The Power of Being Present

Have you ever seen the Pixar film Inside Out? If you haven’t, then spoiler warning. There is a part in the movie where Joy is with Sadness and Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, and Joy is pushing to get back to their headquarters. While they were traveling through the imagination section of Riley’s mind, they noticed different structures and objects being torn down and thrown out. One of these items is Bing Bong’s rocket wagon. He runs after the characters that are about to throw out his wagon, but it is too late and they throw his rocket over the cliff. Bing Bong is devastated because he had a plan to take Riley to the moon in his rocket, and now that it has been pushed over the ledge, he will never get the opportunity to go on his trip with Riley.

At this point, Bing Bong sits down on the edge of the cliff and starts to feel sad. He starts talking about all the things he had planned and is sad that he won’t be able to do them. In steps Joy, the “leader” of the bunch, who really just wants to get back to headquarters. She tells him it will be alright, and if they just get back to headquarters everything can be fixed. She tries to get Bing Bong’s mind off of his sadness and asks about the train that could take them to headquarters. She does everything to try and get Bing Bong to just go to the train. However, Bing Bong is devastated and pays no attention to Joy.

As Joy moves out of frame, standing right behind Bing Bong is Sadness. Sadness quietly approaches Bing Bong, sits down next to him, and expresses her empathy and compassion toward Bing Bong for the situation he is in. Joy then calls Sadness out and tells her to not make Bing Bong feel worse. Joy, the “leader”, doesn’t want to deal with Bing Bong’s circumstances and cares more about getting back to headquarters. Both Sadness and Bing Bong ignore Joy and continue to sit on the edge of the cliff. Sadness gently speaks to Bing Bong and meets him where he’s at. Bing Bong is feeling overwhelmed and saddened by what he knows he just lost.  Sadness doesn’t say anything else and just listens to Bing Bong. Bing Bong embraces sadness and begins to cry. After a minute or two, Bing Bong stops crying, tells sadness he’s alright, gets up, and leads Joy and Sadness to the train station. 

This is one of the most powerful scenes in the movie and is a wonderful example of what it means to take care of people. Depending on your level of leadership within your company or organization, you are probably forced to stick to mandates, policies, procedures, and/or quotas. Even though this is part of the job expectation, when we care more about the expectations than we do about people, we lose sight of what real leadership is all about. Joy cared more about getting back to headquarters than she did about Bing Bong and his situation. She got frustrated at Bing Bong and wanted to just move on. However, Bing Bong was going through a tragic experience. He was hurt and sad, and what he really needed was for someone to listen, care, and be present. It wasn’t until Sadness stepped in and was present with Bing Bong in his situation, that the three of them were able to move forward. 

Leadership is not about mandates, policies, and meeting quotas. Leadership is about caring for people and helping them reach their full potential. There are times in leadership that the most important thing we can do for our team or our employees is to just be present. Sometimes people need to be heard. Sometimes people need to know they are not alone in their journey. Sometimes people need to have a shoulder to cry on, an ear that listens, or someone who is willing to just sit and be present with them. When we can offer this to the people we lead, forward movement will not only happen, but it will happen more productively, positively, and it will build a level of trust and respect that is unmatched.

Being present may not be easy for many of us. I know, at times, I have a hard time with it, but I am trying very hard to make it a focus in my life. I would rather people know that I care more about them as a person than I do about mandates and quotas. A company/organization is successful only if the people within it are taken care of. Take time to be present with your people. You don’t necessarily need to have the right things to say. In fact, you probably don’t need to say anything at all. People want to know that they are important, and that you are willing to be present with them and for them. Dede Handley, a contributor to Forbes Magazine, wrote, “Showing your team you care doesn’t have to add a bunch to your plate. But it does have to be a priority in your days. Start small and learn as you go. It will make all the difference.”

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