Leading from the Present Moment (While Heeding the Call of the Future)
“The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” While I don’t actually know who to attribute this quote to, I know that a version of it is found in the movie Kung Fu Panda. And I can’t deny that I like it. I like it a lot.
Yes, it sounds a little Hallmark-ish, a little sappy. But there’s truth in it. There is nothing that can be done about the past – it’s gone. And the future may or may not unfold as you imagine. But the here and now, the present – this is a powerful place to hang out.
Unfortunately, the world in which you find yourself – particularly as a leader – is a very, very busy one. There are numerous expectations to be met and therefore plans must be made in order to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. So the question that I often find myself holding (particularly at this time of year) is this: how do you stay fully present in this moment, even while you engage in whatever preparations are required for the future, no matter how distant?
The fact that I entertain this question at this time of year is simultaneously relevant and ironic, because in so many traditions the coming weeks are a time of “being patient”, of waiting, of celebrating the here and now. But in North America, recent holidays such as thanksgiving (in Canada), Halloween and Remembrance Day are barely over and already Christmas plans are well underway. I’m guilty of jumping on that bandwagon, I admit it. While I haven’t actually started Christmas shopping, I have contemplated lists, asked people for gift suggestions, scheduled some holiday get-togethers – and there’s still 6 weeks to go!
Having played with this question for a long time – many years, in fact – my sense is that the key to being fully present while planning for the future lies in creating space for both, and, allowing the present to be your primary focus. As you strive to lead your team through the end of this year and into 2018, there’s something about taking time and doing what needs to be done to anchor yourself completely in this moment, so that when you make your plans for the future, you’re still here. It’s about holding your focus in the now, knowing that you’ll be able to do the same in the future, when the future becomes the present (and it will; just give it time).
Wondering how to hold this dual focus? Well, here are a few strategies to work with:
- Before starting a task, close your eyes and go inward. Focus on how your body feels right now.
- Root yourself; feel your feet firmly planted on the ground beneath you, and imagine a string travelling through your core, from the tip of your head, through the middle of your body, anchoring you to the present time and space.
- Quickly (but consciously and deliberately) inventory 5-10 things for which you are grateful right now, in this moment.
- Focus on your breath which, after all, is totally happening right now. Nothing brings you to the present moment quicker than this. Maintain your focus for 5 full breaths, filling your lungs completely, and exhaling fully.
Once you’ve engaged in any or all of these strategies, you’ll be able to feel yourself completely engaged in the present moment. You’re here, and nowhere else. With this solid anchor, you can venture forth and make your plans, knowing that your anchor will do what it’s supposed to do, which is keep you in this space.
Bottom-line: leadership requires you to stay present in this moment, even while you plan for the future. Yes, life is moving along at a somewhat alarming speed. There is much to be done. And, doing whatever needs to be done while keeping yourself fully grounded in the present experience will serve you far better than fast-forwarding through your life. Stay focused, stay grounded, stay present. This is the best way to gear up for whatever the future holds.