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Why Absent Leaders Are Killing Innovation

Teachers take attendance to determine whether students, our future leaders, are present or absent. A students' presence in class is essential for good learning outcomes. "Presence" is also essential for good leadership outcomes like innovation and growth.

In my new book, Future-Ready Leadership: Strategies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I define Presence as "the state of existing in the moment, being aware and attentive, and free from the noise and 'clutter' in your head."

Presence requires that leaders show up

  • Show up to the meeting
  • Show up to the Diversity and Inclusion session
  • Show up to the customer feedback session
  • Show up to the board meeting prepared
  • Show up to the strategy session
  • Show up to the project meeting that you've "prioritized"
  • Show up to tell new hires about your purpose and culture
  • Just show up! 

As one of my former clients used to say, "Showing up is half the battle." 

Leaders are distracted. They're absent from the decisions that matter. They're missing the boat and killing innovation. Hence, I have been challenging leaders lately about their presence and absence. Lack of presence is killing innovation because it slows down decision-making, stifles engagement, and confuses the culture. Leaders have an attendance problem that must be fixed if organizations want to become future-ready. 


  1. No Presence, No Direction. As much as companies are preaching agility, speed, innovation, and self-directed teams, employees and teams still want and NEED strategic direction. That's what leaders get paid to do.
  2. No Presence, No Decision. Everyone is accountable to someone. There's always someone who is going to hold your feet to the fire for decisions. Leaders need to show up to gather information, weigh evidence and alternatives, ask questions, and support or refute decisions. 
  3. No Presence, No Priorities. The best way to determine if you have an "attendance problem" is to ask everyone what their priorities are. If you have too many "competing priorities," then you have no priorities. This kills speed and innovation. 
  4. No Presence, No Engagement. Having worked as a Gallup subject matter expert for half of a decade, and consulted with 1,000s of leaders on employee engagement, there is not a doubt in my mind that there are sources of engagement that ONLY leaders can improve. Want to improve engagement and drive innovation through your people, then show up! 
  5. No Presence, No Intentional Culture. Culture is the sum of the behaviors that a group of people expect and accept. In organizations, leaders reinforce the rules of culture and have big influence over the rewards and punishments associated with what's expected and accepted. If leaders are absent, it means no one is being intentional about culture shaping to drive a culture of innovation. Show up and shape culture!

Absent leaders are killing innovation because they're absence is killing direction, decision-making, prioritization, engagement, and culture. If you want to fix your presence problem, start by showing up. 

If you want to learn more, my book has more than 25 tools and 20 actionable recommendations  for improving leadership presence and four other elements of being a future-ready leader. 

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