by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Management

Leaders Need to Be In the Moment

2 Comments 06 April 2014

In the last month I have had fairly strong conversations with three coaching clients about their growing tendency to “multi-task” while in meetings, including one on ones with team members or other business partners. Specifically, I’m referring to the tendency to allow an e-device (phone, tablet, or monitor) to occupy a seat at the table equal to or greater than the humans.


First things first, a disclosure. I’m rather partial to my devices, too. In fact, in a recent university management class lecture I remarked that, as with Charlton Heston and his guns, my iPhone would have to be pried from my cold, dead hands.


Not unlike those who sneak a peek at their watch during church services, it wasn’t that long ago that meeting participants would occasionally take a quick glance at a device that was secreted below the table on their lap. A quick tap or two, and it was back to the business at hand. No more. Today, the ringing, beeping, reading, tapping, typing, and yapping are all out in the open. It’s as if we’re suggesting that we can listen (really listen) to and converse meaningfully with others around us while we’re occupied with tangential or wholly unrelated matters streaming from our e-devices. Sure we can… And pigs can fly, too.



“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

To those who would argue that they’ve got a special multi-channel port installed in their head that allows simultaneous parsing of disparate input, I say, “Fine, I don’t believe you, but I’ll give you the argument.” But what you cannot do is prevent or mitigate the utter disrespect for the people around you caused by the clear suggestion that you’ve got better things to do than listen to them at that moment.


While such behavior may have become more commonly accepted, it is no less rude or injurious to relationships.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, we either need an industrial-sized vat of Ritalin in every conference room, or the discipline to turn the damned things off when we’re supposed to be listening and conversing with others. And, as we’ve heard from hundreds of flight attendants, “Off means off.” Here are a few related thoughts:



1. Try to be a little more mindful about when you do and do not engage with others in the workspace. If someone pops the proverbial, “have you got a minute?” question, and the reality is that you really don’t at that point in time, consider responding to the effect that you want to be able to give them your undivided attention, and seek a mutually agreeable time to meet.


2. If you are running a meeting, make it a point to visibly turn your device off at the opening, thus sending a pretty clear message throughout the room.


3. On the premise that even some of us Boomers can still “hold our water” longer than we can hold a cold device, build sufficient break time into meetings so as to allow participants to visit the restroom AND reconnect with their devices, without having to do so simultaneously.


What’s in it for you as a leader? First, you will likely find that meetings are a lot more efficient when unencumbered by the dawdling and awkward pauses that are caused by various participants reconnecting with the meeting after their device dalliance. More importantly, over time you will earn considerable respect as one who actually listens and is “in the moment” with people when you’re meeting with them. That alone is worth the price of admission.


  A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.





- who has written 238 posts on Contented Cows.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Bill, this is spot-on and numerous studies support your view.

    There is no such thing as “multi-tasking.” When we attempt to do two things at once the brain rapidly switches between the two tasks so that it looks like we are multi-tasking. But studies (notably by the Insurance Industry of America and also by the University of MN) show conclusively that when we attempt to do two things at once, it takes longer than had we done things one at a time and, worse, we do a poorer quality job of both. That is why the study by the Insurance Industry of America determined that using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving drunk.

    We know when we are talking with someone who is manipulating his/her phone or tablet device that we don’t have their full attention and we human beings typically react to that negatively. That has bad consequences for relationships and even for cooperation.

    What does it say about us that we so often feel compelled to deal with non-urgent emails when in meetings or in conversation with others? I’ll bet the sociologists have much to say about that.

    Thanks for your fine work!

  2. Bill Catlette says:


    Many thanks for the kind words (blushing), and for adding some compelling data to the mix.

    We appreciate your insights and your readership.

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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