I was recently co-leading one of my favourite programs on the calendar these days, an executive forum for senior leaders of a large bank where they learn mindsets, skills and some practices on how to be more effective as a talent scout (e.g. find good people) and engager/motivator of others (notably other driven executives). This program has significant emphasis on a number of fundamental coaching skills that help these executives be more effective in one-on-one and team settings.
One of the biggest stretch areas for these busy, in-demand, highly-paid leaders is being truly present and attentive to a person, or situation, that requires their entire focus (vs. partial focus where some attention is on a phone, computer, or on other things that have to happen). As is often publicized, the world of work (and home for many) is moving fast and has many complexities. The ability to be truly present to the important situations we face is an important skill to master.
In order to help the leaders in this program we train them in the following concepts to help develop this muscle:
- Be curious (what am I learning here) vs. judgmental (what’s the answer I have right now).
- Ask powerful questions that promote learning and growth as well as help building trust with others instead of always having the answer.
- Acknowledge the challenges and experience others are having (with curiosity) vs. feeling like those experiences (and sometimes those people) always need to be fixed, solved for or avoided.
To push the envelope, we invite these leaders to consider the idea that how they are with others (e.g. the quality of their presence) is as important as what they do with others. Put another way, the quality of the leader’s being state is as important as all the doing they do.
In this program, the executives engage in a number of simulations and real-life scenarios to try on these skills and experiences. They get a real-time sense of what it’s like when one of their peers coach and lead them in this way. It’s often a transformative experience for many when a peer (and another human being) is truly present and curious with them.
The ‘penny-drop’ moment for one participant, and through her many of us, was when she said, “our presence is our currency as leaders.” A highly suitable metaphor for a bank. And many in that room agreed.
And I think of how true that is all through life. Our ability to truly be present with others, and remain open and curious, is what helps build a deep sense of trust, respect, renewed confidence, and high quality learning. These are essential attributes of building credibility, inspiring motivation, and growing other leaders. All criteria every executive I’m working with has on his/her radar in some way.
As I said, the ability to truly be present is challenged in today’s hyper-paced, technology-soaked, app-absorbed society. Notice the absence of a Pokemon reference!
So what can we do to develop this ability to be present and acquire even more currency in our leading and relating to others?
- Get some resources that explain the importance and value of becoming present to help assuage the busy part of you that won’t want to. I recommend Positive Intelligence, Mindful magazine or Super Brain by Chopra and Tanzi.
- Practice simple, attentive breathing rhythms. A good app for that is Pranayama.
- Mindful stretching (and no, you don’t need to spend $200 at Lulu Lemon to do this)
- Disconnect. Dr. Greg Wells has some great tips on this idea. Check him out.
- Learn to meditate. Yes, Mindfulness is a big buzz these days, and the science illustrates its benefits to presence, performance, and satisfaction. Pick up a copy of Mindful Magazine as a start.
Research has also shown that practicing these muscles is correlated to significant health benefits like an enhanced sense of well-being, less focus on stress and worry, lower blood pressure, and less susceptibility to depression. Here’s a helpful article that has an emphasis on the trend of Mindfulness and points to more benefits of developing the skill and practices of becoming present to have more currency.
As for the currency of presence, the leaders attending that program learned and felt that the true attention and presence of their peers led them to be more trusting, innovative and collaborative with each other as they discussed important challenges they faced. They also discovered new or revived experiences of well-being and happiness. For many, this was unexpected. In all, a favourable exchange rate for some significant deposits in their leader and life bank accounts.
So what do you imagine is possible if you became a bit more present in your life? How might that change your leadership, your important relationships and even how you see yourself?