Measuring the leaders greatness based on the bottom line is like measuring the quality and caliber of a person based on looks alone. A great leader inspires trust. Leaders who are skilled in being present are able to build trust because their presence drives their self-awareness, communications, actions, and decision making.
Before we can discuss presence, we have to talk about time. In yoga, one of the five core excuses humans “play” with is Kāla, the limitation of eternity, which creates the phenomenon of time and divides all experience into past, present, and future.
The most obvious way we play with this excuse is, “I don’t have time.” Yet we all have the same measure of time with 24 hours in a day. The priorities we choose to focus on is what consumes our time.
The less obvious way, and the more impactful on how we lead, is the way we pull past into the future, bypassing the present. We give meaning to everything based on experiences in the past. Our mind maps our experiences and indexes it. All those experiences that illicit ate a thought of, “I never want to feel that again” get processed and influence our actions and words.
The subconscious mind processes approximately 11 million bits per second with the conscious brain only processes about 50 bits per second. We are unable to even consciously be aware of what is going into all of our conscious decisions. This is why a mindfulness practice is so powerful.
When we intentionally practice quiet, we get a first hand view of all those subconscious thoughts that like to dance through our minds daily. Often enough, they are like a highlight reel of all the “shoulda”, “coulda”, have-to’s, if only’s, and next time’s. By mindfully observing them without engaging them, often we can go below the surface and see what is even deeper driving the thoughts. Willingness to sit with the “inner voice” can lead to healing old wounds and allowing freedom to move forward without the self-limiting thoughts and behaviors.
How being present plays out in leadership
Without presence, it is hard to let past level one listening which looks like, “What’s in this for me? How’s this relevant to me?” Your mind becomes preoccupied with other activities or let drifts to other things. This leads to the person you’re in conversation feeling frustrated and unheard.
At this level of listening, leaders do not see that time spent actively listening is an investment in time. Rather, they see the experience as a waste of time in an overly-demanding schedule. That leads to personal frustration and tension that can easily be perceived by the person speaking.
Presence allows leaders to move to level two and three listening. In level two, you are paying full attention to not only what is being said, but the emotions and the body language of the speaker. You listen to the context, not just the details, for what might be true.
In level three listening, there is space for intuition. You create a container for intuition and creativity, space for the speaker to engage on a deeper level with their own wisdom. As a leader at this level of listening, you’re not trying to manipulate the conversation or even trying to solve the problem. You ask better questions and then listen closer.
Being fully present for leaders who have back to back meetings can be challenging. Mindfulness is developed with an intentional daily practice that is engaged throughout the day. Starting meetings with a few moments of quiet, pressing the feet into the floor, sitting up straight and taking a few slow deep breaths allows everyone to become more fully present.
Being present also allows leaders early mistake detection. It also reduces emotional exhaustion. Perhaps the best result is increased respect and trust within teams.
Today, take 1 minute before you meet with people to ground. Press you feet into the floor and inhale, saying to yourself, “I am” and exhale, saying to yourself, “here now”. Repeat this 5 times. This simple act will return you to your present state. You are able to connect more deeply, both with yourself and others. The results are impressive!