• Juan Jose Reyes M.D.

The "presence" of a leader

Is being present a leadership skill? Can being present determine the outcome of a meeting?

I recently met with someone who was interested in doing business with a new company I had just started. It took several weeks to arrange the meeting and I was looking forward to tell him all about this new project and establishing a relationship that could be beneficial for my new company. I arrived early and waited in the parking lot rehearsing my “pitch” knowing that everything I said could make a difference in the outcome of the meeting. I reminded myself to be calm and present and did a brief breathing exercise to bring me back to the present moment. At the scheduled time I went inside. I was ready.

But he was not. His previous meeting was running late so I was told to wait in the lounge and he would call me when ready. Talk about increasing the anxiety!

I waited twenty minutes until he finally showed up, apologized quickly and said he would grab coffee then we would go to his office. When we finally sat down he did not ask me any questions or welcomed me, just went straight to say, “ start” and grabbed his cell phone. I started talking about this exciting new venture and how it could help people and become something of value, as he was texting furiously on his phone. He said: “Just keep talking, it may seem that I’m not listening, but I am”. He never once looked at me or asked me about the company. After a few minutes the phone rang and he took the call signaling me to pause for a moment. So I paused. And reminded myself to be present and not let my thoughts start running wild. I was only mildly successful in that since the thought of “ he’s not even listening “ and “what a jerk” kept revolving around in my head. I finished the rest of my presentation and waited for his reaction. “ I’m very interested, “ he said, and I could hear myself sarcastically saying, “are you really”. I told him what I needed for the project and he said, “ We can definitely help you”….” Let’s schedule another meeting to talk about the specifics”.

Fantastic!. It seemed I got what I wanted, didn’t I? Why then wasn’t I really happy and excited at the idea of being a partner with this person. As the quote says: “ people won’t remember what you said but will remember how you made them feel”.

It didn’t matter what he said, it mattered how he made me feel: dismissed and unheard. We failed to establish a connection. He wasn’t there.

Being present is an essential component of being an influential person and a requirement to be a charismatic leader. Being present means being “there”, listening and feeling what the other person is saying. It’s more than body language; it’s being completely immersed in the experience that we are having in that moment. When we are not fully present we run the risk of not making a connection with other human beings and more importantly we miss that moment of our lives. And life is made of moments, so every moment is important and counts.

Being present is a skill that can be learned by practicing mindfulness. Here are three ways to practice being present:

  1. Be aware of your thoughts: during the day pick a moment when you’re doing something and see if you are thinking about what you’re doing or about something else, Example: when taking a shower are you thinking about the water and soap or about the argument you had the day before?

  2. Focus on your breath: when feeling overwhelmed or anxious take three minutes and simply focus on the air going in and out of your nostrils, noticing the cool air going in and the slightly warmer air coming out.A longer breathing out phase has a powerful calming effect and brings you to the present.

  3. Pause: simply stop what you’re doing and “be” for a few seconds. Notice how the body feels or any sensations in your body: tension in the neck/shoulders, tightness or discomfort etc.Changing from “doing “ to “non- doing” makes the nervous system notice the space between thinking and the present and allows us to respond better to situations.

After a few similar meetings the business relationship never materialized. I was glad in a way because connecting with people was one of the main components of the new company and I couldn’t imagine having someone on board that could not take his eyes away from his phone when meeting someone for the first time.

We are all busy and stressed out. Which is even more reason to seek that true connection with people. Being distracted and not connecting with people makes that stress even worse. Let’s take time to pause and really experience our lives instead of just rushing through it fueled by coffee and unhappiness. Let’s take the time to switch from “doing “ to just being, even for a few minutes. Because in those few minutes we may find the calm and balance we seek.