As I write this article there are millions of leaders around the world looking at their phone, tablet or PC while pretending to listen to a Co-worker. You might even be guilty of that right now.
To be clear I would give you this observational challenge: The next time you are in a conference room, look around. I am willing to bet that at least half of the attendees are looking at a digital screen of some sort periodically throughout the meeting. This has become such common place that we generally don't even mind. I really love the not so sneaky attempt at lowering the phone below the conference table so no one knows that they are not focused on the meeting.
Really, do they think that move works? At any rate, this sort of thing is an epidemic of leadership dysfunction. Whether or not you are in a leadership role within an organization you are still foreshadowing the type of leader you will be in the future. The ability to be present and in the moment are such rare skills that the few that successfully master this craft, will certainly rise to the top. It's never been easier to stand out as a great or potentially great leader.
So, what does it mean to be present?
It means that all devices are put away so you can focus on a meeting or interaction. If a Co-worker comes into your space and starts talking to you, make sure to look up and say either "I am busy right now however, I will come and speak to you as soon as I am free;" or turn your eyes away from the screens and engage with them without distraction. I once worked for someone that would bring a notepad into every interaction and diligently take notes, then after the meeting send an email summarizing the action items. Everyone that he worked with was willing to go to war for him for the simple fact that they felt important. When you feel loved you are more likely to love back. This principle is not applicable to just business relationships, but all types. Presence is a lost art for everyone, not just leaders. Have you ever been talking with a friend or loved one and your phone goes off in your pocket or on the table? I bet at least one individual glanced at their phone amidst conversation. Imagine you were talking with a friend and all of a sudden they said, "Please be quiet for the next 20 seconds while I daydream about my fantasy football team." The word rude would not adequately describe most reactions to this request. Well, what is the difference between daydreaming about football picks and checking your email mid conversation? Either way it makes people feel insignificant and undervalued.
Since most people are acting like zombies checking their devices every 10 - 30 seconds each day; the leader that is able to be present with co-workers and customers instantly has a sizable advantage. Seriously, think about a leader/manager that you could work for that at every interaction turned their phone off and closed their laptop to show you more respect and interest than what is now considered prudent.
Once you conquer this skill you will quickly gain credibility, respect and love from the people around you. Given that this is such a huge opportunity I don't want you to leave it to chance.
Here are 2 ways to exhibit presence with the people that matter most:
Turn the phone over - While in a conference room setting or even one on one place your phone arms length away from you and turn it screen down. This sends an important message to the others at the table that you respect them and their time. It also sets a good example for others to follow your lead which will result in a more productive meeting. Also, make sure that the phone is on silent. If your device is vibrating the entire time it will certainly still be a distraction and you will avoid getting the previously mentioned benefits.
Take handwritten notes - If you are an ultra savvy tech wiz such as myself then you might not like this one. As much as I adore using tech solutions wherever possible I am much more interested in results. For this strategy you need to leave the devices in the bag. Trust me; you need to roll "old school" on this one! Bring a notepad and pen to the meeting and make sure to use them. If others see you taking notes on a digital device they might think you are doing other things too, which will make you look like you're not present. Believe me, you will stand out if you actively take notes and remain engaged.
These suggestions will help you to remain present and result in positively engaging the people around you. A leader has a responsibility to get their people tracking towards the goals of the organization. Being present is one of the easiest ways to achieve those objectives. Your people will feel respected and thus respect you. Remember, the greatest leaders don't lead by title, they lead by example...so put the device away!