I remember when it first happened to me. I was momentarily distracted by an incoming message from someone not in my meeting, when I was asked by those present, “What are your thoughts, Adam?”
Good question. The meeting was a conference call with our 250 senior leaders and at that moment, I had no idea what they were talking about.
Sounds familiar? In today’s workplace, advanced technologies and data-driven artificial intelligence are challenging us to rethink the style and pace at which we work, pulling us in different directions throughout the course of a day. While “keep moving or perish” could serve as a motto for the digital age, it also speaks to the increasing pressure to multitask our way through a variety of projects and meetings without giving our undivided attention to any one task.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that just because business is 24/7, we must be too. Digital connections certainly make things easier, but we still need to show up and be present if we want to feel grounded in our work. Here is a bit more about how I stay present – as an employee, a team member, and a CEO.
Protect Your Time
I struggle, along with everyone else, to stay focused amidst a swirl of emails, texts, meetings, and social media. At a higher level, this only gets more difficult to do. To be productive, I have found that I need to protect my time. Each day, I set three goals for the things I want to achieve. This sounds simple, but it really helps me stay focused and push through the myriad distractions that threaten to eat up my time.
No matter where my travels may take me during the week, I try to be home for a Saturday morning tennis game. And I unplug in my rose garden, where change happens at a different pace than the technology world.
Show Up for Your Team
However much we talk about virtual communication, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to staying grounded in business, digital connections certainly make things easier, but you still need to show up, be physically present, and engage with your team as much as possible.
Moreover, working together means exactly that – tackling a problem or challenge and solving it together, as a team.
One of the best parts of my job is hearing ideas, getting feedback, and working with colleagues to accomplish something bigger than any of us could do alone. What our people accomplish by working together is a great reminder that big change is made up of a lot of individual efforts. That’s why I love spending time not only with other leadership but with people at all levels of the company.
Make Yourself (More) Visible
I push myself to be accessible by being present in places where people might not necessarily expect a CEO to show up. Like interviewing employees on a tall ship in Sydney Harbor or on the top of a double-decker bus in London. Alternatively, writing personal replies to the employees who fell for our April Fools’ memo (suggesting I might launch into space as part of a marketing campaign).
But visibility is important when it comes to bigger issues, too. I have seen a greater consciousness of global and corporate citizenship, rising largely from younger employees. A shared desire to use our innovative thinking and cutting-edge technology to make a genuine impact on the world around us.
Employees and stakeholders today expect companies to demonstrate purpose and show their humanity with positive social impact. As CEO of Apple, Tim Cook has publicly addressed issues ranging from digital privacy to immigration, and whether or not you agree with his politics, putting that kind of stake in the ground sends a clear message to constituents about where your company stands.
“It’s not enough to be a large company that simply comments on today’s hot-button issues,” he said at the 2018 Fortune CEO Initiative conference. “We should only speak when we have certain knowledge to bring to the subject.”
This type of presence goes a long way in shaping your culture.
Take a Minute to Slow Down
Adapting to digital transformation can be confusing and even overwhelming at times, especially when there is no single blueprint to guide us in our attempts to balance tangible human interactions within an emerging AI-first world.
In a culture where we are always thinking 10 steps ahead, sometimes simply taking a moment to pause, breathe, and acknowledge the here-and-now is enough to keep you grounded and connected to those around you.
By Adam Warby, CEO, Avanade