Transcriptional regulation of developmentally controlled genes is at the heart of differentiation and organogenesis. In this study, we performed global genomic analyses in murine embryonic stem (ES) cells and in human cells in response to activation signals. We identified an essential role for the ELL (eleven-nineteen lysine-rich leukemia gene)/P-TEFb (positive transcription elongation factor)-containing super elongation complex (SEC) in the regulation of gene expression, including several genes bearing paused RNA polymerase II (Pol II). Paused Pol II has been proposed to be associated with loci that respond rapidly to environmental stimuli. However, our studies in ES cells also identified a requirement for SEC at genes without paused Pol II, which also respond dynamically to differentiation signals. Our findings suggest that SEC is a major class of active P-TEFb-containing complexes required for transcriptional activation in response to environmental cues such as differentiation signals.