The Gift of Being Present

Our pastor told a great story last week. He shared his experience having meetings with people and their cell phones. He said the placement of the cell phone in the meeting would determine the interaction. If the person he was meeting with put their cell phone on the table face up, he would have 25% of their attention. If the cell phone was face down, he would have 50%. If the phone was in their pocket, he would have 75% of their focus. But, if the person he was meeting with left their cell phone in their car, he would have their full attention.

This story would be funny if it wasn’t so true. We all know those people who can’t engage in a full conversation if their phone is nearby. What’s worse is when you have a boss that can’t be bothered to focus on you. Unfortunately, there are too many managers today that are too busy or distracted to listen to their employees.

While it’s important that leaders find time to be alone, they must also engage with their employees. Open door policies are good but not if you can’t stop your work long enough to listen to an employee. Distracted and disengaged leaders create distracted and disengaged employees. And that’s bad for business.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. This means that a vast majority of employees are indifferent to your organization. They come to work but they don’t give you their best efforts or ideas. What’s sad is that most people go to work wanting to make a difference, but years of being ignored by leaders have left them apathetic. They feel their company just doesn’t care.

So what are some ways to be more present as a leader?

Stop what you are doing and listen. The most important thing to do is to stop and actively listen to your employees. This sounds easy, but it’s not. Many leaders try to multi-task. They keep writing an email or reading a report while an employee is talking and they don’t fully engage. This leaves the employee feeling they are insignificant. A better method is to ask the employee to have a seat, finish your task and then fully listen.

“Only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear.” – Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Get out of your office. Most leaders spend their day surrounded by people who see the company as they do. Getting out of your office and spending time listening to employees will give you a different perspective. You will discover how things are really going. Employees can be brutally honest, which is why many leaders avoid this activity. If you are going to lead effectively, you need to be present and listen to the challenges facing your team.

“Leaders must be good listeners. It’s rule number one, and it’s the most powerful thing they can do to build trusted relationships.” ― Lee Ellis, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton

Get to know your people. When leaders and employees spend time together, they become more aware that they are on the same team. It’s easy to blame someone you don’t know or understand, for your problems. Listening to employees can help eliminate the “us and them” mindset. When you do that, you can better focus your attention on customers, the competition and getting better as a company.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life

Put your phone away. One of the best ways to be present is to simply put your cell phone away when you are around your team members. There will always be time to check your messages. If you eliminate the distraction of your phone, you can give employees your full attention. In return, they will feel important and you will gain better insights.

A vast majority of employees are disengaged at work. Years of being ignored by leaders have left them dispirited and frustrated. They feel their company doesn’t care. Distracted and disengaged leaders help foster this culture. You can turn this around by seeking a different path. Choose to be present. Decide to make listening to and engaging your employees a priority. Put away your phone and get to know your most important asset, your team.

A book I read a few years back, The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson, does an amazing job illustrating this important topic in an easy to read, parable format. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about being more present.

Get out of your Bubble: Why the Secret to Great Leadership Insight is found in the Breakroom, not the Boardroom

What if you could know what your employees were thinking? What if you could see the company through their eyes? How would your leadership efforts change if you knew what truly motivated your team?

Believe it or not, understanding your team and how to lead them effectively is easier than you think. The problem is most leaders don’t spend enough time with employees, really listening to them.

“Leaders must recognize that the key to success and growth is getting employees to tell you what’s really going on.” Vineet Nayar

Listening to employees is a critical skill to master in order to become a more insightful and effective leader. This seems simple but it’s often overlooked. Most leaders spend their day in a bubble. They find themselves surrounded by people who see the company as they do. Getting out of the office and spending time listening to employees will help you break out of that bubble and give you a different perspective.

Here are four ways that listening to employees improves your skills as a leader:

You create relationships. When you spend time listening to employees, you get to know them and they get to know you. In the process, you build mutual respect. You build a relationship. As you learn more about their passions and challenges, you understand how to lead them more effectively. They will also get to know you better and the reasons behind your actions.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill

You face reality. Listening to employees gives you a unique perspective. You discover how things are really going. Employees can be brutally honest, which is why many leaders avoid this activity. If you are going to lead effectively, you need to confront reality and address the challenges your team is facing.

“Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.” Richard Branson

You uncover common themes. As you listen to employees, you discover common themes. These are small pieces of narrative that tell a bigger story. You might find that employees are having a problem with one of your supervisors or a new piece of software. You may uncover a common customer complaint or lingering production bottleneck. Spending time with employees gives you access to the raw data that is often filtered out in a traditional command-and-control structure.

 “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Bernard Baruch

You build a team. When leaders and employees spend time together, they become more aware that they are on the same team. It’s easy to blame someone you don’t know, or understand, for your problems. Listening to employees can help eliminate the “us and them” mindset. When we do that, we can better focus our attention on customers, the competition and getting better as a company.

Some of the best leadership insights are found in the breakroom, not the boardroom. If you find yourself surrounded by people who see the company exactly as you do, you probably need to break out of your bubble and go spend time listening to employees. This simple act will help you create critical relationships, confront reality, uncover common concerns and build a stronger team.