Presents or Presence?

It started snowing this morning around 4 am. I am in my office watching a beautiful winter storm cover the streets of downtown Littleton, Colorado – forecasters are predicting one to two feet. My Portuguese Water Dog Mo is completely relaxed on the floor next to me. And I am thinking to myself, “What was the most profound piece of clarity you became aware of this year?”

executive life coaching brings clarity and perspective, allowing limitless possibilities.

It’s the realization that the greatest gift we can give another person is presence: that clear and open space for another to be more of who they already are. No evaluation and no expectation. Just being there. Every strong relationship is based on presence. Think of any leader you admire and I’ll bet you he or she has presence.

In its most mature form, presence is engagement without attachment. A person is very much there but is not trying to jockey for a position in your mind. Nor is he or she attached to what will come next. With presence you are not trying to motivate, fix or change what is in that moment. In fact, you see the perfection in every moment and simply want to witness. Indeed, that’s easier said than done.

Presence is cultivated by experience and training – mine has grown through my crises, pain and discipline. Presence takes courage and clarity. A great teacher from the wisdom traditions once said, “the highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating”. Try it sometime. It takes practice, because in our culture (and especially in business) we are trained to size-up, analyze and compare everything we see. Presence takes courage because it is often accompanied by a feeling of vulnerability. We think we are exposed as we become open to what is coming next – we have to let go of the practice of controlling. Yet by letting go of control, we open ourselves to limitless possibilities.

This is what Peter Senge, one of the pioneers of systems thinking, writes about in his book Presence. He and his colleagues reviewed all of their greatest breakthroughs with governments, NGOs, and corporate teams and found that the flashpoint occurred just as the participants came to a still point they called “presence.” These authors confirmed the experience of others. That presence is the birthplace of innovation and creativity. When we suspend beliefs, assumptions, limitations and filters we experience clarity. Presence happens in the spaces between our thoughts and gives rise to what was the non-existent alternative.

I wrestled with how to answer the question I asked myself because I had another big insight this year. I have come to realize that there is one central, natural and deep yearning we all have. It’s a hunger so universal that I think it is one of the biggest spiritual hungers of human existence. It is the need for empathy. To be heard, seen, connected and acknowledged. It is what fuels most of the extra activity this time of year. Parties, gifts, cards and visits. To let another know they matter and to know that you matter. Can you guess what is the most powerful way to offer empathy to another? No it’s not presents in any form. It is your presence.

Perhaps presence is one of the qualities you want to assess and further cultivate in yourself. If you do, I guarantee that your leadership effectiveness will increase because your relationships will deepen. You will fill empty empathy tanks around you and, through the connection that follows, you will meet a spiritual need that, when unmet, drives most every thing you do.

This holiday season give yourself and others the presents of presence. – Brian