Being Fully Present At Work: How Leaders Show Up

Being Fully Present At Work

There is a key moment near the beginning of our Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP). It takes place shortly after an inspirational and exciting day outing on the ropes course, where participants get to forge new bonds with each other through shared adventure. These kinds of days tend to have high emotion and genuine bonding, and can be very inspirational and idealistic. In this environment, resolutions are made and powerful statements declared about what will be different, forever, moving forward.

Inspirational day outings like this tend to be followed by just another workday, and a return to the old ways of being and doing. This is not through the fault of any person, but the sheer force of inertia. Habitual ways of being and doing normally take prolonged effort to change.

Fortunately for the leadership training cohort, their experience will be different from the norm.Their new insights and realizations are about to be followed by training and reinforcing experiences that will challenge them to live into their resolutions and statements from their adventure outing.

Therefore, the Monday after the ropes course, instead of returning to business as usual, the group is given an assignment. The assignment is for each person to rate every other person’s level of engagement with the leadership program on a scale of 1-10. One being lowest, ten being highest.

This activity can create quite a commotion, because many people do not receive the 9’s and 10’s that they may feel they deserve.

This feedback activity marks the beginning of a new phase in the program. The so-called honeymoon phase of excitement and novelty is over, and the group begins a forthright discussion about just how committed each team member is to their individual growth, and the common good of the team.

In other words, people are forced to consider how they are showing up.

Here, people can reflect on the following question:


Just how committed am I to becoming the best I can be in my life and career?


To this we add another question for consideration:


Why would you participate at any other level than 10?


The Four Different Ways People Can Show Up

The feedback process described above is intended to get leaders-in-development to reflect on how they are showing up in life. How we show up is incredibly important. It may even be “everything.” Why? Because in a world of factors we cannot control, it is something we can definitely wield control over.

Generally speaking, there are four different ways of showing up. Let’s explore them:


The No-Show


The first way of showing up is by not showing up at all. Missing the meeting. Missing the call. Missing the appointment.

So why are we even considering it a style of showing up? Because through the no-show a person is actually influencing the group very much. If they are expected to deliver something and don’t show up, then the team experiences a setback. If the team isn’t expecting anything from a person, and that person doesn’t show up, the group is still missing out, but it will never know what it has missed. It is missing out on whatever the no-show individual might have contributed.

Therefore, No-Showing is one way of showing up, or showing up in the negative. While it is a low-performing living and working strategy, it still has an enormous impact on a company, a team, and a community.


Checked Out


The second way of showing up is to carry your body to the event or activity – but only that. The image that comes to mind is of the individual who attends a meeting or a workshop and spends the entire time on their phone processing email. Or scrolling social media.

While this manner of showing up is very common inside and outside of the workplace, in a large part because we live in an increasingly distracted and attention-fragmented world, it sometimes seems like choosing the first option of No Show may be better than choosing Checked Out. At least with the No Show, a person has the option of being present with whatever they have decided to show up for.

Think of a working mother with a child sick from school. The child is laying in bed at home with a fever. Perhaps the mother may No Show a meeting at work to tend to her child. Or she may attend the meeting and delegate child care to someone else.

The least effective approach may be for the mother to attend the meeting at work, but be checked out from the discussion because she is texting with the babysitter about the CVS pharmacy rewards number to get discounted cold medicine for the ailing child in bed. In this scenario, she is neither present with her child, nor present for the meeting.

The in-between, neither here nor there, nature of the Checked Out strategy for showing up can be very frustrating for the person in question, and for their teammates as well, and may be considered a highly ineffective approach to showing up.


Agenda Based


In this style of showing up, a person has shown up physically – and their mind is present too. Perhaps even their heart, as well…

But this person is participating in the activity at hand with a self-focused agenda.

For example, the company has put together a task force of people to create a new communications policy for the company. While the task force has a leadership team, the door is open for anyone in the company to lend a hand to the effort, which will involve extensive information processing.

John Doe decides to attend the meeting. Though not because he is interested in supporting the effort to develop better communications in the company. He shows up because he is angling for a visible role that may get the boss’s attention. Or perhaps there is a co-worker on the task force that he would like to have an excuse to spend time with, for personal reasons.

Whatever those reasons are, if they are self-focused, then the person in question may be thought of as having an Agenda Based style of showing up to the activity at hand.

There is normally a personal upside to many of our activities, especially those activities that are done well and in good faith. Often, the upside is the personal gratification at having contributed something, or having done good work.

However, if self-advancement is the primary driver of showing up, it doesn’t necessarily help in the process of developing a collaborative, high performance team. Much of the time, team members can tell or vaguely sense that the individual has an agenda.


Fully Present


Here is high performance leader’s style of engagement. In this style, the person is physically, mentally, and often emotionally present as well. We have touched on this in past articles about vulnerability in leadership. This style of Fully Present showing up is by far the most effective of the four listed here.

This person is engaged with a spirit of helping drive the whole team and the entire organization forward. Their concern and attention is directed toward the group, and their environment. This is not to say these people are not self-aware. In fact, the ability to show up in this way is a sign of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

The key distinction is that such people are not focused on themselves. They engage with their activities with an enthusiasm and energy that demands they make the project the best it can be for them personally, and for every member of the team.




When going in to work tomorrow (or signing in), consider running a few questions to yourself. Questions like:

  • How am I showing up?
  • How would I like to show up?
  • Am I taking advantage of every opportunity to make a connection with the people around me?
  • How can I drive my teammates’ ideas up to a higher level?

After all, we spend a large percentage of our lives at work. Why would we not desire to be fully present, and show up as leaders?

Every new insight or innovation, every positive we can think of, comes out of the present moment – for you and your organization. So consider showing up as a fully-present contributor.





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