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Can I be an effective leader without my phone?

Put Your Phone Away 

Being a truly present leader in all your interactions can radically increase your impact and influence. As outlined in my previous post, forgetting your title and focusing on the person in front of you are two important ways to be an effective, present leader. In this post I will am going to give you one more tip to help you optimize how you lead: put your phone away. 

There few places one can go without seeing the ubiquitous phone. It’s nice that people can get a hold of us wherever we go, that’s a convenience. However, as leaders these useful devices can hinder our ability to gain trust with others, which is necessary to become a great leader.

The Value of Pen and Paper

I had a co-worker who never took his phone to meetings. He never even brought his computer. He took notes on paper! At first, this bothered me. When I began teaching college courses, I finally understood the reasoning for my co-worker’s previously thought-to-be madness. Research proves that people retain much more when they hand-write notes rather than type them on a computer. I decided to try it in one of the classes I taught. To my surprise, the students were more engaged; they weren’t checking Facebook, texting, or playing games. Face it, we have all been in those meetings where it seems a better use of our time to answer emails than to listen to whoever is presenting at the moment. But, at that moment, we disengage, miss important information, and lose all focus on the meeting.

Historical Perspective

Some of you are old enough to remember when your work phone was only available to you at work, and your personal phone was only available to you when you were at home. Let me suggest there were some great benefits to not always being available.  The first one I can think of is a bit of privacy! But, the evolution of the phone has changed us and how we interact with those around us. When I was a kid, if you weren’t home or in the office, no one could reach you. If you had a secretary (currently known as an office assistant), he or she took a message on paper, and you returned the call after you got the note in your hands.  For some important people I knew, they had a message service, so even if they missed calls at home, the service would take a message.  In the 70’s, somebody came out with a message recording machine that allowed the caller to leave a message after the tone you retrieved at a later time. The only way I knew of these machines was by watching the Rockford Files. Jim Rockford, played by James Garner, was the only person I knew who had one, and he wasn’t even a real person.

By the 1980’s, everyone had an answering machine. It was with great anticipation that people would race home to listen to their messages. Imagine the disappointment when there weren’t any. It wasn’t only the messages that excited us; it was also the creative way people invited you to leave your recording. I had a friend whose message said, “Hello. Hello. I can’t hear you…Oh, that’s because I am not here. Please leave a message after the tone.” I loved hearing how creative people could be.

Then the pager entered our world. Everyone had a pager hanging on their hip that notified them by an annoying beep or vibration if they missed a call. Others around them interpreted this to mean they were important and needed to respond immediately. This attention made people feel important. It wasn’t long before the cellular phone replaced the pager.

Are you old enough, like me, to remember when cellphones first came out? If not, just know they were nothing like today’s sleek, small devices; they were huge and bulky. You knew if a person had one because they couldn’t hide it, and they didn’t try. They would take up half the desk in meetings! People would walk around with these monstrosities, and others would see them and assume they had a certain level of importance.

Today, our mobile devices fit in our pockets and purses. We set them to vibrate so we won’t be embarrassed when they ring in a meeting, but as soon as they go off, we go off with them. I’ve been at meals with leaders (and followers) who think the person calling is more important than me, the person sitting right in front of them. We have all been in meetings where people leave the room to answer a call. These actions scream that the person on the other end of the line deserves attention more than those of us who took our time from other important matters to attend this meeting.

The Value of Leaving Your Phone Behind

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson from my co-worker: if I want to be a present leader, it’s best to leave my phone at home, in my car, or on my desk, so that I can focus on the people around me at the moment. There are very few situations that cannot wait. Giving your undivided attention to those around you shows them that you appreciate their time and value them more than whatever else you have going on or coming up next. So, turn off your phone and let the person you are with know that they really do have your undivided attention.

Helpful next steps.

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