“It’s connections to other human beings — real-life connections, not digital ones — that nourish us and make us feel like we count.”

— Nancy Colier, The Power of Off

Imagine you are deep in thought or having a meaningful conversation and suddenly you hear…

  • Ping!
  • DIIIINNNNGG
  • Ching, ching, ching, ching

The source is your phone. Your eyes move to the screen, and you have a choice – engage or disregard.

By engaging you stop what you are doing – whatever you were previously paying attention to becomes secondary. Disregarding the prompt is also a choice, allowing you to remain in the moment, with the person in front of you.

Effective leaders are ON when it counts. They prioritize the attention of a person over a screen.

I recall attending a meeting a few years ago where technology got in the way of a productive conversation. The leader began the session effectively, personally engaging the audience by reviewing the agenda and expected outcomes. However, he soon lost interest in the meeting and retreated to his smartphone. The conversation soon strayed off-topic.

The leader asked several times “what did you say?” as he tried to engage in the conversation. An attendee had the courage to call out his behavior. Humbled, he turned his smartphone off yet could not turn that meeting back on. The meeting soon ended and failed to meet the expected outcomes.

Smartphones are an important tool in our professional world – but they require balance. Resisting the impulse for the endless data just a click away when someone who really needs me is sitting across the table.

Before we look at how to achieve better balance, let’s consider three important questions:

Is this really a problem in the workplace?

  • The average American spends four hours a day staring at their smartphone and keeps it within arm’s reach nearly all the time

Why do we choose to lead from the ON versus OFF position?

  • My clients, employees, and family need me – always

How does excessive technology use impact me as a leader?

  • Excessive smartphone use invites stress which can put a healthy mind at risk

The answer is not elimination but moderation. A self-aware leader recognizes too much screen time can create a perception we do not want – self-orientation. Balancing the virtual with the relational is where we want to be.

Three keys to effectively leading with technology to focus your attention on what really counts:

Balance
Check your smartphone usage data to determine how much time you spend on your phone. Compare this to time on your calendar. Virtual connections versus real people. We need both – are you in balance?

Presence
Put your phone down when you are talking with someone. Put your phone on silent. Explain why you are engaging virtually in a conversation – let me check one thing. Leaders understand the best answer may not result from an impulsive search result. The real answer needs deeper questions, active listening, and establishing a human connection.

Silence
You may feel more productive through continuous phone, text, and email alerts. While alerts may appear to lower your stress and be your friend, they often can be a foe. Too many alerts and your mind will be overwhelmed with distress. These interruptions also affect people around you. Minimize your alerts, notifications, and alarms to keep your mind fresh.

Great leaders inspire others to learn, change, and excel. They pay attention and control what they can control – their mind. A clear mind allows us to turn OFF – to make people, not our smartphones, the center of our attention.

All my best,
Todd

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