If you are unable to answer this question two potential reasons come to mind:

  1. Your kids aren’t allowed to eat donuts. In the quest to be a perfect parent, carrot sticks are the preferred healthy snack alternative. Tim Horton would roll in his grave.
  2. In your quest to be the perfect executive you’ve been too busy to notice. As your child reaches for their favorite donut, your mind is in the office.

I found myself in category 2. A family member was making a Tim Horton’s run and asked what my kids favorite donuts were, I hadn’t the faintest clue. This was a wake-up call for me to be more present.

1,000 leaders were surveyed in research for the Harvard Business Review book “The Mind of a Leader”. Respondents indicated that a more mindful presence is the optimal strategy to engage their people, create better connections, and improve performance.

In a survey of 2,000 employees, Bain and Company found that among 33 leadership traits the ability to be mindfully present is the most essential of all.

3 ideas for cultivating greater presence:

Manage Transitions

One meditation practice for beginners involves counting breaths to 10. It starts by counting the breaths on both the inhale and exhale, then on the inhale only, then on the exhale only.  Sounds simple right? Anyone can count to 10. It is equally simple to count to 11 if you are not present to the task.

Busy executives have many transitions during the day. Back to back meetings create the environment for metaphorically counting to 11. Take a breath between meetings and get re-centered for the next task at hand, start fresh again at 1.

When you walk into the house after a long day in the office you have reached 10 – don’t allow your mind to stay in the office … 11,12 13 – stop the work count and start the family count at 1. The same goes for the transition back to work, don’t allow any stress of the family to carry forward to the office.

Develop Rituals

Rituals can be in support of transitions or they can stand on their own. I have two examples from my personal experience that I found helpful.

The first was a ritual to manage the transition between work and home. I would stop at the end of my laneway, get out of the vehicle, and visualize leaving the stress of the workplace in a bag that could be picked back up in the morning on my way back to work.

The second is a pre-meeting ritual I developed after watching Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are”.  Prior to a meeting with an extensive agenda, I would escape to a private room and for two minutes hold a power pose with an intention to go into the meeting with extreme confidence and focus.

Actually Care

As an aspiring leader, I followed the practice of Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup company who developed a ritual of walking around and getting to know his employees, even remembering the names of their family members.

Rituals are not enough, you have to actually care. This came into full awareness for me when I ran into a former employee at a minor sports event about 6 months after we quit working together. I realized that I could not remember the name of her child.  I was shocked at how quickly the information faded from memory. At that moment (presence) I realized that the ritual was empty. I didn’t have the presence to actually care, I was just going through the motions.

Techniques of presence in the absence of caring don’t stand the test of time.  Six months have passed since the chance meeting with my former employee. Although I don’t know what her son’s favorite donut is, I doubt I will ever forget Jack. Or that his first hockey goal was scored in Macklin SK.



Photo By: Ricardo Zappala