This post originally appeared on Forbes.com here.
As a leader, I am certain that I don’t always give my team members my full, undivided attention. I’ve been in countless meetings with a team member (employee) and find my mind wandering to an email I just read, a client I need to get back to or a problem waiting for me at home.
Because I have a busy mind, this is a familiar scene for me. Leadership is fast-paced, and it’s easy to forget how important it is that we give every team member our full, focused attention when we’re with them.
We’ve been given this gift. To lead and make a difference in the lives of others — and with this comes the responsibility for learning how to best utilize it.
Great Leaders Lift Their Teams Up
I believe that my presence as a leader makes all the difference in a team member’s experience with my company. When I slow down and become fully present, I become a “lifter upper” and not a “dragger downer.” These are terms I like to use to remind myself to come back to the moment, right here, right now, and really focus on lifting my team members up. To meet them where they are professionally and personally, without judgment, teaching and supporting them to the best of my ability.
That presence allows for me to see qualities — both positive and those that need attention — that I may have missed before. Whether I like it or not, my team members are looking to me and how I conduct myself personally and professionally for how they may flourish in their careers and in their lives.
What do I mean by “lifter upper” and “dragger downer?” Let’s start with “dragger downer.” No leader would intentionally hold a team member back from reaching their full potential. In some cases, it simply comes down to the way we listen to our team members.
Listening and thinking at the same time is critically different than just listening. By not thinking while listening to your employees, leaders are prone to operating on autopilot. This holds back team members back from growth, as well as opportunities to understand their thoughts and feelings.
Often, our criticism of ourselves and others crushes our ability to observe what is really happening. Our thoughts are consumed by the past, which we can’t change, and the future, which we can’t control. I know, because I had to challenge myself to accept that all I can control is this moment, and the awareness that I offer to my team members.
Leaders invest in their own growth and development in many ways. We might take seminars on leadership and management, watch TED Talks and read articles on the latest and greatest ways to motivate our teams. We attend conferences to hone in on our industry craft and network with leaders in similar roles. These are all important growth tools.
But there’s a tool that is much more powerful and transcends the rest: learning to be truly aware and present.
Be a Leader That Listens
For me, being aware and present means subsiding the ongoing chatter in my head. I use my daily meditation practice and biannual silent retreats to grow my “awareness” muscle and be able to more easily put away all distractions so I can listen to team members with a clear mind, instead of making deductions or assumptions while listening. Not problem solving (in my head!) while listening.
Imagine taking the time to pause – which can feel uncomfortable sometimes – to allow what you’ve heard to settle for a minute before responding. “Lifting up” can be as simple as understanding that your words and your presence matter. You can feel when you have the full presence of another human being, and that feeling is fulfillment.
When a team member knows I’ve given my full energy and presence to them, they appreciate the outcome of the conversation even if it doesn’t go exactly as they would have liked. Consider the impact presence could have when having a difficult conversation, like when I had to talk to a long-time, valued team member about changing her role and lowering her compensation.
Because I took a mindful approach to the conversation, the outcome was a “lifter upper” for this struggling team member. The conversation is not about being told what you want to hear; it is about being heard.
By “lifting up” people, we become highly aware. When I am a “lifter upper” for a team member, I notice their strengths and weaknesses at a whole new level. I am more patient with their areas of growth and begin creating thoughtful plans to maximize their strengths and to help, where necessary, improve upon any perceived weaknesses. I’ve learned to be less reactive and more responsive. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree on everything.
In fact, being present may help the team member and me realize that we weren’t meant to work together – that there is a lack of alignment, which is really a good thing for both people.
After over a decade of hard work implementing these ideas, I better understand what might be important to my team members, allowing me to gain greater insight into enhancing their life experience with the company. By becoming a “lifter upper,” we become an active part of our team members’ life journeys to help them become their best selves.
It’s a challenging exercise, but well worth our time. I hope you’ll put some thought into whether you’re truly your team's “lifter upper.”