Leaders: Are You Truly Present?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Few leaders have been able to truly connect with and inspire people the way Bill Clinton does. How exactly does he pull this off? You may be asking yourself that question as you struggle to connect with members of your team. If you’re seeking ways to be more engaged and effective, review Rasmus Hougaard’s advice, which will be published in his forthcoming book, The Mind of the Leader, How to Lead Yourself, Your People and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results.

Hougaard cites a Bain survey on the leadership traits that employees like most. He explains that “the ability to be mindfully present (also called centeredness) is the most essential [trait] of all.” While employees appreciate mindfulness on the part of the managers, they also perform better at their own jobs when they believe those managers truly care. Hougaard’s own research also supports these findings.

What does it mean to be "mindfully present?" Start paying attention to the details that matter most to your team members. Some leaders meet this challenge by connecting with employees on a personal level. They take the time to get to know details about their employees' lives – whose child just got accepted to the college of their choice – whose parents are struggling with a serious illness. They also make sure to comment, in private, on these issues.

Other leaders make it a point to focus on the concerns employees are having in the workplace. If a long-​winded team member comes to you with a concern, perhaps one you’ve heard before, it’s easy to let your attention drift. After all, you have ten other pressing issues to get to by the end of the day. The employee’s specific issue may not be all that important to you, but it could be critical to them. Be respectful and pay attention while they’re talking to you. They can tell when you’re thinking about something else, especially if you start glancing at your phone. Once they think they've lost you or suspect, that you just don't care, their commitment to do a great job withers. You don’t necessarily have to promise to take action. Many times, the fact that you’ve listened, empathetically, is sufficient.

Any key aspect of being present relates to larger scale events. During big meetings or presentations, employees expect leaders to infuse them with energy and a sense of purpose. If you find yourself having trouble getting focused for these activities, follow the advice of the experts. Take a few minutes to center yourself, to meditate or to engage in whatever personal practice will help you increase awareness and display energy and confidence. Your team members will appreciate your efforts and reward you with their loyalty and commitment.