Creative leadership means being present

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April 16th, 2014
Article by: Paul van ‘t Veld, Bas Verhart
Creative leadership means being present

Being present is more than just showing up.

 

The world needs creative leaders who are able to change the future. The paradox with these leaders is that those who are best at shaping the future are all firmly rooted in the now.

 

In addition to knowing how to connect with what's happening in the present, these leaders feel and use how it affects them on a deeper personal level. They are not just reacting on impulses; they are continuously giving true answers to themselves and to the people around them. This ability goes by many names: being in the here and now, connected, aligned, or practicing mindfulness. Let's simply call it presence.

 

The ability to be present is not something mystic. Most everyone recognizes presence and has experienced it in themselves and others at some time or another. However, it is not always easy to talk about, precisely because it involves more than our cognitive and verbal abilities. It is also a crucial aspect of creative leadership, therefore we spend time on presence every morning during the THNK Creative Leadership Program.

One THNKER's Journey to Presence

THNK encourages its future leaders to be as present as they can be. Take THNK participant Ed’s journey as an example of how leadership can unfold while being present (name has been changed).

Ed was in charge of running the European businesses at a multinational, and was on his way to an even more global position. During his coaching, the topic of passion and purpose arose, as it is one of the foundations of creative leadership. Passion? Yes, that was something he could immediately recognize in himself. But purpose didn’t ring a bell and it shocked him quite a bit. “Am I without a purpose, then? Is my passion the same as my purpose? Where can I find my purpose?” These questions occupied him for weeks. His coach invited him to not only share his thoughts, but his feelings at that moment and how significant they were for him. By doing that, Ed stepped into the here and now, acknowledging how he really felt. Feeling his energy and his body, he started to be more present. Things began quickly changing for Ed.

Once Ed managed to step outside of his beliefs and rules and not be anxious about the future that the company had in mind for him, he was able to reconnect with himself. He started to see the significance of his exhaustion and to see that he was not leading fully from within himself, but instead from a place of fear and obligation.

Now, Ed went to work to connect his passion to his purpose. It was as if a magical button was pushed. Within a couple of weeks, Ed changed his role completely, taking full leadership of an important change operation. He started practicing presence as part of creative leadership. His feelings of tiredness vanished and he experienced a burst of energy. Talking to Ed today, he feels connected to himself, his passion and purpose. His new team recognizes this, and many major changes have been implemented in flow.

Creative Leadership Means Being Present 4
Once you step outside of your beliefs and rules and stop being anxious about the future, you will be able to reconnect with yourself. Click To Tweet

What is Presence?

Presence means being in and holding a centered position, with open access to both mind and body. It means being open to and in touch with your own authentic feelings, as well as those of others. Open to and in touch with your own thoughts, as well as those of others. Presence is about having Body and Mind at one’s full disposal: thinking and feeling at the same time, and from there making aware choices in the current reality.

Presence is a state and the way people experience it can vary from person to person. One way is by describing it as energy. Presence feels energizing and energetic. It is a nice blend of different energies within a person, one that could be described as a ‘being energy’ combined with a ‘thinking ‘and ‘doing’ energy. It can be perceived both internally and externally. Internally, presence makes us feel passionate about what we are doing and to which we feel a strong purpose. We are in touch with and in charge of our limiting beliefs and thoughts. Externally, presence makes us connect to others, really listening to what is on the table, giving answers instead of reactions, showing body language and tone of voice that are congruent with the situation and the way we feel.

presence

We take time every day during the Creative Leadership Program to focus on presence.

Get Unfocused: How not to be present

Many of us are skilled at not being present. Try these tips to stay unpresent:

  • Have dinner while watching TV. Make sure it is your favorite program.
  • Check your smartphone every 2 minutes for incoming messages or Whatsapp; make sure you do this especially when you are having a nice lunch with your best friend.
  • Think of picking up the kids at the end of the day during a meeting that is scheduled at 4pm. Make sure you do not communicate with the rest of the team that you will have to leave at a certain time. Stay put. Do not leave. Now try to focus on the meeting.
  • Do not pay attention to any feelings of discomfort or pain. If you have to go to the toilet, do not think of it and think of something else instead.
  • Start worrying about what might happen tomorrow at work. Imagine a worst-case scenario.

Can I learn how to be present?

Yes, you can. We all can be present, if we want. It requires time, hard work and self-discovery. It will be experiential learning, but it will eventually fall into place. You will begin to differentiate between feeling truly present and not. There is no quick fix: presence is not a set of behaviors you can adopt or fake. Creative leadership is about finding what works in your given situation, and what works to enhance individual presence.

Becoming more present can be as simple as going for a walk outside and paying close attention to the change of temperature, the wind, and the feeling of the sun on your skin. It can be turning off your smartphone or closing your inbox for certain periods to maintain a steady flow. Presence is not at all about sitting in a lotus position for long periods of time. There are simple things you can do consciously – see what works for you, and what doesn’t. Some suggestions to try out on your own:

Cleansing Breath

Purpose: stress reliever in the moment, getting back in the body. This can be done at any time when feeling anxious, tired, sad, etc. Notice the immediate effect.

  • Take five breaths.
  • Inhale through the nose in five seconds, filling up the stomach with oxygen.
  • Exhale through the mouth in five seconds, really getting all the oxygen and carbon dioxide out.

Grounding

Purpose: getting back in the body.

  • Sit down on a chair. Bend forward and bring your fingers next to your feet.
  • Now use one of your fingers as a pencil and very slowly and precisely draw a contour line around your feet. Start with the left foot, and then go to the right foot.
  • Take your time.

Presence is not a mystery. We know it when we see or feel it in others and ourselves. We know it is valuable. We also know when it is gone. True creative leaders are capable of holding on to it and integrating it into their lives to turn it into a tool for true success.

To discover how to build your own presence while connecting with your passion and purpose, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program, a 6-month part-time learning journey to help you realize your fullest creative leadership potential and scale your world-changing enterprise.

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