Have you ever walked into a meeting at work and not remembered how you got there? You were just there, you were on time and you were ready to lead the meeting! Have you ever been so wrapped up in what you’re doing and what you’re thinking that you zone out in a meeting only to find people looking at you quizzically and asking impatiently what you think? Often times we are present to ourselves and not present to what is going on around us. Yes, there’s a problem with technology being a distraction. In this case though, I am talking about real work, real issues, not just the incessant beeping, buzzing, vibrating phone in your pocket.
Why being present works
Being present is being tuned into the the things going on around you, the people you are with, the people who are trying to connect with you. Being present allows you to see and hear more than you otherwise would if you were focused only on your own thoughts and your own work. Being present allows you to feel and understand the tone in the room with all your senses. As first-time managers and anyone leading others, being present is necessary and powerful. When we aren’t present to our team, and others, they feel it. We have an impact which may not be what we want it to be. We have our own identity (stories we tell ourselves about who we are) and we have our reputation (the person others see us as). Being present will help bring one as close to the other as possible!
The classic example of being somewhere else at the wrong time is arriving at work or arriving at a meeting. Here’s a little story. Erik was one of the best at what he did. He was a technical wizard and did things others were just learning about. Erik would generally arrive at work a little later than everyone else - he was usually up late working. When he got to work he would walk into the building, eyes ahead but only a few feet in front of him so he could see where he was going. He was the picture of concentration. Straight into his office and close the door. Now the office was a “fishbowl” so, everyone could see Erik. No one talked to him and he talked to no one. Everyone was waiting for when he would emerge - they expected directives and often got them as Erik was hours into working although he had just arrived. Erik’s impact was that he sucked the energy from the room when he arrived. All creative thinking and connecting stopped as people waited.
Conversely, Michelle arrives at work a bit early every day - not crazy early before there are any cars on the road but, early enough to be in before most of her team. She drops her things in her cubicle and comes back out to check-in with the people who were there ahead of her. Of the people there, at least one person is working to meet a deadline. Michelle checks in, listens and asks how she can help? She then asks about what else they need? Often nothing extra is needed and the person is cranking out the work. Michelle checks in with the rest of her team who are in and offers the same support before heading back to her cubicle to start her tasks for day. Michelle stays present to the team and often engages people who she senses are having more than simple questions about how to get something done, fix a problem or find help. She is also often able to sense that the “vibe” in the room is off and uses that as an opportunity to check-in, in an ad hoc manner with everyone. In this way Michelle stays present and connected with her team.
Why it matters
Erik and Michelle have very different impacts on their people. There are a number of things going on in each case for the leader and the people. Michelle’s focus though is outside of herself, its on other people. Erik’s focus is totally on himself. As a member of either team these are effects you can feel. Even now, you probably feel very different reading about Erik than you do about Michelle. Being present, allows you to create connection, add value and raise your profile (in a positive way). You’ll be present and your team will own you as their leader!