Many managers have bragged to me over the years about how available they are to their peers and employees. “I’ve got an open-door policy,” or “people always know they can talk to me when they need to,” or “I’m all about my people.”
Many of these people who tout these characteristics aren’t, in fact, “present” for their teammates; instead, they’re just “available.”
There is a difference. Being available can lead to effective tactical maneuvering, information-sharing, quick responses to customers, and short-term problem-solving. Being available is often a perfect thing, indeed. It means people don’t have to waste time hunting you down, and it means that things move more quickly. Being available gives employees the gift of your time and expertise. Being highly available means you take your management responsibilities seriously.
I would argue being present is more of a leadership characteristic. It suggests a real investment in the other person – a kind of radical mindfulness about that person that helps you uncover their motivations, fears, and talents. It means you’re taking the time to get in from the edges of things and into the center, where the real meaning lies. It means you aren’t satisfied with superficiality or convenience, and that you want to do the hard work of leading in the visceral way that great leaders do.
Being present for another person means that at the moment, they are the center of your attention and your intention. Striving for availability reveals a transactional purpose while trying to be present reveals the aim of achieving depth and discovery.
When we intend to be simply available to others, we are focused on sharing what we know. When our intention is on being present, we are focused instead on what we don’t yet know.
Being fully present is quite a challenge, and no one can do it 100% of the time. But it’s important to recognize even if you’re widely available to people; you might not be present in the way that drives relational depth, motivation, and mutual growth.