- Photo Above: Cave Art, Bisons, Altamira, Spain. >40,000 yrs BCE
Approximately 95,000 years ago, humans developed the distinct ability to think abstractly about our world. Our systems for communication evolved into the language, reasoning, mathematics, science, and other forms of meaning-making that we capitalize on today. Our social connections became stronger and our tribes grew. In general, we have learned to think more about our purpose and reflect internally about our thoughts and actions, including how we fit into the larger context of our community.
But this type of abstract and philosophical thinking doesn’t come without its challenges. When we find ourselves searching or lost in an internal dialogue, we also tend to manifest stress and worry about the present and future dangers that we (might) face. The problem is that if we’re left to our natural instincts, we can do more harm than good. Our concerns create anxiety, our anxiety develops into apprehension, and our apprehension begets paralysis. Then, when our inaction is at its worst, we lose the ability to be present with others. Instead of projecting a faithful present and a positive future, we’re stuck on a carousel of unwanted, inaccurate, and misleading assumptions about our self and others.
The good news is that this state-of-mind doesn’t have to be our reality. Great leaders learn to be present in both mind and matter. They harness the mental strength to stay focused in the moment. This is not an innate ability to connect with people and live in the moment. The belief that any soft skill, like being present as a leader, is native for some and foreign to others is simply not true. Great leaders actually plan to be present. They hone the skill of presence with strategy and practice. This essential skill is only done with strength and ease when we become deliberate about it.
As our world leaders look to increase social distancing to preserve our safety, there has never been a more important time to be present as a leader. The further apart we need to be physically, the more intense the need for connection becomes. The following pillars are the necessary aspects for being a present leader.
Are You Tuned In?
The simple definition of being tuned in is “noticing.” This is what some leadership experts have deemed as mindfulness, not to be confused with meditation practices, although meditation goes a long way in helping with our tuning abilities. “This process of noticing comes naturally when we’re exposed to something we think is new, and it’s energy-begetting, not energy-consuming” (Langer, 2016).
Effective leaders treat every situation uniquely, even the ones that are similar to what we’ve encountered in the past. People who tune in are less judgmental and more authentic by not making assumptions or jumping to conclusions based on past interactions or previous circumstances. Mindfully tuned in leaders are present by extending trust and enjoying authentic relationships with friends and coworkers.
Who is Presently Leading?
Presently leading has a dual connotation. First, it means that you’re present, in the moment, rather than stuck in the past or the future. Present leaders don’t allow themselves to be trapped by dwelling on their past failures or projecting their future fallouts. Second, it means that whomever is “presently leading” is a leader. Titles don’t make leaders. Leaders are the people who show up to do the work, to make a difference, and to bring about the best in others.
“The industrial era, struggling for the last decade or two, is now officially being replaced by one based on connection and leadership and the opportunity to show up and make a difference” (Seth’s Blog). Presently leading just means that someone has taken the reigns, ready and willing to do what it takes to move forward.
What are You Forecasting for the Future?
Effective leaders who identify what the future will look like are typically making that prediction based on the future that they intend to create. “In an unstable world, the best option is creating the future now” (Rockwell, 2018). Great leaders can’t see into the future better than the rest of us, but they are tuned in and leading in the present to create opportunities that bring about what they want for tomorrow.
Forecasting the future requires us to be steadfast with our beliefs and behaviors regarding the here-and-now. With an unwavering focus on our vision, we become clearer on what needs to be done in the present. The actions of today are the fruits of tomorrow.
Leaders know that when we’re tuned into the world around us, when we stay present for our current scenario, and when we work to make the best future for ourselves and others, we reap the benefits of a positive and productive relationship with our community. When we shed the futile consumptions of our abstract thoughts–the negative feelings of doubt and disaster–we push forward into the world that we want and that, ultimately, we’ve designed. That’s what it means to be a present leader–the one who shows up when it matters most.
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“Either you defend the status quo or invent the future.”
— Seth Godin