Cairn Leadership

Leadership presence: Stop waiting for it to be over before it is!

Keys to building leadership presence

Sweat drips in my eyes as I contort into another twist, trying not to fall over on my mat. I strain, wondering how long the yoga instructor will hold us in this diabolical position. Through the fog, he says, “Try not to wait for this to be over, just sink into it.”

“Really, that’s easy to say as you stroll about with your hands loosely clasped behind your back,” I think…

In this post, we will look at one of the most important parts of presence- being in the present. That’s right- when we are stuck in the past or worried about the future, we cannot be present for our people. Even if we don’t realize it, the people around us will read our distant stares and furtive glances at our phones as an emotional brick wall.

…Ok, I will try it anyway. I sink deeper into the position, miraculously finding that the yogis who came up with these positions over millennia actually know how the body works. Weird. I feel more relaxed. With relaxation comes a deeper stretch. Don’t get me wrong, this twist is still difficult, and I teeter for the last few breaths. And yet, it is now also enjoyable.

Consider what you miss while you wish life away

Does this resonate? How much of your life have you been waiting to end? The job you can’t wait to move past, the boss you can’t wait to see go? The house that is too small, the one you plan to sell when you make a little more money? The grumpy mood your significant other has been in for the last couple of days to which you prescribe cautious silence and… waiting? The commute every morning, blanking out and wishing you could just be at work already? The busy workday, wishing you could be commuting home already? How much of your day do you wish away?

When I rock climb, I have two basic mindsets. Sometimes I climb in a rush, anxious to make it to the top before I get tired and fall. I make fast and rough moves, powering through the hard parts. I race to the top, savoring none of the experience. Other times, I am present on the climb. I move slowly with control, strength tempered by balance. I seek out and use little nooks that offer a break. The climb feels right, feels good. I get to the top surprised and a little sad to be finished. It feels like a mini streak of flow (more on flow here).

Most of us don’t have an awareness of our day-to-day presence. Often the world zips by as we tuck our heads down hoping for it to be over. We daydream, missing the little blessings and kindnesses the world offers all around us. We miss seeing an old friend walk by or fail to notice the tiny flower sprouting through an urban wasteland. Even when I am in my happy place- the mountains, I have to work hard to keep noticing the breathtaking serenity surrounding me.

A lack of presence can ruin a leader

Leaders feel constant pressure to think about the future, identifying and addressing unseen complications. Leaders often get pulled into the past, “I wish I had seen that coming.” Leaders seldom feel the need to be present. We wait for the present to be over, so we can strategize about the future that the present brings. 

Unfortunately, leaders need to inspire the people around them as much as they need to focus on the future. Eric Barton from Bain & Company found that the most common trait of inspiring leaders is centeredness – a “state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present.”

Stop waiting for the day to be over. Get in touch with the physical or emotional discomfort you feel that makes your brain yearn for what’s next. Instead, turn it over, sink into it, wrestle with it, and enjoy the process.