Someone asked me to share the commentary that I wrote on culture change that was published in OnCampus a few months ago, so here it is.
“The pathway from excellence to eminence is not the easiest one to traverse, although it is the right path to take. President Gordon Gee has aptly pointed out that one of the first items on our agenda along this path is culture transformation, and I quite agree. There are many aspects that are highly relevant to this process — accountability, personal behavior, teamwork and the “blue-chip” mindset, to name a few. But none is more logical, yet in many cases more difficult to realize, than the concept of “Be Here Now.”
In the mid-1980s, I worked in an industry that demanded constant attention to the business at hand. My boss was energetic and dynamic and provided that constant attention. But it came with a cost. During important group and individual meetings, he would answer telephone calls, step out of the room to discuss unrelated topics with others, turn to his desk to sort through and look at his mail and be visibly distant as important conversations took place.
Trade magazines were an important component of our business, and it was necessary to keep up with them. He would bring a stack to meetings to page through them as the meeting progressed, thinking of course that he was being very efficient. He was clearly “not here now,” and his lack of presence had a very negative impact on the morale of the people that worked for him. Even his marriage failed as he continued this practice when he left the office and went home.
I learned a lot from this experience, and when the company relocated, I reflected on what I had learned and chose not to accompany my boss. His work-life structure was out of balance, and his relationships suffered as both his family and co-workers struggled to keep his attention and even be heard. The stress associated with the job was magnified many times over as his focus was elsewhere. The employees felt that they were not listened to, that their presence and their needs were secondary to his priorities and they struggled to see that he valued their input. Yet over the entire period, he saw his “multi-tasking” as a positive trait, one that allowed him to move upward in the business world.
“Be Here Now” requires that we be present in the moment. It requires that we quiet our minds and keep our focus on thoughts that are relevant to the conversation or activity that is taking place. It requires that we listen without judgment and with an open mind — or listen to understand. It requires that we be aware of our current environment, including those people and activities that expect our attention. It requires that we minimize the distractions that take us away from each of those requirements. When the distractions divert our attention, our minds wander, and we are not able to focus on important words and actions that are so critical to the present situation.
This is not easy, particularly in our current state of connectedness. Text messages and e-mails continuously arrive, and we get phone calls when we are at lunch, in the car, in class, walking across the Oval or in an important meeting. Expectations for responding to these intrusions are elevated: “I sent you an e-mail 10 minutes ago, and you haven’t responded. What’s up?” Couple this with the current environment of change, the demands that are placed on us and the need to respond in a timely fashion, and the ability to “Be Here Now” is diminished.
It is not possible to totally keep out the distractions. Our thoughts are naturally moving from one topic to the other. But if we can minimize the distractions, and if the impatience, anxiety and inattentiveness that accompany the distractions can be kept in check, we can be more effective at what we are presently involved with when we need to be more effective. We will be able to fully contribute to conversations, and our performance will reflect the attentiveness we bring to the present situation. We will convey to others that their presence and input is valued and considered.
I don’t know what my old boss is doing now, but my guess is that, as successful as he might be in business, there is still not an appropriate balance in his life, that people around him are still feeling that they are not valued and that his attention is not in the present moment. He has certainly missed the fulfilling experience of ‘Being Here Now.’ ”
Note: The entire collection of “Excellence to Eminence” editorials can be found online at he OnCampus site at: