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The Potter's Hand

The Most Important Question Every Leader Needs to Ask

Jeanne Stevens
Founding and Co-Lead Pastor | Soul City Church

“Location, Location, Location” is a well-known real estate mantra used when buying and selling a home. But what if the phrase could be reclaimed as a leadership mantra to help us learn how to be present in our leadership. We’ve probably all been in a meeting, and as the meeting progressed, the level of presence in the room began to wane. People started checking their phones, laptops opened, and it was evident it was not to take notes. Or maybe it happened to you. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a conversation with someone, and your mind drifted back to a problem you were trying to solve earlier in the week, or you started thinking about the call you have in a few hours. Your body is present, but every other part of you is in a different location.

With all we have walked through the past few years, most of the leaders I know are struggling to be present. Honestly, it sounds like a simple problem to solve; what’s so hard about being in the here and now? The problem is that most of us don’t know how to do it. We have learned how to unconsciously or habitually react by forming thoughts and judgments without knowing what we are sensing, feeling, or thinking. We are living and leading on autopilot. We’re here, but not really here. And in the process, we become disconnected from what is really happening in our lives—disconnected from our bodies, hearts, and minds. Living in What Was or all of our What Ifs, we forget how to be here in what is. All of that disconnection eventually spills out in how we lead.

There have been countless research studies on the impact of distraction, multitasking, and trying to hold many confusing circumstances all at once. But being present is not just about learning what to do with our devices and how to spend our time as leaders better. Being present is about all of you being all the way here. 

  • When your thoughts race at night.
  • When you find yourself avoiding situations where something could go wrong.
  • When you find yourself repeating the same fight with your partner over and over again.
  • When you find yourself thinking that one day your life will be better than it is now.
  • When you fix that problem, lose that weight, get that job, have that relationship.
  • When you numb out with any kind of addiction to not face what’s going on in your present.
  • When you avoid your inbox or text messages because they have piled up and it feels unmanageable.
  • When you replay a conversation that already happened over and over again.

The reality is that these pain points, tensions, and disconnection in our work, relationships, and lives stem back to not being present. We aren’t present as leaders because we spend the majority of our energy either rehashing the past or rehearsing the future instead of receiving what is happening in the present moment.

  • Rehashing the past is trying to change something that has already happened.
  • Rehearsing the future is trying to control something that hasn’t yet happened.
  • Receiving the present is choosing to experience what is occurring here and now.

It’s not that we don’t have much to learn from the past and that we shouldn’t be thoughtful planners about the future; it’s that the past is a great place to learn from, but it’s a terrible place to live. The future is a great place to hope for, but it’s impossible to live in. The present is the only place where God lives, and it’s where God invites us to live. We were made for the here and now, and we will never experience the PEACE of God if we don’t dwell in the PRESENT with God.

Leadership is often a function of learning how to ask the right question at the right time. Jesus was masterful at asking questions. He asked more questions than he offered answers. I believe one of the reasons he asked so many questions is that we don’t transform from experiences; we transform from reflecting on our experiences. One of the best ways to start reflecting on where you are and practicing presence in your leadership is to ask yourself, What’s Here Now? It’s a location question. It’s a way to help you pay attention to where you are and then come back to the present moment. Thankfully, it’s a question you can ask yourself anytime and anywhere.

You can simply pause, breathe, and check-in with yourself by asking, 
  • What’s Here Now? 
  • What am I sensing in my body? 
  • What am I feeling in my heart? 
  • What am I thinking in my mind? 

As you notice and name your body sensations, feelings, and thoughts, you can be sure if blame, shame, unprocessed grief, bitterness, or guilt show up, you are rehashing the past. And if you find yourself facing worry, denial, pretending, obligation, or wanting to control a situation, you are rehearsing the future. And if you are willing, you can allow the sensations, thoughts, and feelings to serve as an invitation to come back to the present moment. To practice being here and now, because if it’s not happening now, it’s not happening.

Thinking about both the past and the future are ways we contemplate life—but the problem with only thinking about life is that it’s an ineffective way to transform it. In the wise words of Father Richard Rohr, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” The only place where we actually live is in the present moment.

Leaders set the tone for their culture. A present leader is a peaceful leader that knows how to lead with healthy power. They can connect authentically, build confidence in others, and inspire people to action. Present leaders instill trust in big and small ways as they pay attention, listen with sincerity, and offer authentic care to the people they lead.

WHAT’S HERE NOW? Is one of the most important questions every leader needs to ask and answer. If you don’t know where you are now, it will be hard to figure out how to get to what’s next.

Erwin McManus