Leaders: preserve the quality of human communication everywhere by promoting a balance between face-to-face and electronic communication. ~Mission statement for Kibbitz Nest Bookstore
Sign at a new bookstore I recently visited in Chicago: “We are proudly a wifi-free zone.” Their mission “is to preserve the quality of human communication everywhere by promoting a balance between face-to-face and electronic communication media.”
I watched an interview with Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why and other best-sellers, and I believe he would appreciate this new bookstore. He said that when he and his friends go out for the evening, they agree to take only one cell phone. That one phone is exclusively for the purpose of the group, to make a restaurant reservation, get an Uber, etc.
I recognize that I frequently write about listening. I also believe that it’s become a lost art, a low priority, and in many cases an unconscious oversight because we’ve formed new habits that have us tethered to our cell phones.
Leaders, of all people, I believe should be the models of what it means to be present and truly listen.
Years ago I worked for a president of a small college. He had many responsibilities: fundraising, planning, speaking, etc. But he always had time to listen to people. Even though it was very common for someone to be sitting outside his office waiting for “their turn,” I don’t recall ever hearing anyone complain if the president was slightly off schedule because we all knew he was listening to someone and we would be the next person to get his full attention.
Here are a couple of interactions I recently experienced on the other end of the spectrum. When discussing active listening in a supervisor training, one of the participants said that he “needed” to be constantly looking at his phone because his daughter was currently in another country. And, what if something was wrong?!
I observed a meeting between two people where one person informed the other person that they had just hired a new employee and needed to be available to answer any questions. They placed their phone upright on the table and I watched them glance at it every time there was any movement on the screen indicating any incoming communication.
By multi-tasking we think we are being more productive. Even though countless research studies conclude that all we are doing is switching our attention and consequently reducing our productivity.
We are sacrificing being present for at least presumably being available. Which would you rather have, a leader who is “available” with very limited focus or, a leader who is “present” and gives you 100% of their attention?
If leaders believe that they are better leaders by being tethered to their cell phone and being constantly “available,” they are depriving followers of their presence (and in the process being less productive).