Be Present


AUTHOR'S NOTE:  I shared the below note with my staff when it became increasingly clear we were losing the war against SmartPhones and Laptops in meetings.  I think we are still losing that war, so again the content I do believe is as relevant today as it was a couple of years ago.  

As always, I have removed proprietary information.

Dear Colleagues,

Well, that was embarrassing. 

This week, our class of interns presented the results of some really good work and thinking (not to mention A LOT of after-hours work) on recommendations for our client on the future of food.  Two of our clients made the time to be on the phone listening to the pitch and viewing the deck on their computers.  I am very thankful they weren’t on videoconference with us.  If they had been, they would have seen at least 50% of us on our laptops, our iPads or our phones. Including me.  Ugh.   

I totally get that we are in the client service business, and that sometimes means being accessible round the clock, (but I am willing to bet that wasn’t what was going on in that room this week).  I also get it that we feel the obligation (and sometimes, sadly, pressure) to hit our billable targets so we multi-task.  

There is a considerable dark side to multi-tasking. By its very nature, multi-tasking is the natural enemy of full engagement…of full presence.   

Several years ago, I spent an amazing few days participating in an executive leadership program called “The Corporate Athlete.”  It is designed to help executives be more impactful by borrowing some principles from elite athletes at the top of their respective games.  After years of research, they realized that beyond relentless training, what all the athletes had in common was simply focus. They were present in the moment.   

They demonstrated their point in a rather fun way.  They asked our small group of 10 to go on a 1-mile run.  Being a runner at the time, I sized up the group and thought; “I can win this,” turning it into a competition in my mind. I was ready and off we went.  At the mid-way point, a gigantic bear jumped out of the woods and just stood at the side of the path.  And I am not kidding (of course it was a costumed bear).   Distracted and intrigued, we all stopped.  Needless to say, no speed records were set.  I’m not even sure we finished the mile.  

When we got back to the classroom, we were shown a video of six NFL players in the same situation – a few of whom were linebackers who didn’t look like they could walk a mile let alone run.     

I am sure some of you can guess where this video went.  Not a single one of them even noticed the damn 7-foot bear.  They were focused. They were present in that moment. They finished the mile. Being a professional athlete had taught them the power of presence.

That had a profound impact on me. 

But not as profound as the second way they illustrated the importance of being truly present.  And I suspect those of you who are working parents will relate to this one.  

This time the video was of a harried, multi-tasking working Mom doing 10-things at once so she could get out of the office in time to get to her son’s all-star baseball game.  There was traffic, but she dodged her way through it, conducted business on her phone on the way, got to the game and found a seat in the stands just in time.  But, as soon as she got settled, she powered up the laptop, cellphone in hand grateful in her mind that she had made it on time.   

When her 10-year old looked up to see if Mom was there, all he saw was the top of her head.  In her mind, she had jumped through hoops and made it.  But in his mind, Mom wasn’t watching him, so she wasn't really there in a way that mattered – all he wanted was her attention.

That Mom was me – many times.  And sadly still is me far too often. 

And getting back to my opening paragraph, that “Mom” in the video was also represented by far too many of us during the intern presentations this week. Physically there but not present enough. 

So, Summer Intern class,  thank you -- not just for not just your hard work and terrific presentations, but for reminding us of this important choice we make countless times every day. Let’s make a choice to truly "BE PRESENT" when you are invited to participate in something, and be there – really be there in every way.  If you are too busy, that is certainly understandable, but then politely decline.  

Admittedly, I am far from a great example on this topic in too many situations, but being embarrassed in the intern’s presentations reminded me it is time to recommit to the simple but critically important notion of being present in the moment.  And I will try to be better.