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If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present


Dec. 13, 2017 Harvard Business Review

Some years ago, we worked with a director of a multinational pharma company who’d been receiving poor grades for engagement and leadership effectiveness. Although he tried to change, nothing seemed to work. As his frustration grew, he started tracking the time he spent with each of his direct reports — and every time he received bad feedback, he pulled out his data and exclaimed, ”But look how much time I spend with everyone!”

Things improved when he began a daily 10-minute mindfulness practice. After a couple of months, people found him more engaging, nicer to work with, and more inspiring. He was surprised and elated by the results. The real surprise? When he pulled out his time-tracking spreadsheet, he saw that he was spending, on average, 21% less time with his people.

The difference? He was actually there.

He came to understand that, even though he was in the same room with someone, he wasn’t always fully present. He let himself become preoccupied with other activities or let his mind drift to other things. And, most of all, he’d listen to his inner voice when someone was talking. Because of his lack of presence, people felt unheard and frustrated.

Our inner voices are the commentaries we lend to our experiences. They often say things like, “I wish he would stop talking.” Or, “I know what she’s going to say next.” Or, “I’ve heard this all before.” Or, “I wonder if Joe has responded to my text.”

To truly engage other human beings and create meaningful connections, we need to silence our inner voices and be fully present — and being more mindful can help.

As part of the research for our forthcoming book, The Mind of the Leader, we surveyed more than 1,000 leaders who indicated that a more mindful presence is the optimal strategy to engage their people, create better connections, and improve performance.

Other research bears this out. In a survey of 2,000 employees, Bain & Company found that among 33 leadership traits — including creating compelling objectives, expressing ideas clearly, and being receptive to input — the ability to be mindfully present (also called centeredness) is the most essential of all.

Research also suggests that there’s a direct correlation between leaders’ mindfulness and the well-being and performance of their people. In other words, the more a leader is present with their people, the better they will perform.

Based on our work, here are some tips and strategies that may help in your quest to be more present in your daily life.

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