sleepingWhat is the last thing you see before you close your eyes at night? Your partner? Your book? Or your email? I recently heard a well-respected female technology leader talk to 200 fellow employees about how she created her successful career.  The advice she shared at first was sound for any leader: be clear of your values, treat people with respect, and keep your eyes open for trends in the industry.  Then a woman in the audience stood up and asked, “What’s one thing you do every day that contributes to your success?”   The speaker replied by saying she scours her email last thing before going to bed, puts her phone on her nightstand, and then checks it first thing upon rising. 

Sadly, this corporate leader gave voice to what thousands, maybe millions, of people believe is the secret to being “successful”—that we have to be constantly “on” so we don’t miss anything.  The problem with this approach is that we aren’t machines; we are biological beings and our systems aren’t built for constant stimulation.  Our natural state—the way we come into this world—is to be present and fully aware in the moment, not highly adrenalized.

Constant stimulation is negatively impacting the innate power and natural design of our minds and bodies.  Several studies have shown that the varied and intermittent stimulus of email and Internet usage gives us a hit of dopamine, one of the “feel-good” chemicals in our brain.  It’s possible to become addicted to the stimulation of incoming information, and the more we crave a “hit,” the further we move away from tapping into the power and wisdom within us.  The problem with addiction to stimulation, adrenaline, and stress is that it’s pervasive and our culture essentially enables us to go for another “hit” when what we really need is to take a breath, get grounded, and yes, sometimes even stop.

Part of the collective enablement is that there is an illusion that our “addiction” creates good results, mirrored by the comments of the corporate leader I recently heard speak.  Why change what’s making us successful? Or maybe the scarier question—if we make a change will we become less successful? After working with more then 3,500 leaders across the globe, I know the results an adrenalized leader creates are rarely sustainable and come at a cost to the individual, customer, or company they work for. 

Adrenalized leaders are a lot like functional addicts who appear to keep their life “together” while underneath they’re suffering.  It might look as if their approach is working, but it’s usually only a matter of time until the costs of their addiction reveal themselves.  The symptoms start to manifest in bad decisions made quickly, emotional reactivity, and unintentional mistakes, all leading to careers imploding, products failing, and companies losing market share and revenue.

When a leader is fully present in the moment, they naturally slow down, observe, and listen. They are precise, objective, and accurately assess risk. A leader in their natural state of presence can quickly access deeper levels of wisdom and higher levels of thinking that adrenalized leader simply can’t.

So how does an adrenalized leader move toward presence?  Even though presence is our natural state, it takes conscious effort to rewire our conditioned minds. Start by being honest with yourself about your current level of presence and consider the farther-reaching ramifications it’s having on your life.

To release yourself from the grip adrenaline might have on you, you need space.  Space to “be,” to think, to walk, to breathe, to tune inward—or whatever will help you feel more grounded and present.  Your adrenalized mind will tell you that it is impossible to find time, but the truth is it doesn’t take much time.  I have yet to work with a leader who couldn’t carve out a little space to give themselves when they needed it.

The wonderful thing about presence is that no matter whether you’re a person who sleeps with your phone or a regular meditator, there is always room to strengthen your awareness of the present moment.  Presence isn’t another “skill” you have to learn, but rather it’s a remembering of your natural state.   When you invest your attention to the present moment, it always gives you what you truly need to be successful.