Photo by Vanessa Ochotorena on Unsplash

Tuned leadership: focused presence, serving fully

I’ve been thinking this summer about multiple things that I hold sacred. My family and friends. Those I serve. My work. The various teams I’m fortunate to lead.

With these sacred things, I feel a palpable impermanence. I experience each relationship, activity, and team dynamic in an ongoing state of change. Just when something feels solid, it shifts.

While this sense of ongoing change can often be unsettling, I’m actively working to be fully present with it. Listening to each of the lessons provided. Intentionally uncomfortable at times. Appreciative of the moments of joy and synchronicity when they come.

I’ve begun to think of this approach as being tuned.

Tuned to the present moment.

Tuned into what truly is.

Tuned and available for others.

With this ongoing tuning, I’ve begun to experiment with the concept of tuned leadership, which I define as fully serving others from a place of focused presence.

I’ve found that three things, operating together, are helpful in my tuned leadership work:

  1. First, my purpose. Two years ago, I wrote a personal purpose statement based on the type of energy I seek to bring to others. I refer to it multiple times every day, sometimes reading it and often stopping to think about it. It’s framed and sits on my desk in my home office. It’s a reminder to focus on what matters most to me — and to hold myself to it.
  2. Second, my body. When it’s rested and exercised, breathing deeply, and enriched with good foods, my body carries me and enables me to best experience a tuned state. Too much caffeine and too little exercise are particular traps that I work to avoid.
  3. Third, my practices. Through mindfulness and other initiatives, my spinning state of anxious chatter slows down. For me, three mindfulness practices are powerful in combination: counting deep breaths, lovingkindness meditation, and gratitude contemplation. I often work on these in micro-bursts throughout the day.

With tuned leadership, I also find that I can draw from a larger set of leadership approaches, including: asking a question; actively listening; painting an optimistic vision; creatively exploring options; communicating authentically; reframing a situation; and/or sharing a story.

For example, a few weeks ago I was advising an up-and-coming product innovation leader. We were deep into an hour-long session, dissecting business strategy, team talent, group dynamics and more. I sensed her holding back and not bringing her full, usually vibrant energy, into our exploration.

So I paused, took a breath, and asked a question: “Do you feel connected to the deeper purpose of your company?”

The question caught her a bit off guard. “I’m actually not sure,” she responded.

From there, we went into a powerful exploration of how she might connect herself to her company’s purpose. Over the next two weeks, she undertook the real human work to ask herself why her company meant something to her. And she found an answer that was deeply true and meaningful to her.

When we talked again, I experienced a strong and integrated energy in her — and a levity and joy in her presence. I sensed, and she expressed, that she had found a way to connect to the purpose of her company, giving the daily abundance of activities she tackled, and the people she led, sustainable meaning.

“I feel different,” she told me.

Through a 20+ year career of high-highs, low-lows, and everything in between, I’ve found that leadership is a much broader discipline than I ever would have imagined. It requires my full range of energy, emotions, focus, skills, intelligence, and discipline.

Leadership is a much broader discipline than I ever would have imagined.

Many days I struggle to find, let alone maintain, a tuned leadership mode. I make many leadership, and human, mistakes on even my best of days.

But when they come, tuned leadership moments can feel like a state of flow — where my mind settles, my concentration sharpens, and time seems to accelerate in a way that Miihaly Csikszentmihaly’s research describes. Those moments of tuned-flow provide a quality of human interaction and connection that bring me great happiness.

Calmly present yet fully energized, I’m able to best serve others: helping them, progressing the situation, and bringing us closer together — extending the ripple of tuned resonance.


Steve Semelsberger loves helping leaders and businesses learn, transform and grow. As a Co-President, he focuses on two areas for SYPartners: our Individual Transformation Practice — concentrating on behavior change, personal well-being, and leadership development; and Digital Products — covering our platform businesses (Leadfully and Unstuck), innovation consulting, and digital tools initiatives. He is also Founder of Alder Growth Partners and serves as a director and advisor to multiple organizations. Twitter @semels