A Present of Presence

Tell me one more time: why am I going?

I’m off to a conference later this coming week. As I think about all the time, energy, and money it takes to fly far away and spend several days in very long meetings, the intimidation of it all could be fairly overwhelming for this introvert. I’m going to feel overfull–mentally and relationally–while at the same time feeling utterly empty–physically and perhaps emotionally.

I’m going to be exhausted. And yet, I know it’s all worth it.

Because presence is practically priceless.

Singer Josh Groban will be playing a concert in a nearby city in a few months. I’m thinking about paying £100 for two tickets. Why would I do that? I own all of his albums already, so it’s not likely that I’ll hear anything new.

Because presence is practically priceless.

As human beings, we inherently value being together, such that we’re willing to make huge investments to be at the same place at the same time as someone else. In a day of incredible communications technology, we still haven’t let go of the value of being face-to-face. And I suspect, that even if technology one day progresses to where we can transport around the world as easily as Scotty beams people up to the Starship Enterprise, I don’t think that will in any way cheapen the value we place on presence.

It’s one of the most significant gifts that we can give to one another.

But it has to go beyond simply showing up. I can promise you that, if I attend Josh Groban’s concert and he does nothing but sit on a stool on stage and text his friends back home–never once tapping the piano keys or vocalizing one impressive note–I will feel sorely disappointed and wasteful, not to mention angry that he wasn’t truly present and connecting with us, his audience.

I recall being involved in a massive planning project. I was one member of a team, and there was a clear leader overseeing the whole thing. It disappointed me when, just prior to one of our 3-hour planning meetings, the leader would say something like this: “Hey, if there’s any way that I don’t have to be there the whole time….”

This comment would trigger my mind to suddenly go into whining-adolescent mode: What?!?! We haven’t even started the meeting…your meeting…and you’re already looking forward to when you can leave? At the end of the day, this is your project…and you don’t even want to be here?!?!

Presence, accessibility, involvement…these are some of the most desired characteristics that followers would like to have in a leader. You may have heard it said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists” (more on that in a later blog post), but more often than not, team members would rather have a team leader who is fully present than one who can never be found.

And the expectation cuts the other way as well. We too, as followers, need to be present in our endeavors. If our colleagues and superiors are to be able to lean upon us reliably, we need to make sure that we show up…that we are truly present, and not just in the room.

Presence is expensive. There are costs to be paid. Sacrifices to be made. But, at the end of the day, the gift of ourselves is perhaps at the heart of all of our greatest contributions.

So, I’m challenged: am I stingy, holding back my time, energy, and attention from others? Or am I willing to fully engage as an excellent follower, to make a present of my presence to others, so that we can all move forward together?


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