Why Presence Matters

Photo by Petri Haanpää on Unsplash

Here are examples of what leaders tell me happens when they are more present for themselves and for their teams.

Being present allows you to have all of your faculties and resources available. Your mind isn’t elsewhere (regretting the past, worrying about the future or getting “a head” of yourself). All your energy is here now and is available to you when you are present. You see things you would have otherwise missed.

You gain trust when you are present

I find it easy to gain trust with my clients in a very short period of time. There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but one client in particular helped me see why presence is critical for trust. This client — I will refer to this person as “they/them” — was a senior director of engineering at a large Silicon Valley tech company. One of their key strengths was relationship building. They steadily built strong relationships over time. They also looked for and found the best in people. Investing in people is critical for any great leader, but it’s also important to gain and build trust quickly so you don’t have to wait years to be able to count on someone. My client called out the fact that they were surprised how easy it was to trust me (as coach) and to feel I had their best interests at heart.

Since trust was something my client wanted to gain and learn more about, I asked: “what was it about my coaching that allowed you to trust me?” They said it was how I listened so fully that it seemed I wasn’t thinking of anything else other than trying to absorb and understand them and what they said. I would internalize what I heard and ask questions to find out if that’s what they meant. Sometimes my questions would not only clarify the thought for me, the listener, but for them, the speaker. When we speak and share we naturally crave safe spaces we can just share thoughts and not have to worry about being judged or criticized. It’s usually in that spaciousness after we hear ourselves speak that we find our own answers.

To be present as a listener takes practice and intent. It can be hard to listen completely without an agenda. But this is what I do. I intentionally become receptive. I am not trying to maneuver my clients or follow some kind of agenda. I prepare and I do my homework before we meet, but once the conversation begins it’s all about letting go and trusting that in the spaciousness, answers will be revealed. And whenever I trust and let go and allow and slow down…holding space for silence even…not knowing…not having to have the “right question” for my client, that’s when ah-ha’s and insights effortlessly come forth.

Being present doesn’t mean you aren’t doing anything.

In fact, you are simultaneously focused and unfocused.

The focus is a focal point for this moment. You aren’t fretting about the past or the future. The un-focus is like peripheral vision. This is something I learned as a student of Rinzai Zen. In Rinzai Zen (unlike other forms of Zen Buddhism) we sit facing each other in open-eyed meditation. The eyes are looking forward at a point on the ground with soft focus but you are seeing everything in the periphery as well. This is not as simple as it sounds. This too takes practice.

Another way of holding focus and un-focus simultaneously is holding your attention here and not resisting the broader scene of your interaction. One way I learned this was having full attention on the speaker and being aware of the sounds outside and not resisting the sounds outside but accepting them fully in the fullness of the moment.

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Rebecca Arora

Rebecca coaches exceptional leaders in technology, where intelligent products and people touch and transform humanity.