As I think about what makes a leader excellent, one of the more important factors has to be the ability to focus attention on the right things at the right time.
Getting in the way for many leaders is the dramatic rise in distractions, as emerging technologies tether us to our devices and continuously interrupt our attention.
Herbert Simon, the classical economist, wrote back in 1971 that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”.
How many times have we caught ourselves “not really listening” to a colleague, a boss, a direct report or even a child or spouse because we were reading something on our smartphone or tablet?
In his book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman, refers to these as “endangered human moments”. Our perceived indifference to the needs of others has unfortunately become the norm.
Or, how many times has our lack of sleep and exercise, or our eat-on-the-run diet prevented us from having the energy to be our best on a consistent basis?
It is difficult to pay attention if we are not taking care of ourselves.
In the December 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review, Goleman argues that leaders actually need to develop a “triad of awareness: an inward focus, a focus on others and an outward focus”.
According to Goleman, when we focus inward and on others we cultivate the emotional intelligence necessary for self-awareness and self-control.
When we focus outward, we improve our ability to think and act strategically, to be creative and innovative and to manage our organizations.
Check out Goleman’s book to learn specific strategies for mastering your attention, and developing your own triad of awareness.
Goleman reminds us that when we fail to focus inward, “it leaves us rudderless”; when we fail to focus on others, it “renders us clueless”; and when we fail to focus outward, we run the risk of being “blindsided”.
The powerful link between attention and excellence lies in our ability to command where we and our organizations focus.