Being present is a leader’s superpower

Sometimes we end up repeating the same questions because we struggle to recognize a response, even if it’s a simple one. Maybe that’s exactly why we do it. It happens when we talk about leadership, contrasting old and new models. There’s an old model that never goes out of style. It’s formed most of the way we work and are measured today, the so-called “command and control”. We’ve adopted it for so many years, it’s become familiar and secure. But it has it’s limits too. We know that in a fast-paced and interconnected world, like the one we live in, it’s unsustainable to give a select few this responsibility. They’ll never know enough or act fast enough to “save us all”. So the potential for the independence and efficacy of a better-distributed leadership is there, based on radically new foundations. One of these foundations is relationships: the quality of relationships, raising others as we grow ourselves.

But relationships can only be managed up until a certain point. They hardly ever go straight from point A to point B. That’s perhaps the reason why we struggle to see them as a key part of leadership. It would mean tolerating lots of things being undefined and lying outside the shared map. So how can we lead in this way? How can we guide others while leaning on the mobile ground that is human relationships? 

A recent Forbes article delves further into this topic. In order to create an empathetic connection between people, to help them feel free to grow, to give them independence and the ability to express themselves, the ability to do more – we need to be present. So far, these concepts are almost spiritual, touching mindfulness and profound connection. This type of relationship seems like a luxury in the frenetic nature of our office work. But Forbes suggests the opposite. It translates being present into a dialogue between managers and employees. Here are 3 ways that we can put empathetic leadership into action:

1) don’t get distracted. When you’re with someone else, be with them. Don’t look at your email, take off your WhatsApp notifications, don’t look at your phone. Be there. There’s a reason we say “pay attention”. Attention is a currency when it comes to relationships: it costs more and is worth more than time. 5 minutes of attention are much better than 30 of half-hearted attention. In fact, half-hearted attention doesn’t exists: for our brains, you’re either there or you’re not.

2) Be prepared. Aristotele said: Liberty comes through discipline. If you prepare for your meeting, you’ll not waste time trying to understand it during the meeting and you’ll have more space to think.

When you’re prepared, you can fully listen to the other person. You don’t have to waste part of your listening ability trying to keep up with the thinking processes that are going on in the background.

3) Park your agenda. This is perhaps the most difficult one. It means avoiding going into a 1:1 with the aim of bringing something out of it.

If you show up with an agenda, you’re not there to guide the person, but rather to manage their tasks. Present leaders know how to ask questions and feel comfortable with the silence that follows. 

If you don’t have an agenda, you can be curious. Curiosity has the same route as the word care. Recent research shows that practising curiosity can help you make less mistakes and make better decisions, with less conflict and more open communication. The result? A higher team performance.

Paying attention, being prepared, being curious. They might seem at odds with the pace of our ways of working. Yet we “know how to do it”. When we use these skills at work, our colleagues and clients will transform us into empathetic leaders that know how to make others feel better and activate better resources.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here