Written by Kevan McBeth- Chief Purpose Officer


The holiday season is upon us, and to be honest I am still looking around wondering where September went. This time of year always seems to speed up for me, and as a servant leader I am always cognizant of the fact that it does for the people around me too. 

As I seek to find ways to acknoweledge people, I always try to do something a little extra special for my team over the holiday season. We do team building events like hold pot-lucks, have a holiday dinner out together and create opportunities for us to give back in the community as a group. But there is more that I can do as a servant leader. 

This year, I am commiting to give the gift of presence. To create opportunities to be more in the moment at work, and to practice the principles of awareness, empathy and listening with my people. And I am challenging you, as a leader, to do the same. 

Presence is embedded in a number of principles within Servant Leadership that is becoming something we need to focus on more and more as leaders. The ability to engage our people in a meaningful way is vital, and our ability to listen to what our people are saying is critical to our leadership philosophy. We seek out every opportunity available to invest our undivided time with people so that they can be truly seen and heard by us. Being completely present in a conversation or interaction, no matter how short or long, can be something that empowers and engages your people like almost no other action can. 

So ontop of any gifts and activities that you have planned this holiday season, why not give your people the gift of presence. Chances are, you will be holding sessions with your people as part of your year end evaluations anyway- why not shift the way that you hold those conversations to give your people time to share their thoughts, and voice their opinions. Use the time to seek their guidance and ideas, and show them that you value their opinions and input. Give them the keys and let them drive the conversation for a while. 

Here are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that you are able to deliver on this amazing gift that you will be giving this holdiay season. 

Throw your phone in a lake. 

okay, don't really do that, but turn it off and put it away. I can't tell you how important this one is. Don't stand and talk to someone with your phone in your hand either- that is only telling the person that you are talking to that they are important for the moment, but if this little black box goes off, I gotta stop you and check to see who it is. 

And turn the ringer off. Not to vibrate. Off.

Studies show that social media alerts and text alerts actually release dopamine through the same neurological pathway in your brain that stimulates us when we eat delicious foods, make money, have sex or use cocaine. Would you do any of those things while trying to have a meaningful conversation with someone?  Let's hope not! 

Be there. Be now. 

You have a busy day, we understand that. But if you are truly practicing the principle of being present, you need to be fully in the moment. Don't be mentally prepping for your next meeting or even thinking of the one that you just had. Don't be thinking about your phone messages or the reports that you have to fill out. Be where you are, with who you are with, and in that time. Period. 

And if you can't pull that off - then be honest about it. I can't tell you how many times someone has pulled me in to their office to have a quick conversation about something that is really important to them, but needs to be explained in under 3 minutes before you go to your next meeting. People will understand if you simply say "hey- this is really important to you, and you are really important to me- can we find time later today to talk a bit more about this so I can give you and this issue our full attention?". Or better yet- if you can, let go of being right on time for that next meeting and prioritize your people over being 5 minutes late for yet another update session meeting on where you are in the strategic plan.  Your people are important to you- show them with your presence. 

It's not about you. 

Typical conversations with your people, especially the ones that you request, are about your problems- your needs. Lets flip that script. Invite people in for a chat and don't have a burning car-wreck that you need help putting out as the discussion topic. Instead, let them control the conversation while you practice active listening techniques. Give them an opportunity to open up to you about how things are going, what's new in their world, if there are any issues that they want to talk to you about, or how their year has been. If there is something that they want to talk to you about, give them the room that they need to bring it up. You are there to talk to them about what they would like to discuss, not what you want to talk about. 

Be yourself.

Seek ways for you to have real, meaningful and authentic conversations. Listen to your people, and let them talk- make your conversation about them, not about you. But when you have a chance, show them your empathy, your passion and your vulnerability if you think that it will help build a stronger connection between the two of you.  Help guide them to make better decisions by sharing with them an example of when you made a choice and learned from it. Give them some of you- not their director or manager. Use this time to not only as face time, but as a way to build a greater connection between yourselves. I promise you, it will be the greatest value that you can bring to the table. 

Screw work life balance. 

Your presence will be amazing to your people at work, but you should be giving the gift of presence at home and with your friends too. Go out for dinner and leave your phone in your jacket (or don't even take it at all!), resist the urge to take selfies and video that special moment so you can share it later- instead BE IN THE MOMENT and take in everything around you rather than through a 6 inch screen so you can share it on Facebook. 

This is a gift to your people and yourself. 

The more that we read about the negative impacts of our technology and social media are having on our mental health and our ability to have meaningful interactions with each other, the more we are convinced that unplugging is going to be a bigger issue for us all in the future. Consider this a first initial step in that direction, and be someone who helps lead the way to a more meaningful and engaging connection with the people around you. 

I promise you, you will get as much out of this gift as those who will recieve it.