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Unlocking the Power of Presencing: 4 inspiring leadership lessons from Martin Kalungu-Banda and Salem Samhoud

Leaders have the power to transform themselves, organisations and societies by embracing ‘presencing’, the ability of being present in the here and now and at the same time listening to what may emerge in the future. In a dialogue during the second edition of the series “Unusual Perspectives on Leadership,” leadership experts Martin Kalungu-Banda, leader of the Presencing Institute UK and expert on Theory U, and Salem Samhoud, founder of &samhoud and boardroom advisor, discussed the crucial elements for leaders to fully embody and embrace presencing. This article summarizes their perspectives in 4 inspiring leadership lessons.  

Lesson 1: presencing is vital for leaders 

One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to act from the emerging future. Leadership is about being able to see future possibilities before they become clear and apparent to everybody. Some people call this vision. Martin speaks about ‘presencing’, a combination of the words ‘presence’ and ‘sensing’, which means to connect with the highest future possibility and bring it to the now. Presencing  originates from both deep inner work of the leader as well as external awareness. It starts with the ability to be present in the here and now and being able to listen to the future ten, twenty or thirty years from now. 

“At any moment in time there are countless future possibilities that have the potential to become reality” – Martin  

As a leader you are like an antenna, Martin explains. To sense future possibilities, you pick up the soundwaves of the future by creating a field of attention around you and your co-workers: presencing is definitely not a one-person job. Salem illustrates how being in the present moment is always a choice.  Having deep knowledge about the topic at hand facilitates this, so prepare yourself and make sure you understand the content.  In addition, Salem emphasizes the importance of knowing yourself, your purpose and where you are in life to be present in the here and now. 

“If you know your past and are aware of the future, you’ll be able to be fully present in the now” – Salem  

Presence comes from strong inner and outer alignment. It’s about consistency between words and actions. For leaders, what they do is more important than the things they say: leadership is when words are authenticated through actions. 

“Go out into the world and preach the gospel and when necessary, use words” – Martin 

Lesson 2: practice the transformational power of silence  

An essential gateway into presencing is silence. Silence is the key ingredient for any kind of transformation. Silence is practiced in various ways, for some it is walking in the woods and others meditating at home or running on the treadmill. Practicing silence allows leaders to grow their awareness and it guides their actions. Martin illustrates the power of silence with the example of Nelson Mandela going into minutes of silence after being confronted with the news of the murder of his political son, Chris Hani. When Mandela finally spoke, he said he wanted to address the nation, leading to the famous 7 minutes television speech which shifted the mood of the country for good.  

“Confronted with the challenges of leadership and life the well of wisdom is silence” – Martin 

From his experience with leadership development and coaching leadership teams, Salem underlines the importance of silence, reflection and slowing down. “You need to go slow, in order to go fast,” he says. In leadership teams, understanding each other’s background and emotions is essential. He calls on leaders to never be impatient with feelings of themselves and others. In silence and connection, leaders find inspiration from the same source as where artists find theirs. At the same time: as a coach or facilitator: don’t bring your emotions to the table, except compassion: it is not about you.  

“In leadership development sharing and caring is essential.” – Salem 

Lesson 3: listen with an open mind, open heart and open will  

Another essential gateway into presencing is the quality of attention. Salem and Martin invite leaders to practice their ability to listen deeply. We cannot receive new information if we continuously provide internal commentary. The more we suspend this, the more we understand what drives the quality of your attention. Leaders then have to lean into the new that is emerging. In other words: to listen with an open mind, an open heart, and an open will. This is not easy and it is a lifetime project to develop this.  

“In our heart intelligence exist beyond space or time” – Martin  

For a documentary currently in creation, Salem recently interviewed a monk. This monk finds inspiration, ideas and direction through contemplation, practicing an open mind, open heart and open will. Being open-minded is about having the capacity to deal with all possibilities. Being open-hearted is rooted in the understanding that intelligence, thinking and knowing does not exist in our brains only. Traditional cultures have gained this understanding a long time ago that we think with both our head and our heart. Finally, you have to listen with an open will and lean into courage to let solutions emerge. 

The job of a leader is to create space from which collective wisdom surfaces” – Martin  

“The art of change combines being a human being contributing to a community in connection with the world around us and the universe. In transformational change these elements are combined” – Salem   

Lesson 4: nurture Truth-Tellers and Ubuntu 

Leaders also need others to help them be the best possible instrument of service. Leaders need people around them who tell them the truth. People with courage to speak truth to power. That seems simple, but Martin and Salem, both of whom have worked with leaders in powerful positions, see all too often that this is not the case. People melt before power, and this is the case for both leaders and the people around them.  

In order to ensure openness and honesty, Martin emphasizes that it is important that leaders realize that their position is not about themselves, but about serving. Leaders must focus fully on their job: to serve people, organizations and societies.  

“If you are very powerful, it is important that it is not about you, but about the office that you’re serving. It’s not about the occupant of the office, it is about the people whom you service.”- Martin 

In addition, Salem explains that as a leader you must be aware that people often feel smaller around you than they are, and that it is your job to give people the room to grow and partner with you as equals. To do this, leaders have to build relationships based on ‘Ubuntu’. Ubuntu is an ancient African concept which embodies the essence of humanity to others meaning ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. Taking Ubuntu as a fundament, leaders create relationships of equalness: human being to human being. 

“Always create a relationship of equalness: human being to human being, Ubuntu.” – Salem   

Yet, the responsibility of telling the truth does not solely rest on leaders alone. Those who collaborate with leaders hold an essential role in speaking truth to power. They are entrusted with the vital task of speaking about reality, to provide leaders with arguments and observations so that they can make informed decisions. Undeniably this is a challenging task. It is a dance between directness and politeness. People who master this and speak the truth with respect, do not compromise power but unlock the Power of Truth and Ubuntu.  

“It was my job to speak to the head of state and to share my observations of the reality that I saw. It was difficult to do this, how to combine politeness and directness? This is an interesting dance.” – Martin 

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