As I become older I seem to be taking on a much more spiritual view of life and my behaviors. The science behind the positive effects of deep breathing and meditation is no longer hidden in the corner of the local library or book store in some obscure journal. It’s out there in a big way and people are taking notice. I started my journey to meditation understanding the science and with a personal desire to find a way to get better. Now the physiological affects of deep breathing and meditation don’t really concern me. I just enjoy my daily morning ritual with…my candle and my soft music. That’s right, I said it…candles and soft music. I’m a reborn flower child between the hours of 4:30am-6:00am. However, I could break through the fluff of it all in a second and recite the positive effects of breathing and meditation on our brain’s function and, in turn, our human function. In the end, though, meditation and breathing helps me to “be in the moment”. Yet another term of fluff and wonderment. But let’s break it down from a leadership perspective.
During my time as a Navy SEAL and FBI Special Agent, I’ve encountered what seems like thousands of fire arms instructors. They were all good, but one stands atop them all, hands down, end of story: “Scats”. (For the sake of privacy, I’ll forgo true name as well as the details of which organization and under what circumstances I encountered Scats.) My route to understanding the importance of being in the moment came from very un-Zen, un-flower child like circumstances: training for combat. Scats broke it down in two sentences:
“There is no such thing as multi-tasking. You can either do one thing really well, or two things really bad.”
Scats was referring to the process of reloading a weapon after it has gone dry (a term referring to running out of bullets) during a gun fight. There are many things that happen when one’s weapon goes dry and a reload is necessary. Recognizing your weapon has gone dry, finding cover, tilting the weapon slightly to identify the magazine release, pressing the magazine release and dropping the magazine from the magazine well, finding your spare magazine, looking your spare magazine into the magazine well, bringing the slide forward to chamber a round, reacquiring your target, and re-engaging your target, just to name a few. Scats’ point was that this sequence is not one action, it is a series of small actions that need to be completed independent of each other. It may take less than a second to complete these actions, but the actions are distinct from one another nonetheless. And as such, the shooter must be aware of each distinct action to effectively and consistently reload her weapon. In short, “be in the moment” for each action. If you are not aware and in the moment for each action you are essentially counting on luck to effectively reload your weapon, regardless of how many times you have done it. The cost of getting it wrong the one time out of one hundred could cost you your life. When the act of being in the moment, or NOT being in the moment I should say, can cost you your life it is worth looking at the concept with greater regard.
Take note of two characteristics I mentioned in the gun re-load scenario that being in the moment will lead to:
Effectiveness and Consistency.
Imagine these are two words used to describe you as a leader. You could do worse, and maybe not much better if you think about it. Now imagine, in your quest to become a better leader, you decided to focus on one thing and one thing only for the next month: being in the moment. What would it look like and how would it make you better?
First and foremost, it will force you to do away with the notion that you are so important and so busy that you are forced to do several things at once. Hard truth alert: you are NOT that important, and you are NOT so busy. This is where I may lose some of you because this hard truth forces us to check our ego, which is something many will not do. Hence, the precious commodity that is the ego-less leader.
Let’s look at one common work example: speaking on the phone and writing e-mails at the same time. Or worse, speaking to someone (a subordinate or colleague) in person and writing e-mails at the same time. Of course, we’ve convinced ourselves that we need to do these things simultaneously because we are so busy. And won’t people be impressed by us! Now think of Scats,
“If you are not aware and in the moment for each action you are essentially counting on luck to effectively reload your weapon, regardless of how many times you have done it.”
Back to our example. What does the e-mail you are writing look like as you are multitasking? Does it have spelling or grammatical errors? Is your response incomplete or ill-though out? Did you “respond to all” instead of just to the sender, as requested? Did you respond with the obligatory “sounds good” and then dismiss the engagement, patting yourself on the back all the way? And what of the person you are speaking with? Did you say yes or no to something without giving proper thought or having proper context to the situation? Did you miss the expression on your subordinate’s face or their troubled body language that would necessitate a different, more personal conversation had you been paying attention? Do you really think the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t notice you are doing something else while you are speaking to them? And because nobody has called you on this behavior you assume you are doing a great job in your self-important world and you keep at it.
Effectiveness and Consistency.
People on the receiving end of your e-mails notice your spelling and grammatical errors and wonder about your competence. They see your superficial response and your reply to all mistake and question your engagement. Your employee or colleague takes note of your absence of focus during your face to face conversation and questions your manners, professionalism, and engagement. Not exactly the effective and consistent behavior we are looking to achieve.
However, on the other side of the equation, you respond to an e-mail with thought and clarity and the receiver notices and appreciates your insight. You avoid sending a subordinate down a rabbit hole because you caught an inconsistency in their plan and were able to help make a small, but significant correction. People come to you prepared because they know you will be listening. You notice the person speaking with you is distraught and you ask them if they are alright. You put the e-mail aside or you ask your guest to wait one moment while you finish, and then you look your guest in the eye. In short, you are in the moment and doing things LEADERS do. People notice this behavior and they appreciate it.
The scenarios are endless. The next common misconception poor leaders have is that they will be able to turn it on when it matters. “I’ll pay attention when it really matters.” “I’ll put thought into the e-mails that really matter.” The short answer is no you won’t. You’ve developed a habit by not being in the moment and it takes work to effectively and consistently perform a good behavior. By not being in the moment as a leader you have effectively and consistently developed poor behaviors. And make no mistake, people notice, and they don’t appreciate it.
Now take the final step and enter the arena where your leadership matters most, your home. Are you watching the news, Sports Center, or QVC while your spouse or significant other is speaking to you? Are you doing work while you are spending “quality” time with your children. Leaders are in the moment at all times. Being in the same room with your spouse or child does not mean you are engaged. Leaders engage. Prioritize. If you have work to get done, engage in the work and go get it done. Then come back and engage with your child or spouse. Separate and distinct acts that require you to be in the moment to get them done effectively and consistently, like great leaders do.
Your family, friends, and work colleagues will notice and appreciate you being in the moment. And guess what? It’s really hard to do. Welcome to leadership.
Now go light a candle, turn on some soft music, and practice being in the moment like a great leader!
Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, keynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.