Do you know where great leaders spend the majority of their time?
The answer isn’t
- The Boardroom
- The production line
- A top business school
- In front of customers
- Or any other specific location
The answer is less of a “where” and more of a “when.”
Allow me to explain…
Over the past 20+ years, I have worked with some fantastic leaders. As a global management consultant, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe, North America, and Asia. My experience suggests that the best leaders spend most of their time being present in the present.
This may sound obvious.
It may even appear easy.
However, I invite you to consider your behavior. You are likely to find yourself (at times) physically located in one place but mentally engaged elsewhere.
Here are a few examples:
- You sit in a meeting but continually grab your smartphone to check your email.
- You eat dinner with loved ones, but your mind repeatedly wanders back to the office.
- You have a performance conversation with an employee, but your thoughts stray to other pressing issues.
- You celebrate success with your team but simultaneously worry about the next challenge you face.
Do these scenarios, or others like them, sound familiar?
If so, know that you aren’t alone.
You have read less than 200 words in this post, but your mind has already traveled elsewhere. The Statistic Brain Research Institute suggests that the average adult’s attention span in 2015 is 8 seconds – less than a goldfish’s attention span.
No wonder we have so much trouble staying in the present.
I invite you to be present right now and finish this post.
Don’t just read the words. Focus on them. Take inventory of yourself and vow to improve. Doing so may be time well spent.
Here are four considerations to help you to be present in the present:
1. Learn from the past; don’t dwell on it
Your past is full of ups and downs. It contains things that went well and results you wish you could change. Parts of it may be the source of frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment; other memories bring you pride, energy, and excitement.
Occasionally visiting the past is a good thing. You can use it to frame a situation, reflect on how a problem was resolved, or gain perspective. But don’t spend too much time there.
Whether you scored the championship-winning touchdown or fumbled on the one-yard line, let the past go. Great leaders know they can’t change the past, so they don’t spend too much time there.
2. Plan for the future; don’t borrow trouble
Yes, it’s important to create plans. Considering alternatives, preparing for contingencies, and brainstorming through different scenarios is critical. However, some planners go beyond the planning phase and begin borrowing trouble. They become anxious, fearful, and doubt themselves and their organization.
Taken to an extreme, they assume failure before taking their first step.
Great leaders invest time in planning but don’t assume failure from the start. They know that that type of negative thought process is often self-fulfilling. If a great leader thinks something is destined for failure, they either devise a new plan or quickly cut their losses.
3. Craft a vision; don’t live in the clouds
Every leadership book discusses the importance of vision. They echo the common idea that great leaders help their organization determine its purpose and then cast a vision for the future.
As important as it is to craft a vision, communicate with clarity, and gain enthusiasm around the direction, visioning alone is insufficient. Great leaders spend purposeful time crafting a vision for the future but return to the present as quickly as possible because they know that life happens in the present.
4. Take action; don’t wait for things to come to you
Great leaders are proactive people. While some people prepare themselves and wait for the opportunity to rise, great leaders, act as an opportunity catalyst. They create opportunities for themselves and their organization.
Being present is a vital part of the opportunity creation process. Leaders who are present engage all of their senses. They listen with the intent of understanding. They watch things unfold. They sniff out opportunities. In short, they are fully engaged.
So, pause, choose to be present in the present, and knock ’em dead!
Make it a great day! Patrick
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.