4 Ways Leaders Can Be Present While Working Away

Leaders have a lot of demands on their shoulders. Tons of distractions and multitasking make it tough to be present for your employees. But being present is critical for your success.

Leaders, we know, you have a lot on your plate.

You’ve got a hearty helping of robust meetings, a dollop of delicate communication demands, and a sprinkling of spicy situations. Not to mention a side order of zesty plans for productiveness and success.

And, if you’re working from home, it’s nearly impossible to attend to these tasks while staying focused and calm. You’ve got notifications dinging, a fridge beckoning, and neighbours drilling. And, if you’ve got kids, you might have delightful interruptions for their “emergencies” such as this:

Help me find my Lego!?

Which Lego?

You know, the black hand for Dark Vader. I had it yesterday. I need it…NOW! 

Dark is cuter than Darth, so you let it slide.

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The point being, it’s harder to get back into the mental zone for work. Even more difficult to be in the present moment.

Being a leader means more than strategic plans

But, it’s now known that good leaders are not only good strategists and sharp thinkers, they’re also active listeners who show their vulnerable sides, and take time for themselves.

The Mind of the Leader, published by Harvard Business Review looked at more than 35,000 leaders and studied interviews with 250 C-level execs. The book shows how mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion are the three key ingredients to being a successful manager and executive.

It goes to show that being centred and mindful helps leaders achieve their capacity for being present—even while working away from the team.  Being mindful and present is part of a healthy work-life balance that leaders should be a role model for.

Because your remote team probably feels a bit out of sorts and disconnected, so they need to feel that you’re with them.

Avoid zoning out on Zoom

Here are three things you can do to stay in the present moment during Zoom meetings:

Use the two question rule. Take the time before the meeting to come up with two questions to ask the meeting attendant(s).

It can be about their holiday plans, barriers they’re facing, favourite take-away restaurant—anything that shows them you’re not just looking at them as robots to meet targets. Make sure to ask about their work expectations from time-to-time as well. You may be surprised what they say!

Full-screen it. Use your camera and go full-screen to avoid being distracted by emails and other messaging apps, plus switch off your phone notifications.

Use non-verbal cues to show you’re attentive. Create the eye-contact effect by looking into the camera from time to time. Also, hide your own face on the screen. The person or people in front of you should be the focus.

Have an attentive posture. Slouching or being turned to the side will give the appearance of boredom or disinterest.  Show your interest with your facial expressions, and ask follow-up questions.

All of these tactics bring your focus where it needs to be: with the people you’re meeting with. They’ll sense your attention and feel they can share with you.

Feel outside the box

The expression Think Outside the Box has become a cliché, but has deep meaning nonetheless. The basis of this expression is thought.

Great leaders often do think outside the box. But, research is showing that the best leaders are feeling outside the box and even being vulnerable.

It’s like deciding to take a French course. You feel excited to join the class, but when your Être dans la galère gets your tongue-tied, you suddenly feel vulnerable. You can get angry and leave the class, or you can face your fears and admit them.

American author Brené Brown writes about vulnerability. Her New York Times bestseller books focus on how leaders need to have “whole hearts.” She asserts that being a great leader and with your people in a truer sense takes vulnerability. That’s the polar opposite of what we’re shown in the media. Leaders are strong; they don’t back down. They’re tough and demand deference.

“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the centre, of meaningful human experiences.”
-Brené Brown

We’re taught to equate vulnerability solely with weakness and defencelessness. But vulnerability also means you’re open and receptive. Being in the present moment means being open with some awkward feelings, which means sometimes you will show your vulnerability.

If you want to show your team that you’re open to them, show them you’re sometimes not sure. You can say, “I’m not sure what to do to solve this problem. Any ideas?” Admitting you’re unsure takes a lot of courage.

All this courage and vulnerability deserve a reward, don’t you think? A little me time is in order.

Be present with yourself: schedule me time

Planning that performance appraisal while helping your kid with homework? Running out to the shops while answering work messages on your phone?  Rushing back from the shops because you realise you forgot you have a meeting in 10 minutes you’re not prepared for?

Sound familiar?

As a leader, you’re always giving. Your time is divided between meetings, working on major projects, strategising, and planning for future quarters. When you work from home, it’s extremely difficult to step away from the devices and make time for yourself. 

You’re most likely experiencing symptoms of hurry sickness.

4 Ways Leaders Can Be Present While Working Away

Image: Pexels

Hurry sickness is a common affliction

Hurry sickness is a mixture of anxiety and feelings of urgency due to having too many responsibilities and also taking too much on. When you suffer from hurry sickness, you often are stressed out and tired. Your plate is overfull.

This hurry sickness can stem from FOMO. You’re afraid to disconnect or say no to tasks that could well be delegated. You want to be available 24/7.

But at this frantic rate, it means you’ll burn out that battery quickly. A great remedy: me time.

I know you feel you simply can’t take time out of your busy schedule to do something relaxing.  If you do something relaxing or fun, it means something important isn’t getting done, right? Well, relaxing and having fun is important!

It may seem antithetical, but research has shown that taking time out of your busy schedule to play with your kids, or do yoga, or take a walk/jog, or play a game with a friend will help you to be more productive at work.

Put me time on the calendar! If you say, “I’ll make sure to do some fun stuff this week,” you won’t. Block out time on the calendar and do something that makes you smile.

And part of me time can be scheduling short mindfulness exercises. A mini-holiday for the overstressed brain.

Buddhify your mind

If you want to take being present to the next level, dedicate a few minutes a day to a meditative exercise.

There are excellent apps to use which even notify you that it’s time to clear your mind. Some of the most popular meditation apps:

  • Buddhify
  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • Insight Timer
  • Sattva
  • The Mindfulness App

Meditation apps are generating around USD 200 million in sales. This goes to show that being in the present moment is gaining recognition for its inherent value.

Different meditation flavours

Any form of meditation will help you to be in the present moment.  You don’t need to sit for hours on a mountaintop or join a monastery. One of the greatest things about meditation is that there  is no monetary value attached to it, plus, it can be done just about anywhere.

For a bare-bones but effective meditation, do the following:

Set your timer for six minutes and sit somewhere comfortably. Focus on your breath filling your abdomen. Let go of thoughts as they come and let them drift away. Be aware of your body and breath.

Doing this regularly will relax you and help you to be more present. Your staff will notice you’re alert and not as distracted.

Just take the advice of Dr Magda Skopinska, whom I spoke with on the topic of the meditation she uses with her clients called embodied meditation:

“Embodied meditation increases somatic awareness—meaning that we become more aware of all internal information (ongoing reactions to stress, emotions, mood, approach to the world and other people).

Being fully present impacts the prefrontal cortex, which calms down the amygdala, responsible to a large extent for our hijacks under pressure. That means that we can act more according to what we want instead of being driven by other emotions and reactions to stress.” -Dr Skopinska

In Summary

If you follow the simple steps laid out in this article, you’ll have a positive impact on your mental state which will translate to your team that you’re with them despite being away.

To reiterate: leaders can be present. Be attentive during virtual meetings, show your vulnerable side to your staff,  be present with yourself, and meditate a few minutes a day.

It will have the effect of being present, even though you’re not in the same space. All these tips can be applied to leaders who are working on-site as well.


About the author

Jen Pieniazek is a career expert at LiveCareer. Her passion for helping others achieve their career goals is what inspires her advice pieces. Jen aims to help people find their perfect job.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q