How to Keep Yourself on Task and Be Present for Others

Being present is a key leadership trait: present to others, present to the priorities, present to the tasks at hand and present to what is unfolding in the moment. Often times, it is a juggling act to determine where to place your presence in the moment. That’s true especially when it comes to others.

As a leader, you know people deserve 100% of your attention. And yet it is not always possible to shift gears and be the present for the open door policy. How is the conflict between a priority that has your focus and a knock at your door best handled?

Knowing when an open door lacks being present

I was “raised” at IBM where the open door policy was taken seriously. It was a management policy to respect the individual, build trust and foster collaboration. As such, my door was open so people could drop in to provide me with an update, meet at the spur of the moment, ask a question or brainstorm a problem.

Always, I dropped what I was doing when there was a knock at my door. And many times, I was not present to who had knocked. My mind was still focused on the task from I had dropped in order to respond to the knock.

In truth, I was not always able to switch gears to give my undivided attention. As a result, I wasn’t at my best as a listener, sounding board or problem solver. And if I knew it, the person utilizing the open door knew it.

Sound familiar? It wasn’t until I was assessing management training for our staff that I understood there was another way. In that curriculum, the class on being present suggested a better way while still respecting the individual, building trust and fostering collaboration.

Handling the open door and being present

Managing with an open door policy is a good thing, but it doesn’t have to mean your open door takes precedence over what you may be knee-deep in at the moment. Feeling obligated to drop what you are doing and turn your attention toward the person who has walked in asking “Do you have a minute?” can backfire.

The point is to be present with that person, providing undivided attention to the issue at hand. Sometimes that may not be possible if your mind is deep in thought on a task, whether it be modeling in a spreadsheet, responding to a thorny email, or creating an ROI presentation.

Give yourself permission to be honest by saying, “You deserve my undivided attention, and right now I would be distracted by the work I am doing. Give me 15 minutes and I’ll come down to your office. Will that work for you?”

If it is an urgent situation, the person will let you know. More than likely, it will be acceptable. People know when you are not present and distracted. Most would rather have 100% of your attention than 50% of it out of an obligation to be ready when called upon.

How do you keep yourself on the task at hand and be present for others?