Why Stillness Is The Modern Leader’s Secret Weapon

Image Source: Andrew McAlpine

Image Source: Andrew McAlpine

I was away from home for most of last week. It was late on Friday night by the time I finally walked through the doors. The house was quiet, dark and still.

As I kicked off my too tight heels and collapsed onto the couch, I began to think about the previous two weeks. I was exhausted – not only physically and mentally, but (truth be told) emotionally as well. I hated to admit this to myself, but I realised the saying “too much of a good thing” can apply to a vocation as well. One I happen to love as much as kids love Halloween candy.

As I sat in my darkened living room, I began to feel more than a little uncomfortable with my realisation. I was surprised that “Super Suzi”, that part of me who feels like she has to “do it all”, someone I hadn’t felt for a few years, was right there with me, holding my hand again.

But there I sat. And there I stayed. Still. Quiet. Just “being”.

In business, we tend to value action over stillness.

But stillness is our friend. Especially in leadership roles.

Where is stillness present?

When we pause before pressing the go button on a new project when intuition says to hold off, despite pressure to rush the decision.
When we give someone our full, undivided attention for several minutes (without the need to give advice or fix the situation).
When a management team takes a half day off their crazy busy schedule to talk about how they are operating as a team – what’s working, what’s not, how they ‘are’ as a team.
When a leader practices mindfulness (click here to read my blog on how to master mindfulness).

Make no bones about it, stillness can be an uncomfortable place to reside. It can seem empty, boring, lacking in results. It can make us feel ‘ants in our pants’ impatient.

Or, it can lead us to a place where our deepest intuition can be heard. And, we might not like what it is telling us. But….

if we are constantly doing without hitting the pause button, we miss the gifts stillness can bring.

Deep reflection leading to sage decision-making.  The whisper of a knowing – an intuitive sense.

These things rarely occur when we are rushing around from one thing to another, from airport to airport, meeting to meeting or lurching from one spreadsheet to the next report.

For me, I had to face some uncomfortable truths. Like the fact that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. And that maybe I need to get better at saying “no”. And that once again, I am not practising self-care as much as I should be. That there were things I was running away from facing, that in that quiet moment I acknowledged I am yet to resolve.

There is so much value in learning to be still in a life that is constantly changing.

As Martin Crowe, the famous kiwi cricketer who is bravely battling cancer, recently wrote, when describing the gap between balls in a test match:-

“This is the space between thoughts, between breaths, between fielders, between balls. They say to experience the gap wholly brings ultimate joy in what we do. In the gap there is nothing, and it’s that nothing space in which lies the secret to our purpose. As I contemplate the meaning of much of my life, a life I now truly treasure, with dangers lurking, it is in this moment of nothing that I feel at peace. Awareness has taught me that previously I was always too quick to fill the gap with judgemental, premeditated masking and conditioning.”

And as the ever wise Elle Harrison so eloquently puts in her book on business and personal transformation, Wild Courage (which is an absolute must read for the modern leader BTW),

“when we stop running from the emptiness and turn into it, we discover its gifts.”

How can you build stillness into your busy life?

How can you teach the magic of stillness to those you lead?

What tips do you have for embracing stillness?


  1. Erik Van Vooren on January 10, 2018 at 4:11 am

    i am working on a speech entitled: Stillness as a gateway to four dimensional leadership. Positioning Stillness at the core of a model, I see four arrows: down = the source perspective (leading to stability) left = open heart perspective (leading to authenticity), up : mountain perspective (leading to clarity) and right = open arms perspective (leading to empathy); I am interviewing several Belgian leaders that have experience with stillness and they seem to confirm this model; They say: the biggest challenge is the ability to apply all four at the same time; This requires time for mental training (=meditation)
    I would be happy to hear your comment on this model;
    with love from me to you,

    • Suzi McAlpine on January 10, 2018 at 6:59 am

      Wow Erik, I love this model! I think you have nailed the balance and holistic approach that is required for skilled leadership in using these four quadrants. I especially like that you have stillness at the centre/heart of the compass. In my experience as a leader, stepping into that moment of stillness -whether it be a metaphorical pause, a deep breath, giving a decision ‘the overnight test’, practicing mindfulness – brings a better leadership outcome in all the areas you mention above. Tough? Yes. Worth it? Definitely. I think making stillness a habit you practice regularly and making a conscious decision to bring stillness into your leadership practice is a great first step. Good luck with that speech and I’d love to see a visual of that model, so feel free to email it to me. Thanks for sharing! Cheers Suzi

      • Suzi McAlpine on January 10, 2018 at 7:07 am

        Another thought- should we try and do all four at the same time? Or is it a case of starting and returning from a place of stillness and then looking at something from all four points of the compass, one at a time. Interesting…

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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