How aware are you?

Let me ask you a simple question. How aware are you of what’s going on?

I mean, how really aware? What can you feel right now? What can you smell? Is it hot or cold? Can you recount everything that happened in the last five minutes? The people that went past you, the noises or changes in atmosphere? If I asked you where you were, how quickly would you be able to describe it?

Many of us will recognise the experience, whilst driving, of suddenly becoming aware of where we are and conscious that we cannot remember how we got there. Our hands are on the wheel, the road is in front of us, we are operating in the necessary way to perform the task at hand. But we aren’t present, we’re just following the flow.

Our workplaces are full of people doing the same, perhaps you’ve even experienced it yourself? Performing task but without being truly in the moment, getting the job done but without really understanding how or why. Getting from a to b, or 9 to 5. And when someone asks you what you’ve been up to, you have to pause and think.

When we talk about performance, it starts with consciousness.  Consciousness raises us beyond the completion of activity into contribution and delivery. It expands us beyond the immediate circumstances and unearths previously unseen opportunities. It unlocks in us the ability to connect on multiple levels and in multiple ways, even with the most seemingly mundane of task.

In turn, when we open ourselves to the possibilities that exist in people, in our organisations and in life, when we can experience our situation with simple curiosity and avoid the obfuscation of life’s unnecessary complexity. When we can find clarity and focus when we can process the multiple conflicting views and points of view. When we can see, hear, feel and allow our heart and head to inform us.

If we can do this then we can truly lead, ourselves, our teams and our organisations, not just follow the tracks.  And we can allow ourselves to enjoy the “right here, right now”, taking pleasure in the journey and not just the goal.

Presence and state

We all know that how you show up in a certain situation or moment can change the impact that you have and the outcomes that you achieve. No more so than when you hold a leadership position.

My advice to leaders is always to think as much about how they are as what they are doing or saying. The impact of presence and state convey more than words, actions or intent will ever do.

Think of the manager, arms full of papers rushing from one meeting to next past their team who are up to their necks in work. Or the conversation when they’re “listening”, but there’s no-one home behind the eyes.

Our ability to control our state and to be present in the moment when people around us most need us is critical to being truly successful and effective as a leader. Using emotion effectively rather than letting it leak and making the moment more about us than others.

Of course, everyone is human and there will always be moments when we are down, distracted, angry or even simply unhappy. But there is a big difference from “having a moment”, to having a permanent state where we make ourselves the central point around which the emotional state of others should gravitate.

Making a conscious decision to be selfless in action is one of the biggest leadership skills and the higher up the organisation, the more self-control, discipline and focus is required. The closer to the sun you get, the larger shadow you cast. Each of us in our role as leaders would be well served to take a little more time to focus on our presence and state.

Expectation versus reality

In life, whether  at work or at home, there are expectations and there are realities. One hopes for certain things to occur and then observes how things play out over time. Rarely does life play the hand which we expect to encounter and yet often the reality is, in real terms, no worse than our expectation.

Just different.

Some say that if you hope for nothing, you’ll never be disappointed. But that seems to me to miss the point, you have to question the purpose of life itself if you hope for nothing more than already exists.

Others say that you should make things happen, not wait for chance. But can you make snow fall on the perfect landscape, or engineer a serendipitous meeting of minds? Many of the most valuable moments in life can’t be made to occur.

Things happen that are out of our control. Instead, how we respond to them, how we react to them are the determinants of our happiness and success. Our ability to smile, to carry on, to hope and to dream are the demonstrable outcomes of our resilience as human beings and the key to our meaningful existence.

Seeing the opportunity, the possibility and positivity in circumstances beyond our control is a measure of our ability to progress, to succeed and to survive. Because, in most cases, the gap between our expectations and reality is rarely as significant as it might feel at the time.

The reality is that at repeated points in life we will all be sad, disappointed, let down or hurt. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to try, to hope, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care, shouldn’t continue to strive or even love. In many ways, the power of all of those emotions manifests most prominently when they fail to be realised. In adversity we see the true strength and beauty of the essence of being human.

By recognising this, we can choose to be strong when times are hard, we can choose to smile when times are sad and we can choose to see light when all around is dark. No matter how impossible it might seem at the time.