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Being Present Pays Off

By Jeffrey Shields posted 01-09-2018 08:01 AM


CEO Notebook |

What could be more important to your school and your staff than doing everything you can to be present?

Jeff Shields headshot
Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: You’re back from break and ready to tackle a brand-new to-do list. You start to work on the first item and you hear a knock on your door. A new science teacher can’t find all the receipts for an expense report documenting a field trip last December. He says he spent personal money on the trip and needs to be reimbursed very soon. You are listening patiently, but also thinking to yourself “Is this really the first issue I’m going to have to handle in the new year? I was ready to write my memo to the head of school on next year’s budget process and now this?” Then you see a text from your spouse asking you to pick up something for dinner. And then you remember you promised to meet with the admissions officer as soon as you got off the phone, which was half an hour ago.

It appears that quality, not quantity is what matters most when it comes to being present with others.

With so many responsibilities and relationships to manage, being in the moment, focused on the issue right in front of you is challenging. But not being in the moment is not helping your colleagues, staff and perhaps most importantly, you as a leader. Believe me, I’m guilty too. Maybe I’m in the middle of writing something (like my first CEO Notebook of the year) when a member of my staff does a drive by and asks a question, and somehow I tell myself that I am able to respond appropriately without looking up from my screen or even missing a keystroke. While we would all like to think of ourselves as master multi-taskers, this is not multi-tasking. It is not attending to the people that make our lives easier in the workplace and who we hired to serve as a colleague, manager, supervisor or leader.

The Harvard Business Review article “If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present” by Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, published in December 2017, offers good ideas about how to do better. The piece describes a manager that felt his engagement with his staff and his leadership were not being evaluated fairly, so he began tracking the amount of time he spent with staff members. He couldn’t understand this feedback given the number of interactions with them, which he recorded on a spreadsheet.

Bain & Company found that “among 33 leadership traits...the ability to be mindfully present is the most essential of all.”

After beginning a daily 10-minute mindfulness practice, he found his colleagues believed him to be “more engaging, nicer to work with and more inspiring.” In fact, he spent on average 20 percent less time with his staff, but got better results because he was more present. So it appears that quality, not quantity is what matters most when it comes to being present with others.

The article cites research conducted by Bain & Company that found “among 33 leadership traits, including creating compelling objectives, expressing ideas clearly, and being receptive to input, the ability to be mindfully present (also called centeredness) is the most essential of all.” The research also supports the idea that being more present improves not only our own performance but also that of our staff. 

If you want to get the most from your staff, stop typing, swivel your chair and make eye contact with the person who has stepped into your office. It won’t cost your school a dime, just your fully attentive presence. I’m going to commit to the same in 2018.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, January 9, 2018. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.


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01-10-2018 08:54 AM

​Here, here!  We only need to remember the last time we tried to have a conversation with someone whose head was down, looking at their work, while we tried to engage with them to know we don't want others to feel that way about their conversations with us.  Thank you Jeff, sometimes we need a reminder!