Posted in Communication Skills

How to Give the Gift of Presence

For those of you familiar with the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, one of my top five strengths is “Achiever.” For those of you not familiar with it, let’s just say I am highly driven, self-motivated, and live with an underlying restlessness in “accomplishment” mode. This is a wonderful strength for getting a job done, but, if left unaltered, can be terrible for relationships.

Task-oriented leadership worked well when hierarchical structures were the norm. Today partnerships, teamwork, and collaboration are integral to thriving organizations. Thriving leaders realize that people are not projects. Thriving leaders cultivate relationships with followers, colleagues, and customers by giving the gift of presence.

Here is what the gift of presence looks like to me.

Be fully present in the moment.
I confess this is difficult in the world of schedules, checklists, and deadlines. It is also what sets thriving leaders apart. Thriving leaders are fully present in the moment. They have a way of making time stand still when they are with you by giving their undivided attention and displaying genuine interest. They convey the message that nothing else is as important as you right now. They intentionally focus on you and keep from mentally wandering toward the myriad of items still left undone. Thriving leaders are excellent at deep listening and engaging conversation. They do not thinking about their own agenda and what they should say next, but rather have trained themselves in communication skills necessary to understand and connect with you.

Make a difference for “this one.”
The “Starfish Story,” adapted from The Star Thrower  emphasizes our call as leaders to make a difference.

There was once a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and said, “I made a difference for this one!” Then he threw it into the ocean.

Think of the follower or colleague or customer you are currently spending time with (or will be soon). Think of them as your “this one.” You cannot positively influence everyone, but you can make a difference for “this one.”

What steps will you take to be fully present in the moment?

How will you make a difference for “this one”?

Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007), 37-72.
Loren Eisley, The Star Thrower (New York, NY: Times Books,1978), 169-185.

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