How leaders can give themselves the permission to pause

As the ongoing stress of the pandemic forces a breakneck pace of innovation and pivot after pivot, how can exhausted executives create space for people to take a break?


We live in a culture where we are expected to always push through—”just do it” and keep going at all costs.

We also live in an unprecedented time where there is an unprecedented need for people to take a pause. We need the time to replenish our energy in order to perform at the levels that are expected of us in a world that remains somewhat uncertain.

Business executives are burned out.

When we are burned out, our energy and our inner light will dim and we put ourselves at risk, along with our teams, clients and our company. There is more at stake than just financial gains.

As top executives, we would never think of taking our eye off our company’s performance and our clients’ needs. Please remember to do the same with your mental and physical health.

When we work hard, it feels good and purposeful, but there is a limit to what we can do on a daily basis without taking a pause every now and then. Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS at NYU School of Medicine says that right now, “We are at the risk of establishing an overload of chronic stress.”

Prolonged stress puts you at risk for a variety of things, ranging from frequent headaches and depression to gastrointestinal issues, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke. Yet, people are afraid to miss a meeting, and it’s up to those who are leaders to give them permission.

It’s also time to give yourself permission to take a pause, to do the most immediate and ever necessary thing of all: breathe. A good yoga instructor reminds students of the breath’s power so we can pause our repetitive thoughts and feelings.

We can take time away. If it’s not possible for today to plan a trip to Tahiti, pause and think about what is possible. Consider these options:

  • Take an hour off. (Or a day, even a week?)
  • Schedule an afternoon out for lunch on your calendar.
  • Take a break from the screens.
  • Reconnect with nature.
  • Take a walk.
  • Meditate.

Find time to unplug fully from every screen and leave your team in charge. And then, allow your team of executives the same luxury; we suggest doing it in waves so that no one is left without ample coverage for the business.

The Harvard Business Review studies indicate that performance takes a nose-dive when we work for extended periods without a break. In addition, the benefits of taking a vacation are clear: improved productivity, lower stress, and better overall mental health.

Dr. Goldman says, “Many people fear that taking a break adds too much work in preparing for being away and then making up for the missed time. While it does require some effort, the health and well-being benefits that you’ll gain more than make up for those costs.”

Just remember that you are at the helm of your department, your business and your life. You must be an advocate for every part. A real pause has the very real potential to send us back to work feeling refreshed and ready to embrace our jobs again.

Take the time to reignite your own light. You will thank yourself when you come back to work ready to go in the fall.


Mary Olson-Menzel is the founder and CEO of MVP Executive Search & Coaching, and co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching. 

Mel Shahbazian is co-founder of Spark Insight Coaching and is senior executive coach with MVP Executive Search and Coaching.


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