The Power of Being Fully Present

“The success of an intervention depends on the interior conditioner of the intervenor.”
— William O’ Brien, former CEO, Hanover Insurance Company

I’ve been noticing lately that there is a significant difference in my undergraduate classes in Media Studies when I use the time it takes me to walk to the classroom to settle myself and to remind myself–as a sort of mantra–that the most important thing I can do is to be fully in the moment, aware, and engaged with my students.

All the preparation that I do to develop lectures, create exercises, host discussions, and provide comments on student work is important, of course.  But the effect of my work is greatly diminished if I am not able:

  1. to bring all of my awareness and attention to the students
  2. to do my best to begin the class from where the students’ hearts and minds are   …. rather than insisting they somehow make the jump to where I am.

Classes where I am able to do this are much better than those where I’m distracted or focused entirely on the information I want to provide.

As I pay more attention to this, I notice it is also true for meetings, presentations, and consulting.

I was interested to learn recently that Søren Kierkegaard wrote about this long ago (I’ve added paragraphing).

If One Is Truly to Succeed in Leading a Person to a Specific Place, One Must First and Foremost Take Care to Find Him Where He is and Begin There.

This is the secret in the entire art of helping. 

Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he–but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.

If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.

But all true helping begins with a humbling.

The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.

Thanks to Otto Schamer of MIT for sharing the two quotes in this post.  I’m currently revisiting his interesting work, designed to help leaders and groups to develop their best work in the face of an uncertain future.

Source: Chapter A2 from Kierkegaard’s Writings, Volume 22 translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong.


Appreciative Inquiry

Most of Western society is better at negative or critical inquiry than we are at appreciative inquiry where we find what is RIGHT about a person or group’s performance.

It not only energizes individuals and groups when leaders recognize the things that go well, it also gives the leader positive momentum.

One simple thing you can try right away:

Every two weeks or so, set up a list of your subordinates, peers, and boss. Make notes about anything well done. Check off each person as you recognize good work. Then start again.

Most of the time, you won’t have to do anything special. The list will prompt you to be in a position to notice people’s work and to say (or write) something about it. Your comments can be short and information. Make this fast and easy.

There are many free resources on the Internet and books about this topic. Here are a few that we like.

David Cooperrider at Case Western Reserve University is generally credited with turning this idea into a formal organizational development process. Here’s a short summary written by David and Diana Whitney: A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry

The Appreciative Inquiry Commons provides many free resources and links. The site is very rich and quite dense. Here are some starting links:

US Navy Case Study

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency

materials for appreciative inquiry programs