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It’s Not Enough to Just Show Up

3 Ways to Make Sure Your Presence Adds Value

A good deal of our work is focused on helping people become better, more effective leaders in whatever roles they occupy. So, we spend a lot of our time in that headspace. Whether the work at hand is leadership driven or not, we’re usually viewing it through that lens.

We’ve experienced and studied a lot of different styles and approaches; some good, some not so good. But there are common themes that reveal themselves no matter what the sector, situation, or client.

What it Means to Show Up

There’s much talk these days about how important it is to ‘show up’ for your people. In other words, being visible and in their midst, rather than just a voice on high. The loss of Her Majesty Elizabeth II last week has put an exclamation mark on the thoughts we’ll share here.

Whether or not you support the Monarchy, it’s well recognized that the Queen had perfected the art of connecting with people from as high a leadership position as one could argue exists today. She ‘showed up’ literally thousands of times throughout her 70-year reign, to people from all walks of life, across the Commonwealth and far beyond. During the best of times and the worst, her very presence, how she conducted herself and interacted with others, had impact.

She did so much more than just be there and be seen, and that’s precisely what made her so effective, influential, and memorable. She was present. She engaged with the people around her, often perfect strangers. She did her homework beforehand. She asked questions and she listened.

She may not have introduced new topics into the conversation, but she always responded if asked a question. And she was able to do so because she was curious, paid attention, and honoured those around her. She was a formidable example of what it means to engage as a leader and as a human. Below are three key lessons she embodied so well, and that we’d all be wise to keep in mind as we go about our work and our lives.

1. If you’re there, be there... the entire time.

When you choose to spend time with people, you need to commit. So many times, we’ve witnessed people attending meetings, whether in person or remotely, appear and then disappear. Figuratively by distraction with their phones, laptops, or side conversations, and literally by turning off their cameras for the balance of a remote conversation and becoming just a silent black box on the screen.

Besides the obvious lack of professionalism and rudeness of this behaviour, think for a moment about what it says to everyone else present. It says, “You’re not important, what you’re doing or saying isn’t important, and I simply don’t care enough to pay attention and participate.”

Why even bother? You’re fooling no one and it would be far less damaging for everyone else, and your own credibility, to simply not attend in the first place.

You owe it to everyone who’s taken time to be there with you to engage and at the very least pay quiet respect to the conversation and work being done, or to seize the opportunity to support, reinforce, and guide those you are being trusted to lead.

2. Do your homework.

Showing up with nothing to offer, doesn’t bring value. In fact, it wastes the time of those around you who have to stop and bring you up to speed. And it again sends the message that the work at hand wasn’t important enough for you to bother to brief yourself about.

If you’ve been invited to join, or you proactively attend, it’s your responsibility to make yourself aware of the subject at hand, the context of this conversation, who will be participating, and what the objectives are. This way you’re prepared to add value to the conversation and at the very least, ask intelligent questions.

3. Pay attention and engage.

We’re not suggesting you take control of the conversation, because often the wisest words come from whoever is last in the room to speak. But what we are saying is that if you’re paying attention, you’ll know when it’s the right time to share your thoughts. Be curious and ask questions- thoughtful ones.

Remember this is an opportunity for you to encourage the behaviours you want to see more of. It’s a chance for you to guide or support the direction of the work being done. It’s also an opening for you to connect with others as people and begin to build or strengthen existing relationships. But you can only do these things successfully if you’re actually aware of what’s going on around you.

A good leader leads the people from above them. A great leader leads the people from within them." -M.D. Arnold

“You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” -Ken Kesey

Until next week, think about what you bring to the table whenever you show up.

Ian & Marla


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