I was asked to observe a leadership team in action recently to give them some feedback on their interactions as a team. Throughout the meeting, people kept checking their cell phones for emails and texts. This happens every day in meetings in organizations around the world, so this team is not behaving in a way that is out of the ordinary. And, that doesn’t make it right. Toward the end of the meeting, the leader of the team said, “Okay Greg. How’d we do?” Here is my response:
“Who remembers the presidential debate in 1992 at which President (GHW) Bush glanced at his watch? What happened? He was pilloried by the media for being detached, disinterested, and looking for the exits. He gave the appearance of not caring. Whether true or not, the visual hurt him and gave people looking for a reason to not support him to vote for the other guy.
A vital skill for leaders is the ability to “attend,” to be present and observant. Being present takes focus and discipline. We cannot truly observe what is happening around us if we are not present. We cannot see what we need to see or hear what we need to hear if we are not present. And for much of this meeting I saw many people not present.
If I’m checking my email, I’m not present. If I’m reading an SMS, I’m not present. You are the senior leaders of this company having a conversation about an important element of your strategy. You scheduled this meeting for this time. Right now, what is more important than this conversation?
This may seem like a small thing, like glancing at your watch during a presidential debate. And, never forget that everything we say and do as leaders communicates something about our priorities, our beliefs, and our values. If now is not a time you can be present to the team and this conversation, why was the meeting scheduled for this time? If there is someone out there who cannot make a decision without checking in with you first, what does that communicate about your leadership?
What shift do you want to make to be totally present to one another and to this important business conversation? Would you like to talk about these things for a while? Great! Turn off your phones.”