The Focused Leader
In the article, “The Focused Leader,” author Daniel Goleman breaks down what it means to be focused as a leader through three touchpoints: focusing on yourself, focusing on others, and focusing on the wider world.
A great excerpt from the article is his description of why we need these three categories to be focused leaders: “Every leader needs to cultivate this triad of awareness, in abundance and in the proper balance, because a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others leaves you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.”
FOCUSING ON YOURSELF
I once heard the statement, “Awareness is a call to action” - meaning that once you are made aware of something, you have a choice to make. Do you take action on what it is that you were made aware of, or do you file away the new information and continue to operate in your blind spot?
Dr. Goleman is a world renowned psychologist that spends an inordinate amount of time in breaking down why we are the way we are from the perspective of brain science. He does a fantastic job at explaining the chemistry of the brain and the way it works in the different aspects discussed.
In the topic of self-awareness, he mentions the role of the amygdala in regards to gut instincts - that “feeling” you get when something just doesn’t feel right. It’s called an “amygdala hijack”. Basically, the amygdala is the part of our brain that generates the “fight, flight or freeze” responses. It is trained throughout our lives to respond a certain way to certain stimulus. When a perceived threat is sensed, the amygdala will flood the body with stress hormones to prepare us for an emergency.
In addition to the “fight or flight” responses, there is a cognitive piece that changes how our mind functions. Our attention will start to fixate on one thing that is bothering us, stressing us out or worrying us and reduces our capacity for attention to what we are supposed to be doing. Our memory shuffles to put the perceived threat at the forefront of our priorities.
Our effort to get out of that perceived threat is what causes us to do things or say things that we may later regret. For example, let’s say you grew up with a verbally abusive father. Your brain has trained itself on how to handle those specific situations and protect yourself. Fast forward to your adult years when you land a great job with a great company, but find out quickly that your new boss is verbally abusive. Now your brain is going to sense those triggers from your past and your amygdala is going to “hijack” your brain, preventing you from thinking clearly. You’ll go into survival mode in the form of fighting, fleeing or freezing.
Dr. Goleman also speaks about self-control and its ability to put your attention where you want it and keeping it there even in the face of distraction. This is what drives a leader to pursue a goal despite setbacks. With the multitude of asks that come our way each day, many leaders struggle with self-control. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and begin trying to do a little bit of every ask, as opposed to prioritizing and focusing on a single item at a time, or delegating to capable people on our team.
FOCUSING ON OTHERS
Dr. Goleman teaches us about the “empathy triad” which consists of Cognitive Empathy, Emotional Empathy, and Empathic Concern. In a nutshell, this is how effective leaders are able to explain themselves in meaningful ways, to effectively mentor, manage, and read group dynamics and to sense what it is their people need from them.
I learned something about empathic concern from this article and when I applied this to myself and instances that related to this topic, and it is absolutely true. It is a double-edged feeling.
We intuitively experience the distress of the other person as our own, but in deciding whether we will meet that person’s needs, we deliberately weigh how much we value their well-being! It is almost a subconscious game of favoritism or “what’s in it for me?” in trying to see just how much we want to do to meet other’s needs.
FOCUSING ON THE WIDER WORLD
“Leaders with strong outward focus are not only good listeners but also good questioners…” This is a profound statement that most leaders need to take action on as well.
Some of you may have a boss who asks so many questions that seem to be trivial or repetitive. Instead of thinking about it in a narrow focus, look at the bigger picture - he is learning, engaging and determining a best course of action for how to help.
We tend to go down the path of thinking that the more questions we ask, the more ignorant we are going to seem to the team and they will not respect us as a leader… but it’s just the opposite!
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Focused leaders are able to command the full range of their own attention. They are in touch with their inner feelings, they can control their impulses, they are aware of how other people see them, they understand what people need from them and they can weed out distractions while also allowing their minds to roam free of preconceptions.