university class called Bailes Latinoamericanos. Having an analytical mind and a Lutheran heritage didn’t set me up as a natural success. But thankfully, I had a good instructor who helped me move my hips to the even beats with the characteristic pause on the fourth beat. While I often feel rushed, I discovered that Salsa dancing can’t be.

yoga pose

Now I take a weekly yoga practice at our office, and it usually reminds me that I’m not breathing well. My favorite breathing practice is Sama Vritti, Sanskrit for “equal breathing,” where you breathe in through the nose for four beats and then breathe out through the nose for four beats. The instructor encourages us to slightly constrict the throat and breathe down into our bodies. While I often feel rushed, I’ve learned that equal breathing can’t be.

In my coaching work with clients, I often refer to simple interpersonal communication frameworks, many of which consist of four steps. For example, I really like the 4-step Dale Carnegie framework for asking questions to broaden people’s expectations, causing them to desire change. To be effective, each question needs to come from a place of thoughtful curiosity and engagement. While I’m often rushed in conversations, I know that excellent communication can’t be.

There are days when I’m rushed, and it makes me anxious, distracted and unfocused. And then there are days when I’m not rushed, when I’m calm and rhythmic, and that allows me to view things from a place of abundance rather than scarcity. It’s where I want to be, and why I’m working on getting more conscious about maintaining a steady cadence despite deadlines, constraints and other demands. What can you do to set a steadier pace so you can engage more deeply with your work and with others?

You may have picked up on a rhythm to this post. (I’ll give you a hint: It involves the number four.) Setting the pace is a great way to be more mindful and disarm the anxiety and distractions that are so prevalent in today’s world. So let’s wrap up with one last set of four to help you get into a more productive leadership rhythm:

  1. Be aware: Change starts with awareness. How do you react when you’re rushed? Now compare that to your behavior when you’re not. For me, just recognizing the difference of what it’s like when I’m not rushed is incentive to create more of that in my life.
  2. Breathe. Isn’t it strange we have to be reminded to breathe? But when you’re rushed, your unconscious breathing is likely shallow and stressed. There are a number of breathing techniques you can try. They help not only with relaxation and stress reduction but also in reviving your energy, spirit and perception.
  3. Break it down. One of the reasons four-step frameworks work is they turn what could be an overwhelming concept into manageable chunks. Four steps are easy to remember and execute. Think about examples like S.W.O.T. analysis, four-part Myers-Briggs personality types, or the 4-quadrants of Charles Hummel’s Tyranny of the Urgent. It may seem like you don’t have time to clarify your steps, but you’ll be surprised how much more effective you’ll be when you do.
  4. Band together. As leaders, we sometimes feel like it’s all up to us. But the most effective leaders recognize and encourage the contributions of their talented team members. You can’t—and shouldn’t—do it all alone. Set a strong, steady pace by making collaborative leadership a goal for 2015.



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  • Mike Norman
    January 16, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Matt, This is very helpful. Life can feel so complex and overwhelming at times. Whether I just count to four or apply a specific four-step approach as you have suggested, it does help me to slow down, process, and feel under control again. As a leader, I find the comment “let’s break it down” meaning the problem or issue, makes it feel so much more manageable. Your idea of getting a rhythm in life is so helpful. I am working on it. Thanks.

    • Matt Norman
      January 21, 2015 at 2:12 am

      Dad, thank you for always being so humble and interested in improving your approach to life!