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Being truly present is the best present a leader can give

| April 5, 2022

by Justin Sipher

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Justin Sipher, Program Leader, Leadership Coach and Consultant at MOR Associates.  Justin may be reached at [email protected].]
Our lives, modern technology, pervasive connectivity, and even our culture lead us towards attempting to perpetually multi-task.  I have certainly been guilty of this personally and professionally.  However, we are not always aware of how our multitasking is negatively impacting some of the work we do, and the people we are engaged with at that moment.  I am sure you have faced this.  You can tell when the person you are interacting with isn’t really there.  Isn’t fully part of the conversation.  Isn’t truly listening.  Isn’t present.
Think about a time that you were in a work meeting and the person you were engaged with wasn’t present, whether technology induced or not.   What were you feeling about their commitment to the task, the importance of the relationship, to you?  Maybe you were frustrated you invested time and they had not.  Maybe you spent a lot of time preparing to make the case and it wasn’t received.  Maybe you needed some advice or feedback.  Maybe you needed to hear about a challenge, or something that is going really well.  Regardless, it may have left you feeling cheated and discouraged about how your time wasn’t valued. I am sure as a leader you do not want to give that same impression to others.
In our MOR programs we talk about how a leader is always on stage.  That includes being present when meeting with others. Knowing that we should be present is a start, and self-awareness is most helpful when it leads to self-management.  Here are five ideas to help increase your ability to be present.

  • Breaks between meetings.  As small and simple as this sounds, I can’t stress enough how important this is for ourselves, the people we meet with and our ability to truly be present.  Even small breaks of just a few minutes matter.  If you have back-to-back-to-back meetings with no gaps in between, it’s human nature for your mind near the end of one meeting to wander to the next.  What an unfortunate scenario that the person you are meeting with isn’t getting your full attention as a meeting is coming to a close.  Make a commitment to SCHEDULE gap time.  Even larger gap times will enable you to fully complete the current obligation before turning to the next.
  • Disable notifications.  The small ding, vibration or other ways that our devices get our attention can be helpful.  However, when in a meeting they can be a distraction for everyone.  And, choosing to act on that notification, even if “just taking a peek,” sends a message whether we intend it or not.  Make a conscious decision when doing so, because there are implications.
  • Clear the desktop when in a virtual meeting.  Many of us have been virtual for the past two years.  For some this is a continuation and others it’s a whole new world.  Regardless, it has created the opportunity to attempt to multi-task.  We may be in a Zoom meeting, but alas we’re in front of our computer with extra desktop space to fill.  We could have our email open, a Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Spaces, or other collaboration environment.  Maybe a department ticket tracking system, maybe social media, maybe news, the options are endless.  Make no mistake, the people we engage with can tell when we are not present.  Whether it’s your eyeballs, engagement or other variable we know when someone isn’t there.  So push those other environments away, and be present in the meeting you are in. 
  • Monotask vs Multitask.  Some programmers know the difference between operating in serial vs parallel.  It is hard to be present when operating in parallel.  Trying to do 3 tasks at the same time results in doing none of them to your true potential.  Consider an approach each with dedicated time.  That commitment will enable your best self to complete a task and then transition to the next.  Draft that long email (or Tuesday Reading in my case) without constantly checking email or trying to complete another task.
  • Be transparent when you CAN’T be present. I know this may seem odd that I am giving you license to not be present.  However, I am a realist and especially when thinking about what we and our colleagues may have endured, we need to have empathy for challenging situations being faced.  I get it.  So be transparent, be vulnerable.  Let them know that something might surface.  If you are meeting with someone who you sense is in that situation, show grace and find a healthy balance so that results can still be achieved without stressing your colleague out about their competing challenges. Empathy is a super power of leaders.

Being present is not only important for those we engage with.  It’s also important for ourselves.  My high school football coach and I reconnected these past few years after about three decades since having a coach-player relationship.  His path in education and coaching led him to be a principal and superintendent in K-12 education.  He is now retired and doing coaching and leadership consulting.  Needless to say, we have lots to talk about given my work leadership development work with MOR.  Last summer I was talking about my multi-tasking of podcasts and exercise while training for a backpacking trip.  While not uncommon he suggested from time to time I do the exercise while just being present and not trying to consume other content at the same time.  I did it and was shocked at how enjoyable it was.  I can’t remember the last time I was out by myself like that without earbuds in.  I was truly present.  It reminded me that I needed to help train my brain to appreciate being present SO THAT when the time came I could be present with others.  In short, my old coach became my new coach and gave me that insightful gift, or present.  Thanks coach!



This Week’s Survey

What is your biggest challenge with being present?
(click below to provide your anonymous response) 


From Last Week
Last week, we asked: What do you find most helpful when you begin to sweat the small stuff?

  • 46% said take a break
  • 23% said get on the balcony and think more strategically
  • 17% said consider if this is really a top priority
  • 14% said ask yourself if this will matter in a week or month

While many of us employ each strategy, the survey shows being kind to ourselves and taking a break can be the most helpful.  When we are heads-down in a task it can feel like we need to keep driving through.  However, a break – whether a few minutes, a few hours, or longer – can give us the space and perspective we need to be even more effective than if we would have simply pushed through.