Have you ever been accused of not listening or not being attentive? It sounds something like this, “I never feel like you’re paying attention to me,” or maybe, “I thought we discussed this yesterday…”
When these accusations have come my way, it stressed the relationship and distressed me. Reflecting on these confrontations I wonder, “Why didn’t I remember that discussion – why does this person feel like I don’t care?”
“The core capacity needed for accessing the field of the future is presence. We first thought of presence as being fully conscious and aware in the present moment. Then we began to appreciate presence as deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions.”
— Peter Senge
My first, superficial answers were:
“I need to improve my communication skills,” and,
“Stress is affecting my ability to focus.”
Decades later I now see the feedback was actually a clue about a bigger issue.
The real reason people said I didn’t listen is that I wasn’t fully present; I was someplace else. I was invested in listening to my thoughts and feelings, thinking of answers before I heard the questions, building a case to defend my actions, or solving another problem. I was so busy “being effective” that I was not open, curious, or attentive to the other person. And I was not aware that I wasn’t present.
It takes a lifetime to learn to become authentically present. It’s a personal and professional pursuit based on truly knowing ourselves. Not the surface, ego-self that operates on habitual patterns and limited awareness. We need to know ourselves at a deeper level where our genuine character resides.
When we know ourselves in this way we discover a true self that is not bound and blocked from being authentically present. The “superficial self” is too focused on self gratification or protection to be authentic. Our true self is secure in knowing who we are, what we value and in having a sense of purpose.
Recently several leaders spoke about authentic presence at President Gerald Ford’s funeral service; everyone spoke of his honesty and trustworthiness. They admired his ability to laugh at his mistakes and to never hold a grudge. They talked about how he was the right person to heal a troubled and pessimistic country. He wasn’t out to impress anyone or to do whatever it took to be re-elected, so he could be authentically present. As Henry Kissinger, his former national security advisor, said, “He did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery.”
When we truly know ourselves we aren’t robots to our habitual patterns, serving the surface needs and wants of our egos. We are at our best because our true character shines through and serves as a light for all to see and follow. In the Six Seconds EQ Model, we call this commitment “Pursue Noble Goals.” It’s the competency that lets us put ego aside and focus on a larger purpose.
Pursue Noble Goals and Empathy make up the “Give Yourself” portion of the EQ model. Empathy lets us listen without an agenda, which allows us to see the situation for what it is. And we are available to give our full genuine attention because we want to give of ourselves.
The Tibetan term for authentic presence literally translates to “a field of power.” When we’re with people who are authentically present we can feel that power. It’s not the positional power of rank and authority, it’s the real human power that influences and moves us. Are you ready, personally and professionally, to let go of the performer playing to the gallery? Is it time to become more authentic as a leader?
My own experience is that learning about emotional intelligence has been a key step in developing my authentic presence. I was re-reading my own SEI Leadership Assessment and looking at the EQ competencies I use when I’m at my best and considering how these skills help me be authentic. And once again I’m committed to continuing to develop my own emotional intelligence. Partly for me, partly for my family, partly for my clients — but even more because I know it’s the critical difference that will allow me to be my best for the world.